Climbing the mountain
by Adrienne Alane White
Our third week started with a heavy feeling and lots of clouds in the air. We are half way up our climb and it feels like we have a long way to go. Our energy may have also been affected by the anticipation of the coming full moon. It’s hard not to have ego rear its read when I’ve been doing yoga for about 30 years now and this week I struggled with taking a simple smooth breath. I had to slow down, change the length of my breathing until the rough edges smoothed back out. As we had read in our text, The Mind Illuminated, “chasing after physical pliancy and meditative joy is like trying to pry open a bud so it will blossom more quickly. Impatience and striving won’t make anything grow faster”- except perhaps more imbalance in the mind. Our teacher had also forewarned us that stumbling blocks like this would likely appear. The body starts to hurt, the mind refuses to be still, the long deep breaths and retentions you’ve worked so hard for and feel proud of may fail. What to do? Drop the ego, and take the next breath like it’s the first you’ve ever tried. The promise of the sweet blossoms of meditation are too beautiful not to navigate a few thorns along the way. Clarity and peace are what we are trying to grow and we must “care for the mind like a skilled gardener, and everything will flower and fruit in due time”
We did our best to focus in practice and in our meditations and reminded ourselves to keep a beginner’s mind with each and every breath. I’m also reminded this of the wonderful people I’ve left at home who are taking care of all my responsibilities and holding down the fort so I can be here to climb this mountain of knowledge. Having the opportunity to be a student again is such an awesome privilege. Each time I drop into study of this amazing life system of yoga, I’m humbled by the amount of information there is to learn and know. One thing I know for sure, I’ll always be a beginner at yoga, but I’m gaining more expertise on love and gratitude.
It’s great to have a support network like this, because when you step out of your regular life to do something like deep meditation and self-study, a LOT of stuff can come up. Most of us in daily life are just chronically stressed and suppressing emotions. These end up simmering just under the surface, ready to explode at any provocation, not unlike the active volcano here. It looks just like an ordinary mountain, but inside fire and brimstone are brewing. We can continue to be those simmering volcanos, never knowing or understanding when we might blow, or we can choose to climb a different kind of mountain, undoing our programming with each and every step (or more accurately, with every sit). I hear the view from the top of that mountain is pretty spectacular and everything can be seen in clarity. I’ll let you know when I get to the top.
What we are learning is that our meditation practice is a way to turn off that simmering volcano. Every day as you sit in stillness, follow the breath and get out of the body and mind, even if just for a few minutes. This break in the mental program causes new pathways to form in the brain, and gets us out of our old emotions, which are actually just old habits from the past that we are stuck to. With meditation, science tells us, we are literally changing our minds. Another way to work on these old and habitual emotions is through the chakra system, the energy centers in our bodies. The chakra system is fascinating and could be a whole training just by itself, but we have devoted most of our time just learning how to get them balanced and the energy flowing evenly with specific meditations. The goal is to clean up some of our unconscious behaviors that seem to trip us up time and time again. Of course we know that everything is connected, and sometimes what seems like a heart problem can actually be a problem with our instinctual sense of survival and security. Sometimes just teaching the body how to take deep slow breaths is enough to improve communication between the heart and the head. The mind/body connection is real. Just like happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin, science and mysticism are equally important to understanding ourselves and creating a state of equanimity and homeostasis in our minds and bodies. This equanimity is vital to our health.
We have been learning skills and working towards something, and that something is almost here: three full days of silence and lots of sitting in that silence will start of last and final week here. We have our basic recipe for our meditation cake and we are ready to put it to the test. This go-to recipe or plan is already quite delicious and may be all we need for a peaceful, balancing meditation practice. But we may need a little extra help in something as intense as what we will be doing during these three days of silence, so this week we’ve been learning ways we can customize our basic recipe - not to try and entertain ourselves during meditation, but instead to try to amplify or highlight certain energies. We want to point our minds very specifically, because where the mind goes, energy flows, and that is where the prana (or life force) grows. We have been learning to add simple mantras and visualizations to take us into deeper states of awareness. The frosting on the cake, so to speak.
Serendipitously, we had a birthday (and a full moon) to celebrate when one of our fellow students turned 24 years old this week. It’s amazing and hope giving to see so many young people in their 20’s here studying this deep material. Our normal afternoon “fruit break” turned into a cake break as Grace made a wish and blew out her candles. It was a fun way to add a little levity, celebration, and two actual cakes into some of the challenges that many of us faced in our practice during week three of this 4 week training. We are ready to face those challenges come hell or high water. Silence is imminent. See you on the other side.
Missed the previous installments of Adrienne's beautifully documented journey?