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Yoga and the Mind

Updated: May 3

Most of us are basically dissatisfied with ourselves. We have a desire to be other than what we are. We have forgotten that our true nature is pure consciousness. We are already complete – we are already that which we seek to become. The Self we are looking for is already here. We are made in the image and likeness of God and are already whole and complete as we are.

Forgetting our true nature leads us to search for external happiness in the world of security, sensual pleasures, passion, power and possession. We push ourselves to fulfill our own image of who we should be. We compete with others and drive ourselves mentally and physically to achieve the success or gain the recognition we believe will make us happy. To satisfy the dictates of the ego, we become dishonest, angry, competitive, tense, restless and fearful. Inevitably, this results in a state of mental, emotional and physical disturbance.

Our search for happiness in the external world becomes the very source of further unhappiness, pain, suffering, stress and fear. This external approach leads us to manipulate our surroundings in the hope of fulfilling the void we feel within us. Yet we all know intuitively that external achievement is limited in its ability to provide us with the lasting contentment and inner peace that we seek. External success brings material comforts, but external achievement cannot affect our internal state for more than a short period of time. It does not bring us lasting contentment and inner peace. We are looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have all lived in this way to some degree or another. Perhaps we climbed the ladder of success, but found that our deep inner restlessness was unsatisfied. Many who have reached the top have noted that the more success they achieved, the greater the feeling that something was lacking. No longer could they dream of achieving to be happy. They had it all, yet realized they had nothing.

In reality, the feeling that we are lacking something is spiritual in nature. The restlessness and dissatisfaction with which we were all born is our call to recognize the true Self that we are.

We Crave Union

The restlessness we feel, the void, is our spiritual craving for oneness. We crave union. We crave the experience of forgetting the self – the small self, the fearful self, the selfish self. We crave the experience of oneness with our environment. We want to live in peace and harmony with our family, loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Above all, we most desire to be at one with ourselves, to experience self-acceptance, peace, contentment, creativity, spontaneity and joy.

Yet it seems we have lost the ability to experience such oneness. We have activated our mental faculties to such a degree that even when we go into arenas of life where the mind is not necessary, we cannot turn it off. At night, the mind should be set aside for a deep, restful sleep. However, many people have such excessively active minds that this is not possible.

In the same way, our mind can become a barrier to sexual satisfaction. In order to experience the oneness inherent in the sexual experience, we have to transcend the mind and ego, the limited individual identity, and become lost in the experience. The person with a highly charged mind has difficulty suspending the activity of the mind and therefore often fails to attain the height of sexual union.

The mind is our greatest obstruction to the experience of oneness. It tells us that we can fulfill the void inside by looking outside. It is constantly expecting, demanding, comparing, contesting, craving, complaining, projecting, interpreting and evaluating. It tries to figure out how to manipulate external events and situations so that we can feel good inside. To do this, the mind feeds on energy. It uses and misuses energy to fulfill its functions, to complete its mental processes – and to assure its own survival.

The ultimate purpose of yoga is to free ourselves from all the ways in which the mind modifies or seeks to interpret, change, or manipulate reality. The mind is not an object; it is an activity of the brain set in motion by past conditioning. It is motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The mind can only compare and contrast through its filter of accumulated memories, words and concepts. Thus, while the mind is an effective tool for functioning in the external world, its workings are circular and limited to its programming. The mind can never transcend the barrier of the unknown, which is essential for the experience of higher consciousness.

The mind tells us what makes us happy (and attached to having certain things) and what makes us unhappy (making us resist certain things) according to our positive or negative interpretation of events we experienced in the past. As soon as any event occurs in our life, we have a judgment, “I want this,” or “I don’t want this.” This immediately engages the mind, which in turn engages our action to try to hold onto what we like and avoid what we dislike. As soon as we believe what the mind is telling us, we have identified with it. We fall into the trap of thinking and behaving as if we are the crowd of conflicting desires, hopes, expectations and fears that make up the mind. We forget our essential divine nature which exists beyond the mind. Our capacity to experience our true Self is veiled.

Yoga and the Mind

In yoga, we learn to dis-identify with the mind. By developing a state of non-identification with the mind – of objective awareness towards the mind – we start to see that we have mistakenly taken the mind to be our Self and, by doing so, suffer the pain of identification with its programming.

When the mind is temporarily suspended, the energy it normally consumes is released to flow to the rest of the body. Our facade, our social identity – consciousness becomes free to soar high and become one with supreme consciousness – cosmic consciousness. Freed from mis-identification with the mind, we directly perceive the truth that we are divine. This is the ultimate purpose of yoga.

Published in Sacred Pathways Magazine

March/April 2007

By Kamini Desai

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