“Separate the mind from the body and unite it with the supreme soul. When your consciousness is free from its different state, know that to be Samadhi.”
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika 7:3
The physicality of asana gives us a glimpse of what is possible. It allows us to relinquish control to our teacher, our guide. It gives us a physical task to focus our mind upon. Asana allows us to let go and release.
But it is in learning to be still and to sit in our own presence where the real magic happens and the proverbial “shit” hits the fan. This is where all of our crap comes up; all of the thoughts, the crazy monkey mind, the negativity, the judgments – we no longer have the controlled distraction of our asana practice, the community, the music, the voice of our teachers – we are alone with ourselves.
Learning to sit in stillness teaches us to know our true selves. It teaches us to look beyond the delusion of the chatty, gossipy, bullying and unruly little customs agent, our ego, and truly see who we are. To see our selves is to turn the light on. Enlightenment isn’t some unreachable goal. Our path to greater awareness and presence requires us to clear away all that masks our true selves. It requires us to stop believing the customs agent. It requires us to walk through the dark spaces in our minds and hearts instead of turning and running.
The practice of sitting, while simplistic is not simple. It is not easy to sit and listen to our own thoughts. We have had much practice in distracting our minds. We are expert multi-takers, and because we so embrace the concept that busy is accomplished, we make the excuse that “sitting” is not something we have time for. The work we do in our asana and pranayama is mindfulness in action. Through this physical effort, we cultivate focus and concentration. However, perhaps it is in sitting that we know our true selves. It is in the stillness of the body and the release of manipulated breath that the mind can truly be observed. It is in this place that the harder work can begin.
Our task is to release the idea that sitting requires anything more than our willingness to observe, to become the seer. To focus our awareness away from the running dialog of our minds and our tendencies to analyze and engage those thoughts imagine that you are a teacher that has walked into a room of unruly children. The children are running about, acting crazy, talking incessantly and screaming. Now imagine that rather than trying to take control of the room by force, by yelling, explaining, reasoning or lecturing, you simply arrive in the room and calmly sit down in the middle. Eventually, the children relent. Many of us have experienced this before. We have been in the presence of a teacher who sits calmly at the front of the room waiting for the chatter to calm so that they may begin their lesson.
As we move through the 8-limbs, we learn from our external teachers and gurus, we begin to acknowledge the lessons of our own behavior and tendencies, to cultivate mindfulness in action, and to be present in our bodies and aware of our breath. As we pivot towards the internal, and practice our ability to remain physically and mentally still, we move through the darkness and all that it masks. With effort and repetition, with courage and resolve, the light within us begins to burn brighter. We are able to become the seer, to shed light on our lives, to become enlightened. Through this we realize that we are our own teachers and gurus. All we have to do is turn on the lights.