Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Concentration. Huh? What was that?

Dharana, or concentration, is the sixth limb of Ashtanga, or Eight Limbs, of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.  For me, dharana is one of the most vital steps along the path of Raja Yoga, or the Royal Road.  (From here on out, I will just refer to Raja Yoga as yoga.)  Looking around at the mainstream American society in which I am immersed I see a love of yoga, but mostly one which ends at merely the third rung of the ladder of Ashtanga, with the postures, or asanas.  There is so much more to the art and science of yoga than the physical postures!  (yes, that was a slightly exacerbated rant.  sorry. i'll be more patient now.)

For the ancient yogis, the postures were designed and practiced as a way to enable one to sit comfortably in a meditative posture for a long period of time. Yes, there are manymanymany auxiliary physical and mental benefits of the asanas, but they were never meant to be an end in the road.  I realize too, from my own experience and those of others I have talked with, that the physical postures are an excellent, gentle gateway to layers of Self, and of shedding layers of self, that we did not realize or want to shed otherwise.  And I love the practice of asanas. Sometimes, perhaps, I love them too much, so more than anything, this post is directed at myself.

Skipping the fourth and fifth limbs of pranayama (breath control) and pratyahara (sense withdrawal), and acknowledging that both have vital roles in the cleansing of the complete body system and subsequent raising of consciousness, I want to highlight the importance of dharana.  As one-pointed concentration, dharana is perhaps the most crucial step in achieving samadhi, the final limb and state of superconscious oneness known as enlightenment.  Without the ability to focus for an extended period of time, little is able to be accomplished.  This can be seen in the outer world as well as the inner.  There has never been anyone of any notable talent, skill, or gift that did not have required of them the need to focus solely on the refinement of their trade, be it an athlete, actor, mother, guru, you name it.  I could be mistaken, but I can think of no greatest that is a jack-of-all-trades.  Concentration, a narrowness of focus and energy, is what creates mastery.

Minutes ago I was sitting in Vedic meditation (similar to TM with it's use of mantras), and noticing how difficult it was for my mind to focus on the mantra for more than a few seconds before my mind drifted to oh-so-much-more-important things, like the writing of this blog, or answering that facebook post, or sending that email, or getting that resume out.  We think "I can't sit and focus for 20 minutes, there is so much in the world I will miss, that I need to do!"  Yet, in reality, those 20 minutes provide more for your day than everything else we bounce around doing.  And bounce is the key word here.  In our modern society we are given so many choices, so much flexibility, and so much praise to the manic god of multitasking that the discipline of concentrating, of simplicity, is, dare I say, more challenging than running a home, working fulltime, making gazillions of plans, and getting swept away with all there is to do, say, be, become, desire, fix, defend, create, and on and on and on.

How many things in your life have been left incomplete because you've been swept up in the tide and they've been swept under the rug?

Dharana, concentration.  Just breath.  Feel. Control. Sustain. And return again and again to the point of focus.  Give yourself to it.  Let go.  Trust.  Just be.  You are all ready worthy.  There is nothing more to do.  As is, you are perfect.

Thanks for letting me talk to myself.  Now, back to my practice.  Gotta sharpen that blade to slice through the illusions.    !Hi-yah!