Meditate to Control Sensation and Thought
By: Shadoe McKee
Regardless of what schools you study or disciplines you follow, most meditation practices include a need to control or shut down or move beyond the senses in some way. Why is that? What exactly are the senses we are overcoming? What exactly are the senses and why do they always seem unreliable and in the way?
Our senses are what keep our mind and thoughts connected to the external world we physically function in. Constant input from the senses is what keeps us grounded in the physical world and our concentration and focus remains there so long as the senses are tuned in and being used. When we use our senses we devote a larger portion of our brain to processing that information. Our senses keep us in an alert state of mind. They are vital to proper functioning in the world we find ourselves in and for the practice of Mindfulness and developing a healthy awareness of our environment. We cannot enter a different state of consciousness if they are fully active.
In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the fifth limb is Pratyahara, control of the senses. A more specific meaning is: a drawing back or retreating from that which nourishes the senses. To enter a state of meditation, we need to sever the link between the senses and the mind. Basically, we train our brains to shut off the receiving of information from external sources. By restraining external distractions, we can focus our vital forces internally to connect to the source within.
Most people develop this skill pretty early in their meditation practice. Once you learn to absorb the mind into the object of the meditation, it occurs almost automatically. Because the mind is so focused, the senses just fade away. It isn’t necessary to make an effort to close off sense reception.
When we are awake and alert moving through our everyday physical activity, we are slaves to our senses. The mind processes sensations through the ego, which in turn uses them to develop all sorts of cravings, aversions, and make up all kinds of thoughts and stories based on emotion and distorted memories. All our emotional imbalances and mental illnesses can be attributed to this flawed process. We are held hostage by this system, filtering all our experiences through it, which is why many disciplines have been developed to teach control over it. Because of this weird anomaly, we can never achieve inner peace and tranquility while it is active. Patanjali, the creator of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, says this process is at the root of human unhappiness and discomfort.
In the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, one should practice a state of Sati, or mindfulness, to learn to exert control over this marriage of sensation and thought generation. There is also Sankappa, which is having the right attitude and thoughts about things and getting control over your thought process. Another step in the Eightfold Path is Samadhi, or concentration, which is practicing focus and avoiding distraction and allowing full absorption into your meditation practice.
The very act of meditating will bring insight on this idea, but meditating on the relationship between mind and senses can really unmask some personal mysteries. Use it to stop and look at the process within your own mind and move closer to understanding the nature of happiness and unhappiness.
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