Happy Tuesday, everyone! We’re back this week with another discussion on Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, and this time we’ll be delving into the seventh limb: Dhyana. As I mentioned before (and would like to keep reminding you), the last three or four limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras can be a lot to take in, especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever heard of them. So, bear with me, and we’ll explore this together!
Think back over the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, we spoke about Pratyahara, which is most often translated as sensory withdrawal. It is the practice of withdrawing from the external stimuli always pummeling us from the outside, and instead, resting within. Last week’s discussion was on Dharana, which, in a very tiny nutshell, is learning to focus the attention on one specific point or idea, exercising complete control over your mind. Now, this week, we have Dhyana, which takes the practices we learned in Dharana a step further and encourages us to look deeply into these things we’ve fixed our minds on, seeing past their external features into the truth of their nature. Simply put, Dhyana is meditation.
Now, let me just say that there are myriad types of meditation practices, depending on who you talk to and where you go. Even within different yoga traditions, there can be a number of different ways to practice meditating! However, this idea of fixing our attention in one place and then deeply observing it is present in almost all of them. Whether it’s a mantra you’re meditating on or just the wanderings of your mind like clouds across a blue sky, learning to focus the attention on one thing (and keep coming back to that thing with patience when the mind wanders) is a crucial part of meditation.
If you’re anything like me, you love the idea of meditation but the actual doing of it is a bit of a different story. Maybe you sit there and your thoughts just keep wandering back to the grocery list or what you should’ve said to that lady who cut you in line, and even though you continue to bring your thoughts back to the breath or to the mantra or whatever it is you’re using for meditation, you start to get frustrated. Or, maybe your mind doesn’t buzz so much and you don’t get irritated with yourself, but you fidget around and can’t get over how insanely bored you feel. I’ve been there! I am still there. Not all the time, no, but there are definitely still more than a few days when meditation just seems like such a chore and I’d really rather pick up a Stephen King novel than sit down to meditate. You know what, though? Not only do those days get fewer and fewer as time goes on, but I have learned so much about the inner workings of my mind and the way that my consciousness functions. I’ve learned what sorts of things make me tick, what sorts of thoughts trigger certain emotions within me, and I’ve learned to acknowledge and sit with those emotions instead of running away from them. The work is not done, and although the elusive state of enlightenment we always hear about in yoga is probably still pretty far down the line for me, progress has been made and pieces have been put together.
So, my puzzle isn’t all the way done yet. I’m willing to bet yours isn’t either, and you know what? That’s okay! The practice of yoga is so much more than a physical exercise (as we have been discovering these past seven weeks), and it can serve as an invaluable tool in helping us to put together some more pieces of our puzzles. Next week, we’ll finish out our discussions on Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga with the eighth and final limb of Samadhi.
I’ll see you back here next Tuesday, and until then, happy yoga-ing, happy meditating, and happy puzzling!