Baby steps in meditation revisited

Somebody asked me if – since the birth of Rayana – meditation is still the most important thing in my life. I find it meaningless to answer this question, because I don’t see the need to create a contradiction between my meditation practice and the rest of my life. My intention is for my practice to support my life in the world, and for my life in the world to support my practice. It is more interesting to me to see how my meditation affects life with Rayana, and vice versa.

I have made a choice to sit with Rayana while practicing mediation. I made this choice because I wish her to know silence, as well as the many impressions that life in the world has to offer. Interestingly enough, by choosing to sit with Rayana, I am in some ways experiencing again how it was when I was trying to establish a daily practice during the early days of my study of meditation.

When establishing a daily practice, having a fixed routine (consisting of time of day, place, posture, and sequence for meditation) is an important tool to counteract the anti-meditative habits we have formed. Rayana’s rhythm and preferences change every few days or so. This makes it difficult for me to find a fixed time, place, and posture for meditation with her. Without the a stable routine, it is more difficult to have stability in meditation. Nowadays – and this is the big difference from my early days in meditation – I am able to draw that stability from my practice itself.

To give an example of how my routine is affected by choosing to sit with Rayana: At first she would remain completely calm when lying belly down on my leg while I was sitting in meditation (a pose I jokingly call ‘koalasana’). This made it easy for me to complete my practice without concerns for her comfort. I was pleased to observe that she would relax more deeply as my own meditation went deeper.

After a few days, she started to become restless in koalasana. For the first time in a long while, I did not complete my meditation practice. She was getting uncomfortable, and that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to achieve. This was not much different from my early days practicing. Back then I used to stop my meditation practice when I found the practice itself uncomfortable.

The next day I stopped my practice again when she was starting to get more uncomfortable than I like her to be. I decided not to sit for meditation for the next two days. When I was beginning to practice meditation, the dejection I experienced because I was not able to sit for a few days inevitably led me to choose to not sit for a few days more. The difference is that this time I made that decision consciously, with the clear intent to pick up my practice again on the “third” day.

On that third day, I tried practicing meditation while carrying Rayana in a sling. She remained very calm in this way for almost two weeks, but started getting restless a few days ago. Having learned from my earlier experience with Rayana in koalasana (I was intrigued to see how chaos was slowly but surely creeping back into my mind during those 4 days of not practicing meditation properly), I made sure to practice meditation in solitude at a later time on the same day when it wasn’t comfortable for Rayana in the morning.

I have now found a new pose that is comfortable for both Rayana and me, and am curious to see how this will develop over the next couple of days and weeks.

The strength of the decision to practice, is more important than any other preparation for meditation.


Complementary, not contradictory

Standing on the head really means learning to stand on your own feet.
~ Swami Rama

Elly and I have recently started practising Wing Chun Kung Fu. Some people around me have been very surprised about this, asking me why a person who intends to be non-violent is interested in learning how to fight. I thought it was very interesting that so many people see a contradiction where I see a complement.

Swami Rama said that learning to stand on the head means learning to stand on the feet, and I have had to contemplate this statement for a while before it started to make sense to me. When we learn to stand on the head, we learn how to be in balance when the world is upside down. This gives us the confidence that we can remain balanced in virtually all circumstances. This confidence helps us to be relaxed and elegant when standing and walking on our feet.

This concept can similarly be applied to the martial arts. Learning to fight means learning to be non-violent. When we know how to defend ourselves, we automatically become less afraid. A fearless person can remain non-violent, because violence is a product of fear.

Another point related to this is that yoga does not prescribe any type of rigidity, not even rigidity about fighting. Yoga asks us to act according to what the situation requires with an attitude of non-attachment. For those who know (of) the Bhagavad Gita: Krishna instructs Arjuna to fight, because the war cannot be prevented and the situation demands fighting.

Even though the act of fighting and the act of violence, whether physical, verbal or otherwise, can seem to be the same from the outside, it is the intent that differs between these two. Fighting can be a training or a necessity, but violence is always due to ignorance. Marshall Rosenberg would say that violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need.

Through the practices of meditation and contemplation we gain clarity of mind. One of the symptoms of this clarity is that we start seeing complements where we previously saw contradictions.


Mindfulness and negative emotions

This article was originally published on under the title “3 Ways Mindfulness Can Help with Negative Emotions“. You can help me to build my profile at by reading this article there.

