This post, on Pramada (Carelessness), is the fourth of a 9-part series on the obstacles to spiritual practice, from verse 1:30 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
vyādhistyānasanśaya pramādālasyāvirati bhrāntidarśanālabdha bhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni cittavikṣēpāstē̕ntarāyāḥ |
Ah, the fourth obstacle on the spiritual path. This is a bit tricky, at least for me – for those of us who are perfectionists (most of us into spirituality!). In fact, these next 3 obstacles can be big triggers for perfectionists. But we can also reframe this hindrance in a more helpful way. This fourth obstacle is Pramada, or carelessness.
What is Carelessness?
Carelessness is defined as a “failure to give sufficient attention to avoid harm or errors: negligence”. It’s not giving things enough forethought or consideration before we do them. It can even be perceived as meaning indifference – not caring about our thoughts, words, or actions.
Everyone has been careless from time to time (and certainly not just with spiritual practices!). We want to hurry up and get it done, reach the goal, achieve the awakened state; whatever we’re striving for, it’s easy to try to take short cuts. When we’re caught up in pramada, we may curtail our time in meditation because we have “so much to do.” It falls off the priority list.
Carelessness can show up in our spiritual practice when we are spacing out or thinking about other things when we’re doing yoga postures (which might result in injury) or when chanting the rosary or a mantra. It’s easy to do things a bit rote, out of habit, and not with our full attention, even when we have good intentions about doing yoga, prayer, or meditation.
After meditation, pramada might sneak in by jumping right into a heated argument or getting on the phone to chat, which dispels our meditative state; or doing purifying practices and then indulging in greasy food, alcohol, or other unhealthy substances, wiping out the benefits. Be on the watch for ways that carelessness may show up for you and hinder your spiritual intentions.
Pramada: a State of Distraction
To make matters worse, we live in a world full of distractions, and distraction breeds carelessness. Before we realize what is happening, we can get pulled into the social media feed, feeling that we need to check our email, the news or texts compulsively, or simply looking around the house and getting agitated about everything left undone (here’s a secret – it’s never going to all be done!).
The external world can become a smorgasbord of distractions, just waiting for you to fill up your plate with them. Then you realize that your plate is too full – no room for my chanting practice today. So we let it slip off the plate, or we try to cram it in really fast without much care, to feel that we “did it”… and then run back to our distractions.
The mind is our greatest distraction on the spiritual path and in life. Since we can’t seem to go anywhere without it, it helps to have some yogic tools to work with thoughts when they arise, so they don’t unconsciously steer us off the path. Using those tools is part of doing practice with care and attention, so we don’t slip into pramada, that state of carelessness.
Carelessness is Negligent to Ourselves
At times, our spiritual negligence isn’t towards our practices, per se. It’s towards ourselves. We either don’t pay sufficient attention to what we’re thinking and how it affects us, or we aren’t attending to our own self-care and well-being (see Vyadhi, or disease, the first obstacle).
If we aren’t making sure we get enough sleep, eat healthy food (most of the time!), and have some downtime to relax and be Present, we’ll become distracted simply from our body’s discomfort and our mental and emotional agitation.
Overscheduling your calendar, even with meditation groups and spiritual conferences, isn’t necessarily taking care of yourself if you always feel stressed. And if you’re constantly using up all your energy to take care of everyone but yourself, then unfortunately, that’s pramada, or carelessness, too. There needs to be healthy balance, and having care and attention doesn’t just apply to meditation or on the yoga mat: it applies to how you are towards yourself.
Those Yogic Tools: Ways to Overcome Carelessness
Before you stress yourself out more, though, about being careless, take a deep breath. First of all, you’re not bad or less-than when pramada shows up in your practice or your life. You’re just human! It’s not about being perfect – it’s about noticing when you’re off-course and readjusting the steering wheel.
