So here we are at the turning point. The start of a new year. The past year has slipped away, the new year is yet to come. Looking to the future, who knows what will happen. It is all unknown.
Not only does a new year herald unknown times to come, but also can become a time for reflection on times gone by. The highs and lows of the past linger in our consciousness. Maybe our memories are filled with joys and good times but maybe we go back there to lament on regrets, things that didn’t work out and words and actions misunderstood. An unhappy state of mind.
Buddha is attributed to having said:
“Do not dwell in the past,
do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Bhaktivinode Thakur, a great spiritual teacher from the 19th Century also wrote:
“Forget the past that sleeps
and ne’er the future dream at all,
but act in times that are with thee
and progress thee shall call.”
The wisdom is to neither linger in the past nor dwell in our hopes or fears for the future. During many of our meditation programs we practice silent witness meditation or being in the present moment. In this practice we are encouraged to step back from our minds and watch the thoughts and emotions as a silent witness.
The Stream of Thoughts
In the practice of mindfulness our mind is often compared to a stream and the thoughts and emotions are compared to the leaves and twigs floating downstream. We are simply sitting on the bank of the stream just watching. We watch the debris floating downstream just as we can watch our thoughts, without getting involved with them. We simply become the silent witness.
The Passing Clouds
The thoughts and emotions that appear in our mind can also be compared to clouds passing in the sky, some dark and heavy, some light and fluffy. As a child we may have played at watching the changing clouds and finding figures of people or animals amongst them. Similarly, we can watch the thoughts and emotions in our mind. Standing back and impartially witnessing. Some thoughts are light like the fluffy white clouds while others are dark and unwelcome.
Realising the Self
Mindfulness is simply stepping back from these thoughts and emotions. It gives us an understanding that I am not the body or the mind and through the ancient wisdom of yoga we can realise:
I am spirit not matter
The body is temporary
But I am the eternal spirit
Part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit.
Cultivating the Garden of our Mind
In another analogy, the mind can be compared to a garden. Some parts of the garden blossom with beautiful flowers while in other parts weeds are growing. All gardeners know that they need to cultivate their garden for it to grow successfully. They need to pull out the weeds, to fertilise and water the plants that they want to grow. Similarly, we can choose what to grow in the garden of our mind. By mindfully standing back we can see the nature of our mind. When we allow thoughts of regret, anger, envy, jealousy, sadness, guilt, fear and anxiety to linger in our mind we are watering the weeds. Whenever we allow our mind to dwell on things long past that we wished had turned out differently or when we dream of a future that cannot be, we are cultivating the weeds of our mind. And of course, the more we cultivate the weeds the taller and pricklier they become, and our garden becomes a weed patch.
Redirecting the Mind
Maybe you have noticed how difficult it is to redirect the mind away from undesirable thoughts. In fact, the mind is restless and unsteady and said to be even more difficult to control than the wind. So how to take the mind away from the weeds? It is really very simple. Just as a troublesome child can be diverted with a toy or something they would enjoy or would interest them, the mind can leave the weeds behind by diverting to the ancient practice of mantra meditation. This meditation is two-fold in its outcome. It not only diverts from the negative mind but allows the beautiful flowers of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance and most importantly love to grow.
We can choose to walk the path to happiness simply by watering the flowers with meditation. On our website asmy.org.au or on our youtube channel, at asmy.tv and at our ASMY centre we offer kirtan, japa and breathing meditations.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training