“What’s wrong with me?” is a question most of us tend to ask when we experience negative emotions. When we ask ourselves this question, we are perceiving our negative emotions as something “bad” or “wrong”. This perception prevents us from using negative emotions in a positive way; in a way that serves our personal growth. Being negative about negative emotions is my definition of suffering.

The rise of negative emotions in ourselves can be compared to a traffic light turning red: it is a message to us that we need to stop. If we believe that a red light in traffic is something “bad”, it means that we don’t fully understand and appreciate its usefulness. Just imagine the chaos that would result if we were all to choose to ignore the red light’s simple message to us.

In the same way, positive emotions can be compared to a traffic light turning green: it is a message that we need to keep moving on. It would lead to disaster if, alternatively we were to hit the brakes whenever we saw the traffic light turn green.

Instead of shooting the messenger (our negative emotions), I suggest practicing the following three steps when experiencing negativity:

1. Awareness: Become mindful of the present moment.
The foundation of yoga is awareness. Whatever it is that we are doing, if we are not doing it with awareness it is not true yoga. Awareness, in the context of experiencing negative emotions, means observing that we are experiencing negativity without getting dragged along by it. Emotions are a powerful force that can sweep us away, and if the emotions we are experiencing are stronger than our current ability to return to the present moment, we can practice these three steps at a later time when the mind has become calmer. We practice mindfulness by bringing back the memory of the event that triggered our negative emotion. By practicing at a later time, we can start to train ourselves to be mindful when experiencing strong emotions.

2. Contemplation: Coming to an understanding of the source of our negative emotions.
Contemplation means engaging in a pleasant self-dialogue. When I say this, I literally mean that we will need to have a conversation with ourselves. In this dialogue, we will assume the role of somebody who is listening to a friend in need. We ask questions when we don’t understand that friend; we don’t assume the role of somebody who is ready to give advice and judgments.

There are two important questions we should ask ourselves in this dialogue, they are: “what is it that I really need?” and “how can I give myself what I really need?” When we ask these questions to ourselves, we need to remember that yoga is the practice of non-attachment. One meaning of “non-attachment” is to be independent of anything or anyone outside of us for our happiness and fulfillment. If, for example, we hear as an answer to the first question “I need my boss to show me some respect and acknowledge my work”, it means that we are dependent on our boss for “respect” and “acknowledgment”. Instead, try saying “I need respect and acknowledgment”, and then, in answer to the second question, ask yourself: “how can I give myself the respect and acknowledgment I need?” The answer to such a question will come from within.

3. Practice: Readjusting our mind, actions and speech to the insights gained in the previous steps.
Practice means following the insights that we have gained through our contemplation. Not following these insights is like having a cookbook but never actually cooking any recipe from it. The recipe book soon only becomes a burden.

These three steps have been, and still are, helping me to gain a deeper understanding of myself. It is my hope that they can do the same for you.

本文原刊登於 ,原標題:為”以覺知面對負面情緒的三種方法“。透過以上連結閱讀,你可以幫助我建立在MyYogaOnline.com的知名度。





1. 覺知:注意當下

2. 沈思:了解負面情緒的來源.


3. 練習:依據上一步所得的觀察和洞見,重新調整自己的心靈、行動和言語



Reflections from silence

Just yesterday I finished my annual 3 week practice of silence and I wanted to share an entry from my diary which gives a hint why one would want to enter into silence:

Just this morning I went rowing for the second time. There was no rain, there were few clouds and almost no wind, so the lake was very calm and you could clearly see the reflection of the trees in the water. I enjoyed just staring over and into the water very much.

I came to understand the analogy of the mind with a lake a lot better because I suddenly had the idea to make a small experiment.

I held the boat still on a spot where I could clearly see the reflection of the top of the trees. I kept my eyes fixed on where I saw the reflection and in that place I started stirring the water with a paddle. When, because of the moving water, I wasn’t able to see the reflection anymore I stopped using the paddle and kept looking at that point. Suddenly, as the water started calming down, the reflection emerged and became clearer and clearer, until it was once again a very clear and accurate reflection of the tree top. I was amazed by seeing this, it was like a magic trick!

This little experiment helps my understanding that when the mind becomes perfectly calm, we can see things as they are. (And according to my understanding, seeing things as they are is the goal of the spiritual processes.)


Subtler than our desires

In a previous article I mentioned that I am exploring and practising a method of contemplation which helps me to understand and direct my emotions. The key to that method is becoming aware of the needs and/or desires which come before our emotions1.

