Attention: Don’t Miss it

Day two of the meditation course had us doing regular guided mindfulness type stuff, noticing where your body meets the chair, listening for whatever sounds there are, feeling your breath and the temperature and I was really into it. I connected it back with that idea that investing your attention in the present makes you feel good. So I’m all bought in, right?

Then today, when I was doing my 10 rounds of Sun Sal’s, I realized that while I can better connect the timing of one breath and one movement when I’m practicing on my own (and not on another teacher’s timing) but I’m not fully moving with that breath, I’m usually slightly ahead, so it’s more like I raise my arms in low lunge for the first two seconds of the breath, then hold (and maybe expand or life a little, I’m not completely failing) for the rest of the inhale. The thing is, I complete the movement in however long it takes to do it, then I wait for the breath to finish so I can move onto the next movement.

This anticipatory thing is a lot worse than not using the whole breath for the movement, because it means I’m not even paying attention to my body where it is. Although, rushing also means that I’m not being intentional about it. In any case, I caught this early on and tried to remedy it. I tried to lift my leg slowly enough that it took the whole inhale, then step through slowly enough that it took the whole exhale (and if you’ve tried this, you know that it is a whole entire practice in itself to exhale completely and push all the air out while you’re also moving, the inhales are easier).

So why is this so bad? Basically everyone does it, seriously. Everyone rushes the movement then waits for the breath to be over and is meanwhile anticipating their next move and sometimes even making the next move before the teacher says it and ahead of their breath. I was always trying to get my students (and now myself) to connect breath and movement because it’s important, but now I see the connection of attention and intention and happiness and distraction and unhappiness.

I found that study that I mentioned yesterday that they mentioned in the meditation course about the volunteers who were rarely paying attention to their task at hand, and even when their minds were wandering to positive thoughts, they also self reported being unhappy during those times, and happiest when they were fully engaged in what they were doing. Here’s a write-up of it, it was a Harvard study. The official scientific report of their evidence is by subscription only but the article from the Harvard Gazette gives you the most relevant info. They found folks were happiest while making love, exercising, or having a conversation (wow not surprising) but that they were distracted on average 47% of the time, least of all during sex, but even then still 30%. Only 4.6% of a person’s happiness could be attributed to the actual activity they were doing, but 10% was whether they were paying attention. Super interesting stuff.

So moving forward with chapter two of the Sutras, we come to the five afflictions that disturb your consciousness (this is 2.3, right where we left off), which are ignorance, ego, pride, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, and fear of death.

First up is avidya, ignorance or lack of wisdom.

2.4 lack of wisdom is the source of all pains and sorrows, whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted, or fully active.

2.5 Mistaking the transient for the permanent, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure, and that which is not the self for the self: all of this is called lack of spiritual knowledge, or avidya.

Avidya is “a basic ignorance of who we are and the underlying reality that connects everything in the universe.” Says Sally Kempton in this very relatable article about avidya, or at least it was relatable to me since I’ve been struggling with my identity all year. One of my favorite ideas about yoga is the concept that you are made atoms of carbon, protons and electrons, and so is every other person and creature and tree, it’s that wonderful we are all the same idea. I can tell you, when you’re practicing tapas super intense, you might even get a cool pratyahara vision and be able to see everyone being all the same. This concept is also the root of namaste, the deepest part of me sees and honors the deepest part of you and acknowledges that we are one.

I realized today that while I didn’t have this concept of writing on the yoga adventure every day when I started, it’s not only become imperative that I sort out my thoughts but also my favorite part of the day. It’s been so exciting and and such a relief to be studying and practicing and I’m already happier. I’ve been working on different stuff all day and I was so distracted in anticipation of writing this and devoting at least a little time to study that I had to stop everything else and do this. Super grateful to be here, glad to have you with me.

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