An Ancient Technique to Disengage From Your Reactive Mind
When you meditate, you deepen your sense of presence by drawing your awareness inward. As you learn to let go of your attachments to passing thoughts, you develop internal space. Eventually, you rest into the infinite 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. But as you learn to see beyond your ego, you connect to a much greater energy source than your individual self. You tap into profound vitality and ease.
Try deepening your practice with the classical yogic technique pratyahara. It is among the most inward-focused of all meditation practices, since its name literally means “the withdrawal of the senses”. Though you may not be a hardcore yogi immersed in intensive spiritual practice, you can learn from the deep introversion of pratyahara and apply the principles to help you find balance in your busy life.
Traditionally, pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga (the “yoga of the king”, or “royal yoga), which is sometimes referred to as Ashtanga Yoga (“ashta” meaning eight and “anga” meaning limbs in Sanskrit). However, Ashtanga in the classical sense does not refer to any specific physical yoga style. The eight limbs describe stages of spiritual development, each stage built upon the one that came before: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.
The good news is, you do not have to be a monk scrupulously following the classic order of ashtanga while meditating in a cave in the Himalayas, in order to benefit from pratyahara. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can access greater peace and presence through pratyahara’s capacity to release of reactivity and go deeper within.
Pratyahara provides us with the opportunity to let go all attachments to the objects we perceive. Most of us are habitually caught up in the information coming through our senses, so that we identify with it. We tend to think that what we see, feel, taste, touch and smell are fixed realities. We build our lives around those deductions. As a result, we can come to erroneous conclusions that lead to suffering, as though we saw a coiled rope and ran off in terror thinking it was a poisonous snake.
As you meditate, you go beyond your thoughts and touch deeper truths. Pratyahara teaches you to step back from the knee-jerk thoughts that react to your sense perceptions. You pause to experience more internal space. In that space, you find a bigger picture beyond what your senses communicate. Instead of being limited by your personal worldview and self-concepts, you live more connected to the true fullness of life. You feel greater energy, even radiance, because your source is no longer your willful ego, but the infinite field of luminosity that is your true nature.
As creatures of habit, we tend to move on autopilot through our lives. To ensure that does not take over, we can choose to put a temporary pause on certain habits to give ourselves a fresh perspective on them and develop greater peace of mind. Here are some options:
If you are on your phone often, take a media fast for an evening or day each week.
Avoid idle chit-chat, like gossip or speaking badly of others. Choose instead to speak only with kindness.
Take a morning, afternoon or day of silence, or go to a silent meditation retreat.
Fast on water or do without your favorite food, one day a week.
Consume less and recycle more, with a feeling of compassion for all beings.
The next time you find yourself about to react to something you perceive, take a moment and breathe.
Notice how breathing already begins to bring greater space between you and your thoughts.
Breathe deeply. Notice your reactions, whether they are fear, attraction, aversion, anger, despair or anything else.
Then notice how those reactions are not so much to what you are perceiving, but to the story your mind is telling you about that perception. Ask yourself if that story is complete, or if there is 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. It is okay if you still feel strong emotional reactions. Let them be. Feel that they exist within a much larger space, so that they are just a dot within a vast expanse.
See those perceptions and reactions as though they are a pile of junk sitting next to you. You do not need to start sifting through them. Instead, keep going deeper within.
In that depth, beyond the reactions, beneath the thoughts, begin to feel how you are connected with an effortless luminosity that is the substratum of all things.
Feel that light radiating through your cells and out into the entire universe. Feel how rooted, vital and expansive it is.
Charged with that light, continue to feel infinite space around your thoughts and reactions, instead of clinging to them. Because you are of that light, you are already full and complete.
When you feel you have had enough, begin to return your attention to the room. Open your eyes and see if you can bring a more spacious perspective to the rest of your day.
Parvati is an award-winning singer, composer, producer, yogini, author, and Founder and CEO of the international charity Parvati Foundation. Her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).