Last night in my Movement and Meditation class we were continuing the discussion on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. We discussed the similarities between the Eightfold path and the Eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga). Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment and first sermon on the Eighfold path likely happened around 400-500 BCE. The sage Patanjali compiled the yoga sutras around 400 CE. The sutras are a compilation of texts from various practices. It is clear that the Eight limbs of yoga are borrowed, in part, from the Eightfold path of the Buddha. Both Ashtanga and the Eightfold path lay out practices that, if followed, can bring the student closer to samadhi (connection with the divine). Since the Buddha was brought up as a Hindu, the Eightfold path is about living a certain way as to eventually attain nirvana and break free from the cycle of reincarnation. This, of course, is similar to the Eight limbs of yoga and the intention to attain moksha.
Both Ashtanga and the Eightfold path have as one of the practices, meditation. Last night we were discussing the challenges of a consistent meditation practice. Like any discipline, there are some weeks where the practice is adhered to with regularity and other weeks…not so much. I started to think about how sometimes it is the adherence to time, space, and accessories that sometimes is an impediment to a meditation practice. I also realized how similar this is to any physical exercise regime. If we decide that exercise only happens in a gym, at a certain time, wearing certain clothes, listening to specific music and using specialized equipment then we have many variables that could cause us to miss the practice that day. If you forgot your gym shoes or your portable music device then it might be just as easy as to say, “Maybe tomorrow?”
Most fitness experts would tell you that it is better to think about exercise as a possibility in all the moments of your life. Perhaps you stand more instead of sitting at work? Maybe you take the stairs instead of the elevator? You could park further away from the office or grocery store. You could walk on your lunch break instead of sitting. All these little things add up to great physical benefits. The same mindset should be taken with meditation. Your intention can be to sit in your quiet corner of the house with your zafu and incense at the ready but what happens if you can’t find the solitude or the time that day? Is that it for meditation that day?
I think this is where mindfulness is like the little bits of physical activity that can add up. You can focus your mind to be present with many moments in your day. When you brush your teeth or have a shower or sweep the floor or go for a walk or eat your lunch, you have all these moments available to have the same effect as sitting in full lotus with patchouli incense burning and a statue of Ganesh at your alter. A formal meditation practice is always a good idea as it is a good idea to have a membership to a yoga studio or other fitness centre but the regular, shorter, daily practices are what will more effectively bring a person further along the road to nirvana or moksha or connection to your higher power, your God or spirit. It seems to me that it is more about how you live and what you do with your moments than it is what you do for your dedicated, formal practice time.