I was talking about meditation with a young woman that follows the teachings of Yogananda. I asked if she found it difficult to meditate. My companion answered yes, very much so. In fact, she wasn’t sure if she had ever managed to actually meditate. She had been developing her meditation practice for two years and could not say if she had every meditated ‘successfully’. My companion explained that according to Yogananda’s teachings, the goal of meditation was to cease all thought, which can be achieved by letting the heart be still, suspending emotion. I found this concept interesting. In this line of logic, emotions drive thoughts. It’s quite contrary to the way we usually think about emotions. Typically, we have a thought, either elicited by external circumstances or from within the conscious, and then that thought triggers an emotional response. The two differing notions create a scenario much like the chicken and the egg. What begets what? My companion an I contemplated this for a while, reaching no definitive conclusion.
Having thought on this further, I think this conundrum can only have a both / and answer. We’ve all had cases where emotion is reactive to an idea presented by ourselves or someone else. But I also think that we’ve all experienced emotions with no trigger, perhaps this can best be described as a physiological experience. With the emotion already present, it’s only a matter of time before the mind finds a thought to justify or perpetuate the emotion, giving way to the scenario Yogananda describes.
It makes sense that he would discuss this scenario because it would be an especially difficult part of meditation. The logical self is deciding to meditate, so it would be working to clear the mind. But the emotional self is more difficult to tame and creates havoc with the conscious. Emotion exists independently from logic. Logic can have great influence over the thoughts in the conscious, but it has little effect on emotions that manifest in the entire body. In order to affect emotion, it takes a multipronged approach that targets both the mind and the body. Yogandanda and other great thinkers provide such an approach through yogic practices such as asana, mantra, and pranayama.