Early this month I drove through northeastern Pennsylvania on my way to a yoga workshop. Burnt orange and gold foliage still clung to mountain ridges. Many trees that had already surrendered their leaves stood spare. “Time to let go of what is not needed,” they might have said. I couldn’t help but think of them as harbingers of the quiet time in nature: that time when trees husband their life blood, plants die down, animals shelter in and all moves deeper toward stillness. This thought was a balm for the irritation and fatigue of this season in which the noise of the media, political campaigns, conversations, billboards and signs has felt aggressive, loud, and ubiquitous.
Perhaps not everyone finds comfort in nature. But, for me it has been the best balm during this time of noise, distress, and uncertainty in our culture. Simply lying on the ground of our front yard in the sunlight by the creek steadied and comforted me. Looking up through the yellow leaves on the maple branches to a clear blue sky connected me to something beyond the immediate chatter of the world. I felt quiet.
With the support of nature as a focal point, my mind was able to move away from distraction and agitation to a feeling of inner peace and calm, which is the true goal of yoga. Moving the mind to a place of clarity and calm, according to the Yoga Sutra, is facilitated by engaging in simple movement with the breath, breathing practices, chanting and focusing on anything that has positive qualities for us. This is the heart of yoga: meditation.
My experience of having lain on the ground under the maple tree became the object of focus for my meditation. The earth and tree represent for me the positive qualities of steadiness, groundedness, nourishment, and quiet. We all have the possibility of experiencing these things in our lives.
Notice what are you doing when you are most at peace? What is your mind connected to at that moment? Where are you when the sense of peace, joy and quiet washes over you? The answers to these questions may help you find a focal point. For me it was earth and tree; for you it might be the sun, moon, your God, children or the flowers in your garden. Whatever it is, bring the image of that to your mind. Finding a picture of a tangible object representing your focal point can greatly help. As you look at that image, notice how your mind becomes absorbed in the object and its qualities. Observe how your mind changes and how these changes show up in your life.
The awareness that the mind through our effort is capable of connecting to something other than its usual chatter is the beginning of a meditation practice. As you set forth to move your mind to a place of greater clarity, you may find the peace you have been seeking. The process may be as simple as connecting to your object of focus when you think of it, or as formal as a traditional meditation practice. If we set an intention to connect with the qualities of our object of focus on a regular basis and maintain a patient, positive attitude while doing so, we will see that the benefits of meditation are always available for us.