“Knowledge of the real gives dispassion for the unreal.”
~Baba Hari Das
I roll out my mat, sit down and have a distinct image of a whirling dervish inside my head. After typical holiday busyness and several days without practicing, my mind races, my body feels tight and I struggle to focus on my breathing. Minutes earlier in an email exchange (on my phone!) I received a communication that was not exactly what I was hoping for and it has sent me into an internal spin. While my bones and muscles are still, my mind strategizes and rationalizes. I feel tense and busy, internally off balance. As I notice these sensations I again turn my attention to breathing. One of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras I’ve been contemplating over the last few weeks comes to mind.
A little background in case you are not familiar with the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras originate somewhere between 400 BCE and 400 CE. The sutras are comprised of 195 aphorisms that were handed down orally from teacher to student. The word sutra means thread or stitch, so we can read the sutras in this way: one stitch leading into the next, forming a kind of fabric for yoga.
I’ve been sitting with Sutra 1.12 . It tells us that yoga, defined as the ability to direct and focus one’s mental activity, is achieved through persistent practice and nonattachment.
In this moment it occurs to me that both my recent lack of persistence in practice and my attachment to a desired outcome are at the source of my present discomfort.
To understand these concepts it helps to look at the following four Sutra threads. Sutras 1.13 and 1.14 explain that persistent practice is the effort to attain and maintain the state of mental peace and thatitmust be done over a long period of time, without interruption and with earnest devotion.
I ask myself, “how persistent has my practice been?” During this holiday month, I must admit my practice has fallen behind the dozens of other seeming priorities of gift buying, card writing, holiday entertaining, yoga studio managing and more. Looking further, I see that this interruption, and all interruptions in my practice happen as my teacher describes, “when the mind does not develop complete faith.” Yes. When my faith in practice waivers or when I doubt its unequivocal value in my life, I allow it to be eclipsed by the demands of the day, week or season.
Moving on to Sutras 1.15 and 1.16, nonattachment is described as a step by step process where one cultivates dispassion for objects both external and internal and eventually, due to knowledge of the Self, achieves freedom from all desires. When first introduced to this idea more than 11 years ago it was completely radical to me and I saw little value in it. Why would anyone want to be less passionate?! Little by little however, nonattachment or dispassion has become a much more reasonable notion. As I sit on my mat it is evident that my suffering is caused by my mind furiously trying to figure out a way to attain the outcome I am attached to. Ah-ha.
I take another deep breath, intend to let go of my attachment and trust that this time on my mat will take me exactly where I need to go. I breathe my way through my asana practice and thankfully return to life feeling much clearer, relaxed and open to whatever outcomes might lie ahead.
As we look ahead to 2012 we could choose to set lofty goals and resolutions. But I wonder if bringing the teachings from these Sutras into our year wouldn’t be much more beneficial.
What if instead of a goal of looser hamstrings, shedding a few pounds or achieving the perfect handstand we could commit to a persistent practice with no end in sight? Something we do consistently, faithfully and with devotion. And can we pair that practice with dispassion, giving up any attachment to outcome? My teacher says, “Knowledge of the real gives dispassion for the unreal.” Meaning that the more we cultivate knowledge of the Self and what is true the less we are pulled by the distractions and desires of the world. Although not the easiest path to take, the possibility of inner stability and peace are calling me forth into 2012. What is calling you?