YS III.3 tad eva-arthamatra-nirbhasam svarupa-shunyam iva samadhih

“When, in meditation, the true nature of the object shines forth, not distorted by the mind of the perceiver, that is absorption.

—Swami Prabhavananda

If you have been following these teachings, here or in the yoga studio, where we flesh them out in every class throughout the month, then perhaps you have noticed, and even experienced, the natural progression that leads from Dharana (concentration) to Dhyana (meditation). At first, we learn and practice the various tools and techniques: how to position the body so we may sit comfortably without moving for several minutes, how to observe the breath in different parts of the body (physical and energetic), what a mantra (a repetitive phrase) is and how to use it. When finally we become quiet and still, we notice—maybe for the first time—what a noisy place the mind is, far more distracting than sounds or bodily discomfort. It can be quite a shock and disturbing. But, with time and practice, we learn to accept that this is how the mind works—thinking is it’s job—but that we do not need to listen to everything that passes through it. We begin to observe the thoughts, which creates a distance between “I” and “my thoughts.” And then we discover inside this distance a gap, a quiet space where we can rest. It might last only a few seconds at first, but over time and with more practice, it becomes easier and the gaps becoming longer, which brings a sense of well-being, fullness, completion, even joy. The ego (which dominates the thinking mind) begins to enjoy this state as well and stops fighting us so much. Instead of piping up when we sit down to meditate, it settles down with us. This is the beginning of union, which is the meaning of yoga.

The goal of yoga is Samadhi, enlightenment, the deep knowledge and inner experience that all things are connected, from rocks to stars, from communities to galaxies. It isn’t a new understanding that we attain; it is our inherent nature, which we simply remember. You can’t practice Samadhi the way you practice Asana (physical postures) or Pranayama (breath control), for example; you can only prepare for it through the yoga practices. In all yoga practices, there is an alternation, a dance, between effort and grace, between striving and letting go. Samadhi is the ultimate grace, the ultimate letting go, which happens when we are ready to slip into that gap with our whole being.

Om shanti. Peace.

by Laura Golden