An old and much used proverb says, “The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” The mind does a great deal for us, working all day and most of the night, solving problems, remembering things, telling us what we think and what to do. It is in charge of interpreting, drawing conclusions and communicating about all the information it receives constantly through the senses; comparing and contrasting that from information stored within its extensive memory bank. It questions and it doubts. It wonders and it speculates. It pontificates and it preaches. It takes offense and puts up defenses.
The mind is the third layer of our being, according to yoga teachings. It is called manomaya kosha. Kosha is a Sanskrit word that means "sheath," or "layer." Manomaya kosha is memory, emotion, ideas, feelings, imagination and originator of all kinds of thoughts about all of its own functions. It is very busy. It is frequently wrong about what it thinks, what it tells us, and what it believes to be true. It is often highly reactive and sometimes gullible, but it usually means well. It is the sheath that gives us the mental power to operate daily in the world, to set goals and reach them, to believe that we have the power to achieve. It is changeable and malleable and when we learn to manage it instead of the other way around, things tend to be much calmer inside and out. Manomaya kosha is the place where peace and chaos turn. It can be the most dangerous, the most painful, the most unpredictable, the most influential, the most potent, and the most peaceful place for a person in grief.
In grief, the mind is powerfully affected. The way we think is changed. The content of our thoughts is altered. Particularly in early and traumatic grief, we forget things, we lose things, we are distracted and inattentive. Alternatively, we can be utterly focused on thoughts of our loved ones. We zone out, we draw blanks, we review, we scrutinize, we reject and we ask unanswerable questions. We may question the very foundation of our most deeply held beliefs. The way we saw the universe, other people, relationships, life itself, the way things are, can change drastically. We think about who we are now that this has happened to us, and try to decide how that makes sense based on who we were before grief came and what that will mean when we become whomever it is we will be in the future. We contemplate the strangeness of the loss of past interests and the inability to care about things that were once important. We wonder why other people continue to care about those things. We wonder what it all means. If it means anything. And how could this have happened? We have fears we never had before and we often find brave ways of talking ourselves out of them and of continuing on anyway. We ponder at the ways we are more fearless than ever before. We wonder why we are still here, how we will go on from this place and why we should bother trying. We worry, and at the same time do not care, what others think of us. We imagine our beloveds someplace or no place and wonder what it is really like where they are, if they are. We worry that we are crazy and that no one else could possibly understand. We feel deep connections with others who share this kind of pain and we are capable of understanding suffering, compassion and empathy in ways we never imagined before. We hate and we long to be alone with our thoughts. We have thoughts and feelings of guilt, regret, anger, unfairness, yearning. We search for relief, for answers, for signs of our loved ones continued existence and involvement in our lives. We hope they are okay and safe and happy. We remember them and we miss them and we continue to love them and to long for them. All of this changes and then, in different ways, repeats. This is manomaya kosha in grief.
Manomaya Kosha Meditation
Sitting comfortably, allow your attention to simply be with the breath for a few cycles of in and out, inhaling and exhaling, noticing what you are feeling. When you are ready, bring the attention to the mind and to your thoughts. You do not have to change anything, you are simply noticing. What are you thinking about right now? Is your mind on the meditation, or are you thinking about what you need to do later? Whatever the mind is thinking is fine, you are simply noticing what is going on, the tone, the content, the happenings within the mind at this moment. Our thoughts and feelings are always reflecting the three qualities of Universal energy, known as the gunas. These are rajas, tamas and sattva. If the mind exhibits rajas, there is a sense of being over stimulated, of racing, change, activity. The quality of tamas is sense of inaction, of being sluggish, sleepy, or slow. The balance between the two is a sattvic state, the thoughts calm, peaceful, in harmony with breath and body. What kind of energy is present in the content of your thoughts at this moment? Is there worry, anxiety or judgment? Curiosity, interest or doubt? Calmness, distraction or ambivalence? You are simply noticing your thoughts. There is no right or wrong.
As you notice and observe the mind and its contents, begin to imagine the thought forms as clouds in the sky, moving through your field of awareness and then out. You do not have to become involved with the thoughts, you are simply noticing them. If you like, you can begin to label the thoughts as whatever they are: planning, thinking, worrying, daydreaming, fantasizing, questioning, remembering. Note the content, the quality, the tone of the thoughts. Watch come and go and simply allow them to be what they are. If the thoughts are overwhelming or too painful, you may choose to take a break from the mind and move back to pranamaya kosha, bringing the focus and awareness to the breath. When you feel ready, shift awareness back to the thoughts. Know that if the contents of the mind are painful or frightening, you are safe in your space. It is the nature of the mind to shift and to change. It is the nature of the mind to find pain and remind us of it You can know that you can experience painful thoughts, memories and feelings and you can be okay. You may choose to explore these thoughts, noticing and watching with curiosity and non-judgment, where they lead, what connections they form. Simply noticing and seeing the content of the mind at this time, on this day, watching the shifting sands of thought tumbling through the mindstuff.
When you feel you have explored manomaya kosha as fully as you wish, open the eyes. Form anjali mudra at heart center or the brow in gratitude to your mind. Send a message of thanks for all the work the mind does for you each day, always doing the best it can to serve.
Helbert, K. Yoga for Grief and Loss: Poses, Meditation, Devotion, Self-Reflection, Selfless Acts, Ritual. (2014) London, UK: Singing Dragon Books.