The first time I sat in meditation I was 16 years old, it was the same year that I had been introduced toYoga. I was in California for my first visit and had sat down with my late father figure Mel Ash and a few others.
We were guided by Mel to sit in an upright position on the floor, to close our eyes, and watch our thoughts in our mind. To observe them. To sit with them. His guidance was simple, and then he was silent.
I distinctly remember closing my eyes and feeling the afternoon East Bay sun shining on my cheeks through the windows. I could smell the incense burning on the altar, Ravi Shankar playing a gentle sitar over the stereo, and a cat rubbing its face on my knee. Everything was set for peace, yet there I sat with my mind racing.
All of the thoughts in my mind had control over me. They flooded in like a wave of uncertainty, confusion, repressed trauma, and stress. I was drowning in my own mind, and I didn’t know what to do. I did what the monkey mind does, and began to question things.
Was I doing it right? I slightly opened an eye and peaked around.
Why does it seem so easy to everyone else, I thought?
Should I focus on my breath?
Should my hands be in my lap, should I be holding a mudra?
Why do I have so many thoughts?
Am I supposed to control them?
What am I supposed to do?
How do I get rid of everything I'm thinking?
Oh no, Is time running out and I haven’t reached enlightenment yet? (LOL)
Then suddenly a bell rang through the air. I had spent 15 minutes in deep contemplation of what to do, how to avoid my thoughts, and how to get rid of them. I couldn’t understand how to meditate or why I felt so much trauma, and why it scared me.
Afterwards I asked no questions, but I was deeply curious. Everyone in our group was talking about how peaceful they felt, and I was silent. I couldn’t shake some of the things I had just felt, memories of childhood abuse, emotional neglect, serious life questions, all of it was so overwhelming. I thought to myself, how was I meant to feel enlightened after this experience?
That day, a seed was planted in my mind. A seed that over the last 15 years has grown and developed into a lifestyle of self care and ritualistic practices. For me to live life by ritual is what seemed to make sense at the time and that belief still holds true to this very day. At the time I already established the habit of journaling, which led me to release a lot of repressed thoughts, images, and beliefs that caused me emotional anguish, and pulled me away from my essence.
Journaling helped me to acknowledge and show myself compassion to dissolve deeply rooted conditions that I was raised by that were no longer serving me. It allowed me to connect with my dreams and perceive a future that could be more fruitful than my past had been. I also began to practice Yoga more and tried to understand meditation and the objective of it.
Although meditation was somewhat abstract for me to comprehend, I still tried. I sat down as often as I could with myself, my thoughts, my limiting beliefs, and my weaknesses and tried to push them away. It took hours of practice, educating myself, and building stronger habits to realize that meditation isn’t just something you do when you want to calm down, or a tool to suppress or get rid of emotions, but it's a way of life. Meditation is a way to embrace being human in our bodies and our world around us.
Everything we do in our daily lives can be used as a form of meditation. From preparing meals, taking care of our daily hygiene practices, reading, studying, working, painting, etc. Everything we do can be used as an opportunity to observe our thoughts. Not to push them away but to welcome them and allow them to flow through us like a graceful breeze. This concept has for anyone that practices yoga been brought to our awareness through the phrase “bringing your yoga off the mat.”
I learned later in my practice that the path to Enlightenment is not brought about through whimsical or dreamy mental images we create. It's not the illusions we project on the world around us, It's about effort, focus, diligence, and ritual. It's about taking the time everyday to contribute to our well being, even when we don't want to. When we push ourselves to try everyday we align with and contribute to our Dharma, our path and duty as a human being. When we can connect with this understanding the path we walk begins to feel more free and easier to embrace.
I often consider the beauty of opening our arms to Santosha. Santosha is one of the Niyamas in Pantanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. To be able to reach enlightenment we must go through all of the 8 limbs of yoga which includes all of the Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayamas, and so on. What's compelling about Santosha is how relevant it is to all of us. Santosha means Contentment, and I was out of touch with Santosha in my first meditation experience. It was too distant a thought to accept and be content with everything I was carrying in my mind.
We can use Santosha in meditation and in everything we do. When we are content with life we are able to let things flow without judgment, attachment, or expectation. We don't look for things outside of us to quell our inner dissatisfaction with life, for we are content and grateful for life just as it is. The next time you feel yourself slipping into controlling thoughts, judgment, life/ self alienating beliefs, or needing more, take a moment to ask yourself, how can I embrace Santosha, and where is my life meditation stuck?
🖤Ily Beautiful Being