Practice without gaining mind.
“Practice without gaining mind,” a practice gem from Buddhism, is especially helpful for over-achievers. It is often counter-intuitive – and a koan – for those who have been conditioned to gain, to achieve, to succeed and to live in a constant state of striving.
“Practice without gaining mind” reminds us to meditate without attaching to the results, without grasping for meditation experiences or states. It invites us to simply be present.
The inner journey we take as meditators is not a self-improvement project; it’s not about gaining – becoming something we are not. It’s a process of letting go of the habits and tendencies, the conditioning, that prevents us from resting in our core of self. Buddhists sometimes refer to this as our essence nature; the Yogis call it the atman, the Self, being-consciousness-bliss. When we take a secular approach to meditation we might refer to it as simply awareness or pure awareness.
These are likely behaviors or strategies we adopted to survive and thrive that our families, educational institutions, workplaces and culture rewarded.
As meditators, we witness these behaviors from a more expanded perspective. In this “light of awareness,” the tendencies and behaviors sometimes dissolve, or a process of unlearning them is launched.
When you sit to meditate, it’s good to soften the body – to part the jaws and release tension in your face, and release holding in your muscles, breathing into any areas of your body that feel constricted.
When your attention is diverted to thoughts, just bring your awareness back to the breath, the mantra or whatever centering technique you’re using to concentrate your awareness.
During meditation and afterwards, it’s helpful to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude towards yourself and your meditation practice regardless of what has occurred. Just feel good that you sat and did something that was beneficial for yourself.
While the phrase “practice without gaining mind” applies to meditation, it’s also good to approach the physical yoga practice with a similar spirit of non-attachment.
It’s good to make your best efforts in every pose, while letting go of any self-judgment. It’s also helpful to cultivate the habit of observing or witnessing your thought stream – your self-talk – during the physical practice. Is it critical or encouraging? Does it cause you to feel defeated or inspire you?
I recall such a moment shortly after I started practicing yoga in 2005. Throughout class, the teacher had reminded us to make our best efforts and surrender – let go of any rumination or self-judgment.
Back in my office, I noticed myself scrutinizing a piece of work I had completed for a client. I recall the moment I realized, “I can just put this down and shift my attention to something else.” Freedom!
In this way, the physical yoga practice is also an awareness practice that reinforces a skillful, empowered way of being in the world.