February 22, 2020

Sutra 1.5-1.6: Keep 'Em Separated

"Observe your thoughts, don't believe them."
- Eckhart Tolle

Samadhi Pada: Yoga of Being in the Now

    1.5 Vrttayah panchatayyah klista aklistah
    1.6 Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah
    • vrttayah = modifications/fluctuations
    • panchatayyah = five-fold
    • klista = painful
    • aklistah = not painful

    • pramana = right knowledge
    • viparyaya = misconception/illusion
    • vikalpa = imagination/fantasy
    • nidra = sleep
    • smrtayah = memory/recollection

Last week we spent time observing our mind and questioning if what we believe is true. This week, we'll continue with the observation of our thoughts. In the west, we sometimes have this mistaken belief that yoga is about the body. Yes, we do postures and poses to become stronger and more flexible, but ultimately this work with the physical body is preparing us to sit still and observe. Yoga isn't actually about the physical. At its core, and the goal of yoga based on the yoga sutras is largely about the mind. We often identify yoga as a body training when in fact it is actually a training for the mind. 

Though there are aspects of yoga that can be esoteric, it can also be viewed as a structured system. Balance between the right and left, mystery and logic, feminine and masculine? How yoga is that!! These two sutras illustrate the logical, orderly side of the practice.

We've already established that we are not our thoughts, but still . . . we have thoughts and many of them! With these sutras, Patanjali is helping us to step away from believing we are these thoughts to simply being the one who witnesses them. This process of being the witness is a form of mindfulness that not only allows us to learn about ourselves, but also to learn how the mind works in general. Patanjali points us in the direction of gaining mastery over our thoughts by defining or labelling them.

Sutra 1.5 tells us that the thoughts in our mind can be classified into 5 categories which can be painful or not and ultimately it's our reaction to these thoughts that will result in the pain or lack of pain. For example, the thought of a good friend can trigger a positive reaction, but this same thought can cause pain if the relationship has become strained. Later sutras (and we) will get into the 5 categories in more detail while sutra 1.6 lists what these categories are. So, let's list these vrttis or fluctuations of the mind along with how reactions to them could result in pain or no pain.

  1. right knowledge (or direct perception) 
    • we're given a chocolate covered strawberry = no pain
    • the strawberry is rotten = pain
  2. misconception
    • thinking a round long object on the floor across the room is rope = no pain
    • thinking a round long object on the floor across the room is a snake = pain
  3. imagination
    • imagining the sounds in the night as the floor creaking = no pain
    • imagining the sounds in the night as zombies = pain
  4. sleep
    • enough rest = no pain
    • too little = pain
  5. memory
    • special moment with a loved one who's passed away = no pain
    • focusing on the fact the person's gone = pain
Thought labelling can create a separation between ourselves and our thoughts. It can help to move us away from believing that we are our thoughts because these distractions are moving us away from knowing who we truly are (remember sutra 1.3?!) As an additional bonus . . . observing our thoughts helps to keep us focused on the present moment. So, this week I challenge you to partake in this practice of mindfulness. Try it for the week, for a day, a few hours or even just for a few minutes. Don't worry about how you are reacting to the thought (pain or no pain), don't worry about doing it right or wrong, simply see if you can label your thoughts with one of the five categories above. You may or may not learn something interesting about yourself or your thoughts, but I promise you during the period of time you are practicing, you will be present. And that my friends IS yoga!!! 

Sutra 1.5 There are five kinds of fluctuations of the mind that can be painful or not painful
Sutra 1.6  They are right knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep, memory

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