Desperately Seeking Solitude – the realisation
Recently I’ve been seeking solitude. My body is craving stillness and silence. The ‘real’ world feels too noisy and over stimulated, like a time-lapse hyper-speed Tokyo crossing. I want ‘out’. I just want to sit in peace preferably in nature and to be left alone. This realisation brings about a panic reaction that says sitting in solitude means I’ll be lonely, abandoned and isolated. My fear is that if I sit still I will be faced with my self, my thoughts and well, me – warts and all. It can be uncomfortable to sit with our thoughts. I recently told a friend my predicament and explained I needed to go on a silent retreat to practice hardcore vipassana meditation or to be led up a Himalayan mountain or else to the shores of a remote ocean in order to find peace. I needed an escape plan. She kindly pointed out that I could access my silent mountain anytime I needed, the peace I was seeking was inner peace, I just had to look inside. Damn it, she was right. My deliberate avoidance tactics were exposed, there was nowhere left to hide.
The Party is Over, Go Home
And so for the last few weeks my mind has exerted an extraordinary last-ditch effort to keep me stuck. It has been charging around like a sugar-fuelled five year old at a party screaming for attention. It’s tried everything from overeating dark chocolate ginger stem biscuits, hours scrolling Instagram and summer sale shopping for yoga clothes. But there comes a point in time when the adult voice takes control and tells the inner-child “it’s time to go home, the party is over”. Diversions just don’t work long-term they lead to unhealthy habits, addictions and leave a sticky residue of low self-esteem. There comes a time when you have to have courage to face the music. Awareness is a blessing and a curse, when you start to have awareness you can never go back to being blissfully ignorant!
Pratyahara. What is it? How do you do it?
So how do I fix it? I turn to yoga. I go in. Yoga is an ancient solution for modern problems. It seems to me that I’m being led kicking and screaming towards practising Pratyahara. Pratyahara means “gaining mastery over external influences”. The Bhagavad Gita (Ancient Hindu scripture) likens it to a turtle withdrawing into its shell. The shell is the mind and the limbs are the senses. So in basic terms it is sense withdrawal and the art of turning inward. It’s the fifth limb of yoga (there are eight in total). “Pratyahara is twofold. It involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions, and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions, and right associations. We cannot control our mental impressions without right diet and right relationships, but pratyahara’s primary importance lies in withdrawal from or control of sensory impressions, which frees the mind to move within.
By withdrawing our awareness from negative impressions, pratyahara strengthens the mind’s powers of immunity. Just as a healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind resists the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by the noise and turmoil of the environment around you, you need to practice pratyahara. Without it, you will not be able to meditate”.
So I went to see Sharon my Ayurvedic guru and she set me back on track with the right diet. Wrong impressions for me means limiting my exposure to negative things like watching the new Dunkirk movie or feeling despairing about the state of the world after watching the news. I also only surround myself with my positive tribe and limit time spent with negative people who don’t make me feel good or zap my positivity. I did watch a movie (I know it’s not exactly withdrawing from my visual senses?!) but it was pretty helpful. I watched “Minamilism” have you seen it? It’s a documentary about the important things. It’s fascinating. Here’s the trailer if you’re interested:
Thinking about having less stuff, prompted me to have a wardrobe clear out and give three bags to charity. Already I started to feel lighter.
I have begun doing more Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep following guided videos on YouTube as well as working through my favourite teacher Rod Stryker’s book “The Four Desires” which has a series of meditations to follow and use. I know I need to shut out the world for a while, which means limiting social media, saying no to social activities and protecting my “me-time” as precious and sacred so I’m taking small steps in the right direction. How do I stop the sweet craving and sugar addiction? I haven’t fixed it yet but I came across Rod Stryker’s “Departure Point” theory which is a powerful way to overcome my habit. In summary it’s based on the principle that by giving something up, you can create an opportunity for the universe to fill the resulting gap with something new, and specifically something you desire-your sankalpa.”
In this context, we can see the absence of a habit as space for the universe to fill with our sankalpa, as opposed to a strict suppression of a habit. In other words if I really want something, my sankalpa or intention might be to publish a book then every time I feel the urge to reach for a cookie to soothe my sweet craving I should focus my attention and my desire on achieving my intention or sankalpa. I redirect the energy elsewhere.
Julia Robert’s clinched it for me…
I’ve always felt a kindred connection to Julia Roberts, I love pretty much every film she’s ever been in. If anyone is going to play me in a movie, I’d like it to be Julia. Apparently pratyahara is Julia Robert’s favourite form of yoga! In an interview she explains it as” non-grasping, non-hoarding, non-clinging—in a spiritual sense and in a literal sense, like cleaning out your closet and letting go of things you know you’re not going to wear anymore.”
I’ll let you know how I get on with my reduced wardrobe of thoughts and stimulus. Namaste.