Yoga makes two promises. The first is that life is bliss. The second is that there is a singular Truth within life's complexity. Success in yoga can be defined as the learned willingness to embrace wholeheartedly these propositions. This success depends on meditation which in yoga is not simply an observing of the mind as it moves but a stilling of every thought and emotion. It's not just the caliber of stillness that matters but also how long the mind can be stilled. Meditation eventually becomes an endurance practice. The longer we can sit in focused presence the more profound these proposed truths become. So, how do we increase our capacity to focus?
First, it's always important to remind ourselves that yoga is a set of exercises designed to teach us how to stop our thought process so that we may see life objectively rather than what we judge it to be. It is our mind, specifically judgment, that degrades divinity. The more we can remember objectivity in practice the more we amplify the resulting bliss of our practice. If you observe the mind you'll find most of its "movement" is judgment. This is why stillness is the word so often used in regards to meditation. The rivers of judgment distort our experiences into something small, preferential, and personal. When the mind is trained to absorb more of its experience by arresting judgment it becomes expansive and has an easier time marveling at life's obvious grandeur because it is absorbing more of that moments "information". The truth of bliss becomes more obvious when there is more information to support it. A judgment is an act of limitation which leads to delusions of better and worse, right and wrong, or good and bad. As yogis, persons invested in unnatural levels of openness, we must confess that we naively and perhaps arrogantly arrest the free expression of life itself by unconsciously and constantly judging it, thereby oppressing our own opportunity to enjoy it and express ourselves from within it.
The yogi, in meditation, must not provoke their feelings, as feelings are so often the catalyst or consequence of judgment. Although many seek emotional release through meditation, catharsis must be spontaneous. To seek emotion defeats the point of practice and instills a habit of desperation. What is happening in the unprovoked now is all that should be explored. Mental stillness is the means of that exploration. It equates to supreme emotional neutrality. The term in Sanskrit is Vairagya or dispassion. The word literally means; to remove the color from a thing. Without the hues of our emotional preferences, the still mind becomes an open and boundless void. Like a starving stomach, it consumes everything it is given. Let your mind become an empty stomach! Consume the moment.
Through mental stillness the yogi spontaneously recognizes that life is always pure. Life's honesty is immutable, which means all moments are noble and worth absorbing. Similar to the way a starving body would find nutrition in candy, any food at that point is better than nothing. All moments when recognized as honest are more easily embraced. To support embrace, which is the absence of judgment, consider this; inauthenticity is not real. The inauthentic is only an honest expression of something we disagree with. All people show the truth of who they are at all moments and all moments themselves are honest expressions of reality, even if they are brutal or unforgiving. Nothing is disguised. Nothing is hidden. It is our own judgments that confuse us and give us the sense that we are not seeing the world for what it is. Once we can still the mind and eradicate the confusion systemic to judgment the two deepest revelations of yoga, bliss and truth, can be achieved because we learn that life in its own authenticity is perfect.
When a child draws madness on a sheet of paper, scribbles representing their home, parents, pets, and trees, it is valued without critique. No decent person would dare limit that child's expression through criticism. That is perfect. That is the lesson you as a yogi are learning to apply to the world and yourself by seeing life as the divine scribblings of a cosmic and creative innocence. Perfection arises when life (this includes ourselves) is unrestricted and permitted to exist as it exists.
Ideas are nice but what do you focus on in practice? The thought of perfection? Or acceptance? Or stillness? No. Focus on the body. The body is what will always hold the mind. Before the mind can fully accept yoga's two propositions; life as pure bliss and the notion of an ultimate and experiential Truth, it demands proof. That proof is attained through the subtle sensations of the body. The Sanskrit word for these sensations is Sukshma. The mind becomes more attentive through passivity like a lioness frozen in the grass, frozen in a gaze, locked on a single zebra in the herd. The still mind like the lioness before it sprints can recognize the body's secret expressions. The body when seen honestly by such a tranquil and attentive mind becomes Sukshma. Sukshma or subtle bliss sensations is literally the tingling you feel in your skin. Whether its blood flow, air pressure, air temperature, or nerve sensation is irrelevant. Only the feeling is important because it is the feeling that satisfies the mind, not the thought of what the feeling is. A meditator must know the difference between thought and experience and dive into experience thoughtlessly.
Sukshma is an extraordinary sensation disguised as ordinary and then, unfortunately, overlooked. It is hidden by what the yogis refer to as Maya. Maya means illusion and explains that life is an illusion that hides its divinity as a trickster would in the one place most would never look, the mundane. Maya is only real for the confused and we are all confused. It is the consequence of their inability to differentiate thought from experience or opinion from fact. This confusion arises entirely from the ego's judgment of life. Without Maya, the ordinary tingling of our bodies is felt to be marvelous the same way without judgment the scribbling of a child is seen to be beautiful.
Notice how you respond to the idea that your opinions are detrimental to your peace. Most, if not all, cherish their opinions believing them to be their birthright. To take them away is almost sacrilegious. Saying the same thing about our emotions is even worse. This faith in the individual's opinions and emotions is a western mentality. It builds upon the ego which we need to fulfill the American Dream of prosperity. To sacrifice our opinions and emotions is to sacrifice our very identity and the dream of our prosperity but that is the cost of bliss and Truth within yoga. Where one person can never absorb the whole image of themselves or life, the non-person (egoless) can. As we go through the practice of stilling mind we learn to believe what we hadn't believed and find out that the idea of sacrificing our identity through non-judgment was really a simple process of changing our perspectives. A hypothetical value would be; where the ego might think happiness only exists with a stable job the non-ego without preconceptions would find happiness with or without that stable income.
Back to Sukshma. A critical step in practice is active labeling. These subtle sensations, once felt, must be consciously labeled as pleasurable by the practitioner. This labeling entrains the mind to re-identify the body itself as a physical expression of unique pleasures. The yogi is enrolling the rational mind into a new attitude. It is a reprogramming in every sense.
Due to practice, as the mind's stillness develops overtime the mundane tingling sensation opens into increasingly profound experiences. What eventually comes from this tingling is a feeling of full disembodiment! Again, this maturing of experience from mundane to mystical is correlated to the intensity of stillness and non-judgment within the mind.
Now that the object of focus is understood to be subtle sensation (Sukshma) and we understand it is only through acute non-judgment that we can feel the body as bliss, the next question to ask is how does one further focus the mind because even if the body is being perceived as these unique pleasures, those pleasures are not enough to completely thwart distraction. The mind will still worry, fear, and desire because that is what an animal does to ensure survival. The world of an animal is dangerous. The world to a yogi is a mother. So, the mind tends to still drift the way a bee only stays with a particular flower for a particular moment and then buzzes away to another no matter how sweet its nectar.
FOR PRACTICE: Be observant of how often you judge. Be careful not to judge yourself for judging, especially when you notice how judgmental the mind is. The brilliance of observation is that it anoints the observer with wisdom. Wisdom becomes power. Power supports change.