- Yogi Bhajan, Summer Solstice, 1985, New Mexico.
Yogi Bhajan gave thousands of different meditations for people to use. Whichever meditations you choose to work with there are two strategies for building momentum in your Kundalini Yoga practice: meditate more often, and deepen the quality of that meditation. Meditating more can involve formal sits, yoga sets, and using various techniques to extend your concentration and awareness throughout the day. Deepening the quality of your meditation is written about in Patanjali’s classic Yogic Sutra’s, particularly in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The limbs five through eight Patanjali calls pratyahar, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
Our attention is constantly being pulled here and there when engaged in the outer world. When we withdraw our attention from the outside world, with the eyes closed and the listening directed inwards – unless you’re also listening to the activity of chanting – there are less distractions. This enables us to direct attention inwards, which helps us engage in pratyahar. As we’re persistent in applying concentration at deeper levels, we begin to synchronize and merge with the Source first in formal meditation, and eventually throughout daily activities. This synchronization and merger throughout formal meditation and in daily life is the deeper meaning of pratyahar in Kundalini Yoga.
Whenever you notice your attention has been distracted away from the particulars that comprise your meditation strategy and you’re caught up in some kind of thinking or body sensation, gently bring the awareness back to just the particulars of the meditation technique (see also Kundalini Yoga and the Sensory System) over and over again. For example: if your meditation is chanting Wahe Guru Wahe Guru Wahe Guru Wahe Jio 8x per breath, your concentration helps you link the mantra to the long deep breath cycle. Your internal visual focus is at the third eye area and your hands are in Gyan mudra.
- Gyan Mudra
If you notice that you are losing track of the 8x per exhale count, refocus and re-implement the 8x count. If you notice that even though you are using the 8x count correctly, you’re thinking about which groceries you need to buy later in the day, gently focus away from groceries and refocus on the elements of your meditation instruction. This refocusing on just the elements of your meditation over and over again is the stage of dharana. Every occasion your attention wanders away and you bring it back is a success. Concentration, like a muscle, strengthens in this way. Be vigilant and persistent.
Once you are able to maintain concentration using the components that make up your meditation for an extended period of time without losing contact, this is the next stage of dhyana. The yogic scriptures say this is like a stream of oil being poured from a spout onto a pan. The oil makes continuous contact at the point it hits the pan’s surface. There may still be internal talk, images, or feelings present, but they don’t stop the flow of the oil. At this stage the distractions that influence the wandering mind, the sleepiness, sluggishness, irritation and agitation are no longer grossly interfering with concentration or awareness.
When your concentration has become so deep that only the object(s) of your meditation remain(s), there isn’t enough room in consciousness for “you”. The subject temporarily merges with object. This is samadhi with seed. When the merger of subject and object dissolve into the Source, this is called samadhi without seed. This could also be called absolute shunia.
As your applied and sustained efforts of concentration begin to bear fruit, there is a double payoff. As the habit of concentration deepens, your baseline of concentration raises. You will start to notice that you drop deeper more quickly in formal meditation. You will also notice your concentration spilling over into daily life.
If you practice intentionally in daily life, this will strengthen your formal meditation, which will strengthen your concentration in daily life, etc. This positive feedback loop deepens the momentum of your spiritual practice yet again.
Practice in Daily Life
Many activities require less than full concentration to perform. You can add internal mantra repetition to these activities. For example: You are standing in a long line at the bank. No problem, you can have quality time practicing your mantra! You can go for a leisurely walk, or wash dishes, with your mantra. Starting with simple activities such as these is easy.
Focusing on your breath sensations is another option. Replace the mantra with – or add the mantra to – noticing the breath making contact with the nostrils during simple activities. Or focus on all of the sensations that happen in the body during the entire cycle of inhaling and exhaling.
Of course you can also focus on whatever you’re doing with full attention. When washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. Let everything else fade into the background. Use your concentration to be in the present moment. A very good strategy to use when driving the car, when it’s important to be attentive! There are many ways we can intentionally focus our awareness throughout the day. Be creative and have fun with it.
When enough momentum is created by our positive feedback loop of formal and daily life practice, our habits of concentration begin to meditate us. Our mantra repetition can continue on it’s own. We begin to notice that more things get done with less and less of our finite identity present. Our awareness witnesses things being done, and eventually can become whatever arises and whatever activity is being performed.
The dancer becomes the dance. The artist becomes the activity of painting. The habit of concentration is elevated sufficiently so that ordinary actions become the cosmic dance.
* For an interview with Shinzen talking about Patanjali’s limbs of yoga, and what Buddhist mindfulness can bring to asana practice, see here.