YSP 1.4: vritti sarupyam itaratra
Otherwise, we identify with the activities of the mind.
Trans: Bernard Bouanchaud
What are the ramifications of always seeking greener grass (geographically, professionally or in our relationships) instead of living fully where we are?
How can we avoid being overly tempted to imitate others?
Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga
Earlier this week, I was doing some reading over at Huffington Post and I was particularly taken by an article by Russell Bishop, about the dangers of ‘avoiding your life’. It struck me as appropriate to this week’s aphorism because that’s what happens when we identify with the activities of the mind. We miss out on our own life.
I think these points are very pertinent for North Americans because we live in a cultural soup where there are entire industries dedicated to making sure we’re not happy with our selves or our lives. Advertising, marketing, the entire consumer culture is built on the idea that you’re not adequate. This belief system permeates our society, even having infected medicine and healing. In many respects, we’ve turned normal human states into pathologies, which need to be medicated, or eradicated by some means. Have crow’s feet? Well, they can inject a deadly toxin into your face to help with that.
My point is not to pick on cosmetic treatments. It’s more a demonstration that we often are compelled to “fix” our slightest “defects” and “imperfections”. There are very few places in this culture where we’re expected to look beyond our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. In short, we’re encouraged to identify as fully as possible with the fluctuations of our minds. I am what I think, what I own, what I like, what I believe and furthermore, at a very fundamental level, there is something wrong with that. There is something wrong with ME.
Yoga turns all this on its head. The starting premise of yoga is that you are fine, right now, right here, just the way you are. This is your svarupe, your own true form. I am fine just the way I am.
Do I always remember this? Hell, no. I’m as neurotic as the next person. At times, I completely identify with my thoughts. I’m too fat, I’m too opinionated, I’m too THIS when of course, I’m not enough THAT. I should do THIS and I should think THAT. It never fricking ends, does it?
And if you really pushed me, I can think of half a dozen people I’d rather be – all of whom I might add are cooler than I am, smarter than I am, better writers than I am, kinder than I am or something else that I’m not. It’s natural to want to emulate the behaviours of people we admire and respect. It’s part of how we learn but so often, I see one of these laudable behaviours in another and I try to act it, instead of building the foundation where it arises on its own accord, from my essential human self.
On the outside, it might look the same to an observer. I observe this mostly in myself when I’m driving the car. Yesterday, I stopped at a stop sign, signalling to driver across from me of my intention to turn left, across the lane of traffic, to another street. She was stopped opposite me, signalling her intention to turn right on the same lane. She had the right away but she sat there.
A few moments passed, and I gestured to her with a wave (all five fingers, thank you) that she could proceed and she did. I didn’t blow my horn, or drive aggressively. I looked for all the world like a very patient user of the roadways. Interior dialogue? “I don’t have all day for you to figure out what section of the Motor Vehicle Act you’re going to follow right now!!”
I know…not very yogic of me. This whole impatience of mine comes from identification with my thoughts. At the time, I was thinking that I was “late” and pressed for time. Mentally, I was living in the future, thinking about my chore list and what I ‘should’ be doing right now instead of driving the car. I was slightly annoyed because my husband had told me he’d be late for dinner and I had to go pick our daughter up at the gym. And really, even if I acted in a patient manner towards the other driver, did I have to get all huffy on the inside about the ‘delay’ she caused me? Realistically, I was inconvenienced for all of half a second, maybe. It was beyond insignificant but I was hostile anyway and this is not my true self.
I know better than to get all jammed over trivialities like this, but at the time, I was fully identified with the fluctuations of my mind. As Bernard Bouanchaud writes, I was tossed about and carried away by the whirlpool of my mind. I love that image.
Yoga teaches me that it doesn’t have to be like this. I have a choice. I can learn how to work with my mind so that I’m operating from that authentic part of me that really is patient and discerning. I don’t have to just fake patience and kindness and compassion. I can experience that at very core of who I am. I don’t have to imitate anyone else because I am fine, just the way I am, right now, right here. I already AM the person I want to be. The key is remembering that.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,
A general note: This blog is to help me integrate the philosophical teachings of Yoga into my daily life. I’m not an expert on Sanskrit, Yoga or Life in general. My teacher Kathryn Downton provided an important part of my education in these matters but I read voraciously on these topics. I’ll credit her for the parts that I get right and I’ll own the parts I mess up. I try to acknowledge my sources where I can but frankly, I haven’t kept good notes over the years on where I got this stuff. These discussions are one person’s perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is exploration and not explanation.