In Lola Williamson’s scholarly book, Transcendent in America, she describes finding a number of long time meditators who felt that the majority of their progress had come at the beginning of their experience with meditation. At the time of the interviews, they reported relying on their practice to maintain emotional equilibrium throughout the day, but as a reader you get the sense that their meditation has become a maintenance dose.
In the yogaverse, there is a lot of consternation and wringing of hands over the idea that the practice has been reduced to asana. And that’s no joke. But the pat response that people need to meditate too is insufficient, as we see from Williamson's research.
These practices—on the mat and on the cushion—they are just the beginning; they are the foundation. Through them we train our minds to be quiet, to be aware of what is. What we do with that new found perspective makes all the difference. The action that matters is taking this ability to quiet the fear-mongering chatter and use it to free up our attention and energy to use toward even higher pursuits.
There are three categories of practice that every yoga text and every mystical tradition says are necessary to keep feeding our soul and growing as spiritual beings: ethics, study, and devotion.
Every mystical tradition is based on the experience of unconditional love. Taking this experience and making it a way of life means practicing radical compassion toward self and others, which leads to profoundly ethical decisions.
By studying sacred texts, both old and new, and learning from people farther along the path than ourselves, we acquire maps and guides to the territory. These help us understand where we are and recognize the signs that direct us toward transcendence.
And devotion to a deity or guru who embodies the ideal we want to manifest keeps our image of our best self at the forefront of consciousness, so we can continuously strive to embody compassion and wisdom.
So, it’s not just that we need to keep coming to the mat or the cushion, although those are fundamental. We also need to keep making purposeful progress in knowledge and compassion, so that we continue to expand as beings of love and wisdom.
Then, in the flood of enlightenment, we blossom.