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Mindfulness, Yoga and Mental Freedom


Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha

The yoga sutras begin with Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha. This is the best and most original definition of the Essence of Yoga and a foundation of Mindfulness. Translated as “Yoga is the cessation of the disturbances or modifications of the mind”.

Or.. Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility, so that one experiences life as it is, as Reality.

The mental disturbances are self-perpetuated fears, thoughts, emotions, opinions and  judgements that disturb body and mind. That create ripples or tsunami’s thus throwing us into mental and emotional turmoil.

Initiation into Sannyasa

On the 1st of January 1982 I received initiation to Sannyasa dedicated my life to spiritual service and awakening in the Saraswati (Shankaracharya) Lineage. I was instructed that as such my life’s work would be to become ‘master of the mind’ through the practice of yoga.  A daunting task, but at 21, young and ambitious, I felt absolutely committed to this outcome. Little did I know what an inner and outer journey lay ahead. And although I left Ashram life in 1989 I have never swayed from my inner commitment to a spiritual life of service and attainment of inner freedom.

Not Minding What Happens

35 years later…Someone asked recently while leading an expedition in India, “How come you have so much energy? Pondering this question has prompted me to write this blog. My answer is simple – It’s by not minding what happens anymore, or going with the flow, or allowing thy will to be done. 

If the mind is disturbed, there is awareness of a reaction or a ripple in the pond of perception. This does away with self-defensive behaviour. There is less need to defend a point of view, expectation or belief because of an understanding that everyone is where they need to be. Not minding what anyone else thinks is a relief. Put simply it means not taking things personally. This preserves an enormous amount of energy. And begs the question.. Who is this I that one seems compelled to defend anyway? 

Defending a point of view 

Anger, disappointment and other disturbing thoughts and emotions pass through at different times in our life. We have all argued a point and stubbornly defended a belief. When young I wanted to save the world and I believed I knew the way. Many knocks and bumps later came the understanding that the I  needs to be surrendered –  to what is. So let us look at how the mindfulness developed through authentic practice can assist us in overcoming the vrittis of the mind (the disturbances or ripples) with a zen story.

Zen Story of the Empty Boat

A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own. With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising, and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared disturb his meditation. But when he opens his eyes, he sees an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake.

At that moment, the monk achieves self-realisation, and understands that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he comes across someone who irritates him or provokes him to anger, he reminds himself, “The other person is merely an empty boat. The Anger is within me.”

The Moral Of This Story

Watch out for the empty boats that remind us our emotions are our own to deal with – Learning the art of non-reactiveness is the key to happiness. All re-actions are teaching us about ourselves not others. Reactions are a wonderful opportunity to ‘know thyself’ and become master of the mind we all share. Letting go of the I-ness. 

The Impartial Witness

To become the stillness in the center of the cyclone, is to become the ‘impartial witness’. Stepping off the looping mind train and staying on the platform as the impartial witness or silent observer is where we can reside. This is a place of spaciousness. A place of loving kindness, non-judgement. Here we do not cling to beliefs, reactivity or fear, all of which create suffering. 

Initially this can be scary. Like a boat without an anchor. All the old automations or habitual responses will try to kick in. However we may come to notice that reacting to life as a separate-self or from I-dentity keeps us small, alone and stuck.

Being the space that contains everything allows freedom

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