Sunday, September 6, 2009

169/247 - Sustained Attention

Friday 4:30 pm with Janna

Class was great. I made it all the way through without skipping anything. I didn't feel hampered by my knee at all. I felt like I'm making progress in Half Moon, and in the backbends. I put myself in the hottest part of the room. Janna had the heat cranked, and it didn't bother me at all. I came out of class feeling great and very pleased with myself.

And then, a while later, my knees started to ache, and I have no idea what I did to them. This time it wasn't just the injured one, though it hurt more. Both of them had a kind of deep ache in them, and it didn't make much difference whether I was bearing weight or staying still. Very strange, and I'm not sure what to make of it. But it means I'm in store for some more rest.

The day 242 meditation asks us to conduct an experiment. First he says to let your mind wander, either over past events or over your expectations. He suggests that you notice how readily your emotions track the quality of the things you remember -- happy memories tend to yield happy thoughts, and sad memories are just that. Gates says that the emotions here are real, but they are based on a fantasy. The danger, he says, is that our emotions become a slave to the "soap operas" that our imagination produces.

He then contrasts this with sustaining your attention on something you are doing here and now. When we do this, we might still feel joyful, sad, angry. But in this case, we know that the basis for the emotion is real and that we can work with it.

So what? It's tempting to think that happiness based on a fantasy is just fine, and may be preferable to some of what reality pushes at us. That was my first reaction. Gates' point, however, is that when we stay in the present we can work with it, and this gives us room to grow and develop. Sticking with our imagination and our memories leads to a kind of stasis. It gives us nothing to grab onto, nothing to change, and no way to grow.

Asana practice gives us the laboratory for learning how to work in the present. And it shows us the changes that become possible by simply staying present. And I think this is very useful.

But I think Gates misses out a bit on the importance of daydreaming. In the right perspective, a good daydream can be a very nice, pleasant and satisfying thing. In fact, I think where the real difficulty lies is when people start confusing or intermingling the two. There's nothing wrong with retreating to a very nice daydream. And there's certainly nothing wrong with living and working in the present. The problem arises when people let their daydreams, their memories, and their illusions interfere with their everyday life.


waylon said...

duffy - are you coming to dallas to see bikram speak??

big party!

Duffy Pratt said...

I haven't decided yet. I'm thinking about it, and if he were teaching a class I would definitely go. Right now it's like 50/50

Bonnie said...

Nice post!

Bosco said...

Also, a daydream, I think by definition, is just a pleasant wandering of the mind - it isn't exercising any power over us. The bad thoughts that Gates is talking about, the "soap operas," are the ones that enter our minds and which we entertain as being real, and which suck away our power and our peace. We humans are great, I think, at weaving stories in our heads that are premised on something actually real, but then woven into something that is totally imagined, but which we treat as if they were real. And then the more we rehearse the imagined reality the more real it becomes. So we end up living in a negative fantasy. Yoga really, really does help to break this natural tendency, by allowing (actually forcing) a connection to what is here and now, what is really real.

bikramyogachick said...

I agree with what bosco says. Nice post Duffy and way to listen to your body regarding the knees. I'm working through major elbow pain and am trying to be as attentive as you are. It's frustrating!