24 Aug Conquering the Mind
Image by Egor Kamelev
Who’s had this experience?
You know you shouldn’t be doing something, but there’s this urge to do it anyway. Maybe you know, YOU KNOW, that arguing back is going to get you nowhere, yet there’s this unseeable force that’s on the brink of letting it all loose. You know you shouldn’t, but part of your mind wants to do it anyway.
Your mind can be a friend or foe. Your worries, obsessions, fears, fantasies, and dreams…they’re all in your mind. That’s not to say they aren’t real, but it’s your mind that’s telling the story to itself. The supportive, affectionate parts of your mind: friend. The tormenting, hostile parts of your mind: foe.
Practicing yoga, we learn to conquer the mind.
**Note for readers of last week’s blog post on citta and three-part consciousness where I translated manas as “mind”. Here I’m using the word “mind” differently, more colloquially.
When you get right down to it, yoga is about the mind. The body can and does inform the mind of important matters that need handling. Physical stuff: that hurts my knee! Emotional stuff: my heart rate’s elevated and I’m sweating, I’m nervous!
However, it’s your mind that decides what, if anything, to do about these messages. Your body is your vehicle, the instrument that facilitates what your mind wants to do. Your mind runs the show.
Yoga is work.
With a firm intellect, you learn to conquer the foes in your own mind.
How? By focusing the mind.
Left to it’s own devices your mind might bounce all over the place, or focus too intently on the worry you needn’t be worrying.
To focus, you have to keep something in mind. You choose the thing, and you hold it there. You work so you don’t forget it. This is discipline.
How do you stay disciplined? How do you keep that thing in mind? You study it. You do it a lot. You immerse yourself in it. You cultivate it. You work so that not a moment goes by where you’ve forgotten your thing. It’s hard work.
Here’s the deal. We all already have a discipline. It’s just that our focuses differ or are sometimes hidden, even to us. Sometimes we don’t have a goal, maybe we’re bouncing all over the place or feel focused on things we don’t want to focus on anymore.
Not sure what your current discipline is? Analyze how you spend your days. What are you working towards? Is it Netflix on Friday night? A beautiful garden? Developing intimate relationships? Raising your kids? A new job? Carefree fun?
No judgment, you get to choose. You’re the boss of yourself and you know what’s best for you. Choose your thing and hold it firmly in your mind. Work so that every moment you remember.
About yoga class – if you’re taking my classes you’ve noticed we focus pretty intently on the body. Are we ignoring the mind? No. We’re focusing the mind on the body.
For the time you spend in class, part of my job is to help you stay focused on your body, breath, and the work you’re doing. That is, to help you cultivate the skill of uninterrupted focus. Applicable in and out of class, to be sure.
My hope is that for the hour (or 30 minutes on Friday) you spend with me, you’re not distracted by other things. The mind loves to wander off track! It’s not always an easy task to focus. Therefore, we practice.
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