Several years ago, I became completely exhausted with trying to live a “normal life.”
I ended up in the hospital after collapsing one morning as I was getting ready for work. Years of hiding my mental turmoil from those around me simply served to exacerbate my desperate condition.
Sometimes, traumatic childhood memories are held so tightly that we squeeze all the juice out of ourselves, or conversely, we add huge dollops of syrup to memories, turning them into sickly–sweet nostalgia cakes, which can be hard to stomach.
Traditional yoga texts give suggestions as to how we might ease our haunted mental state. One of the things that we’re advised to practice in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is dharana, which is often interpreted as the practice of concentrating the mind toward one object, and is commonly translated as “holding steady.”
In the past, I’ve attempted to practice dharana in an effort to exorcise my possessed mind. I diligently tried to shield myself from the bombardment of my memories while focusing on the breath. I built barriers and checkpoints in my mind to forcibly resist revisiting traumatic echoes of the past. But the more I tried to resist the ghosts, the harder they haunted me.
I dreaded sitting still at the end of a yoga practice; the thought of physical stillness disturbed me because I knew ghoulish thoughts would torment me. If yoga lessons didn’t emphasise strong physical postures to distract my mind, I became deeply frustrated.
I was considering giving up on yoga altogether, until I gravitated toward various teachers who had learned from TKV Desikachar and his father Sri T. Krishnamacharya. After a fair length of time, I began to absorb some of their yoga wisdom. I started understanding that vehemently squeezing memories doesn’t smother them, but conversely, an endless supply of noxious stagnation is produced as a result of holding on too tightly to the past.
Although memories reflect the truth of historical events, they are not based in the reality of our current experience. And they don’t have to become like a millstone linked to a vice-like choker around our throat. If we handle our memories with care, we can unlock the metaphorical chains that bind us. The memories will still be there, but we can unburden ourselves of them; we are able to view them with an emotional steadiness that brings calm to the mind and in turn heals our associated physical tensions.
We can gain an understanding of what motivates us once our tangled memories unlock. When thoughts are permitted to come and go freely, our mind can switch its thinking to a wiser frequency. Tuning into our wiser self helps us to learn the art of staying calm and still, even as we wander around the haunted mansion that is our mind.
Anyone can neutralise the hazardous tendency to overload themselves with heavy emotions by permitting memories to interject into a conscious breathing practice. When we can cradle our recollections within mental awareness, we can begin to understand how the past has impregnated us via our experiences—and this realisation delivers newborn attitudes.
The present moment is a wonderfully fulsome thing, created by the past and nurturing the future; every passing moment proceeds onward and gives rise to our new, historically generated identity. We are the products of our past—of that there is no doubt—but if we treat our memories sensitively, with care and compassion, we can cultivate intuition and discernment for our future selves, rather than judging and blaming ghosts from the past.
Some of us may feel like weeping when we shed light on our ghastly memories, but there is no need to get over any sadness. Instead, we can gain perspective, we can rise above the conditions and conditioning of our past. When we hold our memories carefully, we are no longer haunted by what has happened to us; we have a different outlook on life, and we view our experiences, past and present, from a higher realm of thinking.
Dedicated effort is required to unlock the chains that link us to our ghosts. A regular practice of sitting still and breathing consciously is crucial to the success of our attempts to see beyond our haunted self.
If we direct our mind toward the breath, as if the breath is like a boat traveling along a river of thoughts, we will find ourselves continuously banking or drifting into memory currents. We can then aim to be mentally firm by directing the mind back to the inhale and exhale, as if our respirations were the oars of the boat. When we practice consciously breathing in and slowly breathing out, we become more proficient “rowers,” our dedication to the breath helping our mind become strong, focused, and receptive to new, broader horizons.
The reward is in discovering that from our dedicated “rowing” practice, we can consciously glide over the surface of our river of thoughts, and from there we can direct ourselves toward the higher, ghost-free realms of the mind (buddhi).
Compassionately understanding our memories brings emotional steadiness which enables us to let go of the chains of history that enslave us. Holding the mind steady toward the breath is a practice that we can utilise daily. Short periods of stillness are advised at first because just as we need to gradually strengthen the body’s ability to hold one posture with ease and steadiness, we also need to increase the mind’s ability to hold one construct steadily and with ease.
When our mind is calmly directed toward the breath, we may be able to unlock our mental chains, and it is then that dharana becomes the key to handling a haunted mind.
Author: Ruth Mielek
Image: Tareck Raffoul
Editor: Nicole Cameron