This February comes with a special twist. I’ve been gifted with an opportunity to partake in Peter Fernando’s A Month of Mindfulness online meditation course. For the past 12 years I’ve been studying and practicing exlusively under the guidance of my two Yoga teachers. This is the first time I am venturing off my spiritual-treasure-island to spend time with another teacher and other teachings.
When I scanned the five themes offered in the course my impulse was to go with “Focusing on Rest”. When I explored them in more depth I gravitated towards “Opening the Heart” and began my month with it. Each of the themes is offered with an article that gives a context and direction to the practice and a ~30 minute guided meditation. And so, with an open heart I sat down for my first guided meditation of the month.
In Yoga there is a distinction between Dhyana (meditation, Dharana (focusing the mind) and Pratyahara (quieting the mind). To this day my teachers have not prescribed to me Dhyana (meditation) practices but all of my practices are inherently infused with Dharana qualities. This includes a practice that to an outside observer may look like Dhyana (meditation) but to me is still a Dharana (focusing of the mind) or Pratyahara (quieting the mind) practice. In any case this is a quiet and intimate practice that does not involve an outside voice. Therefore, I am not versed or particularly skilled at guided meditations.
This guided meditation opened with surprising friction. Peter’s voice is soothing and friendly and joyful … but I couldn’t keep up. Listening is, for me, an act of mind – hearing and understading the words requires that I engage thought – so the very essence of the practice – a guided meditation – seemed to be in conflict with the intention of the practice – moving into the heart. I encountered words and phrases I could meditate on for weeks but when they finally did reach my heart new words came into my mind and again pulled me back into the mind. On occasion I ignored some of the words so that I could spend some time in my heart – but then when more words came I had already lost the thread of the story. I had to spend even more time in my mind trying to figure out where I am and what I missed. I felt tossed around, agitated and disturbed … and I did not want to experience that again, let alone for an entire month.
Peter was open and receptive to my experience and offered numerous alternative directions to go,of which I chose to return to my initial impulse to the “Focusing on Rest” theme. So the next day I sat with the guided meditation from that theme. There was still friction, though less then before. Still the act of listening and understanding words brought me into my mind – and I have a trigger happy mind. It can easily turn on itself and, if nothing else is available, think about thinking itself. This time I stopped about 20 minutes into the practice. Though I wasn’t very emotional about it I felt alone and confused.
Yesterday we had a long (and inspiring) day away from home so there was no space for practice. Today I resumed practice and as I approached it I asked myself what to do. I decided to resume my existing practices – Pranayama and then sitting – and to simply add an idea of “not doing” to my sitting. I was doubtful when I began the practice because I seemed to be gravitating towards my existing and familiar patterns and avoiding the opportunity to explore a new teaching. My doubts were unwarranted.
The “not doing” theme led to a fascinating “dialogue” between my mind and my heart. My mind introduced itself to my heart as a “doer” – it identifies challenges, obstacles, problems and it solves them by either moving thoughts or limbs. It could not “do” anything with “not doing” – it couldn’t see the point. Then my heart smiled and offered to help – it said it loves not-doing and was willing to “help” my mind by shouldering the burden of “not doing”. My mind didn’t object and said “ok” and my heart began to “not do”.
But at that point, my disinterested mind began to wonder off in another direction of “doing”. My heart, as if clearing its throat, gently called my mind back and said “but I prefer that you stick around”. To which my mind replied “what for?”. To which my heart replied “I just want you here with me”. This happened numerous times until in my mind there seemed to grow a sense of respect and recognition towards my heart. This way, my mind realized it did not need to surrender its nature of “doing” for some inconceivable and senseless notion of “not doing”. Instead it found in my heart a friend who seemed to be able to do something it couldn’t … and all it had to “do” was observe – which is something it felt comfortable “doing”.
And so I found myself in a miraculous dialoge of mind and heart and ironically engaged in both of the themes that called out to me. It didn’t need to be (as my mind had assumed) a choice of either one or the other. It apparently could also be one through the other. I am now looking forward to the remainder of my month of mindfulness 🙂