Ramesh Meditates in the Hay Loft

Fifth Limb of Yoga

Pratyahara, Sense Withdrawal

The story begins with me, the young monk, doing what I could to achieve ‘enlightenment’. Of course I wanted to achieve it tomorrow or even sooner… I would have long discussions with my teacher on many aspects of yoga and he would say to me,
“My son, be patient, you have to take one step at a time, you cannot understand 'this' before you have fully comprehended 'that'.” He would often close our conversations with that statement. Sometimes progress felt very slow. I would sit in meditation and I would hear the birds singing and people working and my mind would be on them. I would want to be out in the fresh air, walking amongst the trees or chatting with friends and exchanging gossip. Sometimes it was very hard to drag my mind away from all the distractions and if I tried to meditate with my eyes open, that would put an end to my meditations. There would always be something that my eyes would alight upon to remind me of the work I had not yet finished or a person who I urgently needed to see.

As an answer to such problems my teacher told me this. "To achieve ‘one pointed attention’ first we must take ourselves to a place where we will not be disturbed, or if this is impossible then we must gain the co-operation of our family members so that they know when not to disturb us. Then we must make ourselves comfortable. It is difficult to meditate if pain or pressure distracts the mind. Then having withdrawn from the sense of touch by arranging the body in a good position, we must close the eyes. It takes a lot of training to meditate with eyes open. The sense of sight is so alluring it will take the mind on a journey very readily. Then we need to observe any sounds we hear, recognise them and ignore them, thus cutting off the sense of hearing. The survival instinct will immediately bring one out of reverie or meditation if something happens which requires us to move for our own safety's sake. Finally having withdrawn most of the senses we have to hope that nobody decides to start cooking the dinner so that the sense of smell and the memory of taste are stimulated! Thus if we withdraw our senses we are not distracted from our purpose and we can proceed with the process of concentration and on to meditation."

I always tried to follow my guru’s advice, so would meditate in the hayloft where no one would find me and where my body was comfortable. I could close my eyes knowing no people or animals would approach me. No cooking would be going on in the stable, so I was free from the tantalising aromas of food to make my stomach rumble and my mouth water! The only drawback was that I would occasionally fall asleep in the hay and my family would accuse me of being lazy…