One daily activity for me, that’s different each day, is my sitting practice. I sit in the same room … in the same spot … do the same things in a certain order … sit for the same amount of time. Every sit is different. Sometimes, I experience a tremendous stillness and peace, and, others, I feel like Iʼm on a battle field. One might ask, how can such a routine elicit such different experiences? It all boils down to what’s happening in the mind.
Yoga philosophy says that there are five basic states of mind, and our minds constantly fluctuate between each of these states.
The five states are:
This is the least desirable state. A disturbed mind is one that’s colored with upset. A mildly disturbed mind may be a bit worrisome, a moderately disturbed mind may be angry or jealous, and a more intensely disturbed mind may be manic or in rage.
Dull is considered an improvement from disturbed. It manifests when you feel zoned-out and tired. A dull mind is sluggish and lethargic. While dullness may be confused with stillness, the passiveness of the mind is more attributed to laziness, versus concentration.
In this state, the mind wanders. It flits about like an untrained puppy, moving between
thoughts of the future, the present, or past … mulling-over to-do lists, and so on. The mind may concentrate intermittently, but, ultimately returns to a distracted place.
Other words for “one-pointed” are focused, attentive, heedful, and still. A one-pointed mind can concentrate on whateverʼs happening in the moment, sustaining a single focus. In the formal practice an individual would focus on the breath, or a gaze point. Off the mat/cushion, the mind might experience/perform/execute a task attentively, whether washing the dishes, or listening to a piece of music.
In the Yoga Sutras, a lucid mind is referred to as a “mastered” mind. In this state, we’re able to see completely clearly. The mind isn’t warped with upset, lethargy or distraction, and it doesn’t need a tether, to stay focused, in the same way that the one-pointed mind does.
Imagine a lake surrounded by trees and other green plants, and, above, is a blue sky with cotton ball clouds. The surface of the lake represents the mind. When the surface of the lake is still, there’s a clear reflection of all that’s around the lake. But, when the surface is disturbed by waves, the reflection is distorted. The lucid mind is one without waves of disturbance. It’s one in which the perception is crystal clear. Through steady and dedicated practice, training the mind to concentrate, this state arises more frequently.
What state of mind are you experiencing right now? Sit for a moment and breathe …
Next month, we’ll draw from the vast Yoga toolkit, with the goal of realizing a more skillful mental state. For now, continue to assess your mind state throughout the day, and notice how different foods, activities, and experiences might influence it. If, while observing and recognizing your human experience, a critical voice starts to chime-in, remember that this practice is best taken with a good dose of curiosity and compassion.