Mind and Choice

I was practicing some asanas this morning. My days are being structured differently with my new ability to procure food at whatever hour I so please. After three years of a bell indicating meal-times this level of freedom is certainly a new sort of discovery. The follow-up of this is that I can sleep beyond 6:30 in order to experience some hatha yoga before breakfast. Of course I no longer have the luxury of wood-planked rooms with almost floor to ceiling windows, deluxe half moon mats and cozy wool blankets. These things came along with the spaciousness of a places dedicated solely to practice. I realize that a room without furniture is a very precious thing. Particularly a large room.

Nevertheless I sink, blissful, into my practice with the clear, pure sounds of Swami Radha chanting Hari Om playing off my computer speakers. Sometimes I get into this beginners mind sort of approach to listening to the mantra. When I can stop and really just listen to the vibrations emanating out of the speakers I feel a present sort of engagement. My sensory experience can sometimes quieten the rest of my mind as it is simply left to the complicated task of interpreting what’s happening. When absorbed thus it can’t try to shove in past associations or future projections. It can only be utterly and completely immersed in the exact present moment; identifying and enjoying the pitch and variances of Swami Radha’s sustained vocalizations. When listening I feel as though the purity of the chanting itself is what supports me in maintaining that level of directed concentration. I couldn’t simply do it on my own, having the mantra there to listen to something supports me. Having Swami Radha’s own single pointedness of mind as she chanted it certainly supports me as well.

Of course it’s not all bliss and concentration. It’s outside noises as cars drive by — something I’m still getting used to — it’s my monkey mind jumping all sorts of places other than deeply feeling into the sensations of my body. “mmm nice lunge, hey I remember that time I was going hatha with Sue and she’d never seen this lunge before. Oh, fish would be nice, yeah, I’ll do fish later. What is it that I’m doing now? Ok, sun salutation’s cobra – woah I had a crazy dream last night! Hm went to bed pretty late do I wanna get in that habit?” Continually I bring it back, like a helium balloon on a string. It has this force within it that wants to take it away yet, at the same time, contains this cord that I know I can exercise control over in order to pull myself back to where I want to be. It may take more pulls of that cord than I would like but the important thing isn’t how many times I keep coming back to breath and mantra, it’s that I do.

The helium balloon of my mind soars into the heights of the clear blue sky, particularly beautiful on this warm spring day. Up there in the atmosphere is all the ingredients I need to keep doing what it is that I’m doing. This cord that connects me to myself on my mat comes with an invitation. I have a choice to either let the wind sail it any direction it should so desire, or to connect to that steady tension the cord holds. That moment of decision became clear this morning. I entered a moment of obvious choice that I could either continue what it was I was doing: listening to my body and listening to mantra, or cut the cord and let my mind be flown in the breeze, oblivious to the sensory input of my ears and muscles.

As a Libra I’m an expert at weighing the pros and cons of making decisions. Let’s take an easy example: what to make for breakfast. Well, I could have fried eggs and toast. That would mean the potential for a messy cleanup yet a satisfying protein hit. What about the toast? Could have me feeling full and weighted down. Ok, what about a smoothie. Hm, what’s the day like today? Would eating a cold beverage for breakfast keep me chilled for the rest of the day? There are many factors involved, each with its own positive and negatives. So what about in an asana practice? I’ve already made the decision to unroll the mat, put on some comfy clothes and elongate up through my spine as I bend and breathe. In a sense, I’ve already agreed to the pros of hatha. Then I get to go deeper with it. I get to watch what my mind does. In order to get the full benefit I know I can also choose to bring my mind right into the very cells of my body. Achieving that kind of communication is what I’m actually looking for in an asana practice. Bending and breathing aside, it’s the full-on heart/mind/body connection that really fires me up for hatha.

In that moment of decision I can pull from my past experiences of what it’s like to open the receptive qualities of myself on each of my various levels. Opening my ears to mantra and my awareness to what my cells are saying means the decision of where to place my mind’s awareness is already made. Stepping onto the mat allows me to consciously take the time to explore the inner reaches of my being. When those moments come up within a practice of what thought-stream to follow, I can respond with gentle compassion and give the string a little tug as a reminder that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. I can remind myself that following the mind’s whims isn’t what I told myself I would do for this next little bit, and that I’ll have plenty of time to pick up any forlorn thoughts after savanasa.

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