Don't Try to Figure This Out

"Don't try to figure this out," said Bhagavan Das on a visit to London in 2005, "No one's that smart."

It was strange, coming as it did at the end of a week when I had been struggling with my meditation practice and had found myself at the end of class, sitting quietly, with tears running down my face.  I felt full of joy and I didn't understand it: I wanted to know where it came from and what it meant; how I could hold on to it for longer; and what it meant for me in my life if I could touch this deep well of joy whilst deep in meditation, but never in my workaday life.

My teacher, Andrew, came over to me, gently laid a hand on mine and told me: "You can't think you're way through this."  He told me it would all be ok.  So when Bhagavan Das said something very similar, in his own inimitable style, that very same week, I took it as a sign and trusted that it was true.  Time and yoga practice have shown me that they were right and I was right to trust them; I never have worked it out, but I have, over the years, moved deeper into my meditation practice and found such energy, wisdom and solace there that it fills me with gratitude; moreover, the joy I was experiencing, or love, or whatever you call it, has permeated my life, so that it is not now something I only experience on my mat.  Nowadays, not understanding it seems obvious: how did I ever think I could explain the inexplicable?  And why did I want to?

I was reminded of all this last week when a student asked for some advice.  He has begun a regular meditation practice and is finding all sorts of curious things coming up (images, emotions, memories long-buried) as well as new experiences (the feeling that the truth is inside, but is obscured by a layer of something, he doesn't know what).  He was asking for some guidance; he was pondering how to break though that layer; he was wondering what it all meant.  I could only tell him that I was intrigued and excited by his experiences and that the only thing for him to do was to carry on with his practice and to wait and see.  As my teachers once told me, some things you can't work out; some things you just have to wait for; and it is possible to learn how to become comfortable with not-knowing.

I have spent a lifetime trying to figure everything out and I can tell you that it's a hard habit to lose, even in the face of its obvious impossibility (I can't figure out why some people are starving in the world while others waste food; I can't work out why my friend's sister died of cancer, leaving behind three children, when she wasn't yet 40 years old; I can't figure out why sometimes I don't feel happy in spite of the obvious plenitude of everything that is positive in my life).

In recent years scientists have sought to explain why those with a regular meditation practice are happier, kinder, healthier and have more energy than their friends who do not; they have put Buddhist Monks through MRI scanners and wired meditators up to machines to see what is going on in their brains.  This is brilliant, for it may well convince the cynical, or those who require a scientific basis for their choices to come to a practice that yogis have long known is beneficial for each individual psyche and also for society at large.  But the truth is that there are some things that we will never work out, but that we roll with anyway: we roll with it because it feels right; we roll with it because its benefits are tangible; and in the end we don't really need to know why.  It's very like falling in love, can you explain it?  But when it hits you, can you deny it?

2,000 years ago Patanjali told us:

sradda virya smrti samadhiprajna purvakah itaresam
Practice must be pursued with trust/faith, energy/courage, recollection of past practice, intense contemplation (from BKS Iyengar's translation)

tivrasamveganam asannah
The goal is near for those who ardently desire it
Yoga Sutras 1:20-21

It is faith in the practice and in our teachers that brings us to meditation and keeps us practising; it is the energy and conviction that we bring to the discipline of practising that keeps our meditation practice buoyant; it is the memory of past breakthroughs that help us to make it through challenging periods of practice or times when our meditation feels blocked, or becomes dry; but our goal is never far away.

Ramakrishna advised his students not to "become distracted by attempting to analyse Divine Mystery ... A few sips of the precious wine of Love will thoroughly intoxicate you.  Why leave the glass untouched on the table while enquiring how the wine was produced or estimating how many gallons may exist in the infinite wine cellar?"

Ultimately it doesn't matter that I cannot understand where the joy comes from, how the love grows, how the empathy keeps on spreading wider and wider.  It. Just. Does.

It doesn't matter that I don't have words to describe my experience, that I don't know how it can be that the discipline of my yoga practice brings me freedom, or that the more regularly I dip into that ocean of peace, the closer it gets.  It. Just. Is.

And I'm ok with that.  I wasn't always, but I am now.  Your meditation practice will take you to places you never dreamed of and will help you to see and understand things more clearly; it will help you to slough off behaviours and attitudes that do not serve you to reveal instead your vibrant self.  All you have to do is let it.

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