89 Chapters
Medium 9781609947972


Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781609947972

Six: The Fifth Limb: Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The world within and the world without are
two entirely separate realities.
The external world dissipates energy,
but the internal world showers blessings
that fill the vacuum created by the world

Swami Rama


In the meditation hall, where hundreds of people sit in reflective silence, a woman begins to cry. The soft gulps of emotion soon escalate into deep, piercing sobs. The room begins to vibrate with bright tension as the outburst diverts others from their inward journeys, an unwitting and unwilling audience to the woman’s sensational drama. After a few moments, the person assigned to “hold space” for those meditating quietly but firmly says, “Please. Be quiet.”

Almost immediately, she is, and the room melts into silence.

Pratyahara combines the Sanskrit words prati, meaning against or away, and ahara, translated as food. This is a practice for gaining mastery over your senses and helps to develop the peaceful mind needed to achieve a deep, meditative state. Like the physical postures and breathing (asana and pranayama), it is a stepping stone. Many masters say that pratyahara is the most neglected limb of yoga, and yet it cannot be skipped on the way to meditation (dhyana) and absorption (samadhi). In the Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says pratyahara is when “our senses stop living off the things that stimulate.” In Western society, it is a particularly challenging practice, since our environment has evolved into a state of perpetual sensory overload. David Frawley, founding director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies, says, “Pratyahara is the key between the outer and inner aspects of yoga. It shows us how to move from one to the other.”

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Medium 9780253000958


Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Hope caught me by surprise a couple of weeks ago, when the last snow of winter hit town on the first day of spring. It was a heavy, slashing snow, stinging the skin, driven by a north wind. Because the temperature was near freezing, the flakes clung to everything. A white streak balanced on telephone wires, on clotheslines, on every branch and twig and bud. Many buds had already cracked open after a spell of warm days, so we fretted over the reckless early flowers and eager trees. By noon, snow piled a foot deep, and more kept falling. The few drivers who ventured out usually wound up spinning their wheels in drifts. Soon even the four-wheelers gave up and the city trucks quit plowing and the streets were abandoned to the storm.

I made the first blemish on our street by going out at dusk for a walk. The light was the color of peaches, as if the sky were saturated with juice. The clinging snow draped every bush with a lacy cloak. Even fire hydrants and cars looked rakish in their gleaming mantles. I peeled back my parka hood to uncover my ears, and heard only the muffled crunching of my boots. Now and again a siren wailed, a limb creaked, or wind sizzled through the needles of a pine, but otherwise the city was eerily silent, as though following an evacuation. In an hour I met only three other walkers, each one huddled and aloof. The weight of snow snapped branches and toppled trees onto power lines, leaving our neighborhood without electricity. As I shuffled past the dark houses, beneath unlit street lamps, through blocks where nothing moved except the wind, my mood swung from elation toward dismay. The snow began to seem a frozen burden, like a premonition of glaciers, bearing down from the heedless, peach-colored sky. The world had been radiantly simplified, but at the price of smothering our handiwork and maiming trees and driving warm-blooded creatures into hiding.

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Medium 9780253000958

Honoring the Ordinary

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

For years, I could ignore the charges raised against the memoir, just as I could ignore the charges raised against burglary, because I had no intention of committing either offense. But then the circumstances of my life and the sad state of my country prompted me to write a book called A Private History of Awe, which I thought of as an extended essay about my lifelong spiritual search, but which my editor informed me was, indeed, a memoir. When the book was published in 2006, it bore that label on the jacket for all to see. And so, having joined the suspect company of memoirists, I began to take a personal interest in the accusations leveled against this literary form.

The most common accusations often appear in the guise of two blunt questions: How could you write a whole book about yourself? And how much of it did you make up? The questioners assume that a memoir must be an exercise in narcissism, and that it is likely to be dishonest to boot. One can easily find published examples that would justify either suspicion. There has never been a shortage of egotists or frauds, so it’s no wonder that some of them compose and peddle books. Although these two human failings often go together, for the sake of clarity I’m going to separate them, speaking first about the dangers of deceit and then about the dangers of narcissism.

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Medium 9781609949198

4 The Path of Stone

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I mentioned that on the night of the great storm I found
safe passage on a formation of stone—one of many times
that stone has supported, taught, or saved me.

Taught? you might wonder. Stone teaches?


Every stone we observe has been on the earth for ages.
Should we be surprised if they possess wisdom
that we do not?

In the months and years I was separated from my people,
wisdom was at my feet all the while.

The stones that met my every step—
those silent patriarchs from years past—
they made wisdom my foundation.
Or at least offered to do so.

To become wise, I had to learn to hear their silence.

Initially, I heard stone only when I turned to it
for help—as when I needed to cross a stream
or when I desired to shape a tool.

But even when I have ignored it, stone has always
offered itself to me and supported my every step.

What has stone offered?

In a word:


Why peace?

Because amid turmoil, such as during the great storm,
stone has offered me safe passage.

When the earth has seemed to be shifting around me,
stone has been my sure foundation.

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