Finding dhyana, or not

Somewhere after dharana, we find dhyana, meditation. I know, that doesn’t sound helpful at all, right? The problem is that dhyana isn’t really something that I can just decide to do. We decide on dharana and then dhyana happens or it doesn’t. It’s the same with samadhi but we’ll get there later. The difference between dharana and dhyana is that we begin by concentrating on something and when everything gets clear and we lose ourselves in it, that’s when we’ve fallen into dhyana.

It isn’t something I’ve experienced often, but it’s happened. For a long time I tended toward the whole idea of moving meditation which doesn’t quite sound the same as dhyana in my book. In a moving meditation, we are mindful of breathe and the single thing we are doing at a time. A mind/body yoga session could be considered a moving meditation but I think it sits between dharana and dhyana. The mental energy expended on keeping up with the breathe and the movement keeps me out of dhyana, but maybe it’s not like that for everyone. I will say that it has helped considerably, though.

In the times when I feel I’ve reached dhyana, I came to it through an asana practice where dharana itself was practiced in one of the asanas that require a focal point. My mind would have practiced dharana in smaller increments and then be ready for dhyana when the practice reached savasana. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near an expert on this half of the yoga limbs, so I can work and strive and maybe be wrong, but I’m trying and practicing and that’s an important part of yoga.

In my mind, this is where the yoga of Patanjali diverges from the yoga that is generally practiced in the US today. I’ve been to classes in a few different areas and with different teachers. They may have been or come off as spiritual people, they may have even ended class with “namaste”, but these classes don’t teach spirituality or dhyana or meditation. We get to class, begin with working our breath, do some asanas, concentrate on what we are doing, use focal points and concentration, and then have a beautiful monologue during what many people lovingly refer to as “nap time”.

Honestly, what I have felt is a lot like a waking nap too, don’t get me wrong. It was like resting without being asleep and it was like clarity and for a brief moment nothing else in the world was gonna bother me, but that moment always ends for me. I see yoga memes on Pinterest and though they’re generally funny, it seems the moment ends for everyone and all too soon we need the next fix of peace, of some semblance of unity. This is why yoga is a practice and it also says a lot about the difference between yoga classes and yoga life according to Sri Swami Satchidananda, and by extension Patanjali.

As I’ve mentioned before, though, I feel like many Americans need the illusion of yoga as just an exercise to get us in the door and then we learn more than we realize about patience, peace, and union. Some of us are happy there and others reach for samadhi.

As a spiritual practice, I think many Americans shy away for two reasons. The first is that we are an increasingly atheistic country, at times with trauma as a result of our religious traditions. The second reason is that those of us still practicing religious traditions feel as if yoga is a betrayal of what we practice. One of the things I appreciated about Swami Satchidananda’s take on religion and yoga is that it strives for union with the Divine and creation, in whatever form you believe that Divine or creation to be.

The point isn’t the bickering about what the true religion or faith or god is. The point is unity. It also reminded me of a book a while back, A Short History of Myth. The author, Karen Armstrong, mentions that a part of myth and religion is the practice of ritual. A lack of meaningful ritual is mentioned as one of the reasons people in this era walk so quickly away from religion. It isn’t really connected to us in a meaningful way. The continual practice of asana in classes or at home has a way of being this kind of ritual and connecting us to the divine when we’re ready for it. It’s a part of savasana and dhyana. When we practice asana mindfully, it can be a powerful connection to dhyana and spirituality. At least, that’s how I’ve experienced it.

I wrote a while back about the practice and music that I use when I need a reprieve from the world. That’s my ritual that brings me back to a place of spirituality, faith, peace, and as much union as I have the ability for. Swami Satchidnanda made it sound like the rest isn’t something I can work toward or really hope for. The overall sentiment seems to be this:

Practice what we can practice. Surrender to the idea that we either become ready for the rest and it comes to us, or we don’t and it doesn’t.

So, I’m going to keep practicing the first six limbs and finding dhyana when it comes to me. Maybe samadhi one day too.

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