While walking the Camino Frances, the most popular route of the Saint James Pilgrimage in Spain, I encountered a special opportunity to practice, Pratyahara.
Often times, this is the forgotten limb of the 8 Limbs in Patanjali's Path to Enlightenment. It means to control what we take in, or to retreat from the sensual world of temptations. Imagine a turtle pulling it's head and limbs back into it’s shell.
Have you ever heard the old wise saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We are so accustomed to ongoing sensory activity that we don’t know how to keep our minds quiet. If we don’t discipline our senses they dominate and disturb us with their endless demands. The senses are like holes in the vessel of the mind. Although we are constantly surrounded by distractions, this form of meditation is about recognizing how we let these stimuli affect us.
Pratyahara is about the right intake of the sensual experience. Strong sensations dull the mind, and a dull mind may lead us to act in ways that are insensitive, careless, or even violent. Just as junk food makes the body toxic, junk impressions make the mind toxic. The body benefits by fasting from food, just as the mind benefits by fasting from sensations.
How mindful are you about how these media affect your peaceful demeanor: music, television (and commercials), films, conversations, advertisements, etc?
During the first week of trekking, I walked in silence for at least the first few hours of the day, honoring the morning bird song and other present moment sounds, but then I would plug into my Audible or Spotify accounts on my iphone and tune into some external inspiration. Like most days at home when I go for a walk or drive, I felt like I was maximizing my time and being efficient. I chose the books and music carefully to add to this spiritual experience.
However, after about ten days, my earbuds broke. I knew that I could buy some new ones in the next big city, but a little voice within me reminded me that this happened for a reason. I needed to use this time on the pilgrimage to practice Pratyahara on a larger scale.
Like many of you, one aspect of my Gemini spirit is that my mind likes to constantly spin, generating ideas for artwork, poems, and more. Much of this pilgrimage was/is about letting go of attachments. Being bored has always been one of my most unpleasant realities. I needed to let go of my dependency on external sounds as ideas to feed the mind. My mind needed a lesson in being content with the fullness of the present moment.
However, when I accept boredom and turn it into an opportunity for meditation, something magical happens, inner stillness!
Another control the senses is to put our attention on a source of uniform impressions, such as gazing at the ocean or the blue sky. We can filter in positive natural impressions by meditating upon aspects of nature such as trees, flowers, or rocks, as well as visiting temples or other places of pilgrimage. I suddenly feel unaffected by the car honking or the dust blowing all over my skin. I no longer mind flies in my face and pain in my feet.
I simply am: here, alive, grateful.
If you'd like to read more about this topic, please check out my blog about a Silence Meditation Retreat: https://www.halfmoonyogaandart.com/blog/silence