Effortless Effort: Using the Breath to Move Inward
Inner Quest: Seeker's Q&A
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD
April 30, 2018
Q: I have been trying to meditate on my mantra at the eyebrow center, but no matter how much effort I put into it, I am not able to do it for more than a moment or two. How can I stabilize my awareness of the mantra at the eyebrow center and maintain a peaceful meditative state at the same time?
A: The less effort involved in doing your practice, the deeper the effect and the longer that effect lasts. When you are making an effort to be in a meditative state, that state automatically disappears. And if you are beginning your meditation practice by trying to put your mantra in a particular spot and hold it there, that effort itself will disrupt your peaceful mental state.
It is best to begin your meditation practice by focusing your awareness on your breath rather than immediately remembering your mantra, let alone attempting to hold it in a particular spot in your body. Breath is the access point to the inner realm. When it is absorbed in the breath, the mind is nourished and protected. We have a hard time understanding this because breathing is innate and so we take it for granted. What we fail to realize is that the breath is a direct manifestation of the life force—breath is the intention of divine will pulsating in us. By aligning the mind with the breath, we are aligning the mind with the intention of the divine, which is invariably auspicious and benevolent. That is why conscious awareness of the flow of breath automatically creates a condition for the mind to become clear and calm.
Another way to think of it is to remember that the mind and the breath are mutually dependent—they go together. When one is disturbed, the other is disturbed. The breath is the link between the body and the mind, as well as the balancing factor. When the breath is erratic, our thoughts are erratic; when the breath flows peacefully, so do our thoughts. That is why breath awareness—allowing the mind and the breath to flow together—is an integral part of meditation.
In modern times, the idea has evolved that pranayama and meditation are two distinct, separate practices. But the truth is that practicing breath awareness automatically takes you into a meditative state. In order to meditate, you must withdraw the mind from the endless chain of thoughts and unite it with the breath. Allowing the mind and breath to flow together creates a peaceful condition in your mind, which is what you need to find your way into a meditative state and remain there.
So rather than immediately attempting to be aware of your mantra and meditate on it at a particular chakra, try this approach:
Sit with your head, neck, and trunk comfortably aligned. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and the weight of your body is evenly distributed on both buttocks. When you are stable and comfortable, withdraw your mind from all other times and places and become aware of your body and the space it is occupying.
Now pay attention to how you are breathing. Do not exert yourself to breathe deeply. Stay within your normal capacity while taking deep, even breaths. Your breathing should be silent, with no pauses between the inhalation and the exhalation.
Once your breath is deep, even, smooth, and silent, let go of attending to its characteristics and allow it to flow effortlessly. Breathe as if you are not breathing—the key here is effortless effort. Let your awareness rest in the serene flow of your inhalation and exhalation for several minutes.
Sustaining this experience of remaining aware of the subtle movement of the breath allows the mind and the breath to become fully absorbed in each other. This peaceful pranic flow creates an atmosphere of peacefulness. While retaining this peaceful flow, become aware of your mantra. Gently let the mantra arise wherever it arises. Make no effort to push the mantra to a specific part of your body—let it be wherever it is and let your awareness be absorbed in it. Your meditation will unfold peacefully from there.
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