My eyes were burning with unbearable pain, it felt like they were going to pop out of their holes! They were sore and itchy and my head was pounding to the point I could barely think. After my lasik surgery, the doctor instructed me to stay in a dark room, cover my eyes with patches and every 4 hours put eye drops that made my face twitch. For a full week I didn’t see anything and couldn’t do anything – it was torture!
On the morning of the seventh day I removed the patches, letting my eyes slowly readjust to the light. I walked outside for the first time after a week and couldn’t believe what I found there – a Rosewood tree, standing in front of my house, high and proud, growing into the sky, with its branches and leaves swinging in the wind, creating endless shades of green as they drop shadow and reveal the light interchangeably. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life!
I realized that I had walked by this tree every day for the past five years and not once noticed its beauty! On that morning, with my new set of eyes, I could suddenly see it. I stood there, staring at the tree, mesmerized by the play of light stroking the leaves as they throw shadows on one another, and simply unable to take my eyes off it. It was astounding! How come I never noticed it before? Despite the harsh pain, I was so happy I did the surgery that allowed me to see all these details! A cheerful feeling filled my heart, as I woke up from all the suffering into this bliss.
The morning after, as I left my house and looked up at the tree again, I noticed that it was still pretty, but not as stunning as yesterday. I couldn’t really understand why – my eyesight was a perfect 20/20 now, why couldn’t I see the tree like yesterday? Was the sunlight different? Was I different? A wave of disappointment washed over my heart. The days passed, I woke up each morning, left the house, walked by the tree and went to work, no longer paying attention to the leaves and their shapes, but the image of the miraculous tree had remained vivid in my mind.
A few years later, when I heard the term Samadhi for the first time, I knew that was it! Samadhi, simply translated to bliss, is the last step in the path of eight limbs in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. Samadhi is a meditative state of total absorption, where awareness is completely present in the moment. In his book Freedom, Love, and Action, Jiddu Krishnamurti said that if you never meditated in your life “You are like the blind man in a world of bright colors”. I know I was blind before, but I also didn’t know how to see again…
The last three limbs of the Yoga Sutras are the three stages of meditation.The first one is Dharana – concentration or single-minded focus – the stage in which one trains the mind to be centered on one thing. The second step is Dhyana – the state of meditation – and the third one is Samadhi – the bliss. I started in the end, in Samadhi, but because I didn’t walk the entire path to get there, I didn’t know how to reach it again.
So I started practicing Dharana and discovered that there are thousands of techniques to train your brain, from gazing at one object to gazing at your third eye, from using visualization to gesturing mudras, from repeating mantras to looking at yantras, so I chose one and started practicing daily. And let me tell you, it is so hard! My thoughts keep wandering all over, the minutes feel like hours, my eyes blink, the seat is uncomfortable and my shoulders hurt. I feel restless and agitated and just can’t wait for it to be over! Sometimes it really feels like torture, just like recovering from lasik… Without realizing it, I had been practicing intensive meditation in a dark room for a whole week while my eyes were healing, so I know it is worth it, because sometimes, in rare mornings, it just flows. I get into the zone where time loses its meaning and only the now exists. Everything is quiet in my mind and joy spreads from my heart to every part of my body. And when the gong rings and I open my eyes, everything is bright and beautiful, a smile is lifted up from the corner of my lips, I take a big breath in and start my day with a blissful taste of Samadhi.
The stage that takes us from Dharana to Samadhi is the hardest to explain, like a riddle in the middle, Dhyana is left unsolved. Almost like describing what love is or how it feels to swim in the ocean, it is really difficult to illustrate what meditation is. So many words had been written about meditation, but nothing can really depict it. Like love, meditation is something that needs to be personally experienced, and like love, we tend to see it as serious and complex. But, as Krishnamurti writes: “Meditation is really very simple. We complicate it. We weave a web of ideas around it, what it is and what it is not. But it is none of these things. Because it is so very simple, it escapes us”. Simple, but not easy….
