Today I am running 15 minutes late. In fact, I have been running 15 minutes late for everything all day! I could cry, moan, and complain about this. I could even express to you that I don’t know why this happened, and explain why it is not my fault. However, that would be intellectually dishonest. I know exactly what happened and I most certainly did have a choice in the matter, even if I did not realize it at the time.
I was getting ready to go to the gym, as I do three days a week. Before heading out, I sat down at my computer to drink my lemon water and take a peek at my schedule for the day ahead.
“You know what you should do?” said a little voice in my head.
“Hurry up and get to the gym?” I mentally responded.
“No, silly!” the voice continued. “Remember that thing you wanted to look up on Amazon yesterday but forgot? You should totally do that.”
“I should?” was my innocent reply. “Couldn’t I just do that later? I really need to get to the gym. I have a busy day ahead of me.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine!” the voice reassured me. “You’re here at your computer anyways. It will only take a minute.”
15 minutes later….
Focus: the ability to—SQUIREL!
Focus. We all want it, few of us have it, and many of us are trying to achieve it through caffeine, mindfulness, and Silicon Valley life-hacks. Humans have always had difficulty focusing. If we hadn’t, Patanjali would have never need written the Yoga Sutras, the ancient text that is the basis for our modern yoga practice with the ultimate aim of “stilling the fluctuations of the mind.” Between globalization, technological advancements, the rise of social media, the threat of nuclear war, and the impact of global climate change, human beings’ lives are more complicated than ever. With gadgets literally hanging out of our ears, it is no wonder we are distracted!
As surrounded by distractions as we are, all too often we are our own greatest obstacle to being able to focus. Like my decision to scroll through Amazon this morning instead of glancing at my calendar and getting on with my day as I’d originally intended, we make choices. We choose to stay up late watching YouTube videos instead of going to bed on time. We choose to respond to our work emails from home even though there is no reason said emails can’t wait until tomorrow. We choose to use daily stimulants such as sugar and caffeine so that we can keep puttering along longer.
There are many reasons why one might choose distraction over focus: boredom, loneliness, disassociation, work-a-holism, and the desire to numb-out to name a few. It is not only the external world we seek to escape. All of these things are also ways we seek to further our disconnection from our True Self. As Marianne Williamson so famously said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
The mental sheath of our energy body.
Manomaya kosha is the third of the five koshas. It is the “mental sheath” of our energetic anatomy. Sometimes called the “monkey mind”, manomaya kosha refers to the thinking brain. It is similar to a computer. It takes in and puts out information, but is not really capable of any sort of creative thought. Most of the thinking done at this level is informed by and reacts to memories and sensory input.
Of all the koshas, this one seems to get a bit of a bad rep. Manomaya kosha has an extremely important function to play. It is said that manomaya kosha is where we separate from Source, one another, and our True Self. Maybe so, but we can express this kosha mindfully or mindlessly. Manomaya kosha allows us to do things we so often take for granted: pay our bills on time, go for a walk without getting lost, and complete our normal daily tasks to name a few!
The caring and keeping of manomaya kosha.
We do not have to be at the effect of undisciplined manomaya kosha. Yoga practices such as pratyahara and seva can help us cultivate health in this kosha. Pratyahara means “sense withdrawal”. This may include things simple things like closing our eyes and plugging our ears for a minute or two in the middle of a busy work day. It could also involve more elaborate practices such as taking a vow of silence for a set amount of time. Seva means “service”. Serving others allows us to get out of our own heads by focusing on others and their well-being.
Dyana is meditation from the Yoga Sutras perspective. It is a state of pure consciousness. This practice is actually not a practice that would benefit manomaya kosha. When working with manomaya kosha, we want to give it something to do! Helpful meditation practices for manomaya kosha include mindfulness and mantra mediation. In mindfulness meditation we can focus on an anchor, such as the breath. The word mantra actually means “mind-training”. Repeating prayers or the name of a deity with the aid of mala or rosary beads are very beneficial practices for nurturing manomaya kosha.
Our thinking minds are invaluable tools. Like any good tool, we have to learn how to use them properly. Powerful tools usually come with a user’s manual. Our minds have instruction books as well. Great sacred texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Koran, the Tao te Ching…. These books teach us how to use our minds properly so that we might realize our True Self…. Or, at the very least, be good humans who can use computers without finding themselves in a time-warp brought to us by Amazon!