Friends for Life by Elaine O’Brien
Relationships, especially of the slow building variety can catch you off guard with their longevity. Perhaps many of us have at least a few people in our lives who we can’t remember meeting but with whom we’ve become so enmeshed that we rarely go a day without text, phone call or in person chat. Yoga has a similar way of creeping up on you, suddenly reminding you of how close you have become to the practice. Once in a while, usually when I’m teaching asana, I’ll experience a spontaneous recognition of how a pose that once felt like a foreign object has become so integrated into my body that I can’t see the line of separation. I can teach the pose without much concern because we’re old friends. We weren’t always, but we are now.
Meditation and mantra are no different, but it has been a much slower road. I recall the way I used to tip toe around the mantra practice, reading the translation of each mantra carefully before choosing which phrase most accurately expressed the contents of my heart and yet I would still feel weird when I’d try to chant. I would take personally each interaction with myself in the meditation seat, wondering (usually with some degree of skepticism) when all this would feel “comfortable”.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had an impulse to move my body. Many yoga poses themselves, while challenging, made sense to my personality. Physicality, unlike stillness, sounded right to me. Immediately there was an ease to which I welcomed the challenges of asana until many of those demanding poses became old friends. Willingness came much more slowly with meditation and mantra and I found I had to exhaust my resistance before I turned that corner and began to integrate those practices into my life. What I found most surprising is that it isn’t quantity or even quality that integrates a practice, but consistency. Consistently showing up to meditate and caring less about what mantra I say but how often I say it has been the greatest tool in turning these practices inward and allowing them to become an extension of my Self. From that place of consistency, specificity arises with mantra selection and clarity comes with the meditation seat. The din of an unquiet mind catches a welcome glimpse of stillness that you want to return to. We’re not quite old friends, but we’re getting closer.
What has and continues to help me is practice. Simply practice no matter what. Sometimes practice feels easy, like I was born to do just this thing at this moment. Just as often it feels like a series of road blocks without much fluidity. That goes for the asana practice, the meditation practice, the mantra practice, the compassion practice, the courage practice, the attention practice and so on. I don’t get to choose how it feels to practice, but if I decide to participate in my own growth and in the strengthening and celebration of my spirit on a moment to moment level, then the obstacles don’t matter so much. A friendly attitude to whatever comes up and consistent willingness keeps me coming back to my mat, my seat, my mantra. It is the backbone of my long term relationship with these ancient techniques of connection. Even if it’s a long slow road, these are friends for life!