Nirvana is a concept often misunderstood in the West. The image that initially pops into our head after the 90s pop-group is a paradise or a place with unlimited otherworldly pleasures; but the real meaning of nirvana is far from that.
Nirvana is at the centre of Eastern philosophy and the main goal of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In a nutshell, it means liberation from suffering which is probably what has confused the interpretation of a hedonistic heaven. However, Thought Co. points out that nirvana is not actually a place at the end of a dark tunnel, but a state of existence that one reaches. It is a process that one must begin, Thich Nhat Hanh defines it as ‘cooling of the flames’. The path to nirvana is reached through meditation.
The power of meditation in realising Nirvana
Reaching nirvana is not a walk in the park and even long-term practitioners of ancient teachings have yet to master it. However, the steps to prepare for it can be done by anyone who is open to the idea of a heightened sense of awareness and peace. It’s quiet simple, one must practice these things: daily meditation or prayer, mindfulness, non-attachment, and physical exercise.
In some yoga classes, the instructor will dedicate a few minutes to chant ‘om shanti, shanti, shanti’. Usually translated as ‘peace, peace, peace’, a beautiful short mantra that denotes peace of the mind, speech, and body. When we practice mindfulness mediation we aim to focus on our breath, as was previously explained on Immeasurable Minds. Specific breathing exercises are called pranayama in yoga, and are wonderful tool for letting go of tension, be it in the physical body or in the mind. Developing breath awareness goes hand in hand with mindfulness. To be mindful is to pay careful attention to what is happening in your body, mind, and surroundings, mindful breathing anchors your attention to the present moment and enables you to do this.
One thing that can be confusing to those who are not familiar with Eastern teachings is the concept of non-attachment. UPLIFT explains that non-attachment does not mean that we stop caring about others or ourselves, but means we let go of the outcome – or our ‘obsession with results’. To practice non-attachment, we aren’t motivated by how an action can serve us, but how we can use those actions to serve others— it’s easier said than done, but worth the effort.
Lastly, taking care of the physical body is important to achieving nirvana. All those yoga classes actually serve a purpose outside of sculpting muscles or improving flexibility. Yoga is mediation in motion. Its a form of mindful movement which actually makes it easier to mediate, especially if you have a busy mind.
Interpretations of nirvana
Throughout history, we have seen a lot of interpretations of nirvana especially in the West. The media, in particular, has done a lot to promote the benefits of meditation and yoga. Such is the growing interest in mindful practices that one of the leading modern platforms where you can find these concepts is the gaming industry. Modern Mindfulness author Rohan Gunatillake listed a couple of mainstream video games such as GTA V, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and The Witness, that showcase meditative practices. Some, like The Witness, may not explicitly mention these practices, but ultimately the games do illustrate some of the techniques that you need to reach a heightened sense of consciousness. Even non-traditional gaming platforms have targeted mindful practitioners. Digital provider Slingo has several games that focus on mindfulness including Nirvana and Geisha’s Garden. These two games both tap into the imagery that symbolise Eastern practices and meditation. Games such as these help introduce concepts like nirvana to a wider audience, and offer an outlet for more people to join the mindfulness community.
The path to nirvana may be long but it is a straight-forward one. Slowly build a meditative practice, apply mindfulness in your daily life, practice non-attachment, and keep your body in shape. Take it step by step to truly understand how it can change your life and other people’s – and you can wear whatever type of deodorant you like along the way. x