What's cooking? A note on physical vs mental solitude...

January 28, 2013

What do you do to “let off steam”?


We all have something we run to, to let off steam, to relax (we think) and erase the week we’ve had. We are all Pros at escapism; watching TV, reading, having similar conversations to the ones we had last week with our friends and family, gossiping over a cup of tea or a cocktail.


Don’t get me wrong, these are all enjoyable experiences and part of western life. I am not saying that we should cut these out completely and go meditate on a mountain in the Himalayas.  


Solitude is a wonderful way to kick-start your journey into self enquiry but remaining in the company of others and indulging in the human experience... it's highs and it's lows, it's triggers and it's sweetness... is just as beneficial, if not more so, than solitude for deepening your self-awareness.


But the quality of our connections and relationships with others depends on our ability to find mental solitude for ourselves at certain points throughout the week.  Once we have had this time out, we can really enjoy their company.  We can connect with them fully, instead of using their company or ears as a way to let off steam.  As an escape from ourselves.


How can we find a mental solitude?


We need to observe when these aforementioned activities; reading, writing, chatting, texting, become the “run-to” place when we need to release a build up of energy.


“When we let the steam go from a pot, we can’t cook the food. Our yoga practice can be likened to putting the heat on oneself. If we let off steam again and again, that inner process is stopped. It’s much better to let the steam accumulate and find out what is cooking. That is the most important work we can do.” ~ Ayya Khema


I’m sure you’ll find, as I have experienced, that when we engage our mind in such activities, the letting-off of this build up in ‘steam’ or ‘energy’ inside of us tends to be more of a short term fix… soon after ending the activity, a restlessness accumulates once more.  Upon leaving the company of our friends, we check our phone or emails or listen to our ipod.  Needing constant external stimulation as a way to escape our mind chatter.  But it just ends up feeding it.


Don’t mistake physical solitude for mental solitude! You may also feel, as I did, that your alone time in your room, reading a book, on the ipad or watching TV, is a time of solitude and rejuvenation. It is definitely physical solitude, and a welcome relief to be removed from the world outside, but the mind is still very much connected to an external source of escapism.


“Mental solitude cuts out the idle chatter that is detrimental to spiritual growth.”


Some might say, and have said to me, “Well, Yoga is just another form of escapism isn’t it?”


To this I would say, Yoga gives us the tools to be okay with NOT escaping.


Yoga poses aid the mind to silence itself and what follows is a state of ‘Yoga’.  After practicing in class, you can find this state of Yoga more readily and easily in your daily life.  Indeed solitary activities such as running, surfing, painting, walking, drawing can bring about a state of ‘Yoga’ but these reside in physical solitude and we miss out the wonderfully uplifting nature of having a shared experience.


When we practice Yoga poses, our mat becomes a place of mental solitude.  We may be practicing in a class full of others and not have a sense of physical solitude, but this is a good thing!  We are part of a collective experience without succumbing to a need of filling the silence or chatting away to our neighbour on the mat.  In this respect, it is very different to escapist activities that engage the mind. Yoga stills the mind.


What is really powerful about a yoga class, for those yet to try it, is finding that mental solitude on your mat whilst moving and breathing along with the rest of the class.


And those of us that practice Yoga frequently already know; this mental solitude and concentration of mental energy leads to all kinds of revelations.


We just need to let the steam build for long enough to see what’s cooking…


The result will be delicious.  I promise.

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