Coming home through Meditation practice

Meditation is an ancient practice that fosters mindfulness, focus, and inner peace. Meditation has transcended geographical, cultural, and religious boundaries and is now practiced across the globe. It is a contemplative practice intended to cultivate inner peace, and foster a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.

There are several understandings of meditation based on distinct philosophical foundations and objectives using various approaches such as Buddhism and Vipassana meditation. Practices in Rishikesh Yog Dham focus on Patangali’s Yoga Sutras, a foundational text in classical yoga philosophy. Within this, meditation (Dhyana) is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, alongside ethical principles (Yamas & Niyamas), physical postures (asanas), breathwork (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana Yoga) and enlightenment (Samadhi).

From this perspective, meditation is the “continuous and uninterrupted flow of concentration…the state of focused attention that leads to the transcendence of ordinary thought patterns, allowing the practitioner to experience the true nature of the self and attain union with the divine.” (Patangali’s Yoga Sutras, Samadi Pada). Meditation is therefore an integral part of the yogic lifestyle.

Coming home through meditation practice
Coming home through meditation practice

My experience with meditation through the course felt like ‘coming home’ to myself. At the beginning of my 500-hour journey, I could not even sit in an upright, cross-legged position. When I closed my eyes and attempted to center my awareness on my breath, my thoughts flashed past so rapidly, it felt like trying to swim in the ocean while gigantic waves engulfed and violently tossed me around. There were days when tears streamed down my freckled face as repressed emotions and memories surfaced in flashes. There were days when I could not focus on my breath for more than a few seconds. I remember feeling so frustrated with myself that I could not ‘do’ meditation. More than anything, I felt grief for the past versions of myself who carried all of these emotions and thoughts with no outlet.  I rarely gave myself the chance to stop and observe my internal experience. I was always running from one thing to the next, under self-induced pressure to ‘achieve’ and ‘perform’. My entire teenage and adult life, I was praised for all that I had accomplished, I was rewarded for my workaholic and unbalanced tendencies which propelled me through my university career. As a recovering perfectionist, I berated myself on days I found it hard to focus on my breath in class, just as I did when I could not be as productive on a given day. I know now that these meditation experiences are as important as the days when I found it easier to contemplate my inner world without judgment because it showed me how I was living day-to-day. My inner dialogue on difficult days reflected how I spoke to myself when I was not ‘performing’ or feeling my ‘best’. On such days, my thought habits consisted of condescending self-talk and doomsday scenarios centred on my intense fear of failure.

Coming home through meditation practice
Coming home through meditation practice

During my master’s thesis semester last year, I was grappling with heavy personal and family problems, working part-time, maintaining my fitness level, and trying to be there for the people I loved. As always, the aspect of my life which I neglected was myself. There were days when I woke up with intense feelings of overwhelm. Rather than taking the time to recentre and care for myself, I pushed myself to be more productive. My thought patterns told me conflicting stories; ‘I need to sleep more, but if I stay up late I can study a few extra hours. I need to rest, but if I rest, I will fall further behind in all of my responsibilities. Why am I always getting distracted? I need to focus on what’s important, I need to finish my studies, I have to get it together, I don’t have time for sadness, I don’t have time to fall apart. Why can’t I just sit down and focus? Other people seem to have no problem in juggling their responsibilities, why do I keep letting myself down? I need to be there for my friend and brother who are both struggling right now. I don’t have time for socializing, but if I don’t go I will drift apart from the people I care about. I am so behind on everything. I need to get up and go to the library early so I can study for 12 hours to make up for my lack of productivity this week. I don’t have time for a day off, I need to keep pushing like I always have. I need to prepare meals for the week because eating out is either unhealthy or outside of my budget. I need to spend Sunday studying too, but I also need to work fifteen hours per week for financial security. My bills are piling up, I can’t afford to rest. Not long now, the harder I work, the quicker it’s done. I cannot possibly keep going, I don’t know how to get everything done, I need a break from my own mind. Focus, focus. Why can’t I focus? Why am I failing at everything? Why does it feel like my world is falling apart? It must be because I am not good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough. I can’t keep going like this, but I also cannot stop. What if I fail? What if I fall apart? What if I lose everything I’ve worked so hard for?’