There is something that is even more subtle than our needs and desires and in yoga psychology they are called samskaras: they are the mental impressions that we have stored in our mind and they are at the root of our personality (and by extension, our actions). Up to a week ago I wasn’t able to use this concept to gain understandings of my personality, but this changed when it suddenly ‘clicked’ after a recent training2.

The most straightforward way in which I can explain this insight is by example. I remember an incident from when I was still in primary school, where I was standing on a bulky book so that I could grab something from a shelf. My teacher told me not do that and when I asked her why I shouldn’t, she said that books should be treated with respect. That answer didn’t make any sense to me, so I asked her why books have to be treated with respect. She told me that when she was young, she was taught by several people that books should be treated with respect because they contain knowledge.

The ‘dialogue’ I had with my teacher started from her

  • demand: don’t stand on that book; which was the result of her
  • belief: books should3 be respected; which was the result of her
  • samskara: she was told in her youth that books should be respected.

That dialogue I had with her is a dialogue we can have with ourselves. When we use the method of contemplation we can become aware of our feelings when we question what motivates our thoughts, and we can become aware of our needs when we question what motivates our feelings. To become aware of our samskaras however, it appears to be easier to question our (subtle) demands instead of directly questioning our needs4. Our demands are the strategies to meet our needs which are very closely related to our beliefs, which are in turn very closely related to the past experiences that we have stored in the mind.

Once we have brought our samskaras to our conscious awareness we can process them and examine their usefulness to us. I imagine that this can significantly increase our self-understanding and ease our self-transformation, but as this insight is new to me I will need to make experiments myself to verify this.

1: Two recent examples of how I used that method on myself: 1, 2.
2: This was a training on leadership and coaching, for which my employer had hired FPnP).
3: We can recognise our demands and beliefs from our musts/mustn’ts and shoulds/shouldn’ts.
4: This is because we all share the same needs. It is unlikely that we will find anything specific to us when we analyse what we all share in common.


Practicing in unfavourable circumstances

For those of us who have given the practice of meditation a high priority in our lives, there are a number of situations that can disrupt the rhythms that we have established. If we have a regular job, the mornings and evenings are usually the best times we have available for meditation. Seemingly simple activities like picking somebody up from the airport, having visitors over, attending a party, waiting for a morning delivery, etc. can then be experienced as a great burden because they come in the way of our practice. Our untrained mind, which has the habit of being scattered, can use these situations as a motivation to ‘slack’.

I recently had my in-laws from Taiwan over for a week or two. I quickly started noticing how I started finding reasons for me to reduce my practices: ‘I should spend more time with my in-laws’, ‘there’s much more stuff in the room at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable to practice meditation in such a room’, ‘I don’t want to practice hatha yoga in a busy environment’, etc.

In an earlier article I have mentioned that I lost touch with myself when I allowed myself to slack. This earlier experience was very helpful to me, because I remembered it and naturally did not want to repeat it. I became more aware of the fact that if meditation is really something I want to deepen in my life, then these situations don’t have the power to prevent me from doing that.

I still did try to analyse why I was thinking these thoughts. I found that the one reason is that due to the change of circumstances my mind had become slightly agitated. The agitated mind simply does not want to practice meditation and is also not prepared for it1. In fact, the agitated mind will only create more agitation, unless we choose to do something else with our minds. This is why it’s a common experience to us all that sometimes we don’t want to do something (going to the gym after work for example), but when we are actually doing it we enjoy it and don’t really understand why we were resisting it. We should therefore not blindly trust the suggestions of the mind when it’s in an unpleasant state, because it has the tendency then to lead us to more unpleasantness.

Another reason is that I sometimes tend to be so perfectionistic about my practices that it actually works against my practice. I then get into this type of thinking: ‘If it can’t do it as well as I want to, why do it at all?’ This is actually a sign of making myself dependent on the circumstances, which is the exact opposite of what the spiritual process is about. The reality is that we can only do things as well as the situation allows us to, and there is nothing stopping us from doing that.

It was not my intention to offer any solutions in this article, but I do hope that you can relate to the experience that I’m describing and use it to your benefit.

1: This is also why a peaceful and joyful state of mind is the starting point of meditation, rather than the goal.


A cause of guilt

I have been in the situation where somebody is experiencing guilt twice in the past week. I noticed in both situations, the guilt was caused by self-judgemental thinking. Because it wasn’t me who was experiencing guilt in the first situation, I will only write about the second situation in this article.

I have recently joined Kiva, a non-profit organisation with the aim of alleviating poverty via microfinancing. What it boils down to is that Kiva makes it possible for us to lend money to those in need1,2.