The practice of Dharana is to focus the mind on one point and concentrate on one thought at a time. This practice has an important side effect – it creates a space between one thought and the next, and with time, this gap grows wider and longer. This space which we can’t see is Dhyana. Krishnamurti defines it as the moment “When the heart enters into the mind”. In other words, Meditation is the time when there is enough space between the thoughts for the heart to enter. “When the thought is silent there is emptiness… Empty – and therefore utterly open”.
Meditation is clearing space, emptying out, opening up. This emptiness is the state of Dhyana that allows us to experience Samadhi. I now understand that it wasn’t the eye surgery that sharpened my vision and enabled me to see – it was the time spent in the darkness that emptied my mind. One of my teachers used to say that instead of looking for our place in the world, we should try to make more space for the world inside ourselves. After seven days in a dark room, I had enough space for one tree to manifest in its full glory, and with practice I hope to create enough space for the whole world.
Ella is grateful to share her love to the magical power of yoga. In her classes she encourages to listen to the wisdom of the body, and let the intuition guide the way. Join her to Lotus Basics on Monday and Wednesday at 8:30pm, and Thursday at 10:45am. Ella also teaches Lotus Yin on Wednesday at 4pm, and live music flow aka Friday Night Live!
Ten thoughts on my current meditation practice in honor of Meditation Month at Laughing Lotus!
This morning I cleared out a space in my storage closet by the water heater, pulled my bolster in, sat down, and closed my eyes.
Yesterday, I didn’t meditate.
I’m in week 4 of an 8-week mindfulness meditation class. The first week when we were assigned a body scan meditation as homework, much to my surprise, I cried, became despondent, and refused to do it. Such a wild swirl of emotion!
I read that meditation can decrease inflammation at a cellular level and increase the gray matter of our brains. I’m interested in the cooling and calming of my cells. I’m interested in the gray matter of my brain. And that’s just for starters.
I’m also re-reading my very dog-eared copy of Jack Kornfield’s beautiful and practical guide to meditation, “A Path With Heart.” If you are interested in meditation, I highly recommend it. He writes this of meditation practice: “each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying ah this too. That simple phrase: this too, this too, this too.”
I have a meditation app on my phone that is mostly just a timer with an alarm that sounds like a meditation bowl. I like it, though, because it has no other function than to sit beside me while I meditate. It will remind me that I have a “meditation streak” of zero days from time to time. It also records how many hours I’ve meditated while using it as my timer. I have meditated for 9 hours and 40 minutes since I downloaded it, which strikes me as funny: it seems like a lot and like nothing at all.
Of course, the beautiful and essential thing about meditation is that it isn’t quantifiable. It is stillness and fire and quiet and explosions and breath and all of the invisible work inside of our cells. It is ferociously qualitative, giving a very specific texture to our relationship with the present moment.
If I’ve learned anything about meditation recently it’s that sometimes when you sit with yourself unpleasant things arise. That is where the phrase, “This too…” comes in. Because the unpleasant passes just as the pleasant does. When I really, really believe that truth then the result of meditation is a certain softness that arises where otherwise I would have the hardest edges. Sometimes the result of meditation is that I feel no distinction between the air and my skin.
I find myself with that simple phrase, this too, or some version, as an echo in my mind these last few days. This echo encourages me to stand just a bit longer in front of a piece of art and really look at it. It lets me bike against the wind with the fog rolling in and not struggle against the cold and the frustration. It inspires me to walk through my neighborhood at dusk with no destination in mind. This too, this too, this too, my body remembers even when I don’t consciously say the words. There is no end result I’m aiming for; it’s simply a way to be.
One of my favorite meditations recently was accompanied by a mudra (a symbolic and meditative gesture of the hands). It is called the Pushan Mudra. In your right hand you connect the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. In your left hand you connect the thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. While sitting in a cross legged position, allow the backs of your hands to rest on the tops of your legs and keep this connection of the fingertips. While you inhale, imagine that your right hand is drawing in everything you need. While you exhale, imagine that your left hand is releasing everything that you don’t need. Perhaps even try naming what those things are with one or two words. Name what you want to cultivate and name what you want to release.
