Meditation is a practice of working to clear the mind of thoughts and attachments.
I like desires. I enjoy engaging with the world around me through thoughts, opinions, and insights. Why then would I work to establish a mind free from these things?
Sutra 4.6: tatra dhyānajam anāśayaṁ
Hence, the no-image that is born of meditation receptacle is the best – because it does not, for itself, entrench itself as a real image and colour the mind. Translation by Swami Venkatesananda
In the context of the sutras, which are providing the tools for training the mind to experience yoga, a mind full of thoughts and images obviously gets in the way of yoga, i.e., no-thought, no-thing, oneness. And so, according to the sutras, one should strive for a mind cleared of thought during meditation.
In the context of being engaged with the world, living life from day to day (with or without seeking yoga), the same basic principle applies: we all need a break from ourselves from time to time.
When we become entrenched in our thoughts, opinions, and insights, it is too easy to miss a bigger picture of which we’re a part –or that there even might be a bigger picture to consider. We take ourselves too seriously.
How many times have you been stuck on a problem, unable to sort out a solution, only to be pulled away by something else that demands your attention –i.e. a break from the original problem– and then, voilá! Cleared of the stress of focusing on one thing, you arrive at a solution that takes a greater context into account.
Focusing the mind on nothingness through meditation is the break we need to keep humming along with perspective. It’s the break that keeps us smiling at our loved ones, holding space for our foes, and realizing that our little pocket of the world is not the be-all, end-all of the story.
But don’t take my word for it, try it out!
The no-image mind described in sutra 4.6 is an awesome experience, it’s not essential to achieve that for your meditation to offer a pause from engaging with your thoughts. Instead, all you have to do is choose a point of focus (your breath is always available!) and, while sitting comfortably with an upright spine (in a chair is fine!), repeatedly return your attention to that object of focus for a realistic period of time (start with 5 minutes and as your comfort grows (over weeks, months, or years), work your way to 20 or even 30 minutes).
I promise, over time, clearing your mind from your usual thoughts will create greater harmony in them when your thoughts are present. I think that’s a pretty good return from no-thing.
Here’s that meditation again:
- Sit comfortably with an upright spine – on a cushion on the floor or in a chair makes no difference
- Set a timer for 5 minutes – or any amount of time you’re comfortable with
- Turn your attention to your breath – when thoughts distract you from the breath, it’s ok to acknowledge them and then gently return your attention to the breath. Repeat this as needed. The process of attempting to focus on one thing, i.e. returning the attention to the breath again and again, is a key element of meditation.
- When the timer chimes, lie down for 1 minute – you can relax your focus to whatever comes in. Reclining even for a short moment can help relax any extra muscular effort you used to sit upright.
- That’s it! Repeat daily or as regularly as you can!
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.