The Habit of Meditation: A Dialogue
After a recent contemplation on the subject of choosing the beneficial over the pleasurable, (for example, getting up to meditate versus staying in bed), Barbara Voinar, (Hatha Yoga teacher and director of Fourth Street Yoga) and Laura Duggan (author of inquiringlife.com) had the following dialogue:
Barbara: Sometimes, when I’m lying in bed, I find myself thinking, okay, it’s time to get up to meditate. I notice the inertia of my body but the willingness of my soul, so I get up out of bed and go sit. Frequently I find is that all that has changed is that I am sitting up. My mental state hasn’t shifted into that deep place of meditation. I find that just going along with sitting may not enough, sometimes actively shifting my perceived inertia with changing my breathing patterns with pranayama, or deepening my concentration on a mantra, or mental puja meditation is not deep enough. It’s a collusion of events that brings us into a state of meditation. Habits make us arrive at it, but there’s a final leap where that state either opens to us or doesn’t.
Laura: What you seem to be saying is that it is not enough to just go along with meditation on a superficial, obligatory level. Something else is needed. Isn’t there something valuable about creating the habit of meditation?
Barbara: Well, just getting up does develop the habit. It is entraining the body and our minds. We get up and position ourselves. If grace comes, we have made ourselves available; we are there to welcome it into our being.
However, we also become much accepting on a universal level that some days that grace isn’t going to feel the way we expected; the shift in my inner state during meditation isn’t showing up. And I can handle that. My meditation won’t be at the zenith but how nice that I inquired. I’m not loaded with disappointment. I understand the greater ebb and flow. And it’s okay.
Laura: That raises a question for me. When I sit, and I don’t reach that deep state of meditation, what in me wasn’t present. There are days when my entire being leans towards meditation, and I have a deep experience. Other days, not much happens. Is it the lack of grace, or my own state?
Barbara: Yes, my body, mind and heart are not always in the same place every day. And yet, we are showing up for the practice, and we see the range of experience that arrives on any given day. There’s a great sense of allowance. I find I have dropped that fierce determination for it to be a certain way. I’m not so greedy anymore. If the worst meditation is just sitting quietly, how lovely. I’m always thankful.
Laura: I’ve been inquiring why this is so. Why, even though my mind is busy, after sitting still for an hour, I am grateful. Even though I didn’t touch the deepest state, I feel great. I realize it is because, as the yogic texts say, we are reaching towards that which is beneath the body, senses, emotions and mind. So just sitting still, with the eyes closed, I have at least gone two more levels deeper than my normal state of mind. I may not get below the thoughts, but the distractions of the body and senses have been minimized.
Barbara: Yes, and then you are the witness of the mind. For me, I see that I live a certain quality of life where I don’t know what is coming at me on any day, but at least every day, a few minutes can be dedicated to that place beneath the distractions. And for that I am grateful.
Laura: As my teacher once said, ‘Whether thoughts play in the mind or not, the Self (BuddhaNature, spirit) still exists.’ Touching that space of the Self is what it’s all about.
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