Yoga Sutra 1 v2-3:
Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind.
Then the observer is established in their own nature.
This state of quiet mind or yoga is known by many names like Samadhi, transcendence, or Turiya.
Many techniques today try to force or control the mind to settle. But as this is not arising naturally, it is difficult to achieve. When it happens, a rare clear transcending may be seen as an awakening. But real Self Realization is much deeper.
We know transcending is natural because it happens every day for us, very briefly, every time we change states of consciousness: from waking to sleep, sleep to dream, and so forth. We settle very briefly into a neutral gear of consciousness itself and then the new state arises. This is why we have trouble falling asleep if we’re agitated. We can’t settle for a moment into just being. A clearer example is when waking in the morning. Occasionally, before our head is off the pillow, we may briefly notice simple experiencing without a sense of self. And then the “me” jumps in and “takes control.” As consciousness becomes more clear, we can notice these neutral moments more obviously. But until they’re conscious, they’re not making us more conscious.
Just as being agitated impedes sleep, the monkey mind is not easily pacified by force. Better to relax into it.
Under the mind and intellect is the bliss body. And under that is a “body” of peace, pure consciousness or being. If we give the mind something light to do, it will naturally settle within (transcend) towards greater joy and peace. We may notice this when walking in nature or listening to beautiful music, for example.
For something light, we can give the mind a meaningless word. With light attention, it will naturally begin to settle within. With no meaning, it’s not held at that level but settles deeper. If we use a word of known good qualities (a mantra), we can be confident in its benefits when it settles to subtler, more powerful levels. This is the first benefit of an effortless meditation – samadhi or yoga comes easily and regularly.
As an added benefit, this settling brings the physiology into a deep state of rest which allows healing. Thoughts arise, bringing us back to more surface levels of the mind and the cycle repeats.
But here’s where understanding is very important. We live in a culture that prizes effort and “try, try again” so there is often a tendency for effort to creep in until the practice is established. If subtle effort enters, we’re held in the mind, transcending stops, and the benefits end. The practice then naturally falls away.
I know people who missed this point. Now 30 or more years later, they remain spiritually dissatisfied and still seeking “the answer” outside of themselves.
This is one of many reasons why I recommend being properly taught. This is an experiential process and we need to get the hang of effortless even though it’s natural.
Another key point is subjective judgment. Many people meditate to make “progress” spiritually. They compare their experience to others and become impatient. They want something flashy or memorable to mark progress.
Yet true yoga is not a theme park. Samadhi can be very quiet and normal. It’s happening almost automatically once the fourth state (samadhi) is familiar to the physiology. If we have a clear experience, it will kick up some “dust” from purification. Fatigue and stress from daily life also tends to fog samadhi. Then, we ironically don’t notice we’re transcending when it actually happens. The best we get is perhaps a brief touch of happiness when we cross the bliss body on the way out. However, if we get hooked up to measuring equipment, we’ll see the hallmarks like reduced oxygen consumption and EEG coherence that tell us it’s happening.
If we jump up suddenly from meditation, the jarring will also signal how deep we were (not recommended).
We can also go through long periods where life is calling us out into the world: the responsibilities of work and family, for example. We can feel that nothing is happening. And yet in retrospect we’ll see a great deal of deepening and integration that finally flowers one day.
These two issues of effort and judging also tie together. If we don’t feel we’re getting results, we may introduce a little effort to “get things moving.” That reduces the transcending and the benefits fade as above.
But clear or not, samadhi brings us its advantages. As long as we’re engaging in a decent practice, all we need do is continue. If we want a boost of clarity, try going on a weekend retreat or two and ensure you get enough sleep.
Why is true Yoga important for spiritual progress? For one, it is touching source. Do that a bunch of times and we begin to live it in our daily life. A bunch more and we become ripe for awakening. Simultaneously, the deep settling brings rest and purification, supporting the clarity or sattva side of the process.
This takes time. It takes less time than it used to but we all start from where we are. For many, it brings the possibility of enlightenment in this lifetime.
Of course, samadhi is not a magic bullet that will make us perfect. But it is a wonderful support for quality of life and progress on the path.