Choosing Our Thoughts: Meditation in Action
“ACTION IS MOVEMENT WITH INTELLIGENCE. THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH MOVEMENT. WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS IS MORE CONSCIOUS MOVEMENT, MORE ACTION.” – BKS IYENGAR
Someone who I thought I’d lost came back into my life not too long ago. This was someone I loved very dearly and I had come to believe we would never be able to reconnect until one day, unexpectedly, they were back in my life. Initially I was so happy to have them back, until I realized that though we were in each others lives again, things were different and my thoughts turned to all the regret and mistakes of the past and wishing we could go back to how things were. I was awash with nostalgia and sadness so much of the time we were together that I struggled to enjoy the sheer amazingness of having them back in my life. When we spent time together I’d barely be present and usually comparing all the differences between the way things used to be (which in my mind looking back, had of course been perfect) and the way things were now. It was more bitter than sweet.
Until one day I realized, I could keep looking back at all the things I wished had happened differently and wanting to turn back time, or I could embrace where we were now and trust it enough to see where it took us. I could focus on the past, or I could focus on being grateful that we’d reconnected and for the new chance we’d been given to be in each other’s lives again. I could leave the bitter and take the sweet.
This is meditation in action. Choosing the thoughts we will allow to live in our minds, the emotions we will allow to grow in our hearts.
For many years I looked at meditation as this lofty practice, passive and practically impossible for a neurotic like me. So many people I talk to think the same thing and have that same image of the guru floating on the lotus flower with the bhindi at ajna. Like so many, I thought that meditation is stopping our thoughts altogether. Letting the mind be completely empty.
While this state of complete oneness and divine emptiness is discussed in the yoga sutras as that ultimate state of samadhi where we are one with ourselves and with the world around us, and while of course it is a worthy aim, the reality is in our modern world and times (and especially if you’re a New Yorker!), approaching it this way can feel daunting and perhaps cause us to give up before we’ve even started.
A more realistic and accessible way to approach meditation is to understand that actually, it is is more active than passive. It is a practice that can allow us to sit with our thoughts both positive and negative, be with what we feel, without judgement and with acceptance, and with time, learn to slow it all down enough to choose the ones that are useful, and release the ones that are wasteful. Choose the ones that we want to feed and nurture and let go of the ones that drain us and don’t work. Sitting everyday, with a mantra or practicing vipasana meditation where the focus is on following the breath and sensations, can help us go inside ourselves and see what’s happening. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? What do we want to grow more of? What doesn’t work and might even be hurting us or others?
Being able to slow down and choose our thoughts allows us to better manage our emotions which means we can also slow down and choose our words and our actions. Meditation is one of the many tools in our arsenal of practicing svadhyaya, self study, and it is the most powerful way to practice yoga in our day to day lives. The better we know and accept ourselves, the better we can show up in the world from a place of acceptance and awareness and compassion and offer that to others. It is one way to transform our practice into conscious action: one breath at a time, one thought a time, one moment at a time, one choice at a time.