1.32 Practicing single pointed focus eliminates the distractions and disturbances.
This sutra offers a simple yet powerful idea for counteracting the distractions and disturbances listed in sutra 1.30, as well their symptoms (1.31): one-pointedness. What is one-pointedness? Has it ever happened that you have gotten so completely engrossed in a book or a movie that you completely forgot about the world outside, when you didn’t even notice outside noises, or the passing of time? One-pointedness is the ability to focus our attention. When you find something you are truly curious about, your attention can focus with great precision and unwavering energy. Some teachers say that one of these focal points in our present day is money, and that many people around the world invest most of their attentional and material resources trying to make money. This can be a good point for inquiry. What do you invest your energy, time and resources in? What in your life invites a deep level of dedication?
Another way of thinking about the meaning of this verse is that distractions result from the suspicion that other times and places are more important than the place you are in right now. The notion that other times and places are more important is, first of all, completely unrealistic because you can participate fully only in the moment that you are in. Second, the other times and places you think you could be in, are the product of your imagination (vikalpa), speculations based on your memories (smrti) from the past. Third, when you dismiss this moment, you discount the elegant synchronicity of thousands of events orchestrating this moment to be exactly as it is. Indeed, you may be ignoring that whatever it is that you notice, maybe something that is tailored to you and your situation. If you find yourself constantly distracted, you can direct your single pointed focus to examine your inability or unwillingness to accept this moment as it is, in order to reveal the distraction that keeps pulling you away. Knowing the distraction, you can allow it to keep disrupting your commitment, or you can inquire into it, using the simple questions: Is there anything wrong right here and now? Is it within my power to change what is wrong? If you can change it, just do it right there and then. If something is beyond your immediate control, then it is wise to surrender your illusion of control.
As it was mentioned in sutra 1.12, the journey towards dynamic balance requires the complementary approach of doing (abhyasa) and being (vairagya). At this point in the chapter, after listing obstacles, distractions and their symptoms, Patañjali echoes this two-pronged strategy in this sutra and the next. This verse focuses on practice (abhyasa) or doing and the next one can be seeing as an interpretation of freedom from attachment (vairagya). Notice that the characteristics of single pointed focus include a continuous, sincere and firmly rooted intention, which is the definition of practice (abhyasa). Single pointed focus can also be interpreted as one way of engaging your mind. It is an invitation to commit with deliberate and unwavering intention. To engage consciously and deliberately you can ask yourself: What is important enough to deserve my attention, time and energy? To keep a single pointed focus, it helps to concentrate on something that does not fade. So, a relevant question is: What is permanent enough not to fade under sustained attention? Or, what is really lasting?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with all the words coming together:
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually: