When the mind is well purified, the knowledge of the object in concentration shines alone, devoid of the distinction of name and quality.
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1:43 unknown translation.
How often do any of us look at something in and of itself? Just it and nothing else? I’d wager not very often because we’re usually looking at the world around us with the ‘value added’ option on full strength.
I look out the window as I’m typing this and I see the sunshine. I like the sunshine. It reminds me of summer. And I see the ice in the river. I don’t like ice. It reminds me of cold and I don’t like it when I’m cold. It reminds me of when I was biking in the rain and I got so cold. What was the word for that? Oh yeah, post-exercise hypothermia. I got that from Rev Cathcart, he lives over on Canada St. He has a big tree by his house. And I see the trees. Soon there will be pollen and I’ll have difficulties breathing. I wonder what the pollen season will be like this year. And the river’s coming up fast. I wonder if it’ll flood like it did last year. I hope Ralph is all right. Ralph’s a nice guy. He’s sure been helpful to me the past couple of month. He’s got quite the sense of humour…
That’s my mind at work in the world. No ‘clear as a diamond” stuff going on here, that’s for dang sure. Reviewing objects in my surrounding, my mind is a non-stop commentator on the relative value of each thing in terms of its emotional content and its relationships with other things around me. I add history (memory) and future (imaginations), like and dislike, without being conscious of what I’m doing as I scan my environment. It’s an automatic process.
It can also blind me. One of the fantastic things about being human is we can extrapolate information from one event and project it to another similar event down the road. It’s called learning. It’s called generalization. We’re good at it. In fact, we’re so good at it, we often don’t realize we’re doing it at all. And I think stripped down to its most essential, yoga does something very valuable for us. It brings the unconscious short cuts of the mind into consciousness.
When I bring the focus of my mind onto a single object and sustain that focus, eventually the chatter of associations and relationships, of memory and ideas, fades away. All the fluttering of the mind as it works from the particular to the general and back again, from the real to the abstract and back again, drop away until there is nothing left but the object and the perception of the object. The “value added” option has been turned off.
It’s a skill we need to practice on a regular basis. For most of us, we don’t go through our lives thinking in this clear manner. Frankly, I don’t know if it’s even possible or for that matter, desirable. But I do know that when we get in the regular sustained habit of turning off the ‘value added option’, then we see turning it on for what it is – it’s what we’re adding to perception. My likes, dislikes, fears, prejudices, prior conditioning, emotional associations stand out for what they are. They are something I am ADDING to the situation. They don’t exist in the object itself.
And right there, in that consciousness of the moment, I have the opportunity to accept or discard the stuff I’ve added. When I can label it – that’s just my fear of spiders at work – then I can evaluate the new situation on its own merits. If I can’t see through my added stuff, then my mind and my decision making process is held hostage by my unconscious mind.
Yoga brings my mind’s workings to a more conscious level, giving me a chance to choose my reaction and that, my friend, is very liberating.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,