The Author ponders an inward journey to Starbucks and back...
Written Feb 2005
(To be published in YUJ magazine)
By Joelle Lazar
I walk along Granville street catching beams of yellow light
on my cold cheeks. I pass the second Starbucks in three minutes.
The aroma of roasted beans does a table dance in my nostrils and
once again I contemplate a hot foamy drink. Hunger, even a mild
case of it has a way of making Pratyahara, the practice of going
inward, challenging. Desire to feel, taste, smell, touch and possess
finds temptation in everything. Even things that upon further
reflection are obviously frivolous, attract me.
Many of us who have observed it recognize that the mind is like
a monkey who wants to snatch every banana on the tree. We often
crave things that we have no need for and on the contrary ultimately
cause us pain.
I recently saw the movie “Supersize Me”. In it the
main character, who is a real person, explores the fast food phenomenon
that has food chains like McDonalds selling people food that is
harmful to them and in quantities that are way beyond what is
normal consumption. This is a perfect example of why we need Pratyahara.
Left to our own devices and without the power to curb our appetites,
we are doomed to overeat, overbuy, and pollute our bodies with
those things which give us only fleeting satisfaction and over
the long term actually cause us harm.
My mother wrote a children’s book about this tendency
called the “Want Monster”.
There’s a line in the book which says “I can make
it tame with my silent pause.” It’s right beside a
picture of a lion with very decisive paws. When we are able to
draw the senses inward, we rest in the pause. From here we can
observe the tendency to seek fulfillment outside. The pause is
the eye of the hurricane and Pratyahara is the power which keeps
us there even as our desires spin around us.
In B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, The Tree of Yoga he makes the
analogy that the eight limbs of yoga described in the Patanjali
Yoga Sutras are represented by the metaphor of the tree. Pratyahara,
he writes, is like the bark on the tree which protects the tree
from being devoured by worms. The worms are our desires and Pratyahara
is “the inward journey of the senses from the skin towards
the core of the being.”
The ‘core of the being’ is another way of saying
the ‘eye of the hurricane’. It’s as if we are
completely still and observing everything. What we call “stillness”
is the experience of awareness itself. Before it takes shape,
awareness, or consciousness as it is often called, is the ingredient
which our thoughts are made of.
If we go even deeper, get right to the heart of it, waves of
perception precede our thoughts. These waves of perception are
called ‘vrittis’. Directly translated from the Sanskrit,
vritti means “a turn in the consciousness.”
Movement is inherent within me way before the Starbucks aroma
hits me. Somewhere along the line I smelled that aroma before,
tasted it and remembered how pleasurable it was. This pleasurable
memory has been stored in my mind, the control centre for both
the senses and the memories generated through their functioning.
What you have just read is a break down of something that happens
to all of us hundreds of times a day. If we paused at the turn
of every vritti we would never move at all! But there is a balance
between not moving at all and being a slave to every desire that
walks through our sense doors.
There is no doubt that for most of us movement is way more natural
than stillness. We only have to look at a children’s school
yard at lunch time to discover that we need movement in order
to learn. This is true for us in the earliest stage of our development.
In the womb, the first nerves to myelinate are the vestibular
nerves responsible for movement. In Linda Hartley’s book,
Wisdom of the Body Moving, she explains that our earliest development
begins with movement quickly followed by sensory perception.
“This sensory-motor feedback mechanism of the nervous system
provides a basis for developing awareness of self and differentiating
self from other.”
In other words, our sense of self in this world is constituted
by movement. Yet there can be no movement without energy. So it
is energy which is behind movement and this is the core of the
We are pure energy. We can use this energy to move out in the
world as well as to cultivate stillness. Both movement and stillness
But how much movement and how much stillness are ideal?
Which desires are well chosen and which ones are a waste of time?
Through the power of Pratyahara we are able to pause. Of course,
we can’t stay still forever. But in this pause we find the
eye of the hurricane. Here we know ourselves to be the self which
is one. When we emerge from this state, we have a reference of
stillness that allows us to remain centered even in the midst
of tremendous change.
I walk along Granville Street catching beams of yellow light
on my cold cheeks, the aroma of roasted beans doing a table dance
in my nostrils.
Shall I stop and have a latte?
Summoning the power of Pratyahara, I pause and see where the
stillness moves me…
B.K.S. Iyengar, "The Tree of Yoga", Shambhala Classics,
Linda Hartley, “Wisdom of the Body Moving”, North
Atlantc Books, Berkeley, CA. 1995.
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