Ceasing the fluctuations of the mind - world peace!
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the change we might all like to see in the world. And I figure it is probably world peace, and also climatic change, or at least, steps taken to achieve positive climatic change.
The peace one fascinates me the most. Well they both fascinate me in their own way, because we might say we want climatic change, but how many of us are actually taking our own steps to achieve this? How many of us are reducing our air travel, for example, or quitting our cars?
How many of us are truly reducing our plastic consumption (with everything still seemingly packaged in plastic)? How many of us are planting trees? How may of us care what we put into our mouths and how it was sourced and the impact that this has had on the environment? The examples go on and on, and I’m certainly not in a position to preach.
How about peace though. How many of us are doing anything about creating more of this? How many of us can say that we truly experience inner peace? How many of us experience peaceful relationships with our family and friends? How about peaceful relationships with the wider public and Mother Earth (link now to climatic change!)?
If there is one thing that I have learned from teaching yoga and Reiki, is that very few people live truly peaceful lives. My recent Ayurvedic studies have further highlighted this to me. Underlying any imbalance there is often a lack of inner peace, lives are frenetic and busy, minds are anxious, depressed and relationships are continuously tested.
The mind has a lot to answer for really, left to run riot it can create many problems, shaping our life experience, without us necessarily even being conscious of it. This is the joy of yoga in many respects, because at it’s core it is about easing the fluctuations of the mind and in the process helping us to wake up – see Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, “yogah citta-vritti-nirodhah” translated by Frans Moors as meaning, “Yoga is the pacification, concentration and complete focus of the mind’s fluctuating activities”.
Frans Moors further writes, “Patanjali defines Yoga as a particular state of the activities of the mind, which are usually in fluctuation. Yoga is the complete orientation (nirodha) of the mental activities (citta-vrtti-s) towards a state of harmony, clarity and total awareness. At the highest state of nirodha, all fluctuations have stopped”.
Can you imagine a mind that doesn’t fluctuate, which is always orientated towards harmony, clarity and total awareness? Which doesn’t constantly swing from one thought to another? That doesn’t judge, over analyse, sabotage and generally create it’s own suffering? A mind that doesn’t make up stories or get stuck in it’s own rut? A mind that doesn’t get depressed or anxious? A mind that sees only the truth, beyond the illusion, beyond the false perceptions and the confusion? A mind at peace?
This has gotten me thinking a lot about the mind, in the sense of how it limits us and prevents us seeing/being the wholeness of who we are, how it shapes our lives, prevents peace. One of my favourite quotes has always been, ‘limitation is a creation of the mind’, which was used frequently by my dynamic yoga teacher in Byron, especially when it came to practicing something that might take students out of their comfort zone, like handstand or headstand. It became like a mantra to me at the time, seeing me through the intensive 7-week training, making me test my limitations both on and off the mat. Many of my limitations – he was right – were in my mind, self-imposed.
More recently, I have been undertaking training in the Scaravelli-inspired approach to yoga with a teacher in Scotland. This practice seeks freedom of the spine, and as a consequence, creates freedom in the mind. All yoga is essentially orientated towards this objective (ceasing the fluctuations of the mind - freedom), but this particular approach (for me) is profound; truly honouring the body’s natural intelligence and resting into the earth with gravity, revealing the magical connections between effort and rest. In the process there is almost an immediate freeing of the mind, albeit momentarily.
This approach has helped me to recognise the many ways in which the mind controls us, even in our yoga practice, overriding our body’s natural wisdom. I see it played out in mostly every class I teach, as student push and pull and further unbalance an existing imbalance, in mind if not in body. For example, we might carry lots of tension in our shoulders, and yet still we keep practising postures, and approaching postures, in a way that continuously stresses the shoulders. Another example includes the mind being super hectic and rather than trying to slow it down with a gentle and slow approach to our practice, we practice in a hectic and fast way, further stressing an already stressed system.