I think it is important to really think about what some of this means…we talk a lot about letting go but how can we really do that? I believe it is something we can do with the intention, gentleness, and discipline of a meditation practice.
Someone I love wrote this loving-kindness meditation inside a card for me:
May I be grounded in love.
May I feel the love love and support that surrounds me.
May I relinquish fear and worry and find places of rest and comfort.
May I know gratitude, even in the midst of challenges.
May I find that still center of equanimity, acceptance, and freedom from suffering.
May I and all beings be free from suffering.
May I and all beings experience wholeness and healing.
She wrote, This meditation helps enlarge one’s world.
Meditation is, of course, impossible to summarize neatly or succinctly. Our meditation practices are unique to each of us: singular, strange, beautiful, difficult, ongoing. But I do like that definition: that it can help us enlarge our world. We get to return, every day, to a practice that is never the same. We get to return to a self, every day, that is never the same. We get to pause, even for just a few moments, to take note.
The day before yesterday, I sat down, set my timer, and closed my eyes. Immediately, I thought about who I had to email, some responses were time sensitive, others not. I thought about what I had to do later, what groceries were in the refrigerator and what I could cook with them. I thought about meditation and about how I was thinking too much, but at least I was doing it. I thought about how thoughts are supposed to be OK and I just needed to stop worrying about it, and I thought about how ridiculous this particular train of thought was currently getting. I thought about summer and the month of June. I thought about coffee, the next basketball game, my novel. I wondered how long I’d been meditating. Time felt very slow, very sweet, and I suddenly realized I shouldn’t try to rush it, or wonder about how much of it had just gone by. And so I just sat there in my storage closet, very still, very quiet, very present…for at least one whole and uninterrupted moment.
Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Come practice with her at the Lotus on Tuesday (10:45am Basics), Wednesday (7am Sunrise Flow), or Friday (9am Basics)! More yoga info and inspiration can be found at Yoga with Laura on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/futurecircayoga/).
It is a new moon tonight and there is a sense of emptiness in the sky. I have longed for this sense of emptiness to be so in my head. I chased all sorts of behaviors to quiet the chatter in my overactive mind.
This overactive mind, which feels like a dangerous neighborhood at times, is what brought me to my knees and lead to my spiritual practice over 20 years ago.
My mother had been urging me to meditate long before I fell to my knees but couldn’t hear it coming from her. As they say when the student is ready the teacher appears.
I was in a big transition, ending a relationship, moving, confused, uncertain of my work and completely lost. At that time I was introduced to a wonderful women named Nancy, who was in her 70’s at the time but looked like she was in her 50’s. She had quite a story and had been a big time fashion model in NYC in the 50’s – a wild child of sorts. She was trying to rebuild her life after her long stint of modeling and addiction and in her 40’s had found Meditation. Nancy invited me up to Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a Zen Monastery located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.
It was a life changing experience for me.
I was completely ready to embrace where I was, I was ready to sit with myself and not run away. I was so gently reminded – THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. In stillness, I would continuously struggle with berating myself with violent thoughts that followed with brutal actions towards myself. This was the farthest behavior from the Yoga practice of AHIMSA, non-violence. Sitting for me was uncomfortable to say the least more along the lines of terrifying. I believed the hype in my head and I thought I WAS the hype in my head. As I began to practice sitting regularly I started to recognize the little spaces between my thoughts and I could see and feel the light of love not fear and self-hatred. I started to watch my thoughts and recognize the mind was simply doing what it does best, entertaining me! I began witnessing and not participating in my thoughts.
THAT was REVOLUTIONARY for me!
Like Chogyam Trungpa said, “Meditation is one insult after the other.” I completely understood this. If it wasn’t “you’re not good enough,” then it was “you don’t have time for this.” It was a constant roll of negative mantras and insults. As a result of discipline, which for me translates into commitment, I started to develop a spine by sitting up tall and taking my seat. I became less dependent on outside forces, I became more responsible for my action, I became much more compassionate towards myself and as a result towards others and I developed and embodied the practice of Ahimsa. I became aware of an inner strength and the ability to comprehend what was real and what was not.