When you want to make a lend money via Kiva, you can browse through a list of people who want to borrow money. When I was browsing through this list a few days ago, I became aware of the fact that I can only support a handful of people without creating an unstable financial situation for myself; the consequence of this is that that I have to choose somebody from the list of borrowers to lend money to. Then I became very aware of the fact that if I choose to give money to one person, I am also choosing not to give it to any of the other people. I suddenly found myself with an enormous feeling of discomfort.

Because I was not being very aware, my thinking took over and I started to subtly condemn myself. I started thinking that I’m a bad person for choosing which person is more deserving to borrow my money and that I’m not wealthy enough to support everyone. Guilt started piling up in me and, luckily, that’s when I became aware of the absurdity of my thinking. I had become judgemental about myself.

I backtracked to my feeling of discomfort and I asked myself what unmet need of mine is at the root of it. The answer was that I simply want to live in a world where people aren’t in (absolutely unnecessary) poverty. Realising that my feeling of discomfort was an expression of care for others made it go away.

I was not satisfied with the discomfort going away. I needed to know why I went on a guilt trip. I came to the conclusion that I became judgemental of myself because I became very focused on what I was not able to do, and forgot all about (1) what I was able to do and (2) that there is no reason to have regrets when I have done what I can. This was actually the exact same type of thinking that I made somebody else aware of a day earlier!

We want to help others because it is our nature to do so. We feel wonderful when we are able to help others. At the same time it’s also our inherent in us that we are limited in what we can do at any given moment. This should not stop us from doing what we can up to our limits. It my experience that we will feel content when we have done what we can.

1: I want to give one reason why I feel comfortable with lending money to those in need, instead of donating it. When I say that I want to help somebody, my intention is to help that person to become independent. When somebody borrows money, he does so with the intention repaying his loan. In order to do that, the borrower needs a sustainable way of earning money; this is one aspect of being independent. I’m not concerned about being paid back.
2: Incidentally, consider using my Kiva invite page if you are interested in joining Kiva. By using this invitiation link, we will both have the opportunity to lend an additional $25, provided by a sponsor of Kiva, to any borrower of our choosing.


The yoga psychology of the Twitter follower count

I read an article a few weeks ago with statistics on fake Twitter followers of Dutch politicians. It was a reminder to me that having followers on social media is generally considered to be an important thing, and served as an extra trigger for me to try and understand the psychology of having Twitter followers a little bit better.

The method that I use to understand such subjects is self-study1 through contemplation. In this case this started for me by observing my reactions to gaining and losing followers on Twitter. I found that whenever I gained a follower I had a sense of happiness, and whenever I lost one I felt a bit sad or annoyed. I also started noticing that thoughts of my Twitter follower were popping up in my mind more regularly during the day. I took this as an indication that underneath this ‘follower count’ there is something that is important to me.

I asked myself why I am having these feelings; more specifically, I asked myself what needs of mine are being fulfilled by gaining followers. The answer that my mind gave me was loud and clear: “Attention, recognition and approval.” This means that I was unconsciously seeking the attention, recognition and approval of others, and that I was interpreting being followed as being given attention to, being recognised and being approved.

I consider spirituality to be the process of making my happiness independent of other people or things outside of me. This is what I consider to be the practice of non-attachment2. I therefore always remind myself of the following: whatever I seek outside of me is something that I am not finding or giving to myself, and that will eventually lead me to misery.

I have noticed that only the realisation that I am seeking something outside of myself is not enough: as long as I have the perception that I am indeed finding what I seek, I am not able to change the behaviour of seeking that something outside of myself. I have already described one method of breaking this habit on this blog, which boils down to coming to the understanding that if somebody likes or dislikes someone/something, it has (almost) everything to do with that person and (almost) nothing with that someone/something. This understanding paves the way to self-fulfilling our needs.

In this specific case of Twitter followers however, it doesn’t even go to ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’. I have observed that quite a large number of people don’t follow others out of interest, but merely as a strategy to be followed back!

This whole idea of having Twitter followers has become almost entirely meaningless to me after this examination. It has left me with amazement at how our mind leads us to nonsensical behaviours when we seek to fulfill ourselves through external means.

1: ‘svadhyaya’ in the Yoga Sutras
2: ‘practice’ and ‘non-attachment’ lead to Self-realisation according to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras


A practical lesson in the garden

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – This article

After having passed my test, Wolfgang invited me to stay at his place in Germany for the weekend so that he could begin sharing his experiences with me. I was very excited, and this excitement was perhaps boosted by the fact that I had just obtained my master’s degree and was completely free from responsibilities and duties: free to fully focus on my personal development.