Coming home through meditation practice
Coming home through meditation practice

 My monkey mind operated in loops that reproduced negative and fearful thoughts. I didn’t know how to rest because relaxation induced guilt, which triggered more unwanted thoughts. This cycle led me to a burnout I was unconscious of until I arrived at Rishikesh Yog Dham. Naturally, meditation was the toughest class for me because it involved me sitting still and observing my thoughts. I made the right decision to stay for two months at the yoga studio because it took this time to learn how to feel safe and still within myself. It took time to let go of my preconceptions and ideas of what I should achieve and how I should show up in this world. It took contemplation to accept and understand the limitations of my own energy and time. It was in these classes that I understood my own purity, and my own goodness despite my shortcomings and flaws. Coming home to myself meant fully accepting where I was uncovering the layers of conditioning to find my own source of energy, my own consciousness. This yoga school offers 100-hour yoga teacher training courses.

My relationship with meditation is distinct from yours or theirs because meditation simply involves cultivating a safe space within oneself and seeing the world as it actually is. Therefore, the meditative space is different for everyone, it comes with different sets of methods and struggles. There is no one right ‘way’ to meditate, which is why our meditation teacher, Bhupendra Ji, introduced us to a variety of techniques, including fixed gaze meditation, singing, breath counting, mantras, and mala chanting, to name a few. I found breath counting to be the most challenging because it brought up my competitive side. I experienced feelings of intense frustration when I lost count of my breath and had to start from scratch. Although this is not my preferred method of meditation, my improvement with breath counting was a testament to my personal growth through meditation.

Coming home through meditation practice
Coming home through meditation practice

The days in Rishikesh seemed to fly by quicker each day. My experience in the first month’s meditation class consisted of mental chaos and overwhelming thoughts, which impacted my physical body and emotions. It felt as though the floodgates had opened, and I felt I could not ‘meditate’. Little did I know that this is what the first stage of meditation feels like: suppressed thoughts and emotions pass through you to release. The second month felt like the calm after the storm. There were still waves, but they lapped along the shoreline rather than forcefully crashing down on my consciousness. I had a few difficult days due to personal reasons during my 300-hour teacher training. While I was processing these experiences, they felt uncomfortably familiar. It felt like I regressed back to how I felt when I had first arrived, with thoughts swirling as I waded through my fears and projections.

After a time, I understood the difference between my meditative experience in the second month compared to the first. The difficult thoughts I had witnessed stemmed from my present, rather than the distant past. This realization enabled me to be fully present with myself through my own experience without judgment or fear. Through this, the intensity of those moments could pass through me, rather than weighing on my long-term consciousness. This is the beauty and art of meditation. Just like any other form of art, magic is made by clearing energy channels to facilitate a state of flow. Meditation to me feels like the art of consciousness which allows us to witness life as it is in flow. My journey with meditation is just beginning, yet it has already provided me with immense insights into my internal realm. It feels like cultivating and returning home. When I recall my inner dialogue when I first arrived, all of its imperatives and judgments, I realize how much I have grown to accept myself in all of my imperfections. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them imperfections anymore, they are simply aspects of my current existence. 

Coming home through meditation practice
Coming home through meditation practice

Conscious human beings have the potential for expansive and continuous growth and development, and I am so grateful to have been presented with this gift. From my experience, growth comes from non-judgment and letting go of the need to be ‘better’. From this place, I have been able to witness my tendencies with less attachment. I have learned to let go of the behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve or align with my true self at any given moment. The beauty of letting go is in life’s ability to bring back that which is meant to you. For example, I let go of the need to continue my research in sustainability and work a full-time job, yet life has brought up an opportunity to work in this field again. I had to stop pushing myself along this path in order for me to know that this is indeed the next step that aligns with my vision for the future. As such, my experience of meditation has been one of letting go of everything, preconceptions, desires, judgments, and attachments. Matt Haig, one of my favorite authors, wrote;

 “It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other talents, and said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee, or done more bloody yoga.

 It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make the work we didn’t do the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.

But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemies.

We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

 Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

His insights on this topic encompass my own experience here at Rishikesh Yog Dham. Although I rationally knew this to be true, my yoga teacher training facilitated the embodiment of this truth. My ‘shoulds’ have largely disappeared, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the present moment. If only my past self knew how much easier it is to grow and progress in life when your head isn’t stuck on the past and the future. The power is in the present, and meditation places this gift in the palms of our hands. If you haven’t already, I invite you to come home to yourself by cultivating a safe space through meditation.

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