The practice of meditation involves drawing your awareness inward. As you learn to let go of your attachments to passing thoughts, you develop a sense of internal space. Eventually you rest into the field of pure consciousness that lies behind your thoughts. This takes practice. Meditation is a discipline cultivated over time. Even a few minutes a day is valuable, like putting money into your evolutionary bank account.
Our ego, where most of us place our attention, is attached to feeling separate and in control. It is not interested in letting go. As we learn to see beyond our ego, we connect to a much greater energy source than our individual self and tap into profound vitality and ease.
Of all the meditation practices, the classical yogic technique pratyahara is among the most inward. It involves the withdrawal of the senses. Though most of us are not hardcore yogis immersed in intensive spiritual practice, we can learn from pratyahara and apply the principles to our busy, worldly lives.
Traditionally, pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (“ashta” meaning eight and “anga” meaning limbs in Sanskrit). They describe stages of spiritual development, each stage built upon the other.
First, you practice the yamas, codes of conduct such as non-violence, truthfulness, not taking that which is not yours, faithfulness, patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty, moderate consumption and purity in body, mind and speech. What follows are the niyamas, religious observances including remorse, contentment, charity, faith, worship, scriptural study, vows, recitation and chanting.
The yamas and niyamas form the foundation of a spiritual life. Upon this, an aspiring yogi practices asana to purify the body/mind through physical exercises. Pranayama is breathing exercises geared to integrate the body/mind. I look at some of these exercises in my YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine column.
Next comes pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses and the release of attachment to the object of perception. This sets the stage for the home stretch, dharana (the practice of concentration), dhyana (the practice of absorption) and samadhi (blissful awareness).
So how can all this be useful to our busy lives? We are habitually caught up in the information coming through our senses so that we identify with the objects we perceive. We tend to think that what we we see, feel, taste, touch and smell are fixed realities. We build our lives around those deductions. We may think we see a cobra and go running, when it is just a coiled rope.
As you meditate, you go beyond your thoughts and touch deeper truths. The value of pratyahara teaches you to step back from your knee-jerk thoughts that react to your sense perceptions, and pause. When you learn to pause, you experience more internal space. In that space, you find a bigger picture beyond what your senses communicate. You live more connected to the fullness of life, rather than limited to your personal worldview and self-concepts. You feel greater energy and are more radiant. Your source is no longer your willful ego, but the infinite field of luminosity that is your true nature.
Luminous Mindfulness Practice:
The next time you find yourself about to react to something you see, feel, taste, smell or touch, take a moment and breathe. By breathing, you allow space between you and your thoughts. Notice your reactions and ask yourself if you truly know the whole picture. Is there something you may be missing? Allow yourself to remain in a spacious, rooted, vital and expansive state of being so that you may experience the vastness of the moment. A bigger picture is awaiting you now. Welcome it in. Breathe in the light. Breathe in the possibilities. Stay open.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (I Am Light, Electro Yog, Yoga In The Nightclub), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (Aonani of Avalon, Confessions from Your Awakened Self) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.