The Annihilation of ego
Like many other millennials who have chosen to pursue a career of academic or creative merit, I've been working in a bar. Every night it's the same. A customer sits down, asks what's the difference between a Mary's and a Cheeseburger and orders... But when they get their food they don't touch it. They reach for their smartphone and take a picture of their meal in highly unflattering lighting #marysnewtown.
Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about Pratyahara - a concept from the Classical Yoga Sutras. Pronounced in Australian-English as prut-ee-yuh-hara, the ancient Sanskrit term translates roughly to prati ‘the mastery over’ ahara ‘external influences’. The people who came up with this concept were obviously around centuries prior to even a scent of television, the internet or a smartphone.
In modern-day usages Pratyahara is commonly described as the withdrawal of the senses. This has troubled to me for some time. If you want to immerse yourself in life, in the full emotional spectrum of love, loss and feather-ruffling, in music, delicious food and wine, what does it mean to withdraw?
I am beginning to realise that this ancient discipline is not about disengaging from the world so much as mediating our experience of it.
In my practice, Pratyahara is a kind of pre-meditation. It begins as a physical exercise, closing down my eyes, ears, nose or mouth and slowing down my breathing. It is a method of creating space, a veil around yourself through which you can begin to filter your experience. Pondering how you will act or react to the situation you are in. Reflecting on your inner monologue.
To begin with, Pratyahara might be as simple as switching off your phone for a while, sitting with eyes closed in the sun or listening to the natural white noise of this icebreaker in Norway. Perhaps even eating a meal in silence (without taking a photo of it).
Practicing pratyahara could be to perform a physical activity such as walking, stretching or standing on one leg - with your eyes closed. Instantly you will start to focus on the sensation of movement, the control of the muscles, the feeling of the breeze... If that's not for you could try wearing earplugs on your daily commute to remove all sound from the equation (mind the cars).
Yogic philosophy doesn't have to involve wearing a loin-cloth and being zen all the time. It is completely accessible, acceptable and affordable for anyone. There is a reason that these philosophical and physical practices have stuck around and remained popular for such a long time.
If you really want to see what the hype around Pratyahara is all about, invest 2 minutes in this tingle-inducing technique, Brahmari Pranayama, Bee Breathing exercise.
A note: You will look fairly silly doing it in public without warning - so find a quiet spot where you can be comfortable
SO I'M A BEE... WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
As we get caught up in how our lives look from the outside (Ego) the call to success becomes all-consuming. We seduce ourselves with promises that we can do anything, be anyone we want. We make yet another decision about whether to start a business, build a house, study, travel, volunteer, ‘be more creative’… overlooking all the while what we already have.
This where that ancient, proven and easily accessible yoga stuff comes in… Yoga is the annihilation of the Ego. A practice through which we can begin to realise, accept and ultimately get excited about just how astronomically small we are. Just a tiny person, in a house, looking out a window at a street, in a country on a planet in a vast and unlimited spattering of exploded space bits. You are nothing but a weirdo making bee noises in your living room... So bee there.
To me, pratyahara is that childlike feeling of slithering under the bed sheets at night. No one can see you there, it's quiet, safe and warm. Not even the thing that lives in the little air vent on the wall, if you pull the blankets up over your head.
It is from this place of relative unimportance that we can re-energise, recalibrate and, quite simply, turn our attention to what we can do today.
YOU ARE NOT A DROP IN THE OCEAN. YOU ARE THE MIGHTY OCEAN IN A DROP.
– JALULUDDIN RUMI