Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses of cognition and action from both the external world and the images or impressions in the mind field. Sense withdrawal, pratyahara, rests on the solid foundation of a steady, comfortable meditation posture, and smooth, deep, quiet breathing that has no pauses. The control of the senses is not only closing off external stimulation, but also drawing your consciousness away from images generated from the memory. Stopping the thoughts that arise in the mind is not the goal here, although over time they will slow. In pratyahara we disengage from mental interaction with the images or thought patterns either external or internal.
Pratyahara is learning not to be disturbed by sounds, thoughts, feelings, vision and so on. Vision is easy to control as we can close our eyes but how can we close our ears and skin? How can we learn to concentrate when we can hear cars or birds or the phone ringing? Or what about sensations on the skin like your hair tickling your face or even mosquito around your ankles? How can you even begin to concentrate if these things disturb you?
Ideally we want to master the senses so that we can use them consciously and enjoy them when appropriate. We should have refined senses and take good care of them but we must be careful not to become absorbed and locked up in them. Rather to seek that which is of the highest experience…spiritual liberation. With this liberation comes immeasurable bliss and freedom.
Pratyahara is a way of living where we are not affected by outside stimulus in our lives. We should learn to restrain our sensory impressions on a day to day basis and also higher our pain threshold so that we are able to tolerate discomfort and to distance ourselves from every day mishaps. This will enable us to be less distracted by our senses until we eventually gain total control of our senses so that we can concentrate (Dharana).
Over time the practicing adept learns to turn away from the objects of external desire and instead seek the True Self. Once the practitioner has experienced the fullness of creation and the creator itself, their thirst for the objects of the senses vanishes as none compare to the ecstasy of knowing the True Self. It is said that the yogi prefers that which is bitter (intense spiritual practice) which in the end becomes sweet nectar. Others who are driven by their sense desires prefer that which seems sweet as nectar at first but in the end will be as bitter poison.
Sense Withdrawal Practice
Sense withdrawal practice through listening to sounds. With eyes closed, covered, or lights turned out, listen to all the sounds in your environment. Of all the sounds you can hear, choose to focus on the most subtle. As you improve your ability to focus your mind, the most subtle sound will become louder, and louder. Then ask yourself, is there a more subtle sound beneath the one you are focusing on. Shift your attention to this new sound until it becomes louder. Do not attempt to "not hear" the louder sounds. Let them come and go. They are of no consequence. Stay focused on the most subtle. As you step back further and further along this chain of sounds you eventually hear your own breathing, beneath that perhaps your heart, beneath that... eventually you are hearing deep etheral sounds, sounds of consciousness. Of all of these etheral sounds, which is the most subtle? Focus on that. Eventually and with much practice you may be able to hear the sound of creation. The echo left over from the big bang. When asked “what does that sound like”? The sages would reply AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.
© 2021 Suzanne Silvermoon
This exercise by Suzanne Silvermoon appears in Deb Snyder's book, Ignite CALM, Bliss at Work