Meditation has been one of the most precious and transformative gifts of my life and is what lead me to Yoga. My meditation after many years is not a formal sit today. Communing with nature and music have replaced a formal sit. These practices have allowed for me to be completely absorbed and engaged with what is right in front of me. I shower in the morning, have some tea and engage for 20-30 min of chanting. After chanting, I sit and embody the power of sound and vibration and how it wakes me up on a deep cellular level. I engage with stillness. Every Monday (Moonday) I commune with nature. I take a very intentional walk and or adventure and let myself reap the healing effects, such as peace of mind, connecting with my breath and with that which breaths me.
Sri Desikachar, a beautiful man I had the honor of studying with in India over several years and the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, talks about linking the mind to something good-subha (auspicious) and how this is a necessary aspect of meditation. He says: “What is subha, what is auspicious, is something that only a caring guide can indicate, one who knows you well enough to choose.” I am eternally grateful to Swami Satchidananda for this reminder, “Don’t think that only when you close your eyes, you are meditating. Anything that you do with total attention IS meditation.”
“All those who love Nature she loves in return, and will richly reward, not perhaps with the good things, as they are commonly called, but with the best things, of this world- not with money and titles, horses and carriages, but with bright and happy thoughts, contentment and peace of mind.” – John Lubbock
“The object of Indian music is the training of the mind and soul, for music is the best way of concentration. When you tell a person to concentrate on a certain object, the very act of trying to concentrate makes his mind more disturbed. But music, which attracts the soul, keeps the mind concentrated. Besides, the beauty of music, there is that tenderness which brings life to the heart.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi master and musician.
A simple, profound & gentle instruction by Jack Kornfield goes like this:
To awaken, sit calmly, letting each breath clear your mind and open your heart.
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What do you do when someone tells you your opinion is wrong? That your feelings and emotions aren’t warranted. That you should change the way you think. A common reaction would be resentment toward the that person and sadly in some ways, thoughts of dissatisfaction toward yourself.
For so many years I would hear the word “meditate” and draw back from it because of people telling me I should try it to help me with my mental and emotional issues. That it would change my life. Now, this doesn’t sound so bad right? The reason why I cringed at the idea was because I already had thoughts of dissatisfaction toward myself and was defensive at the thought of someone telling me ways to “fix” myself. The last thing I wanted to do at the time was listen to my own thoughts in absolute quiet! I needed distractions, I needed solutions, I needed to actively seek ways to help my situation change with more immediate results.
After many years of seeking my path of happiness to no avail, I finally caved and tried meditating. I took baby steps. First, it was by going to yoga classes and sitting quietly for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each practice. I remember one day we started the class with Dharmachakra Mudra with our eyes closed. I saw vivid colors circling through my fingers and the energy around me soft and with purpose, like I was meant to sit in that room in that exact moment. I felt like I was grounded but floating at the same time. My internal and external was in harmony. My energy was balanced. At that moment I thought, well if this is what meditation feels like, this is great! Well, that moment was exactly that – a moment that came and went.
Meditating is the hardest thing I ever had to discipline myself to do. Meditation takes incredible COURAGE. Honesty. Focus. Compassion toward Self. This seemingly innocent practice challenged me to unearth the layers of imperfections and insecurities I was constantly pushing further and deeper inside to hide that part of me from the world. I had to start listening to my own voice inside. The child-like innocence, the bruised heart that came from years of beating myself up over not being better than I was. Warm compassion would flood through me for that imperfect person I was trying to escape. I started loving that person because my unique journey, just like the unique journey that all of you have, made me the person I am today and in this moment I accept me for me. Those so-called imperfections create depth to who I am and meditation helped me learn to embrace all parts of myself. I can finally learn how to let go of the expectations I put on myself. I can let go of what I now realize as aggression toward myself. That person who was telling me I was wrong and needed to change? Ultimately, that ended up being me, the very person who I was resentful toward in the beginning.
