Tag Archives: mind

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.

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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.

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Mindfulness and negative emotions

This article was originally published on MyYogaOnline.com under the title “3 Ways Mindfulness Can Help with Negative Emotions“. You can help me to build my profile at MyYogaOnline.com 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 MyYogaOnline.com ,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。

「我到底怎麼了?」當我們經歷負面情緒時,這往往是我們提出的問題。當我們如此提問時,我們視這些負面情緒為某種「不好的」或者「錯誤的」事情。這樣的看法使得我們無法正向地運用這些負面情緒,以協助個人成長。對我而言,受苦的定義,正是對於負面情緒抱持負面態度。

負面情緒的出現,就好比亮起紅燈的交通號誌,它告訴我們:該停下來了。如果我們認為交通中出現紅燈是不好的事,那表示我們並未完全了解這個號誌的用處。想像一下,如果我們都選擇忽略紅燈號誌代表的簡單訊息的話,那麼結果將會出現什麼樣的混亂局面?

同樣地,正面情緒就如同交通號誌裡的綠燈,它的出現告訴我們,該繼續前進了。如果我們反而在綠燈時踩下煞車,那又會帶來什麼樣的災難呢?

與其處決傳遞訊息的使者(即內心的負面情緒),我建議,當感受負面情緒時,可以試著練習以下三個步驟:

1. 覺知:注意當下
瑜珈的基礎在於覺知。不管我們做什麼,如果我們不保有覺知,那就不是瑜珈。當我們面臨負面情緒時,覺知即意味著在經歷負面情緒的同時,不受這樣的情緒擺佈。情緒是股強大的力量,輕易地就能將人淹沒。如果我們所經歷的負面情緒,比起我們回到當下覺知的能力,要來得強大,那麼我們可以等待心情較平靜時,再練習我所提的這三個步驟。這個覺知練習,是藉由將記憶帶回觸發負面情緒的事件發生的當下。在心情較平復時練習,我們可以訓練自己,於經歷負面情緒的同時,仍保持覺知。

2. 沈思:了解負面情緒的來源.
沈思的意思,是參與一段愉悅的自我對話。我的意思正是我們需要和自己進行談話。在這場對話裡,我們可以扮演一個傾聽朋友需求的人的角色。如果我們有所不解,就向朋友提出疑問,但不要扮演一個提供建議和評斷的人的角色。

在這場對話中,我們應該向自己提出兩個重要的問題:我真正需要的是什麼?我如何給我自己我所需要的?當我們向自己提出這些問題時,我們必須記得,瑜珈是練習不執著。不執著的意義之一正是,我們的快樂或成就,並不取決於任何自身以外的人或事。舉例來說。如果我們對第一個問題的回答是:我需要我的上司對我的工作能力表達尊重與認可,這表示我們依賴上司的尊重與認可。請你試著回答:我需要尊重與認可。接著問自己第二個問題:我應該如何給自己尊重與認可?這個問題的答案,將會發自內心而來。

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
練習即是依循沈思所得的洞見而採取行動。若我們不依循這些洞見,那就好比手上有本食譜,卻從來不能試過其中任何一道菜。很樣一來,這本食譜很快地會變成負擔。

這三個步驟一直以來都幫助我對自己有更深的認識。我希望它們也能夠對你有所幫助。

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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.)

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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.

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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

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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

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