What do you pay attention to? And, what do you give attention to? – two distinct questions. What does not get your attention? Furthermore, if you were to guess, what percentage of your day has no true attention applied to it? – it is being lived habitually.
Meditation requires sustained attention that is withdrawn from the appetites of the body and from the reactivity of the emotions and the personal mind. This is possible through developing an interest (paying attention to) in what is going on inside oneself. This is the beginning of mindfulness as taught by both Patanjali and the Buddha, the two world teachers who fostered meditation as the way to liberation.
Before we go forward with the Steps of The Practice, let’s review. One might as ask, “Why focus? Why the tip of the nose?” For several reasons:
- It is readily available.
- Breath comes and goes through it.
- It is near the eyes and elicits an automatic response from the inner eye and the ability to focus the inner light.
- The nose also is a perfect example of the relation of the vast to the small. Air – the source of breath – is vast. Each breath comes from the whole world. The tip of the nose and one single person breathing is small by comparison. Yet with every in-breath, one breathes the world in and with every out-breath one adds one’s essence to the world.
Interest becomes focus. Focus becomes attention. Attention rightly directed withdraws from worldly concerns and distractions and, instead, pays attention to the subtle: the universe within. This is a cultivated abstraction purposefully engaged because human beings are habituated to outer stimuli thus outer-focused reality receives far more attention than inner-focused reality. As a result, we are out of balance. Or, as in Plato’s cave analogy, we are facing the back of the cave thinking there is nowhere to go when we simply need to turn around and walk out into the light.
Patanjali called this training pratyahara. It is the fifth means to yoga in the Raja Yoga system of union. Buddha Shakyamuni referred to this phase of training as the first step in mindfulness. Ultimately mindfulness is how Buddha achieved supreme enlightenment. Patanjali states that withdrawal is necessary for right attention to ripen into concentration. Right concentration then ripens into meditation. The Practice of Living Awareness does all this and adds a smile to elicit the lightness of being so that that lightness is immediately discovered too.