Pratyahara, what is it?  What does it mean?  Pratyahara is learning to disengage from the environment around us and from the noise within us.  The original concept was that as we sense an object be it through sight, sound, taste, smell, touch or even just thinking about an object; that as we do this we create a connection, a tendril or tentacle of attachment between ourselves and the object.  Pratyahara is the act of controlling those tendrils and of withdrawing them.  In other words, pratyahara is metaphysical form of keeping our hands to ourselves.

It is easy to not see or taste things but what about hearing, smelling and touching?  How can one stop touching the earth or the chair or one’s clothing?  How can one stop hearing the sound of birds or the laughter of children or the sound of one’s own breath and heartbeat?  How does one not smell dinner cooking, the flowers on the table or the scent of one’s clothing?  Even more difficult yet, how does one stop thinking about all the many things that must be done before the day ends?

I find it easiest to sit comfortably and focus on my breath long enough for 24 inhalations.  This slows my body and mind down and then I begin detaching myself from my senses.  I do not stop hearing nor touching but the sensation of sitting fades and the sounds around me flow through me.  It is the same with my thoughts, like a monkey it darts here and there thinking about what I had for breakfast or what the weather will be.  The moment I notice that I am thinking on something, I acknowledge it and let it go.  If it is a good thought, something I want to remember or accomplish, then I say That is a good thought, and let it drift off to find some corner of my mind where it can live.  If the thought is unpleasant or one I do not wish to keep, then I say That is also a thought but it is not mine.  Sometimes these thoughts also drift away and find a place to live in my mind but most often they simply drift away and are forgotten.

Another way to look at pratyahara:  Our minds are full of thoughts that are constantly in motion.  Some of those thoughts are about the apple I am eating, others are about my mother’s eye surgery and still others are about the days and weeks ahead of me.  These thoughts and many others float around like the little dust motes one can see in a ray of sunshine.  If one blows through these motes, they dance through the air very fast but left undisturbed, the motes drift slowly, almost lazily through the air.  As one stops paying attention to the thoughts and senses floating through one’s mind, these thoughts, these dust motes of the mind, slow and a gentle stillness settles over everything.

Today is a meditation day, take the time to let the dust in your mind settle.