The persevering practice of a single principle keeps obstacles at a distance.
YSP 1:32 – Bouanchaud translation
In the last two sutras, we’ve examined some major obstacles to achieving the state of yoga. This sutra is where the rubber hits the road. What to do about them? It’s something we hear time and again from the ancients: a persevering practice of a single principle.
Let’s tear into this one with some degree of gusto. Generally speaking, those of us in the West enjoy an embarrassment of riches. I live in a small Canadian city in a sparsely populated part of the country and even in my little berg, there’s upteen different choices to make. We’ve got Kripalu yogis, Ashtanga yogis, Vini yogis, Iyengar yogis and a few more to boot. Don’t want yoga? We’ve got Reiki, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, a Shambala Meditation Centre and Lord only knows what else. In fact, we’ve got so much that you could spend the rest of your time in this city dabbling, looking for the ‘perfect’ system, the ‘ultimate answer’. It wouldn’t take much to turn one’s quest for unity of purpose into the distraction to end all distractions.
For those of us who suffer commitment issues, this banquet of choices is an obstacle and a hazard in itself to overcome. We’ve all met (or maybe have been) the person who is incredibly gung-ho and enthusiastic about something right up and until the going gets tough. As long as it’s easy, it is the greatest thing going. When it starts demanding, we’re out of there faster than one can blink. It’s a coping mechanism that saves us from a lot of hard work. Without going into gruesome details, let’s say I know of what I speak from personal experience.
I say we drop the quest for “perfection” and settle out on something. Anything. Pick a card; any card. Just pick one. For me, yoga is my card, specifically of the Viniyoga suit of yoga cards. It’s not better or no worse than the Ashtanga card or the Iyengar card or the Tai Chi card. Any of these routes, if pursued with faith and detachment will get us to the mountain top.
In Sutra I:12, we get the news that ‘Control over the mind’s fluctuations comes from persevering practice and non-attachment”. From it, we get mental peace but there’s a catch. We need to “engage in it seriously and respectfully over a long and uninterrupted period” (YSP 1:13-14). Persevering practice of what, we might ask? In this Sutra, we get the answer: The persevering practice of a single principle.
What does this mean for the day-to-day yogini? It means putting my feet on the mat when I’m having a crappy day, week or month. It means doing my practice when I feel bored, restless, lazy, rushed, stupid, confused and just frankly don’t give a damn. It means staying the course. While it’s laudable to keep an open mind and explore new ideas and perspectives, I recognize that it’s also a wonderful way to avoid doing any real work.
Boy, this sutra is hitting home. My own practice has been suffering from malaise the last few weeks and a bit off and on. I’m glad to say it’s been more on than off but even when I’ve been on the mat, I’ve not been there fully. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the state of the fluctuating mind fluctuating. I’ve experienced a great deal of doubt about yoga, my role in it, what I’m doing. Questions of dharma have dominated the mental landscape for the past couple of months. Events of the recent past have added some clarity to these questions. Registrations in my classes are down. The personal practice is getting tougher and more demanding on all levels. I’m unsure of my direction. This would be the perfect time to throw in the towel and just give up … or go find the next new ‘perfect’ thing.
At the same time, my teacher has upped the ante with our practices. I’m not hurt by any stretch of the imagination but oh boy, I have discovered the nature of a few muscles I was previously unaware of in any personal sense. There’s no ‘dialling’ these practices in. They’re forcing me to be aware and present throughout, which underlines for me how ‘non-present’ I’m capable of being during any given practice.
More or less, my state of mind is called ‘doubt’, one of those obstacles Patanjali warned us about two sutras ago. This week’s sutra is the start on a series of solutions. It reminds me that this is where I’m going to find out what I’m made of.
The Buddhists have a great proverb for this: “If we are facing the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking”. How true. The arrival of obstacles is not a time for giving up. It’s an opportunity to reach inside and discover the nature of our true Self by devoting ourselves to the persevering practice of a single principle.”
Namaste and thanks for reading,