In all our Yoga practices we need to pay attention. We are aware of the stretch, the torsion, the weight of every part of our body; we notice our breath, shallow, deep or balanced; we pay attention to the movements of our mind, the impatience, boredom or surrender that come up when holding an asana. Without focusing on what we are doing our Yoga practice is weak and our mind runs away in every direction making our task very difficult. Intention and focusing give strength to body and mind and bring them to life. A Zen student once asked his teacher what was the highest truth and he replied: “Attention!” Not understanding he asked again and the master replied: “Attention! Attention!” And again the baffled student asked a third time and the master replied: “Attention! Attention! AT-TEN-TION!”
Paying attention is putting your focus on one thing at the time, to the exclusion of all other things. In paying attention we want to give the best of ourselves and become most efficient which is impossible when our attention is scattered. So much for multitasking! In Yoga we learn that wherever we put our mind, our focus, that is where the prana goes so if we don’t pay attention to something that thing loses its power and basically ceases to exist, at least in our awareness.
From the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep there are countless opportunities to practice attention (brushing our teeth, eating breakfast, listening to our spouse or co-workers, etc…) Every activity, every word, every sight is an opportunity to bring to life the subject of our attention but also to bring ourselves to life by becoming more alive and engaged. In this manner the mountain becomes A MOUNTAIN, as the saying goes.
If this miracle of bringing to life a mountain, a flower, a sound… is possible, what happens when the object of our attention is another human being? Many times we shy away from looking at someone, not acknowledging that they are there, that they exist. It is like negating their existence: “I don’t look at you, you don’t exist for me”. We do that perhaps with undesirable people or anyone we dislike. In spiritual communities also it is easy to get so wrapped up in our practice, the mantra repetition, the service to the guru or just the busy running of the community that we forget to pay attention to the people around us, as if they infringed on our spiritual work. We avoid contact by not looking at them directly, ignoring them, unaware of what they might be saying. Perhaps they are insecure, needing reassurance and human connection or perhaps they are happy wanting to share their joy. Many times we put our busy schedule ahead of others and we make a difference between our agenda and the people out there. But our agenda IS the people out there, and not just some people to the exclusion of others. Karma Yoga is the perfect practice to remove this confusion as it continuously reminds us of unconditional availability and service.
When the obstacle of separation sticks its ugly face can we stop for a moment and decide to be generous with our attention. Putting our focus on the person in front of us by listening, by looking at them directly gives them life and empowers them. We all have the ability to give power so we are all potentially mighty gods and goddesses creating continuously our own reality and that of others. The net of Indra reminds us of our interconnection. We are not separated, forgotten or excluded from the universe. One small touch on the diamond-studded net makes shiny ripples ad infinitum.
What are we avoiding when we ignore the people around us? Becoming too engaged? Afraid of demands we cannot meet? Jealous of our little intimate world? Covering our self-preoccupation by appearing shy? Being too lazy to make the effort to interact? Give it some thought and see what little demons lurk behind our aloofness. These are all wonderful opportunities to know ourselves better and engage fully in life, our goals as yogis. Then experiment by waking up, see what is in front of you and… smile! And if smiling is too difficult think about the health benefits that derive from smiling and laughing. Remember, laughing is no joke.
The Buddha was once asked: “Are you a God?” No, he replied. “Are you an avatar?” No, he replied again. “So what are you?” And he said: “I am awake!” On our spiritual path everything is an opportunity to be aware and become awakened. In an instant of total involvement with what is in front of us a flash of lightning can pierce through the confusion and the perception of the world changes for ever. Then the mountain is not the same mountain and my neighbor is not the same neighbor. Everything takes on a sacred outlook and the land where we stand becomes the pure lotus land and all these bodies, the bodies of Buddha.