Friday, November 15, 2019

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators Who Want the Monkey to Mind

Newly Discovered Tips for Meditators:

I should add: "newly discovered" for me! I stumbled upon some things I'd like to share. (Even if, there's nothing new under the sun of wisdom.)

1. One's heart rate needs to be slowed before the monkey can relax. A very simple breathing exercise will help: breathe through the nose using a long slow and smooth breath. Let the exhalation be slightly longer than inhalation. Let the breath flow continuously without pauses at the top of inhalation or at the bottom of the exhalation. Of course, there are numerous traditional pranayamas to use also but you do need to know how to use them properly. The most important clue for the success of pranayama is the quieting of the heart and slowing of the breath rate. Some techniques produce a sensation of coolness; others, of warmth. But if your heart is beating faster after the exercise than it was before, then you'd better let that one go or learn how and when to use it correctly!

I have learned that controlling the heart is more than just mechanics. Conscious intention and awareness are very important. Try this exercise: when calm and with eyes closed, "intuit" the experience of breathlessness! Look up and open your mouth with a soft, one-second intake of breath. Hold that pose and feel the heart. You can also stop and calmly fix your gaze on any object with your mouth slightly open and your eyes "wide" (see number 3 below).

When meditating, try to feel, intuit or imagine space in the body. Our body is 99.999% space (scientists tell us). Then expand that awareness out and around you further and further. Notice if your heart rate drops!

2. Try relaxing the tongue during meditation. Let it relax and slide gently and just slightly back into the mouth. It may help to open your mouth just slightly. The tongue is what we talk with. Even mental self-talk can stimulate the nerves in the tongue into readiness to speak! As the tongue, so the mind. As the mind, so the tongue.) [Of course, the gold standard is to place the tongue into Khechari mudra. but that's another and a longer story.]

3. Position of the eyes. No doubt readers of this article already know to position your eyes upward, gazing gently through the point between the eyebrows. In the yoga tradition, this is called Shambhavi mudra. This alone helps greatly with quieting the self-talk. Implied in the experience of Shambhavi mudra is a little-known effect: dilation of the eyes. Try this little trick for dilating the eyes. Lift your gaze with open eyes. Hold your arms out at eye level with the index finger on each hand pointing to the ceiling. Slowly move your arms apart from each other to the furthest points where your eyes can still see both upraised fingers. Notice if this doesn't quiet the mind instantly. After you find this gazing position, close your eyes and begin your meditation as usual. (You may have to do this several times during meditation or for a few days or weeks to have it become natural. P.S. The eyes should never "cross.") 

Why does this work? My understanding goes something like this: the analytical mind tends to keep the narrative going when we are looking at ONE thing. But the feeling or observing part of the mind overrides the analytical brain when simultaneously viewing two or more objects. (A picture, being worth a thousand words! Two pictures, two thousand!) 

In the practice of the Hong Sau technique, we are given the instruction to keep the gaze upraised behind closed eyes while feeling the breath flowing up and down in the nostrils. These two focal points constitute TWO objects being observed simultaneously. While this is true, the dilation technique I think is more sustainable, especially for new meditators. 

Try the dilation method (without necessarily using the arms) even during the day (probably NOT when driving a car) and see if you don't experience an instant quieting of heart and mind, and relaxation throughout the muscles! This can be done simply by becoming aware of what is at the edges of your peripheral vision when looking at any one point in front of you, especially with eyes slightly raised.

4. Re-think the Ajna chakra (6th chakra) at the medulla. We are taught that the spiritual eye (point between the eyebrows) is but a reflection of the 6th chakra which is located at the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (and in the back of the head). For this purpose, let's exclude the crown chakra (the Sahasrara) viewing it as not being a chakra but, being instead, the transcendent consciousness of the soul (which, let's face it, is somewhat aloof). 

Therefore, experiment with viewing the medulla as the final chakra at the top of the spine. Focus your attention during meditation in the medulla with the idea that it is from the medulla that you are gazing up and forward to the point between the eyebrows. Visualize this, as I do, as the "theatre of the soul" gazing up at the screen where the inner light may appear.

A new technique I learned for feeling the position of the medulla goes like this: sit up straight in meditative posture. While keeping your head level, rotate your head side to side (not too far to either side) back and forth four or five times. Imagine that the head remains centered, rotating to the left, back to center, and to the right in a continuous motion seated on a small post, the thickness of your thumb and located just inside the back of the head above the neck. The area that you feel from this exercise you may consider to be the medulla oblongata (the seat of the ajna chakra).

Therefore, during meditation, center your attention in the medulla. This will help keep your head level (chin level). Too many meditators tilt their head back (lifting the chin) while straining to place their energy at the point between the eyebrows. See if this re-focusing of your attention at the medulla helps ground your meditation, keeping you in the conscious mind even while your upward gaze indicates that you are receptive to the superconscious mind. Too often we focus so intently upon the forehead that our head tilts up and we get "disconnected" from the rest of the body and the other chakras. The result is that we are tempted to mentally drift away or maybe the monkey mind feels free to leap about and do cartwheels and handstands on the stage of our attention. 

Another way to express the effect of the head tilted upwards at the chin, is that this "pinches" the medulla (Ajna) chakra and chokes off our connection with especially the heart. The heart holds one of the keys to quieting the monkey mind. When the heart is calm and at rest, so follows the mind. Think of one of those perennially contented souls one meets here and there. No surfeit of mental agitation have we!

Refocusing your awareness to the medulla will require some practice and reorientation. Ultimately it really isn't a change from making the spiritual eye your focus but it is, in fact, more natural since the ego is said to be centered in the medulla. Until the ego is lifted up out of itself, moving naturally forward to the spiritual eye, the ego is the one practising meditation!

5. The tingles! A sign to look for as you go deeper in meditation (as your heart rate decreases), is a tingling sensation on the surface of the body (the skin). Perhaps your hands, resting on your thighs, begin to feel heavy, even warm. Perhaps your upper body has an energy or tingling feeling all around. Or, perhaps your lower lip feels different (as if the blood is draining away from it). It is no coincidence that yogis often meditate without a shirt. The shirt, by touching the body, interferes with the awareness of this sensation. 

In its initial stages, we actually feel MORE sensitive (just as when you have sunburn or a rash you may not want to wear a shirt). As prana is drawn into the center of the body, certain sensations result. They are somewhat similar to falling asleep except that we can't notice them because we are "falling" asleep! These can include becoming suddenly aware of tension or aches and pains. Other symptoms might include sudden itching, tickling in the throat or nose, yawning or swallowing compulsively (though these also have other sources for their appearance). 

But the "tingles" is a sign to you that you are internalizing your awareness and the prana is following your attention inward. Put another way, these sensations are not problematic but natural. However, this doesn't mean every meditator will or must experience these sensations.

Well, that's it for now. Try some of these and let me know what you think. Just remember that we are all a bit different. Not every technique works the same for every meditator. 

Inhale, exhale, "stop, look, and listen!" (Here comes the train of peace gliding soundlessly down the tracks of your mind.)

Swami Hrimananda, the
Not (yet) wandering sadhu