One-Pointed Attention in Yoga: Staying the Course on the Quest for Union

one-pointed attention

In the third section of the Yoga Sutras, we see that human being struggle with the goal of yoga, which is samadhi, or union. For me, this is encouraging. Knowing that samadhi is a state we may only glimpse in this lifetime means I don’t have to give up when distractions turn my attention from my goal. The good news is we can get closer to samadhi by practicing one-pointed attention.

In sutra 3.12, we learn

The mind becomes one-pointed when the subsiding and rising thought-waves are exactly similar.

Yogic scholar Reverand Jaganth Carrera helps us understand by comparing the mind to a camera that is focused on a still object, such as a bowl of fruit. When neither the camera nor the object move, the camera achieves a state of one-pointed attention on the fruit.

In other words, seer and seen become one. Earlier in the sutras, you may remember, Patanjali tells us we can reach this state with practice.

Objects in Nature Change but One-Pointed Attention Can Remain

The problem we humans have with trying to reach a more-or-less supernatural state while still subject to the forces of nature is that nature continues to change. Everything around us changes, and our minds change as well! How then, can we stay focused on our goal when even the way we describe the goal changes over time as we come closer to truth?

The answer is we need to transcend the obvious. When we can get a glimpse, even a fleeting glimpse, of the “something more” that seems to call us, we’ve found the key. One-pointed attention, or mindfulness, is a powerful tool we can use to find and keep that key. If you’ve glimpsed it just once, you know there’s no turning back.

In the Christian tradition, there is a poem called The Hound of Heaven that describes this phenomenon. The idea is that God will continue to call you home, no matter how distracted you become with everyday life. Yogis experience this as a deep desire for samadhi.

The fact that this inner calling is part of human nature even though it eludes us means something. To me, it means there is always more.

You Can’t Change the World, But You Can Keep the World from Changing You

Prakriti is the Sanskrit word for the “stuff of life.” (That’s my own a very lose translation.) Prakriti changes all the time. It confuses, distracts, and challenges us. And no matter how much yoga we do, it continues to exist. We can’t change the world, but we can learn to live the world as spiritual beings.

The goal then, is to allow Prakriti to exist without attachment to it. One-pointed attention and other yogic practices help us get better at letting it go and allowing a higher power to take over. Reverend Carrera says, “It is for the Seer’s purpose that Prakriti exists, and that purpose is the liberation of the individual.”

The Yoga sutras tell us that there are stages of evolution along the journey to enlightenment. In the next verses, we learn how meditation techniques will help us evolve.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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