Friday, April 28, 2017

Focusing On What Matters

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book One, Sadhana Pada,
(Translation from The Essence of Yoga by Bernard Bouanchaud).

Practicing the Eight Limbs of Yoga (following ethical precepts, engaging in mindful and powerful physical postures, mastery of specific breathing techniques, restraint of the five senses, focus, concentration, meditation and eventual identification with Divine consciousness) brings us to a clear vision of reality and understanding of our true nature.

"In our ordinary, scattered state of mind, vision is subjective and partially distorted and thus creates suffering to some degree.

We play parts like actors on a stage, identifying with the characters we are interpreting. We are tossed about and carried away by events and the whirlpool of our mind.

Self-identification with the difficulties we encounter tends to make us dramatize them and lose track of what is really going on.

How many of us see only the negative side of our experience, always somehow dissatisfied with sex life, profession, family situation, marital status, children, other activities, and even our mental and physical make-up? And how many of us think others are enjoying the advantages we lack?

Here our thoughts become strongly linked with imagination and misperception" (Bernard Bounchaud).

In recent weeks, I have been talking at the beginning of my yoga classes about refining perception, releasing distractions and awareness of the impact our thoughts have on our bodies. All of this is interconnected.

Yoga is a complete set of mental, physical and spiritual practices leading us to freedom from illusions, distractions, oppression and suffering. Challenges and pain we cannot avoid in this life, but we can be set free from misperception and suffering.

We can't avoid grief and loss and discomfort. These are part of the human condition. I would never tell someone to think themselves well or "snap out of it" or "just cheer up and focus on the positive." Sometimes conditions are painful.

Under any conditions you are experiencing, one instruction which is always beneficial is Focus on What Matters.

What do you think about when you go to bed at night - when you wake up in the morning - when you eat your meals - when you commute to your job - when you work out at the gym or take a walk by yourself? How do your thoughts make you feel in your body? Is your blood pressure or heart rate elevated, are you clenching your jaw or hiking your shoulders, do you have trouble falling asleep? Make the connection between your thoughts and your experience of your body. Ask yourself if what you're thinking about truly matters. If you were given a death sentence and had a week to live, what would matter to you? What about a month, or a year, or a decade? How would you refine your focus if you became aware of how little time you have left in your current physical body?

The last time you felt upset, there is a good chance that what you were thinking about did not really matter much in the grand scheme of your life. However, it may have mattered very much. If you were thinking about not having enough money to pay your taxes, of course that matters, and it's a problem your mind needs to solve. If you were thinking about a parent or child or friend's life threatening illness, of course that matters very much. Most of the time, the thoughts causing us angst or pulling us away from pure presence and awareness are relatively unimportant.

Stay vigilant. Notice your thoughts. Notice the way you spend your time apart from necessary tasks. Ask yourself "does this truly matter?" If it doesn't, then find a way to let go of it.

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