Fortunately, I have some practical, yogic, and mindful tools to get you back on track – without increasing your stress and inner agitation. They’re pretty simple, too, because I know most of us have plenty of challenges and complexity already in our lives. Becoming more careful and attentive doesn’t have to be a lot of work.
Remove the Distractions!
Well, duh! You knew this one. Turn off your computer and the tv, put your phone on Do Not Disturb. Remove all the distractions that you can. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s OK and you won’t die of FOMO. It’s the simplest thing you can do to have your full attention on your practice.
When you’re going about your day, every once in a while, check in with your thoughts. Are you fully Present in your life? Or do you dissipate your energy by doing one thing while thinking about a handful of others, or obsessing over something from the past. While it’s not so easy to just “stop thinking”, we can gently redirect our attention back to the here and now in our breath and body, and the task at hand.
This is part of your spiritual practice, for if we can’t focus on simple tasks or our regular work, it will likewise be difficult to sit for meditation. We meditate in order to be more present in our lives, and we attempt to be more present with everything we do to create more ease in meditation practice.
Pay Attention (even to the little things)
Along those lines, little things make a difference. No, I don’t mean to become obsessive about everything. It comes back again to Presence. Be here now, with rolling out your yoga mat and stepping onto it. Feel the texture and warmth of the towels as you pull them from the dryer and fold them. Pay attention to what is right here, right now, and it will help you overcome carelessness.
This can be a gentle and enjoyable intention. You won’t be perfectly present, but as often as you can, bring your attention back to this moment, as it is – especially through your senses. Life becomes more vibrant, and when you do your spiritual practices from this mindful awareness, you’ll enjoy them more, too.
Focus on Your Breath
This is the time-honored and probably most well-known meditative practice that also brings you back to the present moment. Simply turn your attention to your inhalations and exhalations. You can do this when you’re driving, when you’re drawing or painting, or picking up your kiddo’s toys (or trying to encourage them to pick them up!). Feel what it is like to do your life with conscious breathing.
When you sit for meditation, prayer, or any other spiritual practice, you can begin with breath awareness. As Thich Nhat Hahn, the renowned buddhist monk and master of mindfulness, would often teach, “I know that I am breathing in. I know that I am breathing out.” Notice the sensations at the nostrils, the flow of the breath through the trachea, the movement of the diaphragm in the belly. This will shift us out of our distracted mind-state into inner quiet, release pramada, and prepare us for spiritual practice as well as living life more fully.
A Reframe: Free from Care – Effortless!
This last suggestion for overcoming pramada – carelessness – turns around the meaning to give us a fresh perspective. Because another way to understand the meaning of careless is to be without a care! This doesn’t mean not paying attention; it means allowing for ease and effortless within your efforts on the spiritual path.
It’s another spiritual paradox: while we are aiming to pay attention and give care to what we are doing, we can soften. We don’t need to furrow our brows in order to overcome pramada, or carelessness. We allow ourselves to relax into this moment and open our heart to it with our awareness. Careless can mean untroubled: we don’t need to stress ourselves out about bringing care to our spiritual practice. Soften, open, give yourself to it, and let it flow from you with attentive care, rather than more effort and stress.
Being careless is worry-free, and worry is a big creator of mental agitation and hindrance to inner peace. Release your worry about how you’re doing; just do your practice. Let go, give in to however your meditation or yoga poses are today, and do them with gentle mindfulness. We overcome carelessness, in the negative sense, by allowing the positive aspect of careless to come to the fore!
Again, don’t get down on yourself if you find that you’ve been slipping into pramada – carelessness – in your practices. Be compassionate towards yourself, while you adjust your steering and reawaken your attentiveness. Turn off and turn away from your distractions. Include self-care as part of your spiritual path. Pay attention to the little things and be as Present as you can, especially with your breath. And release your worries – embrace less stress in trying to get it all “right” and become free of expectations in the here and now. The opposite of careless is care-ful and attentive, and gentle, mindful awareness will take you there. 🙏
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