12 Jul Distractions for the Mind
Last week we talked about trees, which brought up the foundational dualism inherent in the yoga philosophy – prakrti and purusa, or nature and pure consciousness. This week, let’s talk about distractions for the mind.
Refresher on Purusa and Prakrti
Purusa is the light of awareness within you that’s said to carry forward through each of your countless incarnations until you achieve (with your yoga practice) samadhi, or enlightenment. Prakrti is literally everything that isn’t purusa. Your body, thoughts, desires, goals, feelings, relationships are all prakrti.
We work with prakrti in practice, and we practice to remove the obstacles and distractions to samadhi. Samadhi is the final absorption in the self. The self is purusa. The goal is yoga is for the self to abide in its true nature, that is, purusa.
To put it simply, we do yoga to be ourselves, and the yoga philosophy names the self “purusa” and considers it pure consciousness.
Distractions and Obstacles
The Yoga Sutras lists a number of distractions and obstacles to achieving this end. Sutra 1.30 is particularly pragmatic. I’ll pull heavily from Edwin Bryant’s translation of the Sutras (pp. 118-119) to share it with you:
These disturbances [to the realization of the inner consciousness] are disease, idleness, doubt, carelessness, sloth, lack of detachment, misapprehension, failure to attain a base for concentration, and instability. They are distractions for the mind.
Let’s go through them one by one (in many cases I’m quoting directly from EB.)
An imbalance in one’s health. The idea here is that an unwell body must be tended to. You’ve been sick before – isn’t it a distraction to pretty much everything else? It’s hard to do anything but lay in bed and complain.
A disinclination of the mind towards work; a sort of mental paralysis. Have you ever tried to get your mind to focus on a problem you need a solution to and it just doesn’t seem to get moving? You just can’t think. This has happened to me many times! It makes sense it’s considered a distraction for the mind. The yogis really studied what it is to be human, I find their work helpful in organizing my experience.
So EB translated the traditional commentators of the Sutras and some of them can be pretty personable at times, like normal people (which they presumably were). This is a direct quote from one of them: “Is the practice of yoga doable or not?!” Doubt. Yep, it’s distracting.
A lack of persistence, neglecting the eight limbs of yoga. Remember, yoga is not just the physical practice of asana. It’s common for people to use yoga as a mindful workout. Without consideration of the cultural context of the practice, this can be appropriative and disrespectful. What we learn here is that it’s also careless, if you mean to embark on a serious practice or consider yourself a yogi.
A lack of effort in mind and body. I think it’s interesting that idleness and sloth are differentiated here. Perhaps idleness is not even starting the engine and sloth is starting it but not bothering to get enough gas to get the job done.
Lack of Detachment
Mental greed due to the mind contemplating the sense objects. Detachment is a big theme in yoga. Humans are like crows, we’re attracted to shiny baubles. Good smells, comfortable beds, money, flattery, fame…a lack of detachment to these things will send you in the wrong direction, says the Sutras.
Mistaken knowledge. Misconceptions about the yoga path itself. You think you know so you go down that path then you realize you misunderstood and you have to back track. A distraction, no?
I want to mention that the project here is not to judge people who have these distractions. It’s to say that these are the distractions all people have. If you’re not trying to practice yoga in earnest, it needn’t make any difference in your life. This might just be an interesting look-see into the deeper context of a practice you enjoy for its physical and relaxation benefits.
Failure to attain a base for concentration
Simply put, failure to attain a state of samadhi. By the way, samadhi results from focused concentration without distraction on a single object (like the sound of om). This focused concentration becomes meditative absorption (being completely absorbed in the one thing) and this becomes samadhi. Samadhi is the eighth and final limb of yoga.
The inability to maintain any such state of samadhi that one might attain; only when samadhi is maintained will the mind be stable. EB quotes the Bhagavad Gita here to say “the senses are so strong, that they forcefully carry away the mind even of a discriminating person who is striving to control them.”
Food for thought for your week ahead.
Although I personally don’t follow the Yoga Sutras or yoga philosophy to the letter (and thus will likely not achieve samadhi, in this lifetime at least), as a serious practitioner of yoga I know it’s important to understand what I practice and teach.
Not only that, I find so much value in studying the Sutras. They were developed by thousands of years of deep observation of the human condition, it’s a gift to be able to read them in English and consider what I find within. I hope you, too, feel enriched with this study as part of your practice.
I hope to see you on Zoom for free live yoga classes this week!
Image Credit (all from Pexels):
- Glass art image by Chris F
- Crow image by Mali Maeder
- Doubt graphic by Olya Kobruseva
- Bridge image by Francesco Ungaro