This chapter examines the deeper implications of finding healing through meditation. Regulated by the breath, our subtle sensations stack up to offer a roadmap of internal navigational tools. Equipped with a map of inner consciousness, we embark on a journey into awareness, giving our ego-mind “a dose of our own medicine”.
What is the “Med” in Medicine and Meditation?
Asana-based yoga is not the only body-centering practice that can lead to gaining insight. All physical activity, be it farming, wood logging, weaving, milking, cooking, gardening and the list goes on, when done with awareness, with presence, and with single-point concentration, can lead to uncovering the subtler nuances of our minds' inner workings.
The yogis, whose five thousand years of asana practice has withstood the ultimate test of time, probably got something right - and that is, that yoga has no other purpose, but to lead the practitioner to cessation of the ego-mind. And when coupled with intuition, yoga can become the ultimate system for the inner mapping of our subtler sensations.
The potential of this intuitive insight to lead to more stilling modes of practice such as Vipassana meditation, lies in the compiling of the subtle data that can be transferred in form of inner knowledge. Breath awareness during Hatha or Pranayama practice, can lead to tangible recording of subtle sensations, a mapping out of an inner memory on a cellular level. Being able to recall these sensations, feelings, emotions, i.e. “subtle data” during meditation, is what gives the practice of vipassana a kind of “intuitive geography” when navigating the more obscure realms of the mind.
These feelings, sensations, emotions, etc. become markers in a rather abstract journey through meditation. We can observe the mind, but if we do not possess a subtle “vocabulary” for interpreting these sensations, we are likely to veer off-course very easily. Recognizing the arrival and departure of thoughts; noticing the presence or absence of the breath; or adjusting your sitting posture to a degree of comfort and alignment, is a body-regulated function that requires a level of familiarity with those sensations. The medicine in meditation is the subtle memory developed in the body – it may very well trigger a response from the ego, but its curative property lies in the very fact that it bypasses the mind.
Is Buddhist Meditation a religious act?
A better question would be - is surgery an act of atheism? In Buddhism, meditation has been the focal method of dissecting the mind and gaining insight into its inner workings – a process of awakening, irrespective of one's cultural or religious affiliations. Buddhism is by far more concerned with pain and suffering caused by the mind, whether physical or psychological, and looks for ways to alleviate it.
Let's take the sensation of pain, for example. Our bodies are endowed with a mechanism that signals pain when, on a physical level, we have ventured beyond its ability to self-regulate. Many of us can recall the feeling of ceasing a sensation of pain when it can be done voluntarily. Say, you have an injured foot which hurts when you step on it. You choose to avoid stepping on that foot in order to avoid the sensation of pain. With time, depending on the injury that you may have, the healing will take place and the sensation of pain will go away.
But, what has caused the injury in the first place? Excluding unavoidable accidents and other types of injuries that may have been difficult to prevent (although, this is a very relative statement that requires further examination), there may have been a moment when you were subtly aware of the possible onset of the injury. Perhaps, you were moving with a lack of awareness, unconsciously, and came to bump into the corner of the table or twisted your ankle by not looking where you were stepping. All of us are familiar with such acts. All of us suffer their consequences.
So, what if we bring awareness into the picture? With awareness of your movement you would have noticed that the table was there, or you would have seen that you were about the step on an uneven surface. Most likely, you would have avoided having the injury altogether, and would not have come to the point of experiencing physical pain. Now, the extreme end of reaching the sensation of physical pain is no longer a required threshold to prevent injury. With awareness you were able to prevent injury before reaching that point.
How to achieve this level of awareness? The answer is simple – you have to start practicing it. And one of the best ways to do so is by picking up a mindful practice where you can observe the subtle fluctuations of your breath, of your bones and muscles, and ultimately of your mind. Yoga and meditation are the direct pathways to this practice, and their ultimate aim is to guide you into awareness off-the-mat, off-the-cushion, and well into your daily activities.
How about Unconditional Love?
There is a beautiful story about Gautama Buddha on how he discovered the middle path. Prince Siddhartha, as he was known before he attained enlightenment, was sitting in deep meditation in proximity to a river. He had spent approximately six years meditating and practicing asceticism in the forest, relying on little sustenance. He was gravely emaciated and was about to lose his consciousness, and probably slip away into death, when a boat came passing by carrying a music teacher and his pupil. The teacher was offering a lesson on how to tighten the strings of a veena, saying: “If you stretch them too far, they will likely break; and if you leave them too loose, then you won't be able to hear the beautiful sound.” In this instance, Siddhartha understood that balance was the key to leading a beautiful existence.
When we are in balance we are able to move through life with awareness. We have the time to make careful observations and the patience to weigh out our decisions. We find the capacity to listen to those around us and we are tuned into our own inner voice. We are not in a rush to draw conclusions and we allow our relationships to evolve along their natural course.
So, does meditation lead to compassion? The short answer is yes. But, the long answer is that it is not so easy to get there. Compassion, first and foremost, begins with offering kindness to ourselves. But, what is kindness toward ourselves? Is it an expensive piece of clothing, or the latest trendy gadget, or maybe a tasty meal in a fancy restaurant? How do we gift ourselves with fulfillment, without gifting ourselves a single material object? How do we find unconditional love without it being conditioned on some outwardly possession?
The journey toward compassion begins with asking ourselves such questions. The answers to these questions, in my experience, become more accessible during meditation.
By Irina Viscun for SRISEEKER
Irina Viscun is a practicing Ayurveda and Yoga therapist, with a background in Buddhist Psychology. She takes an integrational approach to her practice, working at the intersection of diverse holistic therapies ranging from the traditional Indian sciences, to Chinese medicine, to Shiatsu and Reiki. As the founding wellness expert at Sriseeker, Irina has poured her practical knowledge of therapy-driven healing into leading one-of-a-kind spiritual retreats in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Born in Moldova, Irina has lived in the United States and Western Europe before finding her way to South East Asia. After years of cultivating her spiritual development, she embraces the intercultural space as her place of residence in the world, identifying with the interconnected nature of existence as her source of inspiration. When not leading transformational retreats, Irina finds her refuge in nature.