“Stilling the modifications of the mind is yoga.” What is that supposed to mean? What are modifications of mind anyhow?
Our minds are so busy. It is constantly working to observe and interpret our surroundings. Sometimes it even judges and comments. These are modifications of the mind. Sometimes the mind imagines things, makes-up stories. These are also modifications of the mind. And that little voice inside your head; yup, a modification of your mind.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, really. It is good to be able to interpret our surroundings – be it people, places, things – so that we know whether we are safe or that we need to remove our selves in order to maintain safety. We need the mind to help us learn, whether its common sense life stuff or studies in school. And even that little voice can be useful, perhaps literally talking us through solving a problem. The problem comes when these activities of the mind are no longer “stilling.”
One of my mentors would ask us “is it stilling?” any time we went to her with questions or doubts about our practice. Often, in those circumstances, the answer was no; her response was something to the effect of “well stop it then.” But what does that mean, and how do we do it?
This idea to share the concept of stilling came to me a couple days ago during my own meditation practice. For me that meant observing the mind – and my ego – and how incredibly busy it was. And it meant that I also observed what tools I used to find stillness – and what stillness looked like. What I realized is that many people believe that stilling the mind means silencing it. I once believed this too. And although there are many moments of silence, they are fleeting. This is where stilling comes in. It is finding peace in chaos, the calm in the storm.
As an example, I took a visit to the Verde Vineyard yesterday. My husband was working there, and although I do often help out, I set out to find a lovely seat with a bottle of wine while I sat and wrote. That did not happen. I arrived with about six other groups, there was a large group already there and they needed help, so I jumped in. Needless to say I did not get any writing done, no glass of wine, no relaxing afternoon. And I noticed my mind popping in occasionally with a story or commentary about it. There were times that it was distracting – not stilling. Other times I noticed it but it was almost like it was running in the background, like having the TV on in the other room – more stilling. The more I could let my mind’s voice play in the background, the less it seemed to play. Perhaps it wasn’t making noise or maybe I was getting better at ignoring it, but it didn’t really matter – stilling.
We could get into what the ancient scriptures say about this, or get into deep conversation on techniques, but I want to keep this message simple today. Just start by noticing if you feel still, or calm, at any moment through your days. Notice what happens when you are in a crowd or large event. Notice what happens when someone says something you don’t like (or something you do like, in contrast). Notice what happens when you make a mistake at something. What are you looking for? Notice if that voice in your head starts talking – what is it saying, what is the quality and tone of its voice? Notice if you feel tense or anxious. And ask yourself: is this stilling or not stilling? If it is not stilling, see if you can change just one aspect of the situation.
This takes practice – lots of practice, trust me – so don’t expect to become a peaceful monk overnight. But do know, and trust, that calmer moments are ahead. We just need to find where the stillness lies inside.