The best two pieces of advice I have ever heard after over thirty years of doing spiritual work are this:
Life advice: Don’t be shitty
Meditation advice: Just stop. Stop trying to do or be anything as you meditate.
The first piece of advice is self-evident. After taking all the workshops and personal growth classes, reading all the spiritual books, and taking the yoga classes, at the end of the day, the greatest spiritual advice ever is to not be shitty. Don’t be shitty to yourself, or to others. Crude? Yes. But, right on point nonetheless. Wars would either lessen or stop. Marriages would survive. Fragile creative human psyches would flourish. Best. Advice. Ever.
So how do we cultivate a mind that isn’t mean/cruel/neglectful? Through meditation of course. Yet, after years of watching myself and others try to master lineages and techniques and habits, the only thing that matters with regard to meditation and spiritual awakening is that we just stop. In fact, the physical practice of yoga is designed to simply help us stop our overly active minds.
In Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is specifically defined. Here’s yoga sutra #2 (1.2): Yogas Chittas Vrtti Nirhodhah - “Yoga is the ceasing of the fluctuations of the mind.” Please note it does not say yoga is the perfect back bend. It is ironic that the physical body is the mechanism that can be most helpful in transcending the physical body.
When we sit in meditation, the real goal is not to master a technique. The real goal is to simply stop the fluctuations of the mind.
Stop doing anything other than just sitting there observing.
First, we need to notice that it is actually happening. Once we understand that this is our practice, to simply become the observer, we then disempower our ego (the monkey mind), softening it. Don’t panic, it will certainly be there throughout your journey, for that is what the mind is designed to do. But it is only when we choose to stop and gently pull away from the constant churning of our minds, that our observer consciousness can finally rise to the forefront. In yoga, this mind is called the (infinite) Self, which reveals our ever-present inner wisdom and takes us from darkness to light (our divine inner guru).
The analogy is that our spirit is like a gentle mist. If we are in constant movement and motion, that mist is always stirred up and can never be seen or felt. It’s there, but it’s too diluted. But if we soften and settle down, quiet our minds from the ever-present grasping that it is wired to do, then we have the chance at allowing spirit to “settle in” and be seen and felt and heard, just as the morning mist is settled into a calm valley.
What happens in meditation? We learn to pay attention to what is happening right now. How our mind goes on and on. How the gentle breeze caresses our skin. How the ambulance siren frays our nerves, and so on.
When we contemplate stopping our mind from being in control, where does it take us? The mind will continually say “HEY, what about me?” and we can continually return to that neutral mind that observes that our mind is saying “HEY, what about me?” It’s like watching a movie.
As we “stop,” we naturally deepen the relaxation of our muscles and settle in more deeply. We notice the inhale and exhale of our breath. We naturally return to the present moment, where all human power resides. We learn to follow the present moment just as a surfer follows the crest of a wave along the shore. If we are trying to surf a wave, staring forward at the shoreline (the future) or looking back at the horizon line (the past), will always throw us off balance. We will miss what is being offered by the wave of the present moment, and we will most certainly keep falling down.
Yet as we settle in, and our observer mind is allowed to be the witness to the countless rise and fall of 10,000 things, we begin to understand that it is better to engage the source of our longing, rather than the longings themselves.