Today is April 1, and it’s snowing. The forecast says we might get 1-3 inches. Three days ago it was close to 70 degrees. So it goes in northeast Ohio. The blooming daffodils always get snowed on at least once. Personally, I don’t mind snowy days and rainy days. Grey skies don’t bother me. Others prefer sunny, warm days and want nothing to do with snow, especially in April. We all have our preferences when it comes to the weather, and when it comes to just about everything else.
We experience the world around us through our senses — our sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch provide us with information, and based upon that information we decide, often instantaneously, our preferences about whatever it is we’re perceiving: I like it, I don’t like it, or I’m neutral about it. Our senses are most often outwardly directed, seeking stimulation from and information about the world.
When we sit down to practice meditation, we may find our attention drawn away by the senses. For example, upon hearing the neighbor’s lawnmower running, we may first label the sound as “lawnmower” and then immediately the mind judges the sound as “unpleasant” and decides, “I don’t like it.” A whole story line may even pop up around this sound, “Why does he mow the lawn every time I sit down to meditate? It’s like he does it on purpose. He’s so inconsiderate.” Or maybe a to-list is triggered, “I should mow the lawn too. And I need to remember to stop at the grocery store. Oh, and I need to….” Or perhaps a pleasant memory of playing outside as a child is triggered by the sound of the mower and the smell of the cut grass, which might then lead the mind down a path of other childhood memories. In this case, the sound of the lawnmower may be perceived as “pleasant” and “I like it.”
As our mind is pulled here and there by the senses and by our likes and dislikes, our attention is scattered. Mediation practice asks us to focus and concentrate our scattered attention. A mind that is equanimous is one that is unruffled or undisturbed by preferences, one that is calm, centered, and present without judgement for whatever is happening. To cultivate such a mind, we have to pay attention. By observing or witnessing in a neutral way our own minds, our likes and dislikes, our judgments, and what our senses are drawn to, we begin to know our mind and our senses, our habits and tendencies.
As Karina Gusalova writes in the Jivamukti Yoga Focus-of-the-Month for April, “Daily meditation can become your main compass in life.” If you already have an established meditation practice, this month I invite you to spend a little more time each day in meditation. If you don’t yet have a meditation practice or if you’ve let your practice lapse, I encourage you to begin. In the Jivamukti Yoga method, we practice a simple 3-step meditation process (be patient with and kind to yourself — “simple” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”) Step one is to choose your seat. You may sit cross legged on a cushion on the floor or on a chair. Either way, make sure your spine is long and shoulders are relaxed. Once you’ve chosen your seat, step two is to be still — try not to move or fidget. Step three is to focus your attention on the mantra “let go.” On each inhale silently repeat the word “let” and on each exhale silently repeat the word “go.” Pay attention — notice when your mind is pulled away by the senses or other thoughts and keep gently returning your attention to your breath and to repeating “let go.”
What are we letting go of? Ultimately, we’re letting go of the narrow view of who we think we are (our bodies/thoughts/likes & dislikes/jobs/societal & family roles/etc.) in order to identify with who we truly are, our True Self, a being of boundless compassion, limitless joy, and unconditional love. Over time, with regular, uninterrupted meditation practice we learn to restrain the pull of the senses on the mind, and we cultivate a more equanimous mind. We develop an expanded awareness and broadened understanding of our interconnectedness. We begin to think in terms of “we” instead of “me.” Buddhist nun and dharma teacher Pema Chodron reminds us, “You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.” As you move throughout your days, notice when you’re being pulled away by thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes—the “weather”— and keep returning your attention to the expansive, spacious, limitless blue sky mind.