June 2022: On Samadhi

How to practice the eighth limb

Hardelot beach, 10 June 2022, on day two of the second module of my pranayama course with Sudhir Tiwari

The word yoga conjures up a particular image in most people: it is long limber bodies, pretzel shapes, or minds rendered serene from practicing a form of self-help. Somehow it all got stuck there. Most traditional yoga adheres to an old system of eight limbs and the physical contortions are just the third one. There are seven others. Samadhi is the eighth, not the goal of the state of yoga (that is liberation from suffering), but the last step in its process.

Samadhi is usually translated as integration. Sama means evenness, a tranquility of the mind-body complex, brought under control. It is an experience of inner peace and equanimity. Dhi means understanding, reflection, intelligence, imagination, and also to hold or to place. Samadhi is an altered state of consciousness particularly difficult to describe because in it there are no words, only experience. Jason Barrick writes about his first samadhi:

I went back to see him the next day after an indescribable experience. It’s indescribable because there was no-one there. I experienced an absence of ego, but I can’t tell you much about it, as there was an absence of ego.

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He considers that no preparatory practices, such as yoga posture or meditation, are needed for samadhi. Sometimes, they can even get in the way. What is necessary, is practice itself as a way of opening up to the experience. In the yogic literature, practice is something done for a long time, uninterrupted and with devotion. This, I think, can be anything: cooking, drawing, walking, so long as it is done in this way and involves every aspect of our selves. Of course, some practices, such as meditative contemplation, are more conducive.

Samadhi is a state in which the unity of all is perceived with clarity. Another way of describing it is awakening. As if the sun was reabsorbing its rays, which become sun again. In this state, there is no duality, only oneness. And when this energy is reabsorbed there is a final letting go, moksha or liberation, the consequence of the purest samadhi.

In the past, I used to think samadhi was a state one fell into. While this is true, one can also invite the state. When I did a 10-day Vipassana retreat, practicing it was a prerequisite. ‘sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom)’, S. N. Goenka repeated as we were focusing all our awareness on the space below the nostrils, above the upper lip. On his Day 1 discourse, he mentions that to explore the truth (indisputable, unchanging truth), one needs to go to the experiential level. This means exploring the body, not bypassing it through the intellect.

The easiest way to practice samadhi is by observing the breath. Nothing more is needed. Breath going in and out of the body: its temperature, sensation, location, journey, feel, movement … each breath, each inhale and each exhale, for as long and as fully as possible. Not controlling, regulating or doing anything to the breath. Simply allowing it to be natural. Pure awareness on the coming and going of the breath. As it is.

In the early stages of samadhi there is bliss. For this reason, some people view seeking these types of states as self-indulgent. But if gone deeper into, it has an activist dimension, as Gregor Maelhe writes (see below). Charles Eisenstein also alludes to this in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. There are two types of samadhi: object and object-less. Only the latter is a complete exit of the world as we know it but the former, seeing everything as one, elicits pure empathy and love, needed to bring harmony into this conflicted world.

What can you do to integrate – acknowledge, listen, consider, befriend – all aspects of your self? How can you bring your shadow to light skilfully? How can you be in the present moment? In what ways can you incorporate the practice of samadhi in your day?

What I have been reading

Gregor Maelhe, Samadhi

For my birthday in March, Neil gave me Gregor Maelhe’s book Samadhi: The Great Freedom. Like all of his books, it is well researched but there is a humility, expansiveness and honesty to this one because of the topic it approaches. He does not claim to have reached the state of samadhi, but he writes of momentary experiences we have all felt of total integration: fleeting glimpses of clarity of what it feels to be in blissful rhythm, pulsating with everything, as one. It is a struggle with language which he addresses with elegance, getting as close as is possible to articulate something ineffable.

What I have been practicing

The first pada of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is on samadhi. Pada is usually translated as portion or chapter but that disembodies the fact that it literally means foot, step. The first step we take towards yoga is samadhi, the state of integration.

I have been reciting the Samadhi Pada with Dr Jayashree for a while. She has such a beautiful voice. I use this text from Sanskrit Safire to follow the words. In the Indian system of education scriptures are first learned by heart, installing them there like software, so the words float from deep inside when needed. Only after this one is ready to explore meaning and reflect. Learning by heart builds trust too.

What I have been watching

Why practice samadhi? In the video below (only 5’23”) S.N. Goenka considers this with four kinds of people: 1) those who go from darkness to darkness 2) those who go from brightness to darkness 3) those who go from darkness to brightness 4) those who go from brightness to brightness.

He explains how we are masters of our present moment and we can chose which seeds we plant in the world. Samadhi is a key skill to bring us to this present moment, inviting the integration of our whole selves. It might feel unattainable but, like everything, the first step is allowing it in.

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All my classes are off until Tuesday 06 September as I travel to Spain to assist Kia and study with her.

I will return with a new post in late August. Let me know if there is anything specific you want me to consider. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful summer break.

Laura x