The tricks your mind plays on you

Our Indian Yoga Tour for Summer 2011 is now well and truly over. We all had a lovely time and I hope to be able to share a little of the magic of India with you over the coming weeks.

As I readjusted to life at home the other evening I took a walk through my garden just after sunset. On the path ahead I saw a long something stretched across it. Snake. We live right next to the bush and a couple of months ago we found the skin of a large python on our verandah. I froze, took a deep steadying breath and summed up my situation. What should I do, edge away, stand quietly, stamp my feet on the ground? My mind whirled through possibilities. Five seconds later my eyes adjusted to the dimming light and I discovered the reality of what was before me: a small smooth branch.

Our mind is very good at rapidly piecing together a story with only scraps of information. But is doesn’t always come up with the truth. And, even when our eyes have seen accurately, or our ears have heard perfectly, our mind can still get it wrong. In other words our mind is very good at deceiving us.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Learning to work with your mind and to understand its foibles allows you to discern the truth, to understand reality and to become truly happy.

In India there is a branch of yoga called jnana yoga (pronounced n-yah-na) devoted to discovering the truth by delving into the depths of the mind. Practitioners of this form of yoga are not required to arch into cobra pose, fold forward and press their head on their knees or hold a one-footed balance with their arms and legs interlaced around each other. The only pose you’ll find these yogis in, is serenely sitting with their legs folded beneath them.

They spend their days contemplating the teachings of the great spiritual texts of India. Reflecting how this knowledge is relevant to their life: how might their mind be leading them astray? Slowly, bit by bit as they meditate and reflect they begin to perceive how their judgements, upbringing and memories, their thought processes and senses are keeping them unhappy and separate from their true nature.

Whilst we may not have the inclination to spend hours each day meditation and years studying our mind, we can learn more about ourselves by spending just a few minutes each day observing our mind and reflecting upon our actions. Here’s three easy things that can help you navigate the storms of your mind, live in the present moment and begin to see things as they really are:

  1. Before going to bed take 5 minutes and reflect on all your interactions with people throughout the day. Don’t judge, just observe.
  2. Learn to transition. When you finish something take a few conscious breaths. Observe the sense of relaxation that comes as you exhale. Allow this to guide your behaviour as you begin your next activity.
  3. Seek out stories that shed light on human nature and different ways of behaving. Every culture has stories to guide us –Zen koans, the parables of Jesus, Sufi poetry, can all challenge our thinking and serve to guide us in our quest for happiness and the nature of reality.

Image by FriskoDude on Flickr.

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