In our daily lives, many of us are exposed to a constant stream of images and sounds designed to get our attention and sell us something. Withdrawing our senses in some meditative practice can be very restorative to the mind. Spending time in nature surrounded by soothing sights and sounds can be equally beneficial, and bring balance to the barrage of sensory stimulation often coming our way.
“Most of us suffer from sensory overload, the result of constant bombardment from television,
radio, computers, newspapers, magazines, books — you name it. Our commercial society
functions by stimulating our interest through the senses. We are constantly confronted with
bright colors, loud noises and dramatic sensations. We have been raised on every sort of sensory
indulgence; it is the main form of entertainment in our society.
The problem is that the senses, like untrained children, have their own will, which is largely
instinctual in nature. They tell the mind what to do. If we don’t discipline them, they dominate us
with their endless demands. We are so accustomed to ongoing sensory activity that we don’t
know how to keep our minds quiet; we have become hostages of the world of the senses and its
allurements. We run after what is appealing to the senses and forget the higher goals of life. For
this reason, pratyahara is probably the most important limb of yoga for people today.”
“The practice of Pratyahara is an education in the proper use of the senses. It requires and cultivates discipline, discrimination, memory, and courage: discipline to shift attention from sense objects; discrimination to assess the appropriate use of the senses and to understand the motives behind the compulsion to remain engaged in objects that catch the senses attention; memory to examine the benefits and liabilities resulting from the use, abuse, and overuse of the senses; and courage to temporarily give up indulging a particular sense in order serve the purpose of self – realization.”
Rev. Jaganath Carrerra, excerpted from Inside the Yoga Sutras
I have learned a lot by working with control of my senses. I have noticed, for example, that when I get distracted by something enticing, I can dwell on it and develop a desire for it, or I can refocus my attention on my intended activity. Many times, when I simply redirect my attention, no desire develops. There is no repression if I consciously focus on that which is more important to me – usually, the distraction just drops away.