Free Your Mind: Finding Peace Within The Storm
If I were to ask you to pause and take a moment to notice what is going on in your head right now, how likely would your answer be “my mind is quiet, calm and empty of thought, unbound by feeling and blissfully free”? If you are thinking to yourself “very likely”, please contact me and tell me all your secrets, while the rest of us continue to read on and admit the likelihood of this kind of answer is fairly low and we can find great comfort in knowing that this is a difficult feat for most to achieve.
There is a term in Yoga called ‘Citta Vritti’, which can be translated to the ‘monkey mind’. Essentially, this term acknowledges that our minds are meant to think. The thoughts that constantly move around inside our sweet little heads are meant to be there. In any moment, there is always something that attracts the mind.
The mind is complex: it is capable of learning facts and knowledge, through study, observation and experience; it keeps us safe, alerting the body to spring into action whenever it notices danger; it has short and long-term memory, it associates senses and emotions with experience, making life rich and full of meaning. It can create dreams and imagine all sorts of things. It can also tell stories and lead us to misconception. Further to this, everything we do is stored in the mind in the form of subtle impressions. Every action (physical, mental, or verbal) creates an impression in the mind. It can be very difficult to identify what these memories actually are, let alone begin to understand them and then to control our response.
When we take a moment to pause, often we can feel overwhelmed by the activity, the fullness of the mind. We quickly feel we are not able to quiet the mind or meditate because our minds are just too active. Quieting the mind seems to be an impossible feat that quite frankly we just don’t have time to master, let alone attempt. But, can I ask that we just try for a moment?
Find a comfortable seat and invite yourself to close the eyes and come into your breath. Just notice the breath moving in and out of your body. Notice the mind focusing on the breath, but also on other things. Allow the mind to move, simply bringing attention back to the breath whenever you notice you've strayed. Set a timer and just try to do this for 5 minutes. Okay?
Afterward, reflect on what came up in the thoughts between the moments of focus on the breath: it can lead to insight into mental habits, thought patterns, stories about ourself and the world we live in that are very telling and provide avenues of self discovery that otherwise may not have surfaced. However, what the mind draws to awareness, is also what we must practice to let go of. We must work to dissolve attachment to the thoughts and feelings that arise because this is the very stuff that though provides clarity on certain aspects of ourself, also very much limit our ability to completely know ourSelf.
Between knowledge, memory and thought, there is a lot of activity in the mind that can really bind us, our impressions and ideas about self and the world we live in. This can slowly lead us astray from the attuned connection to self that we seek; making, in some ways, self awareness and more so self understanding, even more confusing and difficult to truly access. Limited by perception, we start to think and see the world and self in a certain way, not always the way we are meant to. We can get side tracked even while paying attention! This process is called ‘Vritti Samskara Chakra’ or ‘wheel of thoughts’. Right away you perhaps get an image of a hamster running on a wheel? And can relate that to yourself running with your thoughts? This can sometimes feel like spinning out of control. Are you tired? How can that wheel just slow down a bit or even stop? Just for a minute!
A lot of the work in Yoga is about being aware of thoughts and what shows up in the body-mind as we tune in. However, even more of the work should then be on dissolving exactly this and allowing the process of letting go be one that reveals the true undercurrent of the mind from the space of the soul. Now you might be asking “how the heck do I know when I'm tuned into my soul?” Because I’ll be honest, I always am!
Well, the short answer is ‘practice’. But here’s some other ideas:
- Just tune in and accept the process. Allow the mind to move. Begin to learn the tricks of the mind by simply paying attention and noticing what comes up.
- Become the witness to the mind. Sit back and watch it work. Enjoy the show! It may becoming clear that though we function through the work of the mind, we are not in fact limited by it.
- Begin to establish what thoughts and mind activities seem useful and deeply resonate as being ‘true’. Use self reflection on experiences, your senses, and your gut as a means of sifting through the chaos of the mind in order to find the pieces that truly ‘fit’.
- Remember our perception and our thoughts can be misconceived; work to see things the way they truly are. The mind is not able to discern what is ‘real’ and what is ‘not’, so it’s important to sculpt focus on aspects of life that really are peaceful and positive.
- Explore deep mindful relaxation and tend to the process of being thoughtless. Drop into the space of the body or heart and allow these parts of ourself to focus the mind. Don’t be alarmed that the mind still wanders, it’s the intention and practice of deeply relaxing that will provide space for the mind to settle and eventually clear.
- Dissolve memories. Begin to understand that though memories can be wonderful, they can also be harmful. Provide space within yourself by allowing memories to just ‘be’. Do not try and label them or attach much meaning to them. Do not define yourself by them. In reality, over time, even the fondest of memories that we do not want to forget become skewed, slightly altered as life continues to shape experience.
So, if I were to ask you again if you are able to experience a mind that is blissfully free, would you have a different answer than before? I hope so. By being able to understand and then study the ways of the mind, we develop the awareness that will ultimately allow us to see our true nature as separate from the mind. The mind is free to be, and so are you. When we become caught in our thoughts we limit what we are capable of. If we allow the mind to move and do not become attached, we can experience a true sense of freedom, of clarity and deep connection to ourSelf. Patanjali says that “through sustained practice and the cultivation of dispassion, these fluctuations of mind can be stilled” (Yoga Sutras 1.12). The reality is there is peace and great bliss within the storm, it’s all through the eye of the beholder. Through sustained awareness of this truth, all else will be put at ease. Enjoy the ride!
Written By: Robyn Thomas, Co-Founder of Sivatantra Yoga