A very refined state in which the mind is completely quiet.
Doesn’t everything about that sound awesome? “Very refined.” “Completely quiet.” Those things together make me shiver with delight probably because I don’t feel anywhere near complete quiet. Take today, for example. This morning, my breath was choppy and agitated as I attempted what I thought was going to be a moderate, but turned out to be vigorous, yoga practice at 5:08 am. I worked up a sweat doing sun salutations under the heating vent and when I slowed down, the heating shut off and ‘sweaty’ quickly turned into ‘clammy’. (Gentle yoga for 5am, please.) When I finally sat to do my breathing I was singing Adele’s “Rumor has it” to the pulse of my alarm clock which went off for 8 excruciating minutes earlier that morning. On top of that, I was yawning every 5 seconds. Meditation had some fleeting moments of focus interspersed with wondering about my breakfast, reviewing the practices that I wrote up yesterday for a couple of students and thinking about how I was sweaty/clammy/sweaty from that difficult āsana practice. Not quiet.
But I’ve known the feeling that time is standing still and I am completely out of my own way so that I can just be right there watching or listening or feeling something very deeply. In those special moments, I’m not thinking about stuff I have to do or replaying a funny conversation in my head, I’m just there, watching something amazingly complex and I just receive it, or when I’m feeling a song beat it’s rhythm in my chest and it’s almost like I am the rhythm. I spotted a snake in my back yard yesterday and I had this feeling. As soon as I knew it was there, the snake came into acute focus. All the colors were really-intense and my mind was completely tuned into/slightly afraid of that snake. I stared at it for a long time and I watched it watch me. I eventually snapped a picture, then it slithered away. Beautiful. These quiet feelings do come, but rarely, and I’d like more of them. Because it’s in these moments that I feel like I “get” it. I don’t even know what, exactly, but it’s like life makes a tiny bit more sense…Like I know what this body of mine is here to do and that I’m inside listening. It’s clear.
Yoga Sutra III.3* talks about Samādhi. This is a very deep experience of meditation and this sutra lets us know that we are experiencing Samādhi when the object of focus shines as if it is the only thing there. Artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ: “Only the object shines.” Rad.
How can it be that only the object shines? Not only does our mind need to get a lot of practice and time to know what a focused state feels like, but it also means we have to be out of our own way. We might miss the beautiful, sun-bathing snake if we are so focused on getting in the door so that we can start munching on that last piece of the hazelnut chocolate bar in the cabinet. It means that there has to be some really good internal housekeeping going on. Consider this parable…
There once was a wealthy merchant who heard about a famous Zen master. He wanted to learn from him so he traveled across the world and knocked on his door. The Zen master invited him in and offered him tea. The merchant was annoyed because he hadn’t traveled across the world for tea, but he indulged the master who had the reputation of being knowledgeable and wise. The master began to pour his guest some tea and he continued to pour the tea even after the cup was full. The tea went all over the merchant’s hands and fine clothes. Now he was very annoyed and shouted, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing?” The Zen master replied, “Your mind is like the cup. It is already so full. How do you expect me to teach you anything?”
We have to empty the cup so that something else can come in. Right?!? Gee, Zen master, you are knowledgeable and wise.
Yoga Sutra 1.18* talks about virāma, this special state of mind where all the other stuff, saṃskāra-s or habits and patterns, are dormant. When in this quiet mental state, we don’t act out of habit. The saṃskāra–s are still there, but they aren’t running the show. When in this state, we have a little bit of space to be able to listen and then respond. We are conscious of our actions. This is the empty cup.
I’m really glad that we’ve got yoga. The possibility of having a few moments of complete mental quiet everyday is so very sweet that all the effort and practice it takes to move in that direction seems worth it, even if it occasionally involves feeling clammy. This ability to empty out some of the mental clutter, to find clear space for new stuff to come in, and to have the experience of a focused mind is an ongoing and beautiful process and yoga presents really practical tools for doing just this. Lucky us. After all, a very refined state in which the mind is completely quiet is nice.
*Special thanks to my wonderful teacher, Chase Bossart, who helps the Yoga Sutras to be so meaningful!
If you’d like to practice movement, breathing and meditation in this wonderful lineage, I’d be delighted to teach you! Send me an email and let’s chat. amandagreenYOGA at gmail dot com.