My Reflections After 30 Years of Practice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat does it mean to live with commitment to the Yaugika mind while engaged as a householder in the modern world? The universal principles listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali invite us to live with respect, to live simply, and to dedicate our thoughts, words and deeds to the reflective process of living with integrity. Most cultures embrace some version of these noble qualities, notably through religious programs, spiritual psychology, or through self help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Harmony, honesty, respect, continence and gratitude are the five pillars of Yama (my translation of the Yoga Sutras II.42). Yamas are the great mighty universal vows unconditioned by place, time or class. (BKS Iyengar’s Yoga Sutras II.43). Ethical and moral principals are a beginning, but where does a sincere Sadhaka’s (student’s) mind gravitate?

While some philosophers claim that we are imperfect and that our process is to refine and purify who we are and how we live, others claim that we are perfect and that we have forgotten, or are somehow ignorant of our true nature, as in Sutra I.3: Then the Seer dwells in his own true splendor. I believe that to gain any real insight into these questions, we must cultivate the Yaugika mind, a sober, clear, conscientious, curious, contemplative mind. Otherwise these questions remain philosophical at best, or dogmatic at their worst.

The Yoga Sutras are a potent resource and practical guide to cultivate the Yaugika mind. They suggest that we have forgotten and are ignorant of an authentic Self, a Self free from judgement and reactivity. Furthermore, they refer to an experience that for many of us seems very abstract, romanticized, or unattainable, Samadhi. Birjoo Mehta referred to a sloka in the Bhagavad Gita:

That which is night to the ordinary human being is day to the wise, and that In which the ordinary human being stays awake is like night to the one who sees. (Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita 2.69).

This sloka has always seemed very poetic, obtuse, and important. What you and I call “day” and how we live our ordinary lives is superficial and oriented around gratification or fear, attraction or aversion (kleshas) (see Sutra II.2). These are very basic and instinctive feelings. We do not experience a deeper reality, a more immediate reality free from our habit patterns and filters. The mystic and sage perceives the world around from a quiet, pure, and direct place.

To live authentically means to perceive the activities around us with an innocent eye, not a naive eye, or a reactive habit oriented mind. We all have “moments” of clarity, of being completely present in the moment. This state, the Sutras infer, is akin to a jewel that reflects back the things around it; yet by its nature is pure:

The yogi realizes that the known, the instrument of knowing and the knower are himself, the Seer. Like a pure transparent jewel, he reflects an unsullied purity. -Yoga Sutras I.41

Is this even possible for us, we who juggle responsibilities of families, jobs, and the aspirations and fears that conflict and absorb us? Geetaji Iyengar said that first we must learn the asanas so that we are sensitive for Savasana, and Savasana will lead to Pranayama. We tame the organs of action, one of which, in yoga psychology, is the mind. Taming the mind takes even longer then opening the shoulders or learning to drop backwards from Sirsasana, for there are many hindrances.

The obstacles are disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance and backsliding.  -Yoga Sutras I.30

We have probably all experienced each of these in our asana practice and life.

The process of combing the mind for snarls and tangles; of filtering thoughts for doubt, jealously, fear, anger, and of doing inventory can itself can be deeply satisfying, for it becomes the matrix for everything else. Adherence to a single minded effort prevents the impediments (Sutra I.32). We can navigate our reactions and samskaras by first starting  to recognize the qualities of the mind and bravely looking into that mirror that we call one’s self, or is it ego, or is it soul?

Plato’s allegory of the cave, familiar to many, of how we experience life is a perfect match for our discussion. Imagine that we live in a cave, with our back to the light. All that we can see are our shadows on the walls of the cave, and we believe that this is all that there is. We don’t realize that there is a source of light behind us. We cannot turn directly toward the source of light, for it is the essence of everything. Our growth comes by turning toward the shadows to understand that they are but shadows, and turning toward the obstacles to recognize them as such. And, as we turn toward the shadows,  the thoughts, feelings, impulses and desires that send our minds and hearts reeling and that invite doubt, we know that, as the Bhagavad Gita says, The mind is the friend of one who has conquered it. But for the one who hasn’t done so, the mind is his foe. -BG 6.6

In Geetaji’s Q & A session, she said “If there are glasses that will let me see inside, I will go there!” There are no short cuts. “Will power and determination is needed” she said, “but when rigidity happens, you have embraced the quantity and not the quality. You must look at yourself and see if you did the pose properly, or if you are running away. You must be responsive.” We may begin with the training wheels of a self reflective process. As we cultivate skill in action and evenness of thought, a Yaugika mind creates harmony around us and humbleness and faith in the journey.

I cannot end this without pranams to Hrdaye, the heart. In the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that by meditating on and with the heart, we will come to know the seat of consciousness. May I come to know the heart of hearts..

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2 Responses to My Reflections After 30 Years of Practice

  1. Lisa I loved this blog post. Your insightful take-away from Geeta’s teaching and inspired eloquence made me smile. Thought you might like to know I shared this on facebook.
    Hari Ohm

  2. Grant Rettke says:

    Great post!

    Is the reference _Perennial Psychology of the Yoga Sutras_ to a book? It makes me think of _Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita_!

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