How to balance internal and external focus,
in order to optimize both?
By M. Govindan Satchidananda
By "internal focus" one refers to the Witness state
of consciousness. By "external focus," one refers
to concentration on the tasks at hand, or being attentive.
Both states are to be valued, and have their time and place.
What we seek in Yoga is not either or only one of these, but
rather to purify our mind of the ego-sense, which causes us
to feel that "I am the doer,." Or "I am the
"Internal focus" is
what most meditative or spiritual traditions encourage, and
it provides a much needed balance
to the ordinary materialistic and sensual based mentality which
modern culture encourages. Particularly today, our culture
encourages us to believe that the more things we can experience,
the happier we will be. However, this encourages one to confuse
happiness, which is always an internal experience with external
things, persons or phenomena. Meditative and sprititual tradtions
begin by helping the beginner to slow down, simplify, and turn
within, so as to find one's calm inner being, one's center,
one's spirit or soul, which has the qualities of awareness,
light, equanimity, transcendence, joy and peace.
There is a risk however, that the discovery of one's spiritual
dimension may bring a denial of the other dimensions of one's
life: the physical, emotional, mental and intellectual, particularly
in those cultures or traditions which are mayavadin, that is
see the world as an objective illusion. Where the tradition
encourages for example a renunciation of the world. This is
the predominant tradition in Asia, even today, as it was in
the West until the time of the Renaissance. In our modern materialistic
culture, however, only a few are tempted to go to such an extreme.
The vast majority of meditators in the West use their practice
as a means of relieving the stress of their daily lives, and
at best as a means of cultivating the spiritual dimension,
which has been normally neglected.
At some point, however, the spiritual dimension's inherent
joy and well being begins to overflow into one's daily life,
and one begins to feel a wide calm, even peace and acceptance
as to how things are, even as one goes about the routine activities
and the challenging experiences which our ordinary life confronts
us with. However, everyone is still running on their old programs,
or samskaras, and until these are sufficiently weakened, and
replaced with more sattvic or wisdom based tendencies, such
states of calm and peace tend to be overwhelmed by the events
of daily life.
Therefore, the question of
how to balance the "internal
focus" with the "external focus," is essentially
answered by the prescription "to be calmly active and
actively calm." Most of the techniques of Yoga have as
their purpose the cultivation of this middle path, known as
sattva, which is characterized by the qualities of balance,
lightness, awareness, peace, calm, intelligence. As our practice
of Yoga deepens and widens, sattva grows even in our daily
life. Because our human nature is so habitual, however, one
must engage in Yogic sadhana regularly, patiently and persistently.
One must also be well informed by a "road map" or
classic text of Yoga, so as to be able to recognize the pitfalls,
the obstacles and how to surmount them: "Disease,dullness,
doubt, carelessness, laziness, sense indulgence, false perception,
failure to reach firm ground, and instability." (Yoga
Sutra I.30) Sadhana purifies us of our samskaras, and enables
us to act consciously, rather than to react habitually.
By cultivating presence, awareness comes, and when awareness
comes, bliss comes as well. In such a state of being, consciousness
and bliss, all actions can be performed without the distortion
of the ego. One acts as an instrument, skillfully, without
attachment to the results; one's joy is Self-evident, and independent
of whether or not the action produces the results desired or
In terms of practice, cultivate
the Witness state first during routine activites, like dishwashing,
eating, bathing, from the beginning to the end, continuously.
As the Witness state becomes more stable, remember it during
activities which require more concentration or attention: repairing
something, shopping, listening to someone speak on the telephone;
later when it is more firmly established, cutlivate it while
the mind is engaged in reading or other activities which require
much concentration. Even then, part of the consciousness can
remain as a Witness, in a state of "internal focus," while
the rest of the conciousness is concentrating on the tasks
or challenges at hand, ie. "external focus." If most
of your time is absorbed in challenging activities which require
much "external focus" then imagine, and then find
ways to simplify it, and to reserve more time for pastimes
which will enable you to cultivate "internal focus."
Why is this important? It
is what I like to refer to as "the
game of consciousness." Every time you play it, that is,
you practice being present and aware, that is the Witness,
bliss appears. Guaranteed! And everytime you forget to be the
Witness, suffering appears. Automatically. You can easily test
this. It is the only game in life where you always win. In
all the other games, you ultimately lose, because only Presence,
Consciousness and Bliss are eternal and infinite. Everything
else is limited by time or space, and hence, temporary.
Copyright: M. Govindan Satchidananda, January 2005