I’ve heard from so many of you that you’re feeling really fed up with this dang pandemic thing. It feels like a collective fed-upness, and I’ve felt it too. As you may have read last week, it seemed to be the time to fall apart for many of us. I hope you did!
Falling apart is a taste of that surrender we need, regularly, to help us recognize our lifelong ruse that we have it all together. Our human habit of self-orientation has many sides, one being the storyline that says we will die – or worse – if we loosen the reins. When we believe we’re holding things in just the right way, as only we can do, it’s a martyrdom that pretends we’re keeping the stagecoach on the rugged trail all by ourselves. If we let go of the reins, we’ll all be plunged to the bottom of the canyon. The brain-mind is deluded about being the rugged individual who protects the whole valley alone.
Another approach is offered by the 8-limbed system of yoga. Limbs 5-8 guide our awareness inward, to the many resources which lie therein. Limb 5, Pratyahara, is the drawing in or redirecting of the senses. This means eyes can soften or close, ears can relax, and the rest of the senses follow suit. It is a luxury to practice this way, insinuating that you are safe from predators, including toddlers and covid puppies, who vie for your attention. We’re leaving our guard post, loosening the hold of the brain mind. Maybe we hold the reins with eyes closed or throw the reins and trust that the horses can manage.
The 6th limb, Dharana, is usually translated as concentration. If I were to search for an image of concentration, I’d probably get something like this:
Often the brow is crinkled up, the eyes look faraway, and an inset image of the brain might show cartoon gear teeth that are trying to meet up properly to find a solution. It looks like thinking, really hard!
Dharana can have any focus, you get to choose. Some folks practice focusing with a candle flame, others might use a fresh flower or an image of a deity. Sutra 1.36, visoka va jyotismati, suggests heart-focused concentration. This a way to steady the restless mind. BKS Iyengar says that “concentration is on the innermost core of the heart, wherein alone the sorrowless, effulgent light glows.” He goes on to explain that the effort of stilling the consciousness (citta) brings forth the sorrowless effulgent light of the soul.*
I am always drawn to heart-oriented ideas and they show up as the best, most lasting relief for my restless mind. Mr Iyengar says that this is just what happens. We have to have just enough awareness to guide the brain-mind inward, toward the heart-mind, and then we come in contact with the soul. The light there is never extinguished but we do get distracted. The reward for working this form of concentration? The brain-mind might be easier to manage next time. The more we strengthen this “concentration muscle”, the more available it can be.
Here are some suggestions for concentration practice: do just one thing at a time. When you drive, resist playing music, eating or even talking. When you hike, try staying quiet and just take in what your senses bring. When you eat, just eat. Notice the sophisticated workings of your mouth, tongue and throat. Taste! Feel your body’s responses. You an also practice letting the mind rest or drift and then bring it back to a point of focus. You can let your eyes do the same. You can play around with any of your senses, relaxing and toning your concentration muscles.
Dharana leads to Dhyana, or meditation. I think of all of these practices as types meditation, but the yoga sutras lays them out more specifically. Meditation is said to be a state of mind, rather than the focus on the actual object. I like to encourage folks to practice any way that works for them! Prayer, chanting, eyes closed or open, whatever works, just try to do it, and do it with awareness that you have a heart.
The sutras say that heart focus quiets mind, and calms the wind-whipped surface of the lake. Maybe today you’d like to experiment with your own mind, play with your senses and sample going inward. Get curious, get creative, and remember to fall apart some days too!
I hope this is helpful to you.
I do have funds for scholarships if you or a dear one would like some yoga therapy.
*from The Cave of the Heart by Karen Allgire