Refining Our Perception
"Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory". ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois
Sometimes we, as humans, get fooled into thinking the world is all that we perceive through our five senses. In the beginning, we may not be aware of the expansive reality that exists beyond that.
Actually, in the VERY beginning, we may have been aware of MUCH more, as young children, as tiny souls, but slowly as we grew and became socialized by the world around us, we may have lost touch with our awareness of a greater reality and forgot our innate connection to one another and all of creation. Our separateness grew.
I love the yoga practices for how they sweetly encourage us and guide us back to source;
away from illusion and back to reality.
It used to be that, whenever I was invited to practice taking hand mudras, I could feel almost nothing. It was like... there was no connection between my hands, my energy body and my awareness. That connection was always there of course, only I was not sensitive enough to be able to PERCEIVE it at that time. I felt little to nothing at all.
The same seemed to be the case for my imagination. I remember in those early days, when being guided to visualize something, to imagine some scene or scenario, it was blank, darkness, nothing. There were no images dancing across my mind at my will when I closed my eyes. There were only thoughts: "well, I can't see anything. Why are we doing this?? This is ridiculous. There must be something wrong with me. I must be broken. I can't see a darn thing." and so on and so on.
Regardless of my apparent "failure" at practicing mudras or visualization, I kept on with my practice throughout the years. I practiced asana and breath techniques, relaxation in savasana. Some days, after I did all that, I was able to sit quietly for a moment without a mind bombarded with thoughts. I practiced what I could do. I attempted meditation (whatever THAT was). Sometimes that sadhana (practice) was intense, sometimes that practice was non-existent. There was a full range from periods of spending 5 hours a day, to periods of a whole year without touching my practices, not sure if I ever would return to them (thankfully I did).
One day, several years later, when I came back to them, I could suddenly feel the mudras profoundly in a way I had never experienced before. And after months of a blank projection screen (chitta kasha), I suddenly started to be able to "see" things when I closed my eyes. These skills developed, these skills opened up, THROUGH the patient practicing of other things that I COULD access. Through this roundabout process, my other "senses" began to wake up.
The reason I share this story, is because... yoga is slow. Yoga doesn't happen overnight. Yoga takes time and goes at its own pace. Yoga may not be the quick fix, but it IS the real deal. It will get you there, with patient persistent practice.
We do our sadhana so that we may come to know ourselves, to know who we are, our more subtle layers of being beyond the physical. Our practice slowly trains up our ability to perceive more and more subtle phenomenon about ourselves and others and the world as well. Armed with this more accurate awareness of reality, we become more effective human beings. With this greater understanding and perceptivity under our belts, the way we respond and react shifts and changes. This doesn't mean we don't make missteps, we are constantly learning after all, but we seem to become more adept at handling life and all that is entailed in the living of it.
In the beginning, when we sit down and are asked to observe our breath, we may start by only noticing the most obvious things about our breath, the temperature change, the speed, the depth, or whether it is our nose or mouth that is breathing. In the beginning we may find that the mind doesn't easily want to stay resting on the breath or any other item of focus before it is running off chasing thoughts. It grows bored easily. It wanders readily. It seemingly takes forever before it remembers it was trying to focus on the breath and comes back to it.
It is this way because when it is untrained, we spend most of our waking hours being outwardly focused and stimulated by the world around us. Nothing wrong with that, by the way, but as I said above, we are talking about refining and fine tuning our ability to perceive more subtlety. In order to perceive that which lays beyond our five senses, we must learn to become very aware, very, very aware. In the beginning, trying to hold the mind to the breath can be very boring for the mind which is used to doing 14 things at once, for the mind that is used to interacting with the external world at a very rapid pace. To bring it down to one moment, one focus and to stay there, can be quite a task indeed.
With consistent practice, what we might start to notice is... whereas the breath before was hardly noticeable and certainly not very interesting, now we start to become enthralled with the breath, fascinated by it. Just the simple sensation of breathing becomes huge and all encompassing, capturing our total attention in a very sustained manner. As we sit, we may have a feeling like there is nowhere else our mind would rather be than resting on our breath. It is so peaceful here. Once our concentration (dharana) has become established, meditation (dhyana) may freely follow.
Patanjali states in the yoga sutras 1:14 that sadhana (spiritual practice) needs to be "well attended to" and "without break", since the ultimate purpose of yoga is to find liberation from suffering caused by the illusion of separateness and the endless stream of vrittis (ripples of thought), to eventually come back to our pure state of being or bliss that is at the core of our true nature.
That's all fine and good but at this stage, most of us (myself included) are just happy to get through the day without losing our s***.
It is a relief if we can feel relatively calm, happy and content as we move through our days, free of physical, mental or emotional pain. It is a bonus if we feel like we can be of use or of service to those around us, if we, ourselves, can find enough equilibrium, equanimity and balance to enjoy our lives and to enhance the lives of those around us. Our consistent yoga practice WILL give us all these fruits ... and more.