How to find the experiencer in amongst the experiences


In the Autumn of 1996, Swami Janakananda held a workshop on pratyahara in Bihar Yoga Bharati in India. The students who took part in the workshop were asked to write a 200 word essay on: Pratyahara in relation to meditation.
Instead of us writing the editorial this time, we will let one of these essays become the editorial. It has been written by a young woman from Australia; Swami Jayatma Saraswati:

How to find the experiencer in amongst the experiences
I live in an ashram, and have done so for the past five years and for some strange reason which is totally beyond me, this seems to make some people think I'm qualified to talk about yoga. So every now and again some tough cookie comes up and asks me a real sticky question like: "What the bloody hell is meditation all about anyway?" (They say words like bloody and hell in Australia). And suddenly I find myself at a loss; they may as well ask what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything, answer in 200 words or less please.

It is only recently (just this afternoon actually) that I've begun to have some understanding of the relationship between pratyahara and meditation and how these two relate to life, the universe and everything or at least to spiritual awakening. And even though my teachers here have told me over and over about Patanjali and fancy things like that pratyahara is the withdrawal of the mind from the senses and dhyana is an unbroken stream of consciousness like water flowing in a river, it really didn't mean much to me.

Many years ago, I woke up one morning and all of a sudden I was aware that I existed; it was quite a shock to me and a bit scary. How did I get by for such a long time without realising I existed? My life took on a totally different dimension and I began to search for some understanding of who and what was this thing that I called me and what on earth was I doing in existence.

Well, pratyahara to me is very much like that experience. I sit here and feel the breeze and hear the sounds and smell the scents and all of a sudden, somewhere within that, there dawns the experience of experiencing and the realisation that I am separate from that experience and that I can sit back and watch it and still exist. And each time it happens, that realisation that "I exist" somehow still shocks me. It's like it gives my consciousness a little jolt and I "wake up" - for a little while at least.

And it seems, for me anyway, that this experience is fundamental to meditation and any fancy words further along the path like samadhi, self realisation etc. - because how can any of this happen if I am not even aware of my own existence.

It's very easy in everyday life and even in so-called spiritual life to get caught up in the experience so much so you don't even realise you're experiencing it. You sit for meditation, hear the sounds, feel the sensations, watch the thoughts - and where are you really? Just lost in the experiences even if you're managing to stay in observer mode - unless you, at the same time, in amongst those experiences, can maintain the awareness of that experiencer. And that seems to me to be the real purpose of pratyahara in meditation or anywhere else for that matter.

Om, Om, Om.