Meditation is to start afresh, befriend anew. It allows us to develop new habits thereby creating a new relationship with the mind and the Self. For this fresh relating to arise we need to realise that our mediums of expression and communication with ourself and others are outdated, distorted, unfresh and unfriendly. Initially this realisation is when we are aware that our bodies feel tense, rigid, tight, unfresh and our mind catches itself in the entanglement of repetitive negative thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, either completely inert, dissipated or oscillating – leaving a feeling of isolation from not expressing what we feel or mean. So what do we do? Either we keep on doing what we’ve always done, reinforcing the sense of ‘mis-identity’ we have habitually chosen for ourself; or we decide to make a move, an effort to change, to grow, in order to befriend our body and mind and start afresh.

The techniques of meditation are definitely a way to start afresh. There has been a lot of talk about them and meditation. But what is spoken about generally relates to the techniques and not the state. This is because very few of us have experienced, and even less have established themselves in and maintained that expansive state. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras defines meditation (dhyana) as, “An uninterrupted stream of the contents of consciousness (Ch 3, V 3); and its aim as the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” (Ch 1, v2). In order to unfold this ‘active’ state naturally we need to begin somewhere. Again Sage Patanjali gives us a clue – “Yoga meditation is to be understood as a form of discipline” (Ch 1, v1). In other words to govern our personality through watching the mind. Tibetans define meditation as ‘becoming familiar’. This familiarity is not spacing out, seeing coloured lights, angels, nor is it running away from. Rather it is running into life relating to others, the environment and being honest and open to yourself – taking a good look at, listening to and accepting what is coming up within, without judgment, suppression, expectation or any type of censorship. This is where the ‘passive’ meditation techniques come into play.

Passive meditation techniques give us the gift to witness, how to be aware, and how to simply attend. They show us how to observe the body, the senses, the mental processes, thoughts, feelings and endless cycle of desires. When we learn how to observe the mind we start to observe how the thinking process, the memory and the ego work. We also start to witness those parts of the mind that are negative, unfriendly, unfresh, self-defeating and turbulent – habitually governing the different expressions of the personality. But at the same time we can also be aware of our higher nature that is still.

The mind can be likened to a puppy dog, needing to be trained and befriended. Initially you instruct the puppy to sit (still); it may sit for a second or two, then it starts licking you face; you again tell it to sit; it then starts to bite you, a toy, your shoes; you tell it to sit again, and so on. The same process happens with its toilet training. You show the dog where and how to go to the toilet; but if it’s dark and needs to go now, it will go to the toilet on your newly vacuumed carpets or rugs or somewhere. This training takes time, regular practice (abhyasa), refinement, patience and, a sense of reverence manifesting from impartial involvement or watching (vairagya).

The training begins with the physical that we tend to identify with every moment. All the activities, expressions and interactions take place through the senses and the body. We attempt to take proper care of them, regulating them, eliminating toxins, tensions and harmonising its systems through asana, pranayama and the shatkarmas. Consequently these affect and influence the mental behaviours and expression. Then we begin the meditation techniques?

Usually our minds are so distracted, distressed, dissipated, fluctuating from one object to the next that we have lost contact, connection with its natural expression. Our actions and motivations are befuddled, unclear, influenced by our likes (raga) and dislikes (dwesha). So the practices of Pratyahara are paramount in regaining some clarity and enthusiasm.

Pratyahara literally means to ‘feed the self’. It is where we begin to be aware of, and witness the mental activity in relation to the external world. We extend our awareness into the realm of the senses, impartially observing the objects to which the senses are usually attracted to or repulsed by and then we begin to focus them internally at one point. Yoga nidra and antar mouna are great practices for cultivating this involvement without reaction (the witness) by initially dealing with tensions of the manifest mind before gradually uncovering the subtle mind. Pratyahara naturally leads to a natural introversion of consciousness and liberates the energy that has been bound in mental dissipation or latency so that we can access and process those stored impressions and be with ourselves. New avenues and opportunities arise helping us move into a different sense of who we are.

Each practice of Pratyahara has one purpose, one aim, thus one needs to stick to it until the end to derive the full benefit. Hence we need to learn and develop a passive meditation technique thoroughly so that it becomes so ingrained that we have some stability to rest on. We can then honestly observe the relationship with the mind, its activities and find a way to contact and befriend that communicable self, the drashta. An excellent technique for this is Antar mouna where we begin observing the senses, then the spontaneous thoughts, followed by the creation and disposal of thoughts, then the space between them before awakening the subtle inner faculties through concentration on a symbol or yantra. Once we have stabilised and refined ourself within a technique of meditation we find it spills over into our life helping us remain objectively uninvolved to any situation. It is not something to ‘force’ upon ourself, rather it is a commitment to a life lived more fully where our lifestyle reflects and nourishes our inner work.

A meditative lifestyle involves the use of awareness in our day-to-day existence to know what is going on within ourself. It is only through stabilisation and simplicity that we can watch objectively. For example we can be stabilised in the breath during daily situations – watching where it is flowing, which nostril is dominant, its length, listening to its inherent sound etc. We need to be honest and communicable with the self to know our boundaries in proceeding into the vast terrain of the mind. Swami Niranjanananda has said, “Meditation is a state of identification with the inner being. In order to identify with the deep, inner being, one has to be natural.” To be natural we need to let ourself be open to experiencing whatever comes up, whether positive or negative, allowing it to move through us, so we can choose a response that is most helpful in a specific situation. This naturalness can only arise if we befriend the mind, befriend that inner being.

Unfortunately most of us are vaguely aware of what befriending is and based on. The process of categorising someone as a friend or an enemy is quite amusing once we watch it. We meet with someone and proceed to categorise them superficially in either one of the following: I like them (friend), I dislike them (enemy), or I am indifferent to, or uninterested in them. These classifications are based on what they do or don’t do for me, how they satisfy or don’t satisfy my needs, reinforce or challenge my concepts etc. Once labelled we hold onto them like they are something solid, unchanging which prevents us from seeing how things really are. Consequently once an individual changes (inevitable), and their thoughts, beliefs, concepts and feelings change, the relationship and situation changes. We lose our conceived ‘stability’, our mind overwhelms us and we become contracted. Our friend becomes our enemy for performing an action we deem negative. Our enemy becomes our friend by performing an action we deem positive. And the person labelled as indifferent could be immediately categorised as a friend or enemy based on a single action. A solid basis?

The ground of life and the basis of life is mind. To be stabilised in meditation allows us to watch our lives more objectively and be natural. We become more willing and determined to go into our mental stuff as we deepen the ability to witness and connect with the heart. Then the experience of spirit happens through the heart of a befriended mind.

Sannyasi Dharmavanam