The weekend itself was wonderful and I have a number of great memories of it. There is one situation in particular that I want to share in this article. My understanding of spirituality had been, unbeknown to me, completely theoretical before this transpired, and the situation kick-started my movement towards becoming very practical about spirituality.

Wolfgang’s house has a relatively spacious garden surrounding it. He has built many nice things in that garden, such as a small bathhouse and a meditation place built around a fire pit where a handful of people can sit together (in fact, I was initiated by him at that meditation place in that weekend!).

One of the activities that Wolfgang did with me was gardening. He was giving me instructions to observe and feel which parts of the plants and trees were suffering or dying and to prune those parts. He also gave me some instructions to collect all dead plants and branches on different stacks, and to throw these stacks away later.

While I was doing my work, he had gone back inside the house to spend some time with his wife. After about an hour or two he said from inside the house: “Ilyaz, dinner is ready!” I happily went inside to have the meal. After we had eaten, I made myself comfortable, retreated to my room and did some resting and reading.

The next morning, when I came down, Wolfgang said with a semi-stern voice: “Come stand next to me at the window and see the mess you’ve created.” I was not quite sure what he was talking about, but when I reached there he showed me that there were a number of stacks with dead plants and flowers that I had forgotten to throw away! They were still lying there in his garden! There was no anger in him, but it was clear to me that he wanted me to know that there was something quite significant to learn from this.

Then he said: “The mess in the garden is a reflection of the mess in your mind. Be practical.”

This is how I learned my first lesson about the relationship between our mind (internal states) and our surroundings (external reality). The lesson itself was so practical that I simply cannot forget it. It has been a great help to me, and I have been turning increasingly practical ever since.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – 本文



A test of willingness

Part 1
Part 2 – This article
Part 3

As I mentioned in the previous article, Wolfgang (my teacher) told me that he would teach me but I would have to show him that I’m sincere first. I would have to show my sincerity by ‘passing a test’.

I have met people who have the impression that it is unfair to test an aspiring student before teaching her, but this impression comes from the understanding that it is the teacher who ‘transforms’ the student. My experience however is that for any kind of learning we have to make efforts ourselves. A teacher can only inspire, demonstrate and give advice. A simple example: If we want to learn how to play the guitar, we will have to play the notes ourselves. If we don’t want to play a single note, we can at the very best only learn at a superficial level (conceptual) and not at a deeper, more profound level (experiential).

I want to relate a story about a young man I have met during my time in Taiwan. I had given a guest lecture at a university in Taipei City and a student approached me after the lecture. I don’t remember what the exact subject was, but it had something to do with the inner dimensions of live. This student told me that he really wanted to me to teach him more about what I had spoken about. I did not commit myself to doing anything yet, but we exchanged contact details and would keep in touch.

Over the course of the next couple of days I started receiving emails from this young man in which he stressed that it is very important to him to learn more from me and that he would also like me to teach at his student organization. Even though teaching and sharing is one of my great passions, I was not able to commit myself to spending time with him because I had a slightly disturbed feeling about it all. It was my impression that he was talking a lot about what he would like me to do for him, and not much about what he would like to do for him.

Even though Elly was against it, I decided to give him a test. I went against the advice of my wife because I have learned to trust my feelings: they always have something important to say.

I learned from Wolfgang that in order to test the willingness of a person properly, it is important to test that person on a subject that is (slightly) difficult for him. I had the impression with this person that money (greed) is a difficult subject for him, so I told him: “I will ask for a financial compensation for our work and time together. I realise that you are a student, so I will only ask you to give me what you feel comfortable with. Any amount you feel comfortable with, is fine.”

The answer I got from him was very surprising to me, but also very relieving: “It’s very kind of you to want to work with me, but I do not think it is on my priority list right now.” And I have never heard of this young man since!

So back to me and my test. When I don’t feel well (emotionally), I gain weight fast (for reference: at one point I was almost 80kg and I have a height of only 1m65). As mentioned in the previous article, when I met Wolfgang I wasn’t in a happy state of mind so I was overweight. The assignment he gave me was to lose 10 kilograms in 3 months time and to contact him after I have reached the goal.

My motivation to reach the goal was high because I was so excited about the possibility of working with Wolfgang. It became easy for me to lose the 10 kilograms, and I don’t see them coming back again.

Part 1
Part 2 – 本文
Part 3