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Walking the Big Dogs October 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

“In order to control the mind, we have to get to know it. Few of us know, objectively, what the insides of our minds are really like. Our dominating fears and desires have become so familiar to us that we do not even notice them; they are like recurring drumbeats going on in the background of our thoughts. And so, as a preliminary exercise, it is good to spend some time every day simply watching our minds, listening to those drumbeats. We probably shall not like what we see and hear, but we must be very patient and objective. The mind, finding itself watched in this way, will gradually grow calmer. It becomes embarrassed, as it were, by its own greed and silliness. For no amount of outside criticism is so effective and so penetrating as our own simple self-inspection. If we continue this exercise regularly for several months, we shall certainly make some advance toward mental control.”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:53 – 2.55), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Have you ever walked a big dog or a puppy that’s going to become a big dog? Imagine that for a moment, you’re walking a big puppy that’s going to become a big dog. The dog may be very well trained, not really trained, or somewhere in between – but, it’s still a puppy and it’s going to get distracted to some degree. Sometimes it doesn’t take much: a change in smell or a leaf fluttering in the breeze. Sometimes there’s a big distraction: squirrel, another dog, a little human that wants to play, or a big human that they love. Doesn’t really matter, because at some point you are going to experience the perfect storm where the level of distraction overwhelms the level of training and the puppy pulls you in the direction it wants to go – which is towards the distraction.

Now, let’s say you have five or six of these pups – all with different levels of strength, sensitivity, and training – and they are all on leashes. You see where this is going right? Even if all the puppies get along and are fairly well trained, there’s going to be times the leashes get tangled up and intertwined. Sometimes you’re out a nice little walk with just an occasional tug here or there, but (inevitably) you’re going to get pulled by one or more of the puppies. Hopefully, they pull in the same direction, because that keeps things simple. But that might be a best case scenario, because sometimes you are going to be pulled so hard the direction may not matter. Sometimes they pull so hard that they practically (or actually) pull your shoulder out of its socket, torque your spin, and/or misalign your hip and knee.

“The sense-organs are like animals which instinctively imitate their master. If the master is weak and subject to certain passions, then the sense-organs will imitate and even exaggerate his weakness, dragging him along after them as a child is dragged by a strong, unruly dog. But when the mind is strong and self-controlled the sense-organs become its orderly and obedient servants. They imitate its strength instead of its weakness. Every movement of the body expresses the self-control of the mind.”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:53 – 2.55), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

On Saturday, I mentioned several different analogies for the connection between the mind, body, and senses. Previously, I have mentioned that the untrained mind is often compared to monkeys, elephants, wild horses, or little puppies that want to play. And there are still more in the toolbox; more examples of cittavŗitti (“fluctuations of the mind”). Remember, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali explains how the mind works, how to work (or train) the mind, and the benefits of training the mind. Bottom line he explains, right off the top, we can be ruled by the roaming tendencies of the mind-senses or reside or rest in our own true nature.

Consider for a moment, how you make decisions when you feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions versus how you make decisions when you are well rested and guided by the inner movements of your own heart.

Most of us spend most of our lives feeling like the dog walker with six moderately to poorly trained puppies. However, we may also feel like our puppies are the greatest ever and are coming along in their training. We may get a little lax about reinforcement. We may even shrug off other people’s suggestions. (We’re fine. We know what we’re doing. Haven’t we had these pups all of their lives?) There is definite joy in being surrounded by the exuberance of the young, but there is also danger which can cause physical, mental, and emotional harm. To ignore the risks – not only to your own self, but also to others – is irresponsible. And, contrary to what some believe, we control our thoughts. We can train our mind and, in the process, train our senses.

Pratyāhāra (“sense withdrawal”) is the fifth limb of the Yoga Philosophy. It falls directly after the elements of the physical practice, āsana and prānāyāma. So, while I often say that the physical practice (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is classically used to prepare the mind-body for deep, seated meditation, the truth is that that simplification skips a step: pratyāhāra.

In order for the mind to focus, concentrate, meditate on a single object it has to first eliminate the distraction of all other objects. Included in “the distraction all other objects” is the minds preoccupation with the name(s) of the single object; all of the meanings associated with the name(s); the fact that you are sitting, breathing, and focusing on the object; and the preoccupation with the process of meditating. All of these are contributing factors to the beginning of the practice and can become obstacles to the practice. Yes, all of these factors can lead to suffering; but, they can also serve as paths towards the ultimate goal. Again, just like with the puppies, the object is not to ignore what is happening – neither is it to abuse and torture them into submission. The object of this part of the practice is to rein in everything. Once your mind-intellect reigns over the body-mind-senses, you begin to go in the direction you want to go.

“The willingness or unwillingness 
to withdraw attention from sensory experience 
is a significant dividing line between 
those who experience true meditation and 
those who experience only physical relaxation.”

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swami J)

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 20th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“The senses are turned inwards and the rhythmic breathing calms the mind’s wandering. This brings a feeling of inner peace and one hears the divine voice of his self within, ‘Look here! Look within! not outside, for the source of all peace is within yourself.’

– the effects of Şanmukhī Mudrā (“Six-face Seal”) described in Light On Yoga (Yoga Dipika) by B. K. S. Iyengar

A Kiss My Asana Flashback!

### NOISE, NOISE < >, less noise ###


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