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And if you don’t …

YSP 1.4: vritti sarupyam itaratra

Otherwise, we identify with the activities of the mind.

Trans: Bernard Bouanchaud

The ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind’s conception of that object or by a total lack of comprehension.


Today’s column is brought to you by neurotic 5 kg housecat named Marley. This morning at 5 am, her mind-fluctuations informed her that once again she’d been abandoned by her people and left to starve to death in the house. She beat on my bedroom door until she gained access and she was so relieved to know she was not alone, that she sat on the dresser and howled her song of joy.

I came close to responding with a mind fluctuation of my own, namely in the form of a sneaker whizzed at her head. Fortunately for her I remembered my adherence to the principle of non-violence. That and I rarely sleep with my sneakers on anymore.

My great-grandfather, DD Sinclair did sleep with his boots on. He’s served 55 years in the Navy, working his way from boy apprentice to Chief Engineer. Back in those days, sailors at sea did sleep with their boots on, as a safety precaution given the frequency of fire on those coal driven ships. Even after retiring, every morning at the stroke of seven, CL-BANG, CL-BANG, those black leather hobnail boots hit the floor of his bedroom with resounding determination. That sound is one of my earliest childhood memories, which is completely amazing when one considers I was born in 1963 and DD died in 1956. My “memories” of this behaviour quirk, among others, is actually memories of other family members who have recounted the stories over the years. I have no memories of my great-grandfather. I have memories of other people’s memories of him. I “remember” my great-grandfather and I ‘remember’ my encounter with the cat at 5 am this morning. Even armed with that knowledge that one set are impossible to be real, I cannot distinguish any qualitative difference between the two sets of ‘memories’. Mind-fluctuations at work.

I’ve dispatched police cars for 20 years now. I’ve answered a lot of 9-1-1 calls and I can assure you without fear of contradiction that the 9-1-1 service is a zoo of mind fluctuations in full flux. Frequently, operators are working hard trying to piece together some construction of ‘reality ‘to convey to responding emergency service workers. Some of the callers suffer from mental illnesses that aren’t immediately apparent during the first few moments of conversation.

I remember dealing with a guy I’ll call Dave. Years ago, Dave had ongoing problems with a neighbour who was making him sick by radiating waves into his apartment. These waves were giving him headaches and Dave was demanding that the otherwise useless police force do something about it. Dave’s medical diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. It really doesn’t matter that Dave’s neighbour wasn’t beaming anything into his apartment and had no ill will towards Dave. What does count is that Dave believed (fully and wholeheartedly) that his neighbour and many other people were trying to harm him in innumerable ways. To protect himself, he kept a loaded shotgun behind the door of his apartment in the event he was forced to defend his life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this story has all kinds of potential to go horribly wrong. In the end, it didn’t. The police officers escorted mental health workers into the apartment and Dave went up to the hospital to have his medications adjusted again but there you have it, it’s our old friends mind fluctuations at work.

I’m trying to make a couple of points here. One is that while the mind fluctuations experience by both Dave and me differ in flavour, they’re just on opposite ends of the same continuum. For Dave, his fluctuations caused him a great deal of suffering in his life. Mine are more along the line of quirky. His impaired his ability to function in society; mine have no impact on my daily life. Given the difference in degree, it’s easy to overlook two things they have in common. One, we both believed in something that has no correspondence in realty. Secondly, that belief influenced our behaviour. For me, it made me feel like I was more firmly attached into that sub-tribe of humans I call my family and overall, it’s an amusing story. For Dave, his beliefs made him potentially dangerous to others. In the interest of absolute fairness, I would like to emphasise that at NO point in this encounter or any previous did Dave ever harm another person. He’s not a violent man; he’s a desperate, terrified man because he fully identifies with the fluctuations of his mind.

At the end of the day, Marley the cat, Dave and I are experiencing the same issue. We’re reacting to non-reality. In this aphorism, Patanjali lays out the final bit of the introduction to yoga and the mind. This is what we have so far:

  1. Suffering is caused by identifying with the fluctuations of the mind;
  2. The purpose of yoga is to still those fluctuations;
  3. If you succeed in doing so, you will think more clearly and understand yourself from the perspective of your own true nature;
  4. If you chose to not clean things up, your decisions including behaviours will be based on a false interpretation of reality.

In the upcoming aphorisms, there will be further expansion on these ideas. What is meant by ‘mind’ is more clearly defined. Methods one can choose to clear up the mind-field are examined. Finally, what we can expect when we do put in the effort to clean things up is explained. These four aphorisms are the foundation for not only this chapter of the Yoga Sutras but are the foundation for the entire book. All four chapters refer back to these principles.

Back to the original question of Indian spirituality and metaphysics: why do we suffer? We suffer because we identify with the fluctuations of the mind. We mistake their contents for the identity of who we really are. We forget that we HAVE thoughts, emotions and habits but we are NOT our thoughts, emotions and habits. Compare this to the previous aphorism which speaks about svarupa (true nature). In this one, suffering arises when we identify with the form of thought (sarupym) instead of our true nature.

Ever wonder why the world is such a mess some times? This is it in a nutshell. This state of misidentification is where most human live. My unreality is intersecting with all your unrealities. Little wonder, we don’t make great decisions as a society. Patanjali says it just doesn’t need to be that way. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a text of great hope for all of humanity.

There’ll be more on all this later this week. In the meanwhile,

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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