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Meditation Myth #2

Picking up with Myth #2 of River’s article, Meditation De-Mythified, this week we’ll take a deeper dive into the first state of meditation and how to personalize your experience. Enjoy.

River head shot - high resBy: River Cummings

Myth #2: If you’re using some kind of mental technique or focus point, if you’re actually doing something, it’s not “real meditation.” In real meditation you just sit and empty your mind.

Oh really? I beg to differ. According to the yoga tradition, the first stage of meditation has to do with training attention. For insight in to this, just think of other things you might associate that word “training” with. Like, if you want to run a marathon you wouldn’t expect to just hop up off the couch, dust the Dorito crumbs off your lap, and jet out for your 26 miles, right? You would be wise to build up slowly in order to avoid unpleasant consequences.

The same is true of your mind. Considering that the natural state of the mind is to ping-pong about, like a boisterous puppy, we first need to train it a bit. Train the puppy! This is where technique comes in. There are many, many techniques out there, but they all have to do with choosing an object of focus. Some very traditional objects are things like your breathing; a candle flame; an inspiring image, like a picture representing the divine, the Buddha, or your favorite wise person; a sacred sound (mantra); or inspiring concept like “peace”, “wisdom”, or “love” – but you could even use your own posture or physical sensations. Anything can be used as a focusing device, but the tradition suggests choosing something that is positive or uplifting, and something that is appealing to you. It is very important that you choose something that appeals to you for this stage. You can think of it as incentive. After all, your puppy training is likely to have better results using milk bones as reward as opposed to, say, tofu, right? So set yourself up for success by choosing something enjoyable!

Once your object is chosen, the training process has to do with simply guiding the boisterous puppy of your mind back to attentiveness on the object. For the purpose of this analogy you can consider yourself a certified Enlightened Puppy Trainer. Meaning you’re not going to punish or yell at the puppy, or be angry with him. Each time he goes astray you are going to kindly but firmly guide him back to being attentive. That’s it.

You expect your mind to wander a bit, so when it does, there’s no surprise and no self-chastising. It’s not a failure, it’s simply the way the process goes. When you notice your mind has wandered, then kindly turn it back to your object. Since you like the object, there is a subtle sense of “Oh, yay! A treat!” in that moment – if your mind hadn’t wandered in the first place, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to receive that treat! So, you enjoy your treat until the puppy of your attention bounds off after something else… creating another opportunity for a treat 🙂

This is called dharana and, simply stated, it is the practice of meditation. It is, in fact, the only stage of the meditation process over which you have any control whatsoever.

Tune in next week for our 3rd myth. It’s one that trips up many fledgling meditators.

River Cummings is a dedicated long-time student of yoga, yoga therapy, and Vedic chant in the lineage of T.K.V. Desikachar and T. Krishnamacharya. She joyfully calls Boulder, CO her home and is honored to offer yoga teacher trainings, workshops, retreats and consulting worldwide.

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Joanne Thompson

Joanne Thompson

Founder/Owner at Yoga for Self

Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
Joanne Thompson

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