Pratyahara is one of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. The idea of sense withdrawal, looking inwards. We spend so much time looking out, filling our senses but without some inward direction are we just projecting our thoughts and emotions onto the outside world unnecessarily?
Human beings have a definite tendency to look out on the world as the source of their unhappiness, their dis-ease, their discontent. We spend time searching outside ourselves for contentment. If only I had a better job/more money/the perfect partner then I would be happy. And then we get those things and realise still, something is missing. Looking for happiness in external things is akin to “planting an apple seed and hoping to see a banana tree grow”1.
In yoga we stand all this on its head. If we believe all suffering is about perspective and it therefore originates in the mind then it is the mind that needs to be changed. And to do this we need to bring the awareness inwards. Pratyahara.
Sensory withdrawal is not easy and I don’t want to make this post any longer than is necessary. It involves reigning in ego and judgement. It involves letting go of what the ego tells us is “bad” and “good”. It is about realising that how we see things is only our perspective and not truth. And I learned a very important lesson in this on a personal level recently.
How do we approach Pratyahara in our modern world, surrounded as we are by sensory stimulus? One way that has been springing to my mind recently is occasional technological fasting. A weekend perhaps without computer, phone, iPod. I think a huge amount of insight and creativity can come up out of that. There is nothing wrong per se in sensory experience. I love music, the internet, watching Australian soap operas (well I’m only human!), but I also want to be sure I make time to not be surrounded by these things. To work out who I am.
Some people have said to me that Pratyahara is like closing a door. Shutting out the world around me. Ignoring, or even ignorance. But I see it more like a door opening. I feel if I take the time to withdraw from the things that cause my mind to give me pain and examine the root of that pain I am able to cope with the world around me, or my perception of the world around me with heightened insight and hopefully (eventually) a little more patience and mindfulness.
1 from Darren Main's "Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic"