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In the middle of the last century, doctor turned writer W. Somerset Maugham published a work of fiction, a novel, about the spiritual journey of a World War I combat veteran, American Larry Darrell. Maugham uses a line from the Katha Upanishad to create the title for his work: "The razor’s sharp edge is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.“

Larry seeks knowledge about God, man, evil, salvation, and all the other questions that vie for a thinking man’s attention in this material world. Knowing that he must understand the mind before he can comprehend the spirit, he goes to a library and begins to read a marvelous book about psychology. So fascinating is the book that he cannot put it down; and he continues reading until he has finished it.

In an interview Maugham later gave, he identified the book as The Fundamentals of Psychology by Williams James, a text James had completed in 1890. And, indeed, the book is so fascinating that more than a century later, anyone can turn the pages and feel the allure it held for Larry Darrell. It supplied him with usable answers to the questions which all seekers of spiritual freedom ask. Why does a person act and react in given ways to the people, places, and things in his environment? How is it that a man feels joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain?

The explanations, however, solve only part of the problem; for then the seeker has to acquire power over the ‘why’ and the ‘how.’ Two distinct categories must be confronted: the psychological states of joy and sorrow, and the physical states of pleasure and pain. Most of Yoga’s disciplines deal with the psychology, ethics, attitudes, and methods of attaining higher states of consciousness. The physical states yield to the discipline of the Asanas, Pranayama, and, of course, the most difficult one of all and the one which is most misunderstood, Pratyahara.

The following modern version of an old zen story illustrates the difficulties:

Through his own drunken negligence, a man is severely injured in an accident. After endless encounters with surgeons and lawyers, he is released from the hospital, weak in body and frazzled in nerve.

His doctors advise him to retreat to a place of solitude where he can recover his mental and physical strength. One doctor gives him a book about Yoga and advises him to follow its guidance. Half-heartedly, the man agrees.

Being a man of more than average financial resource, he owns a cabin high in the mountains. His four-wheel drive vehicle, however, can only go so far up the mountain; and then the final mile must be climbed on foot. He cannot walk, drive, or wait upon himself, and so, he requires a servant, a strong man who can carry him from the car up the steep hill to the cabin. Since he is still in considerable pain and discomfort, the servant will also act as a nurse, a cook, a housekeeper; and he will also regularly go into town at the foot of the mountain to shop and pick up the mail.

For the convenience of purchasing pain medications and supplies - which include the tobacco and wine that he habitually uses, the man obtains a credit card in both his and his servant’s names, putting a reasonable limit on the credit line.

At first all goes well. The servant gives the bedridden man his medications, his food and personal care. He keeps the small cabin stove supplied with wood and the lamps with oil. The man is comfortable, but he is usually too drowsy to read.

The situation begins to worsen. The servant goes into town more frequently and stays longer each time. Some days and nights the man is left completely unattended. He has no telephone contact with the outside world and even his mail is subject to the censorship of his servant. When he complains to the servant about these absences and derelictions, the servant is at first apologetic; but then, as his absences increase and his care diminishes, he ignores the complaints or responds menacingly. He knows what the man only begins to realize - that their positions have reversed: the servant is now the master - and an uncaring one at that.

What can the man do? He cannot walk on his own... his muscles are too flaccid. To his chagrin he realizes that instead of reducing his dependency upon pain medication, as was the original plan, he has become, in his isolation and psychological distress, addicted to the opiates and to the alcohol that got him into trouble in the first place.

He has an additional fear. He no longer is permitted to see the mail and credit card bills. These invoices are routinely forwarded to a trustee who automatically pays them. What if the credit card limit was fraudulently raised? He might very well be ruined financially!

In his lucid moments he clearly sees the extent of all these ruinous possibilities. He could die or be killed and who would know?

One day his servant brings a week’s supply of groceries and a month’s supply of prescription pain pills. Then he leaves, saying that he’s going on vacation and won’t return for three weeks or maybe a month. The water in the cistern is dangerously low. He has not replenished the firewood or lamp oil, and the nights are getting colder. On the pantry shelves he has stocked canisters of tea, packages of dried vegetables and soup, some corn flakes and a few bags of rice. Nothing else - except a carton of cigarettes, a box of matches, and a single bottle of burgundy wine.

In this desperate state the man must make a crucial decision: either he regains control of his life or he accepts his inevitable destruction - which, he realizes, could be hastened by taking all of the pills at once - a possibility that perhaps has occurred to the servant. The man knows that if he decides to live, he will have to work harder than he has ever worked and he will have to be totally disciplined in his program for survival

He decides to live. He opens his Yoga book.

He has his Yamas and Niyamas. He will not complain to heaven or waste his time and energy in self-pity or in cursing the situation for what it is and is not. He will be reasonable in his appraisals of what he can accomplish. He will expect problems and anticipate solutions. Ultimately, he must gain the strength he requires either to descend the mountain himself or, in the event his servant returns, to feign continued weakness and then, while the servant sleeps, to escape by descending to the car and driving it himself to freedom.

He drags himself out of bed and crawls around the cabin taking inventory. He has 90 pain pills, 36 matches, a pint of lamp oil, and aside from a few Band-Aids and aspirin, no medical supplies.

He thinks constructively: there is an old rose bush outside the cabin. He can gather the rose-hips for the vitamin C they contain. He cannot drink the wine which, he knows, is bacteriostatic; for if he should fall and lacerate himself, he can bind a wine-soaked towel to the wound and it will likely heal without infection. For the sake of his health and, since he cannot waste matches lighting cigarettes, he will also cease smoking. He will free himself from his dependence on opiates, rationing his remaining pills by staying with 3 a day for the first week, then reducing to 2 a day for the second week, and then to 1 a day for the third week, keeping the rest for emergency use. He will be diligent and mindful. He will also ration his food and water. As soon as he is a little stronger, he’ll gather the rose-hips and, after that, as his strength permits, he’ll go to the nearby creek for water and to the wood’s edge where he’ll gather pine cones - to eat the nuts and burn the cones for fuel. Everything depends on everything else.

He has his Asanas. Immediately, he begins a regimen of isometric exercises to increase his muscular strength; and then begins his yoga stretches and quickly graduates to more active exercises. He begins to walk around the cabin, first with a cane for support; and then, when he is sufficiently steady on his feet to walk unassisted, he goes outside the cabin.

He has his Pranayama. He also immediately begins a prayer schedule, appealing to God for help to regain strength and to endure the pain, craving, and anxiety. He commences breathing exercises, mastering the breath not only to expel the toxins that have accumulated in the residual air deep in his lungs, but also to increase the supply of oxygen he needs to meet his increasing energy requirements.

He has his Pratyahara. Immediately, he determines that he will accommodate and appreciate all sensory differences. He knows that if little things have the power to annoy or discomfit him, he will lack the “can-do” attitude necessary to conquer the difficult challenges. He is resolute in his need to maintain the winning attitude of self-empowerment.

Though he has tea, he has no cream or sugar; but especially in the chilled air, he finds the hot tangy drink refreshing. With so little firewood, he maximizes it by cooking mostly at night when the air is particularly cold. He puts water on his cereal and discovers the pure flavor of corn flakes. He has dried vegetables which he hydrates and eats without seasoning and with minimal cooking. These and the pine nuts he toasts on the stove he consumes with pleasure. He goes to the creek to bathe in the cold running water and rejoices that he has the strength to walk to the creek and perform his ablutions. Since even the daily temperature is dropping rapidly, he concentrates fiercely on the Yoga of the Psychic Heat, and warms himself with this sensory control He uses similar pratyahara techniques to eliminate hunger, pain, and fatigue, and to create comforts. He adheres to his program as if his life depends upon it, which, of course, it does.

Through his economy, efficiency, self-discipline, and positive attitude, he has taken control of his mind, body, and spirit. By the end of the month he is strong and independent.

While gathering pine cones, he sees his car beginning to ascend the mountain; and he quickly prepares to escape that evening. He feigns weakness, and his servant, drunk and surprised to see him still alive, soon falls asleep. The man then takes the car keys, slowly makes his way down the steep hill to the car, and drives away, free. Now he can return to the world to complete his devotional practice.

And this is what can be accomplished by the diligent person who not only desires salvation but is willing to work for it. When positive steps are taken to vanquish the tyrannical senses, any environment can be conquered. Using the power of the mind any person can enjoy the tart or imagine the sweet; rejoice in the cold or create heat. Happiness and comfort are no longer dependent upon environmental conditions.

This, and not the nebulous instruction to “withdraw the senses” found in popular literature, is Pratyahara.

This is the state that is required before a seeker can master Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Only the independent may make an assault upon the summit.

The Problems of Pratyahara

Compared to the psychological alterations that need to be made, the physical senses seem so much more malleable for the seeker’s mental tools to reshape. According to the tattvas, however, “conscious thought” is, itself, a conditioned principle of existence; and when the seeker recalls this, he quickly becomes wary of this daunting task. He not only needs to operate the controls, he has to control the operator.

He requires the acknowledged presence of the Self’s “in-spirit” or inspiration to motivate his willpower. Just as he must be in control of his response to a quality, of his ability to acknowledge or ignore, to conjure or dispel, to be indifferent to beautiful and ugly; to sweet and sour; to hot and cold; to rough and smooth, to fragrant and noisome; to consonant and dissonant; and so on; so too, must he gain the control to say “Not this! Not this!” when recognizing his small-mind’s judgmental assertions, and then to pray for the indulgence of his Big-Mind. Pratyahara is not easy.

A Look at the Sensory System

As we will see in the pathway of spiritual energy taken in the Chakra system, the brain and spinal cord constitute the Central Nervous System and all of the sensory and motor nerves constitute the Peripheral Nervous System. Afferent sensory nerves deliver signals to the brain whereupon they are evaluated and a proper response formed. Efferent sensory nerves deliver the command to act and react to the muscles.

The vertebral spine consists of 33 bones, divided into five groups.

The first 7 bones at the top of the spinal column are the cervical which support the head.

The next 12 are the thoracic which are the backbones of the chest.

The next 5 are the lumbar at the waist. These are the largest vertebrae in the spinal column. They support most of the body’s weight and are attached to many of the back’s muscles.

The sacrum, a triangular bone located just below the lumbar vertebrae, is actually the fusion of 4 or 5 childhood bones that grow together when a person reaches about 25 years of age. It forms the back of the pelvic girdle.

The coccyx consists of 3 to 5 bones which also fuse together in adulthood to form a single “tailbone.” Many muscles also connect to the coccyx.

The spinal cord does not run the full length of the spinal column. In fact, it is only about 2/3rds the length of the vertebral spine, terminating at the last lumbar vertebra at the lower point of the waist. It will be there, at the Manipura Chakra, that the powerful currents of the Vajra and Chitrini conduits originate.

At this last lumbar vertebra, the cord becomes the Cauda equina, or "Horse’s Tail," an apt description of the skein of nerves that provide motor and sensory function to the legs and the bladder.

The cord, which originates at the base of the brain’s medulla oblongata, receives the afferent signals from the senses and delivers them to the brain. It also dispatches the efferent “motor” signals from the brain to the muscles. The Sympathetic and the Parasympathetic nervous systems, which we have discussed in the Pranayama section, also communicate with the brain through the spinal cord.

How, then, does a practitioner get control of his senses: How does he acquire the power to eliminate the smells, sights, sounds, tastes and textures of his environment? How, also, does he create the fragrance of gardenias when there are no gardenias in his vicinity or feel cool when the temperature rises to unbearable heights?

The Yamas and Niyamas help the seeker to conquer the ethical challenges; but Asana, Pranayama, and Pratayahara are the steps that deliver him from sensory enslavement.

The Tattvas

Before giving specific practices needed to acquire indifference to environmental conditions, it is helpful to review the tattva system.

According to the list of 36 Tattvas, those which deal with sensory experience are the afferent signals received as the Buddhindriyas or Jnanendriyas #17 through #21 - hearing; feeling by touch; seeing; tasting; and smelling. What these senses transmit is their contact with the Tanmatras #22 through #26 - sound as such; feel as such (tactile); color as such (light); flavor as such; and odor as such.

Efferent motor signals are the Karmendriyas #27 through #31 - voicing or expressing; handling; locomotion; digesting and eliminating; and resting. The environment in which this activity occurs are the Bhutas #32 through #36 - space (ethereality); air; fire (formativity); water (liquidity; and earth (solidity).

Using the mental factors of #14 Buddhi (roughly intelligence and judgment); #15 Ahamkara (ego consciousness); and #16 Manas (the mind, including the personal unconscious, and the mind’s capacity to will and to envision) by which the various qualities are perceived and processed.

The Tattvas are, of course, an ancient approximation of how human beings respond to their environment. These principles have constantly been updated as science has acquired more insight into the world’s various phenomena and the brain that perceives them.

It does not matter how accurate the model is - not for the ancients, or for Larry Darrell, or for any other seeker. The model serves its purpose when it turns the individual’s attention in upon himself and enables him to free himself from the enslavements of desire, aversion, and preference.

Ultimately, control of sensory stimulus and response requires that a person be able to disrupt afferent signals, to derail the information received from the source - the sound as such, the color or light as such, the flavor as such, and so on, and not permit it to travel to the mind for processing. The person obliterates, as it were, the sound, sight, smell, touch, taste or even the awareness of “I” or “me” in any “small mind” judgment of the stimulus.

Not only must he condition himself not to hear a sound that he does not want to hear, or see a sight that he does not want to see, but he must also be able to reproduce that sound when he wishes to hear it even though he sits in ambient silence or to reproduce that sight though he sits in darkness.

A hint of the power to accomplish this is found the in phenomenon of “habituation.” When a sound is repeated often enough, its ability to arouse a sensory response diminishes. People who are exposed to a persistent sound cease to notice it; but someone who enters the environment for the first time is often appalled by it. He is disturbed by the grandfather clock’s loud ticking and chiming the hour all night, or the trucks on a nearby highway, or the cawing crows in the trees, or jungle sounds in the tropics, or planes and trains, or the music from a neighborhood bar and dance hall.

A regularly repeated pratyahara practice has an effect akin to habituation. The practitioner makes a concerted effort either to obliterate an ambient stimulus or to recreate an absent one.

There is an additional but significant difference. If the practitioner meditates on the sound of a ticking clock, for example, he does not necessarily habituate to the sound, in fact, he may continue to hear it in a near subliminal way. He is aware of the ticking even though he is talking on the phone or listening to music. If the ticking stops, he notices the cessation immediately.

It cannot be said often enough: it is always better to start small and to build upon small successes than it is to attempt a complicated program and fail. Most practitioners who attempt difficult techniques before they have mastered the fundamentals often blame the technique and then fall into the same trap by selecting another technique of equal difficulty.

Diminished volition, that mysterious loss of willpower, is a condition often encountered in Zen. The practitioner goes to bed at night filled with enthusiasm for the wonderful new regimen he will begin in the morning. But morning finds that his resolve went to sleep with him the night before and it has no intention of awakening. He had imagined the ease with which he would accomplish his preparation for the meditation practice: the ablutions; the dressing; the silencing of phones; the tea pot filled and ready. If he planned to do yoga or tai ji quan before he meditated, he would open his mat and maybe insert an instructional DVD into the TV. He would have his candles and incense and matches ready; and he would select soft zen music, a Japanese flute perhaps, or a sitar, to put on the stereo. In the morning, when confronted by all this activity, he immediately regards it as he would regard an unrewarding and unnecessary chore. He excuses himself from volunteering to perform it. Perhaps tomorrow...

He would be better off to awaken, put his feet on the floor, and sitting on the edge of his bed, to do five cycles of the Healing Breath - then prepare himself to go to work. If he can achieve the discipline of this much, he will notice that the deep breathing has had a salubrious effect upon him. There will be no drudgery associated with his practice.

The following week he can follow the Healing Breath by attempting the Suryanamaskar (the sun salute) - right there in his bedroom. Of course he will be stiff and he’ll creak and groan through the exercise. But however awkwardly he does it, it can be done quickly; and in a week or so he can accomplish it with grace. He likes the new flexibility he feels. Between the oxygen intake, the expulsion of the dead residual air, the stretching during the Suryanamaskar and the endorphin release which the stretching provides, he has set a good foundation for his practice. He can accomplish his little routine eagerly and with appreciation; and having accomplished this, he is ready to add another segment... but only one more... until he performs it efficiently and comfortably, and derives a noticeable benefit from his efforts.

When he truly appreciates each increasing phase of his program, he has allotted a half hour or so of his morning to himself and his spiritual development. He may want more... and it is then, when he expands his routine to a thoroughly beneficial hour, that he discovers that he is living like a monk. Spirituality imbues his entire day. He has become an independent man.

Pratyahara precedes the three stages of meditation: concentration; meditation; and samadhi, yet many of the techniques involved in pratyahara require deep states of concentration. Since most of the techniques associated with concentration are slightly different and involve more spiritually oriented or internalized techniques, the acquisition of pratyahara mastery in no way interferes with Dharana but in fact facilitates it.

Specific Practices

Pratyahara is sensory combat and, as such, cannot be approached in any cowardly fashion. The need to fight has to be understood. The willingness to fight has to be unquestioned. The training necessary to succeed has to be undertaken with the boldness of a drill sergeant and the submission of a recruit. Being both of these persons is crossing from one side of the razor’s edge to the other... repeatedly.

Before considering a formal pratyahara program (one that involves sitting in meditation) a person is well advised to test his resolve. If he does not have the ability to control his petty likes and dislikes and is victim to his own desire for “things is he used to” or “things that he prefers” he is not going to succeed. Control of the senses means control of the mind that processes sensory data.

Therefore, the beginner, regardless of whether he is formally practicing pratyahara techniques or not, should discipline himself to, for example, drink his coffee unsweetened and without cream. Or, if he drinks tea, without sweetening or lemon or cream.

It will help him, before he drinks what is, at first, an unpleasant drink, to say a little prayer of “offering or sacrifice” i.e., that he is deliberately denying himself a pleasant experience and substituting an unpleasant one as a token of remorse for all the errors he’s made. After he has done that for a few days, he’ll find he doesn’t really mind the unsweetened coffee. And then he begins to gain control. He begins to discover the pure flavor of coffee, and he enjoys it and reaches that state of “I can take it or leave it alone” independence. Once he achieves this he will experience an exhilarating sense of control. His “spiritual self-esteem” rises and he has confidence that he can conquer even bigger enemies of progress.

He should take cold showers - regardless of the climate. He can exert that fierce determination that members of Polar Bear Clubs have when they jump into icy water. Much has been written about the salubrious effects of cold showers or these winter rituals of ice-bathing. There is no doubt that the salubrious element in these practices comes from the individuals inner sense of control.

If he takes the elevator a few flights up, he should take the stairs, instead. If he eats donuts when he drinks his coffee, he needs to substitute a protein bar. These may be obvious healthy alternatives to an unhealthy lack of exercise and an excess of empty calories and all the overweight and diabetic dangers; but they also involve exercises in will power.

So often we see medical personnel tending the sick without getting ill themselves. Yes, many do succumb to the contagion... but the vast majority of nurses and doctors seem so oddly immune. They have a determination that is akin to a spiritual commitment to help another human being; and to whatever degree the Soul controls the immune system, theirs protects them.

Whatever petty thing the practitioner enjoys or prefers or does habitually for the convenience of it, he should refrain from doing - for a week or two or for as long as it takes him to achieve mastery of it. He has to reinvent himself - from being a man or woman who is governed by whim to one who realizes that his happiness does not depend upon these petty preferences. When a man is truly thirsty, he does not care whether the water he is given is luke warm or ice cold.

If, for example, he has to pick up some garments at the cleaner, and the cleaner is located a mile away, he has to discipline himself to walk instead of driving. And while he is walking he is to think about the people who are confined to wheelchairs and cannot walk. He is to consider himself fortunate to be able to walk. The foolish man is one who needs to exercise but who drives because he “wouldn’t be caught dead walking to do an errand.” Control of the senses is control of the mind - control of the willpower and control of intelligent judgment.

Fame, fortune, the appearance of “good taste” and “refinement,” of being better educated or more aware of current events and more astute in one’s water-cooler opinions... of deriving a sense of superiority about having better clothes or better cars or better children - these are things of the ego. They create a false human being. Wanting to improve for the sake of the improvement and not for the adulation of others is the artistry of Zen.

Freedom from petty preferences and habits is the key to mastery of habituation to sensory stimulus. A sense of urgency needs to be maintained with respect to sensory deprivation or creation.

Formal Practices

All pratyahara exercises begin with the Healing Breath - six to ten cycles; followed by at least 3 minutes of Yoni Mudra.

Although these instructions are given in the Pranayama section, for convenience we will repeat them here.

The Healing Breath

The Healing Breath is performed following a 1:4:2 proportion. This may be expanded to 4:16:8 or even 8:32:16. The body must be perfectly upright in a comfortable sitting position. The face is not tilted in any direction.

Example: using 4:16:8 - Counting one second as one beat - and after forcefully emptying the lungs with a great contraction of the abdomen:

The breath is inhaled through the nose for four seconds.

(The breath is inhaled slowly but with determination until the chest is filled with air to the absolute maximum. The shoulders are raised and the chest is extended, the diaphragm stretched.)

The breath is held for 16 seconds.

(If the practitioner cannot comfortably hold his breath for 16 seconds, he should hold it for 12 and work up to 16; if not 12, then 8 and work up to 12 and then 16. At no time may he initiate a panic response by sitting in a painful posture, or attempting to exceed his breath control abilities.)

The breath is exhaled for 8 seconds.

(To begin the exhalation, the breath is allowed to seep gently out of the nose for the first 4 seconds - the shoulders will gracefully descend; and for the last 4 seconds, the abdomen is contracted slowly but forcefully, as if the navel is trying to touch the spine. The breath should be refined, i.e., it is as if it would not ruffle a plume held in front of the nose.)

When beginning a session it is always better to start at a lower ratio and then quickly work up to the last ratio comfortably followed.

An alternate conclusion:

An additional element of 4 seconds in which the lungs are kept empty may be added. In either case, the next cycle immediately commences.

Care is taken not to hyperventilate or choke, or sputter or gasp... these are signals to the sympathetic nervous system that the person is in distress and adrenaline will be secreted. For all practical purposes, the meditation session is finished.

Always remember: it is possible to go from normal to very happy and then return to normal in a few minutes; but adrenaline in the bloodstream takes 90 minutes to “washout”, i.e., to return to normal. A person, suddenly scared or angry, may tell himself he has nothing to be afraid of or that he shouldn’t be angry, but he will still be “on-edge” (though he may not overtly indicate it) for as long as it takes the adrenaline to dissipate. An intellectual understanding of the situation does not override the physical effects of fear or anger.

The Yoni Mudra or Mudra of Nine Gates

The Yoni Mudra may be practiced as a complete technique or used in preparation for a pratyahara exercise.

The practitioner sits comfortably, totally relaxed in the alpha state.,having already performed the Healing Breath.

He places his index fingers on his closed eyes. He places his thumbs against his ear orifices to prevent sound from entering He places his middle fingers against his nostrils and he clamps his slightly pursed lips closed with his fourth and little fingers.

He gently relaxes the pressure on his nostrils and inhales deeply, and contracts his anus and abdominal muscles. Then he presses his nostrils closed again, and focuses his attention completely on the absence of sound, smell and sight. He studies this new sensation so that he can recollect it in detail whenever he so desires. Then when he can not comfortably continue to hold his breath, he opens his nostrils and lets the air seep out. He continues contracting his abdomen in a tight, controlled motion so that the base of his lungs are squeezed empty of all residual air.

Then he begins another cycle.

(1) Sensory Control

Since the olfactory nerves are the most directly connected to the brain, the sense of smell is the easiest to control.

The practitioner should obtain an object that has a strong but unfamiliar odor: for example, a gardenia (obtainable at a florist’s shop). These flowers have a particularly strong and pleasant fragrance, but one that is not regularly encountered. He should spend a day or two smelling the flower as frequently as possible. If he is at home relaxing and watching TV, that is fine, just so he keeps the flower close at hand and concentrates on the fragrance whenever he brings it to his nose.

After he has gotten completely familiar with the unusual odor, he trashes the flower and in his meditation sessions, performs the healing breath, and the yoni mudra, and then, in a deeply relaxed and suggestible state, he creates the flower’s scent. This is a difficult kriya, but if he continues on a regular basis, always careful to remain calm and gently determined, he will succeed.

Once he masters this, he does the reverse: However, he cannot attempt this on a casual basis as before. During his practice session, when he is deeply relaxed and has incense burning, he produces the flower and brings it to his nose while he remains concentrated on the fragrance of the incense. This, too, requires patience and persistence.

(2) Mirror Trataka

The mirror is placed at eye level, about 18 inches or half a meter away from the practitioner’s face.

He stares into his image, focusing upon a point between his reflected eyes (the “3rd Eye”). At first he may find the focal point moves around the image. When this happens, he should gently and without frustration return his attention to the 3rd eye point. When he begins to master the ability to hold his attention on this focal point, he may discover that his eyes are beginning to tire. At that point they will close;. He should immediately try to recollect the image of the focal point. Again, the recollected point may wander around the closed-eye visual field. Gently, and without any sense of frustration, he should try to keep it centered and steady.

When he can hold the image steady for an “eternal” (outside of measurable time) period, he has succeeded. A clock should not be used. When the exercise is finished, it feels finished and that is good and sufficient reason to end it.

(3) Mirror changes in size

The “macro-micro” exercise is a popular variant. In this exercise, he focuses on the image of his face and then mentally forces the face to expand. He lets the image grow until, as scripture says, it “grows as huge as Mount Sumeru.” Then he brings it back to normal size, and then he shrinks it until it is as “small as a sesamum seed.”

(4) Distant Mirror Gazing

When the mirror is placed at a distance, the focal point is observed as an archer observes the bulls-eye of a target. When the practitioner’s eyes tire, they are simply allowed to close; and then he shifts his attention to his body’s interior,, to his Manipura chakra (at the lumbar region of his waist), which he then dispatches to the Lung #1 point and commences the circulation through the channels.

To interject a personal experience which I frequently relate, years ago I had been told about a peculiar variation of this meditation. It required that the practitioner view the sun as it rose over the ocean at dawn. When the sun rose to the point that there was blue sky all around it, the mind, in a great force of will, had to get the sun into perspective. Normally we tend to think of the sun as a small ball that rolls around the periphery of the earth. The aim of this exercise was to see the sun as an immense ball, 93,000,000 miles away - in other words, to push back the sun and see it as a huge orb in outer space. I was at the Jersey coast and decided to try this exercise as the sun rose over the Atlantic at dawn.

I understood that the sun should not be viewed when it had risen much above the horizon - so before dawn I went onto a second storey porch and waited, leaning against the waist-high railing.

When blue sky completely surrounded the sun, I concentrated fiercely and mentally pushed the sun back to where it belonged. The effect was so intense that my legs turned to jelly and I literally collapsed, my hands grabbing the railing as the rest of me flopped around like a fish on a deck. What a sensation this exercise can give!

Humming Bird