Section I The Merger—Samadhi Pada : Mastering the Distractions to Access the Rewards
Illness, delusion, laziness, instability, weakness, cravings, lack of confidence and focus are our distractions on our way to our final goal.
In a single line, Patanjali maps out all the issues and problems that every person will face and must consciously overcome. These are precisely the experiences I have had, which embedded me deeper and deeper in problematic human experiences. You cannot come up with solutions unless you know what the problems are!
You could argue—and you could be right—that the challenge of attaining a desirable state of tranquillity while still existing in the turmoil of everyday life is extremely difficult, almost absurd. It may even detract from the very experience of living!
Yet, if we were to step away from each of the diminishing experiences listed above, we may realise the beauty of yoga. In other words, cultivate good health. Catch yourself being lazy and correct yourself. Work on your self-confidence. Avoid fantasies—the product of imagination, which we spoke of in the previous chapter. Observe the growth of desire and reduce it consciously. Observe thoughts and actions that indicate instability and dampen them.
All these are ultimately hurdles and distractions on the journey.
What happens when you allow yourself to be distracted by illness, poor behavioural patterns, desires and delusions?
Your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Anxiety sweeps your awareness, your pupils dilate, you despair for the solution that makes sense to you. The impact on your physical being is negative, while your mind ferments due to distractions. And your heartbeat goes up!
The first sign of an unquiet mind is shallow breathing.
The quiet mind watches these perturbations and gently sweeps them aside, craving the stillness of a remote lake. Patanjali recommends something simple: strive for a state of focused awareness.
Cultivate the art of meditation.
Like everyone else, I always thought of meditation as something I could not do. It seemed pretentious, wholly impractical and a cowardly way to escape reality.
Assuming you do see—however reluctantly—a value in meditation, you may experience, over time, a certain peace that is hard to describe fully. Suffice to say that all the human experiences that caused so much stress will suddenly seem small and insignificant. As your mind recognises this and declines to engage with negativity, the body responds too.
In my own case, I have observed that my heartbeat can reduce to about 55 beats per minute from the regular 73. This involves deep breathing and a complete focus on the movement of breath and a determined blocking out of all sensory distractions. But the question that needs to be asked is—meditate on what?
Patanjali approaches this matter with a deceptively simple exhortation: Meditate on a single object. But before beginning the practice of meditation, the cultivation of positive traits is essential. Our obsession with negative and distracting influences can reduce by shifting our focus to the opposite set of traits.
Patanjali urges us to develop qualities like friendliness, compassion and joy. These are not distractions because these sentiments are directed towards those who are happy, unhappy and virtuous, respectively. And for those who are caught in the web of wickedness and anger, be indifferent. They have to go through their journey alone. It is their karma.
I remember harbouring routine sentiments of jealousy towards those who I perceived were more successful or somehow different in a “better” way.
I allowed myself to be obsessed by my health and created ailments where none existed. I was irritated by those who seemed pointlessly happy. I avoided those I felt were chronically unhappy. And I allowed hostile and crooked individuals to control me by making me react to their negative actions. All these were nothing but self-created minefields (or mind fields!). Does all this sound familiar? Are we all guilty of little acts of self-sabotage? Once you recognise these bubbles of distraction, you can do something about them.
And through meditation, you attain a state where breathing becomes slow and steady, your brow clears, and your mind settles and sinks deep within. The focus of your mind shifts to the very act of breathing. Perfectly timed, acutely conscious exhalation starts resembling the removal of distractions. Suspending breathing for short periods after exhalation or inhalation leads to a grounding of oneself. Put together, the mind settles into a rhythm and attains the state of a remote, still lake.