One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is pratyahara, the drawing-in of the senses. When we practice pratyahara, we refuse to let our senses make our decisions for us. So often, our senses will identify something they like and want more of it. That pizza tastes good! I like watching this show! It’s comfortable to relax on the couch! and so we eat more pizza, we watch two more episodes of Doctor Who, and we curl up on the couch for four hours. The problem is not in any one of those things in themselves. It’s fine to eat pizza sometimes, and Doctor Who is probably my favorite show. The issue arises when I’m not making my decision for myself but rather letting my senses make the decision. Two or three slices of pizza is great, but I don’t need to eat the whole pie, and I don’t need to order another pizza tomorrow. When I let myself binge out on something, I’m not consciously making that decision but rather allowing my senses to overdose on things that I like. Practicing pratyahara means that maybe I have some pizza today, but not every day, and I have a side salad or maybe go jogging afterwards; it means that I watch one episode of Doctor Who, but then I get up off the couch and start my evening routine so I can be in bed on time and get a good night’s sleep. If I make decisions consciously, then I will be taking better care of myself.
Non-attachment goes hand in hand with pratyahara. When our senses get used to having their way all the time, they begin to crave the things they like. When I haven’t had any pizza for a few days, I start to feel it. I WANT pizza. If somebody in my office gets pizza for lunch, the smell wafts over and I get all jittery and want it so badly. If I let my senses be in charge, I’d be running for the elevator, walking down to my favorite pizza shop, and trying to justify it because after all I did get the veggie slice. Practicing non-attachment, though, allows me to separate myself from that craving. I take a minute and think, do I really need pizza today? The craving doesn’t run my life, I do not NEED a slice of pizza right now, and I have a perfectly good lunch in the fridge waiting for me.
When we practice non-attachment with the objects in our lives, we can still enjoy things, still go shopping, still have stuff, but all those things don’t run our lives. We’re able to clean out our closets and take the old clothes to Goodwill. We’re able to lend out our books without stressing out about when or if we’ll get them back. If a vase gets broken, oh well, there are plenty more vases. If your husband eats the ice cream you were saving for Saturday, it’s not a big deal. Any one of those things could be upsetting or frustrating, but if you’re practicing non-attachment, you can come at the situation more calmly, with a little bit of distance that allows you to see things more clearly. Your husband didn’t know you were saving that ice cream; whoever broke the vase feels terribly about it. Having a little distance allows you to choose how you’ll react, so that rather than just yelling, you can choose to treat the other person with kindness and make a bad situation better instead of worse.
What are some ways you know to take control of your senses, rather than letting them rule over you? How do you cultivate non-attachment in your daily life?
I think I go through phases of non-attachment. I get good at making good decisions, it becomes a good habit. Then, I fall off of the wagon, I eat my pizza (too much and not healthy), stop working out, feel stressed out, and get cranky and bitchy. This is usually during stressful periods. Its when I need to practice it the most. I think age is helping though, I can see myself getting less stressed about stuff in general. Pierre and I stood in a 2 hr line by accident at the airport because there was bad signage. I decided that the line was pretty interesting and I was in a new place, frustration was useless. Usually whatever we are upset about is done. I try not to walk backwards through life.
That makes a lot of sense. It is harder to practice non-attachment when we need it most – we fall back on our old bad habits because they’re easier and more familiar, maybe? I think I do better in the long-line scenario too, like for me yesterday I was stuck on a broken train for 40 minutes. In those situations, there’s really not anything you can do, so why get all mad and frustrated? Might as well make the best of it.
It’s the things I think I have some control over that I stress about, like settling into our house, which is going to take a long time and which I want to be done with. Because settling in is something that will only be achieved by hard work, I have this illusion that I can just do a lot of hard work right now and it’ll be done, but the reality is that these tasks take longer than we expect, and I have maybe two hours a day to spend on house stuff and that’s it. I’ll be a lot more content when I come to terms with that!