Freedom and Balance in Meditation
By Tasha Friedman
There is a feeling that comes in meditation like letting go of the handlebars of a bicycle and just flying: no more effort, no more struggle. The perfect order of the entire Cosmos appears within you, and it is immaculate, pristine, without a single flaw. Nothing is accidental, and yet everything is absolutely free and spontaneous. Every aspect is determined by every other, without any need for direction or manipulation. The vast network of cause and effect reorders itself in endless harmony.
Nothing needs to be said or done. You might think about this harmony, how beautiful it is, or how meaningless, but even these thoughts are simply ripples within the same field.
Creating the Conditions to Receive Grace
This perfect universe also seems to have a sense of humor, and so reaching a state of effortlessness comes mostly through long, careful practice and, initially, quite a lot of effort.
You might try, and fail, and sit through many hours of experimentation on the meditation cushion, which will often feel quite dry and fruitless. Immersed in one technique or another, you’ll wonder what exactly you’re missing, before a flash of grace comes, and you realize just how absurdly simple it was all along.
This whole time, you didn’t need to do anything but get out of the way.
Yet this insight rarely comes and never stabilizes without creating the proper conditions, without that arduous process of understanding and untangling the mind. It is precisely those hours of hit-or-miss meditation attempts that teach you how the mind works, how you get lost in it, and how to be free from it.
With this understanding, a deep experience in meditation becomes not just something that comes and goes but sends a living echo through your entire being, a seed that takes root and blossoms in the fertile ground of your soul.
Finding Balance in Meditation
Learning to meditate reminds me of learning to play a musical instrument, only that the instrument is your being and the music that flows through you is Silence itself.
If you want to make beautiful music, you must be prepared to make some truly terrible sounds for a while. I played violin from an early age, and my saintly parents tolerated many years of scratching, squawking, and frustrated temper tantrums before anything resembling a pleasant rendition of Mozart or Bach emerged from the chaos.
There are a thousand ways to mess up on the violin: too much pressure on the bow, not enough pressure, your arm is at the wrong angle, one finger lands a millimeter out of place and the pitch is completely off. It’s such a finicky little piece of wood that at first try, it seems impossible that anyone could make it sing.
And yet, finally, you do! In that moment, the long hours of scales and études melt away, and the music plays itself.
Meditation also happens like this. The mind is a challenging instrument with many twists and turns.
It’s all too easy to fall into one extreme or another. You might be drowsing off on your cushion with a dull and heavy mind—what the yogic tradition classifies as an expression of tamas, the principle of inertia.
Or you might be agitated, your mind jumping from thought to thought so rapidly that you can barely follow it. Rajas, as the yogis say: the principle of activity, outward motion.
Much of the meditative practice, especially in its early stages, is seesawing back and forth between the two tendencies, with glimpses of an equilibrium that transcends both polarities.
These tendencies also become more refined. Tamas can become a subtle dullness where the mind is quiet and restful, often feeling very pleasant yet lacking clarity and vivid Self-awareness. Rajas can manifest as a subtle agitation where the mind is more controlled but still constantly jumping away from the object of meditation.
But as you become more familiar with the movements of the mind, you can begin to stabilize in that central point: sattva, a word related both to satya (truth) and sat (existence).
This balance point is not merely an even mix of the two polarities or a flattening out of all differences. It is an opportunity for transcendence, a neutrality wherein zero opens up to infinity.
Inner Stillness and the Dance of Creation
In daily life, as in meditation, we are looking for balance. We usually want to settle everything like one of those Zen rock stacks, so perfectly aligned that once arranged, they remain poised without further adjustment. We want to freeze everything around us in the way we think it should be so that we can feel stable. But your life is not a stack of rocks.
Once the Zen practitioner creates the perfect stack, they leave the rocks and go on with their life—a life in which there are constantly new situations and configurations, changing perspectives, growth and decay, a new appearance to respond to in every moment. If you ever fixed your outer circumstances the way you think you want, you would not be able to stand it because it would not be life.
The mind craves stability, but the heart rejoices in this freshness and wildness of existence, in which nothing can be pinned down.
Yet there is one place you can balance your rocks and have them stand, which is within yourself.
Ignorant minds try to freeze everything outside, to order everything away into labeled boxes, to compensate for lack of an inner instability.
Become yourself that perfect alignment, that central pillar, that vertical axis that maintains itself with no external support—and the whole Universe can dance around you.
This stillness does not deny movement but paradoxically is the life within all activity, and it is the formless matrix in which the harmony of the Cosmos plays out. Movement inside stillness, stillness inside movement, inextricably woven together.
This is the balance that we are truly looking for, that sustains and fulfills us—and sets us free.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.