Stepping into Meditation

Swami Chintanshuddhi Saraswati

As we look into the process of meditation from a practical perspective, a common question arises as to how the meditative state can be incorporated into daily life. Once we open our eyes, the accumulated peace gradually fades as the external world intrudes. It may be many hours before the opportunity to meditate comes again, and during that time there is the usual tapestry of conflicts, problems, joys and sorrows of ordinary daily life to weave through.

Generally our concept of meditation is that of sitting absolutely still with the eyes closed, but this is only one technique. Even Buddha, a master of meditative absorption, chose to meditate with half-open eyes (unmani mudra); for to shut the eyes meant to shut out the world, not the true purpose of meditation. Rather the purpose was integration, a feeling of union with all life.

Walking meditation classes with a group of yoga students proved to be a revealing experiment in the meditative process from a dynamic perspective, where the body is moving, the eyes are open and the senses are awakened deliberately in order to channel them into avenues of heightened awareness. Using the preparatory stage of Antar Mouna we took a walk in the ashram grounds and gardens. We focused firstly on hearing (listening spontaneously to all the different sounds of the environment), then touch (feeling the ground underfoot, the breeze, the temperature, sunlight, shadow etc.) and lastly sight (gazing at everything deeply, seeing the shades of colour, the patterns, the shapes etc.) for about eight minutes per sense. Our pace was fairly slow and we walked in single file through this myriad of sense experiences.

After the walking meditation we returned to the classroom where the students sat very quietly in their ‘antar mouna’ state, exuding peaceful vibrations. Getting feedback was difficult as no one felt like talking (very unusual!) The majority of the group experienced a definite shift into an altered state of mind, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their ability to stay with the practice.

We carried this experiment a little further some months later, at a time when we were exploring the concepts of samskaras and memories and how they provoke reactions/responses in daily life situations as well as during formal meditation sessions. Using the same walking meditation technique, but limiting the practice to only two senses: sound and sight, we set off to discover how samskaras or memories can be triggered by sense awareness. This also doubled to observe how the initial input of samskaras or memories can occur through sense experiences, whether they seem relevant or not to the individual.

The experiment proved to be quite an eye-opener to this subtle process. The majority of students found that sight was the strongest sense for provoking memories, and that the memories tended to be those from childhood, e.g. a pair of old shoes brought up the memory of a grandfather, the shape of a tree brought poignant memories of playing in the garden, and so on. It was also interesting to realize just how much our memories can colour our present thoughts and reactions. After the two senses had been explored for some time we switched on to awareness of spontaneous thoughts (stage 2 of Antar Mouna) while continuing to walk, observing any mental impressions after the practice.

The use of heightened sense awareness can also be carried through to many daily situations. For example, while cleaning or washing clothes the sense of touch can be explored. While sweeping leaves in the garden the sense of hearing can be used. While eating dinner the sense of taste or smell can be used. Experiment and discover.