Meditation, Yoga, Life and the Beginners Mind

Having lived in India and Thailand for 5 years, I have been fortunate enough to have the time to attend various meditation retreats and courses through Buddhist and Yogic Traditions.

There are probably as many meditation techniques out there as there are people, or at least different schools of thought. Every retreat I have attended has benefited me with some tool that I can utilise towards Self inquiry. For me, techniques are tools and, although they appear to differ in their methods, their essence tends to lead to the same place, depending on the state of mind the technique is approached with.

Perhaps this is why there is much emphasis on the ‘beginners mind’ in various different traditions. With a mind that is open, receptive and attentive it is often simpler to relax into an embodied experience that is not judged or subject to mental commentary from the intellect.

But maintaining a beginners mind is not so simple as the intellect and ego constantly want to make themselves known and knowable in this field. There is a place for both these entities and indeed they too can be utilised as tools for self inquiry, but this path has been likened to licking honey from the sharpest blade: it takes great skill and is so easy to get cut.

On this point too, often once certain knowledge or an experience has been cemented, it becomes stuck. A whole belief system can emerge surrounding it that has the potential to either liberate us further, if held loosely and allowed to expand, or hinder us if we do what seems to be the tendency of the mind, which is to grasp on to it, become limited in our perception and elitist in our thought.

So, encouraging that state of openness and beginningness, no matter how much you ‘know.’ allows the mind to use the knowledge it has experienced wisely, but also to remain open for new knowledge, new experience that will evidently take it further and deeper into itSelf. This concept also ties in well with the theme of Neuroplasticity and the inner workings of the Nervous System; we do have the potential to ever evolve and grow, walking along the path one step at a time in order to allow the growth rate to be gradual and in line with our unique and realistic capabilities.

So, it is with this attitude that I attempt, each day, to approach my own practice. It is humbling and I love it. I find practicing meditation to be an invaluable part of my life with countless benefits. To me, it is a training for the mind to rest into presence and release the tight grip I sometimes hold things with.

There is a great quote that I came across the other day while reading through my teacher training manuel. It was the first point that was emphasised with regards to ‘teaching’ meditation.

“Meditation techniques can be taught, but meditation can not; it is a personal experience born of consistent effort.” SYA TTC

So the calm and equanimous, unshakeable mind we all yearn for doesn’t descend upon us overnight, or through becoming rigid and stuck in a technique (the technique is a tool remember) – it takes time to reprogram, relearn and unlearn, and I see this every day in my own practice. This isn’t meant to deter anyone from the practice of meditation, rather to make a point that the process of meditation is a gift in itself, as it allows us to develop self acceptance, patience, honesty and surrender, necessary qualities to move beyond our limited perceptions of ourselves and others.

Looking at my own practice, I am aware that occasionally I find it the most blissful thing in the world. I become One with everyone and everything and I feel like I must have got ‘ it ‘ and I’ll never come down…. until I do and I realise I was grasping again, holding onto a feeling that was fleeting and that that’s not the point. At other times my practice can be abosolute hell, a battle with my own resistance towards myself and my experience that I deem to be ‘negative.’

But what matters is that I keep sitting, and I keep watching – and more and more, with time and practice, I am able to let go – or at least to accept that I’m not ready to let go and develop patience (well sometimes!!!). I become more and more relaxed and at ease, accepting of myself as I am, whether my inner experience is judged by my ego as being ‘positive’ or ‘negative,’ ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ And this is quite humbling. Better to be who you are where you are and unfold from there than to conjure up a false image of yourself that is so hard to maintain and so easy to fall from.

The other quality I find invaluable during meditation is self responsibility. Removing blame from the external object which can be distracting to the practice itself and focusing on the inner feeling or attitude towards it (remember this does not mean dwelling in self blame, guilt or shame). What it brings up for me and how I can use this as medicine, a tool for growth and learning. The beginners mind is ever precious and necessary in observing this process.

So, it’s always good to remember, from the previous blog, that whatever we perceive to be an obstacle is often there to facilitate our evolution when perceived from a different angle and an open, receptive mind can see this more clearly.

What we perceive to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ about ourselves and others are often based on our own habitual way of thinking, that tends to fall short of the ‘bigger picture.’ Everything we experience internally and externally is there to reveal something about ourselves, if we so allow it. And approaching meditation, yoga and life with an open / beginners mind (which, by the way, is not a mind of blind faith or naivety) allows us to be receptive to new ways of thinking an being that, in turn, allow us to both accept our experience and move beyond it with a deep internal sense of peace, faith and well being.