Rather than “fixing” yourself by trying to make yourself a supposedly better person, meditation helps you become friends with yourself. To accept the imperfections which create YOU. Meditation allows acceptance versus change. Letting go versus force. Change is a byproduct. Meditate so you can navigate your current self through the constant flux that is the universe we live in.
Just like there’s no right or wrong way to think or feel, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. We all have our own poisons and our own path we need to find and follow, which is why it’s important to practice meditation regularly to figure out what YOUR path is. With that said, guidance is wonderful.
Here are a few basic things I learned in my own routine to prepare myself for meditation:
● Morning distractions? Push those aside! How many of you check your phone right after you wake up, before your feet even touch the ground? Keep that phone outside of the bedroom.
I wake up, take a deep breath of air, say thank you to whoever I feel grateful toward that morning, feed my dog, oil-pull with sesame oil, brush my teeth, drink warm lemon water, eat breakfast, read a few pages of something yoga-related in the morning to exercise my mind, walk my dog, then I open my laptop and start my work day.
Trust me when I say, my first instinct in the mornings is still to check my phone and sometimes I slip. And on those days that I slip, I do feel off in the morning but will close my eyes briefly, take a deep breathe, and let it go.
● Mantra with mala. I switch between my rosary my mother gave me when I was younger, and a mala bead necklace. They both speak to me so I use both of them! I recite a morning mantra that I need during the day. Sometimes it’s a simple “So Ham”, which translates to “I am that, that I am”.
● I love mudras. Usually I use Gyan mudra on my left hand with my beads in my right hand. I also love Dhyani Mudra because of the bowl your hand creates which represents receptivity in the purest form to whatever path lies before you in that moment. Knowing the meaning of a mudra and using the physical act during meditation helps to create more space in the mind for clearer, non-cluttered focus.
All you need is the basic energy of life that already flows in you to experience moments of enlightenment. Enlightenment itself can be a loaded, intimidating word because some people strive for this fantasy-like place that you stay in forever once you reach it. This defeats the goal of release, of letting go. So it can be a simple “a-ha” moment or a feeling of complete and utter satisfaction. That passing moment of seeing colors coursing through my hands that I mentioned earlier? That energy was always there since the day I was born through all the ups and downs, is still inside of me now, and will still be there as I survive through what life throws at me next. These little moments of enlightenment come and go but they help you remember that the energy that creates those moments channels through you with every breath you take. Sometimes I find myself in these periods of total surrender to the universe when I’m not in a seated meditative position because the meditative tools I’ve cultivated stay with me. One example is when I’m scuba diving, particularly muck-diving. From the outside, you would find me staring at one square meter distance in the sand for a good hour. But from my eyes, I see the symbiotic relationship of a gobi fish and shrimp, the spots of a hiding stingray, the head of an eel poking out from a nearby rock, a baby octopus changing colors. Ignoring the big school of fish everyone is trying to photograph because I’m focused on the teeny tiny frog fish barely perceptible to the eye, slowly making its way across the sand. All this color and beauty made me become one with the vast ocean surrounding every part of me, and I felt total freedom. These are the moments we live for and to feel. Freedom that comes from being honest in your truth, in the space you occupy, in your present moment with who you are, just as you are.
When it comes to finding this joy, we all have the lotus flower inside that’s always ready to bloom, to show its existence while pushing through the mud. This mud full of of insecurities, worries, fears, doubt. This beauty, wonder, and mystery that is life, is present in every ordinary thing we do. Every breath, every step, every time we blink our eyes and realize we’ve been staring right past the very thing right under our nose that makes us smile, in an attempt get a better view of whatever it is that everyone else is looking at.
From the outside, someone sees you staring at nothingness, not really doing much of anything. But inside, there is so much more than what meets the naked eye. Meditation allows you dive deep, look within, and find freedom to love who you are and where you are right now.
Yurina Kim is our Marketing and Community Relations extraordinaire.