Since being reintroduced to the eightfold path, I find that I have been practicing some of its elements without realizing it. This is the final of six columns devoted to exploring their value in today’s world.
Pratyahara is “removing the tentacles of consciousness from the world.” We detach our attention from the world outside of us and let go of our thoughts about these externals. By concentrating on your breath to the exclusion of all else, you have already begun the practice of pratyahara. If you’ve ever become so totally absorbed in a task or project that you lost all track of time or consciousness of activity happening around you, you’ve experienced something very like Pratyahara. Pratyahara is a vital step toward disentangling yourself from the world of illusion and a bridge to meditation in the final three limbs of yoga.
In dharana we reach out to the divine with the tentacles just removed from the world. We concentrate all of our attention on the infinite. If you don’t understand what it means to reach out in this way, try using the word AUM (or OM) as a focus of concentration. AUM stands for the Creator who transcends the limitations of time (A: the beginning, U: the middle, M: completion).
With dhyana, the effort involved in focusing our consciousness dissolves and we are conscious only of our own existence and the existence of the object of meditation. This state is often described as “bliss” and it is not something we can just choose to “do.” It comes unbidden when we are “doing” other things like pranayama, pratyahara or dharana.
Contact with God is the goal of all eight limbs of yoga, and the state of union with God is samadhi. It is the final step in meditation where the consciousness of being separate from the divine dissolves. One need not be Hindu or practicing yoga to experience samadhi. We can be transported into union with the divine without seeking it. It comes to us most often in nature when we are awed by the mountains, the sea or the opening of a flower.
The Value of Meditation
Meditators experience less stress. Meditation helps us respond to events in our lives in healthier manner and to enjoy life more, because we are more present in the moment. A lesser-known benefit of meditation is that the calm is catching. Business meetings become more productive and family disagreements less volatile. A study in India (mentioned by Deepak Chopra in one of his books) showed that if just 1 percent of the population meditates, violence in that area decreases significantly.
I hope these columns about the eight-fold path (or the eight limbs of yoga) have made the concepts more accessible and useful to you. NamastÃ© (the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you).