We can blame society for this really. On the whole, we are conditioned to achieve. There has always been an end game, if not exams then some form of evaluation. So the mind always feels that it has to work towards something, like the perfect posture for example. The trouble is, that there is no perfect posture, postures are not goals in themselves but frameworks for finding (deeper) connections within the body, of pausing the thinking mind, and awakening. As we become more conscious through our practice, we might better come to recognise this.
However, initially, even if we make conscious decisions, like attending a yoga class to ease our stress, it is very easy to become unconscious during the practice itself. Being conscious is an ongoing awareness, and even then, it is difficult to experience, because the mind is very tricky, it doesn’t let go very easily. We have only to consider how difficult it is to make changes to our diet and lifestyle to recognise this.
As much as we are conscious that a change needs to be made - we can no longer ignore the fact that the body is suffering with some disorder or complaint - it is difficult to surrender the grip of the mind and let go of the many (bad) dietary and lifestyle habits that we have spent a life time cultivating. These habits have become normal to us, even if they are harming us, and to let go of them, find another way, is confronting for the mind, even if the body is willing.
I was talking with a yoga teacher recently about the fact that some students come to class for the first time and get a real taste of the potential of yoga in that one class, but never return again, because it is just too confronting for them. In their brief journey with yoga they may become conscious of their own truth, behind the confusion and the denial, but because their lives may have to change as a result of this awareness, and because of the enormity of what might need to change (divorce, leaving jobs etc.), they never return to class, their head goes back in the sand.
It is sometimes difficult to look honestly at our lives. It might take us some time, perhaps a whole lifetime, to recognise what our friends, families and/or counsellors may have recognised years earlier; the destructive relationship, the wrong job, the damaging diet, the unhealthy lifestyle, the draining friendships, the stories we cling on to about our past that keep us stuck in the past, the grudges we hold that are making us angry and bitter inside, and on the list goes.
I’ve noticed the limiting nature of the mind in other ways recently too. Sometimes it’s the things that we most love, that are most precious to us, our dreams perhaps, that we somehow protect by never bringing them into the world, and in the process self-sabotaging, because sometimes that’s easier than facing the fear of revealing that which we hold dear. At it’s core, this limitation arises because of our fear of rejection or/and of not feeling good enough.
The irony being that we are the ones who do the rejecting, as we reject a part of ourselves, and we are the ones who perpetuate that old story of not being good enough. In doing so, we are the ones who prevent our inner peace, who curtail our hopes and dreams of living a life of freedom, being all that we can be, however that may manifest and regardless of what others may think (with their limited perceptions). We buy into false truths – not real, just imagined in our mind – so many lives lived based on false notions of the truth.
No wonder the world is in the state it is in with all the false judgements, confusion and inner strife that we allow the mind to create. It is easy to forget that we are a micro of the macro; our outer world reflects our inner world. Thus the more we can experience a sense of inner peace, freeing ourselves from anything that restricts us, addressing our neurosis, our anxieties, our depressions, our hurts etc. the more the outer world will also reflect this – and the greater the world will be at peace.
This is the reason that we might step onto our yoga mat each day, to ease the fluctuations of the mind and experience greater peace. However, it’s one thing to experience a greater sense of peace during and after a yoga class or a weekend retreat, for example, but it’s quite another to invite it into our daily lives – not to react, not to shout, to find a more peaceful way to interact with our children for example, or with our partners or other family members, let alone with ourselves.
Only this morning, I caught myself raising my voice at the cat (the cat!) for once again trying to sneak upstairs and into the bedrooms, and I thought to myself, “what am I doing?! Here I am wanting more peace in this world, and I can’t even keep the peace with the cat”. This awareness was handy a little later in the day when I found myself becoming frustrated with my youngest son for refusing to sit in his car seat without the usual five minutes of negotiation – could I maintain the peace?
There will always be the opportunity to learn because our every interaction, our every relationship (in relation to) provides us with the opportunity to choose how we respond - in peace or otherwise. Each moment is an opportunity for greater awareness - awareness of the role we each play in creating what it is we might like to see changing in the world such as world peace and positive climatic change. This can feel scary, because it demands personal responsibility, but is necessary. Little by little is how I’m approaching it – a work in progress!