Observing our mind
Centering our attention on the present moment is important in order to flow in harmony with life. However, our minds very quickly tend to get distracted. Try this: For one full minute sit comfortably and observe the second hand of a clock advancing, second by second to the next minute. Pay attention to every single second. Observe your mind. Most of us will notice that our minds quickly move away from this simple task. For instance, we might find that we start recalling something that happened earlier today or a few days ago, or that something around us sparks a chain of thoughts away from this present experience. We might also notice our tendency to start planning activities for the next few minutes, the rest of the day or of the week. Our mind, is doing its work, that is, the mind is processing the information it receives from the senses.
We process information by establishing connections between what we perceive and something that we know already. In other words, our mind uses the ideas, sensations, emotions and feelings stored in our memory as a frame of reference that helps us understand, navigate and store the experience in which we are participating. Using the information we have stored previously is an important skill. However, sometimes we tend to change our memories, or to create memories for a variety of reasons, such as to make our choices seem better or to cover up trauma or to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. In other words, our memories may not reflect accurately past actions or events; yet this does not preclude us from attaching specific value to these memories as a measure to determine when something is good, bad, excellent or terrible. Here a challenge emerges.
As Marshall McLuhan indicated, “When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” One way of interpreting this insight is that we use our memories to decipher and understand our new experiences. Consequently, our memories influence the way we approach new situations. For instance, as we enter a new moment, we look for similarities between this moment and our previous experiences. As we compare this moment with our memories, regardless of how accurate those memories might be, we tend to ascribe a value to each experience. Subsequently, we proceed to decide which experience we find more positive or valuable. This process is certainly important as it can help us learn from previous actions. However, as we saw previously, our minds tend to mold and change our memories for a number of reasons. Hence, our memories might not be very accurate.
The challenge emerges when we allow our memories to become our model of “the way things should be.” Because once we feel we know the way things should be, we become reluctant to stay in the present moment and, instead, we keep comparing the current experience to another time and place, real or imagined. Every time that we compare our experience we are moving outside of what is and into what should or could have been. Often, the result is that we enter into conflict with the present moment. It is not uncommon to reject this moment because the experience is not exactly what we remember, what we hoped for or what we imagined.
When we observe our thoughts, actions and reactions, we might catch a glimpse of our mind and notice if our mind is judging, rejecting, reacting or accepting the present experience. For instance, often as we practice asana, a particular type of breathing or a specific meditation, we start the practice with a preconceived notion about how it should go, even when the specific technique might be completely new to us. Frequently, if the outcome does not meet our expectations, we immediately criticize ourselves or berate the practice or our experience. When we start noticing this pattern of thought we are taking the first steps to move beyond this challenge.
Our Yoga practice provides numerous techniques to strengthen the mind so that we can observe whatever we are doing. However, frequently the role of mind in yoga practice can be overlooked. During Yoga practice we need our mind to be actively present, engaged in the moment, observing our circumstances, observing our actions and our thoughts. In our yoga practice, regardless of what type of practice we are doing, movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), concentration (dharana), chanting (japa), and meditation (dhyana), we continually witness, staying with the present moment, doing what we are doing. Centering our attention on our breath is a simple and very effective way to stay in the present moment. As a result, we can notice how the moment is, and instead of reacting by judging, or criticizing, we can choose to accept the experience as it is. It is helpful to recognize that our current circumstances are the result of innumerable factors, most of them beyond our control. Without accepting this moment we can’t understand with clear mind what is happening and what we can learn from it. Once we accept and understand we can immerse in the experience guided by our breath. This is vital in order to take the appropriate steps here and now to honor our essence fully and thence move towards a clearer and truer expression of our selves.
Acceptance of the present moment helps us stay open and to learn by recognizing that each moment is unique, even when the activity seems familiar or similar to something stored in our memory. As a result, we can flow harmoniously with life, doing the best that we can, no more, no less.
Simple guided meditation with Rubén