Learning To Quiet Our Minds & Emotions Reveals Our True Selves
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is the most widely recognized source of yoga teachings. According to the Yoga Sutra yoga is the ability to direct the mind toward an object and maintain that direction without any loss of concentration. That’s the ultimate purpose of yoga. It might sound kind of boring when you first hear it, but it’s actually amazing once you get the hang of it.
If you’ve never meditated it’s natural to assume that you are almost always in control of your mind. Try this simple meditation. Sit down comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Focus on either the flow of breath in and out of your nostrils or the rising and falling of your stomach. Then count your breaths starting with one and going up to ten. If any thought other than the number of breaths you are counting comes into your mind gently let it go and return to one and start over. Try it now before you read any further.
For most people the exercise goes something like this. One … Two… Did I remember to check the mail today? Dang. One … Two…Three….. Is that good movie still playing? I’d really like to see it. I wonder if she’ll go with me? One … Two… Does she like me or am I my wasting my time? One… You get the idea. This exercise is an excellent way to begin meditating. It often takes several months before a beginner can count 10 breaths in a row without any interrupting thoughts arising.
The breath counting meditation isn’t difficult, anyone can do it. It just requires persistence. If you reach the point where you can count 10 breaths in a row without an interrupting thought you have developed the ability to direct your mind towards counting your breath without a loss of concentration for several seconds.
Why is this important? It ultimately goes to the nature of who we are. Many people assume their consciousness, their essence, resides in their mind or emotions. Yet yoga allows us to develop the ability to quiet our minds and our emotions. If there is some part of you that can tell your mind to stop thinking obviously that part of you resides beyond your mind. That same part of you can also tell your emotions to remain calm, so it must also be beyond your emotions. So we know that the true nature of ourselves, our essence, is something beyond our thoughts and emotions.
If you can develop the ability to control your emotions you can choose to often feel emotions like bliss, joy, and love. This is one of the highest goals of yoga, to develop the ability to reside in positive emotional states. The same thing applies to thinking. If you can learn to control your mind well enough to make it stop thinking you can also learn to focus it strongly on a mental activity such as having a conversation with a friend.
Here’s an example of how things can work if you don’t have the ability to concentrate. Let’s say I’m having a conversation with Sarah, who I would like to get to know better. But then my mind wanders and shifts its focus to her friend Sandy, who just walked by. I say hi to Sandy. This makes Sarah slightly annoyed. Since I’m not concentrating enough on Sarah I don’t notice that she gets annoyed. This annoys her further. You can see how the conversation goes from bad to worse pretty quickly.
Now let’s say I’ve been practicing yoga and I have a better ability to direct my thoughts. There I am sitting down and having a conversation with Sarah and her friend Sandy walks by. Since I’m closely focusing on Sarah I don’t really even notice Sandy. This is flattering to Sarah because she can tell that I’m so interested in her that I’m not even paying attention to anyone else. Our conversation gets deeper and we get to know each other better.
These same patterns apply to almost everything we do in life. If we can maintain our focus on something and bring positive energy to it we simply accomplish more than if we are distracted. So developing the ability to concentrate our minds and emotions has very strong practical benefits. For those of us who are so inclined it also opens the door and allows us to begin to explore the ultimate nature of who and what we are.