By Kay Mouradian
Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2008 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Mouradian, Kay. "Explorations: Meditation and Yoga." Quest 96.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2008):148-149.
BING ESCUDERO never knew me or how much he affected my thinking. Privileged to have attended one of his Theosophical lectures many years ago, I still remember a powerful sentence from his talk. It resonates in my being even today. He said that Madame Blavatsky's mission was to bring the words reincarnation and karma into the western vocabulary and that the mission of the Theosophical Society in the twentieth century was to expand that metaphysical vocabulary with the words meditation and consciousness.
At the time, I was in the midst of researching yoga for my doctoral dissertation and teaching physical education at a community college in Los Angeles. I was trying to define a yoga curriculum for the public schools minus yoga's spiritual core. A sabbatical allowed me to intensify my research in India. It was there, like a bolt of lightning, that I learned that yoga, without its spirituality, is not yoga. One of several yogis I interviewed had become exasperated with my superficial questions and said, "Don't talk to me about yoga, talk to me about asana." My eyes widened in a state of a shock. I realized my questioning session had just ended.
It is important for a researcher to ask the right questions, however, at that time my consciousness was devoid of a thoughtful understanding of yoga. I wanted all the physical attributes yoga books claimed for a healthy body, but I was not sure about the rest of that "yoga stuff." As a teacher in a public community college where teaching religion is frowned upon, I was not interested in knowing how much belief and religious practice were at the heart of yoga. For me asana was yoga. I had read of the Indian sage Patanjali and his eight branches of yoga (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi), but my heart related only to asana, the physical postures designed to keep the body supple, strong, and healthy. What I did not know at the time is that the intent of asana is to spiritualize the physical body and prepare it for the all-powerful experience of samadhi, the uniting of one's consciousness with God's consciousness, like that of a wave pulling back from the shore and again becoming one with the ocean.
The ultimate objective of all the various yoga practices is samadhi. Yoga disciplines are powerful and need to be heeded in their totality. Asana is the third branch of Patanjali's yoga and only one-eighth of its discipline. It should not be taken out of context. A warning came from Edgar Cayce when he said that what is good can also be bad.
My fear is that taking asana out of its intended realm could result in harming the physical body instead of strengthening it. Even worse, with today's dilution of yoga, I fear that Patanjali's yoga without its spirituality will become infected and eventually lose its magic as did the ancient spiritual centers in Greece when persons flooding those areas came without a purity of intent.
Where do meditation and consciousness fall within the yoga discipline? A brief overview of Patanjali's eight branches reveals that the first two branches, yama and niyama, propose living with the right action of ethical behavior and that asana and pranayama are physical and breathing exercises designed to enhance the body's atomic structure and prepare it for the lengthy stillness needed in meditation. The next three branches of Patanjali's yoga are a series of meditative techniques that study the activity of the mind to help shape it to become skillful and attentive. Controlling the mind (raja yoga), which some say is the highest yoga, is essential before one finds the entrance and passes through into the enlightened state of samadhi.
My first attempt at meditation was an uncomfortable moment. I did not like closing my eyes and not being able to see all that surrounded me. Not being the center of the scene, I no longer could make judgments about what I saw. I heard the sound of a speeding car and my mind visualized ocean waves. Why did I visualize waves? Why did H. P. Blavatsky say, "Thou shalt not let the senses make a playground of thy mind"? That was a clue that led me into an exciting adventure of delving into my mind to see how and why it worked the way it did. After seven years of intense study I am now aware of what is going on in my mind at all times. Although my mind still wanders, I often catch it as it loses focus and understand why.
As my meditation practices became stronger, I saw my thoughts speedily go hither-dither, that "monkey mind" often referred to in yoga literature. Watching the initializing of my thoughts and identifying where they came fromâ€”inside my head or from the outsideâ€”I was able to determine if I wanted to keep those thoughts as part of my consciousness. All in a flash!
Anger had been my bane in my early years. Then one day in meditation, I saw an angry thought surfacing, watched it with full attention, did not give it energy, and it dissipated on its own. It was the beginning of understanding how to clear the negative junk thoughts that had encrusted my consciousness. However, once in a while, especially when driving in traffic, I feel a seed of anger rising, but am aware of its happening and I immediately change its energy. My secret is keeping my attention at the sixth charka, the mind's eye, where thoughts I want to keep in my consciousness are strengthened. I learned to do this in an unusually quiet and attentive meditation when I saw a thought forming in the back of my head. And that phrase, "in the back of my mind" made sense. I learned to bring those thoughts to the forefront of my mind, to the mind's eye, or dismiss them if they were junk. It is not so much control of my mind as it is becoming aware of what is sitting in the back of my mind that can cause discord in my hectic life.
Swami Sivananda said that the nature of the mind is such that it becomes what it thinks intensely upon. Most of us have no idea of what thoughts are sitting in our consciousness. How often have you heard people say, "I don't know who I am"? That phrase propels many of us who have no idea what thoughts dominate our lives. But, attentive meditation focusing on how and where thoughts are formed can begin to clear the fog and confusion that clouds our minds.
Once we understand the nature of thought and how it drives us in our daily lives, we have an opportunity to strengthen our thoughts of goodness, kindness, and compassion and become a human being whose consciousness is a reflection of who we can become. Meditation and consciousness, two words activated in our daily vocabulary, can uplift the human being to heights previously unimagined.
Kay Mouradian, Ed.D. is a retired professor of health and physical education from the Los Angeles Community Colleges. A long time student of Theosophy, she is author of Reflective Meditation (Quest Books 1982) and A Gift in the Sunlight: An Armenian Story.