Washing my yoga mat was always a chore. I would put it off for as long as possible and then eventually I would get it done. But these days, I feel happy when I decide it’s time to give my mat a bath. The process of wetting it, soaping it and rinsing it is a pleasing one … it reminds me of when I used to help my kids with their baths, minus the giggles, screams and water ducks. I end up just as wet, and with a satisfied feeling of having finished a big job. And then when it’s dry and I get onto the mat to practice, it looks and feels and smells great.
But apart from this very obvious and to be expected result of the mat-washing, I find that a contented, satisfied feeling pervades me and stays with me for a long time after the task is over. And it is not just about having a clean mat to practice on. Isn’t it odd that such a simple, innocuous task should provide so much contentment? And so, I looked a little deeper into it.
Let me try to describe this feeling. It’s a quiet knowing that all is well. A feeling similar to peace.
To begin with I realised that my attitude towards some other chores had also changed. Our maid has just come back to work with us this week and yet, I find myself happily washing my dishes, going up to the terrace with my bucket of washed clothes and hanging them out to dry and going up later to take them off the line and fold them neatly. These are really ordinary and dull activities – even more so than washing my mat – and these too leave me feeling content.
Let me try to describe this feeling. It’s a quiet knowing that all is well. A feeling similar to peace. It can feel like a tiny, pleasant high within. Maybe like being rewarded and yet you haven’t been. Certainly, whatever it is, it shows me that I have a deeper awareness of myself.
Awareness is a word that comes up a lot in yoga and in meditation. I have been doing both regularly. I always have been fairly regular with my asana practice, but meditation used to come and go in phases. But now I have been making time to sit still every day, soon after I wake up in the morning and I have come to enjoy my routine. I wake up, have a bath, light a lamp, sit on my meditation cushion and close my eyes.
I like to practice japa meditation and I use a mala while repeating my mantra because I find that it helps me to focus better. I hold and roll a bead in between my fingers as I say the mantra and before the next bead rolls in, I feel the link in between, the metal wire running through all the beads. This is an important moment in the practice where you experience the pause or gap between the mantra. It’s similar to the pause in between breathing in and breathing out. It’s something we are barely aware of, but it exists. If you pay attention, you feel it in a fleeting way.
The gaps are also very important for one more reason. They help us to overcome unhelpful patterns of associative thought.
This pause represents the connection between all the things we fill our lives with, which come and go or keep changing, and something very fundamental that is, that runs through us and always exists, though we may rarely feel it. If we take the mala as a metaphor, then the beads represent consciousness as present in each individual and the thread holding the necklace together, running through each bead and visible in between, is ultimate consciousness. So, the pause or gap between the beads is where you touch Consciousness with a capital C. The practice of meditation helps us to connect with the gaps, the moment of silence in between the mantra, where we have the potential to be aware of Consciousness and how closely we are connected to this cosmic power. Basically, a way for us to continuously engage with that absolute power and truth within yourself.
The gaps are also very important for one more reason. An awareness of them helps us to overcome unhelpful patterns of associative thought.
We begin to realise that we can let go of at least some of the drama we create within (and also outside with others) because it doesn’t really do us any good.
In our regular day to day existence, our minds are filled with hundreds of thoughts and certain thoughts keep repeating, creating associations and triggers within. These give rise to entire stories arising from the trigger which could for instance be a painful incident where a loved one hurt us. Each time we engage with the same bunch of thoughts, we give more power to the story, adding detail, blame, causes and a mix of masala that may not have actually occurred. But it keeps on and on occurring on the stage in our mind.
But when we regularly give the mind something specific to focus on during meditation – such as the mantra, the silence in between each mantra, the image associated with the mantra, or our breath – then we develop a sense of watching the thoughts. A sense of awareness. We are able to notice when our mind has departed from the mantra thought and gone to one of its favourite haunts, which reinforce some negative stories about ourselves or others. And then we can gently bring the mind back to the mantra repetition. We begin to realise that we can let go of at least some of the drama we create within (and also outside with others) because it doesn’t really do us any good.
Over a period of time, the yoga practices increase our level of awareness about ourselves throughout the day, and not just when we are on the mat or the meditation cushion. The awareness of the pauses in life – whether they occur in between the beads of the mala, or our breaths or thoughts or just moments in our day – begins to make us feel happy and peaceful in a quiet way for no reason we can immediately pinpoint.
Just like the secret happiness that washing a yoga mat can bring.
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