In this blog I would like to focus on the sage Patanjali’s most famous sutra: “yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah” often translated as “yoga is the calming/stilling of the thought waves of the mind”. In other words the practice of yoga aims to calm the mind down so that we learn to develop a steady attention.
Is this still possible in this day and age of modern technology and multitasking? In order to achieve Patanjali’s level of attention do we need to seek out our Himalayan cave and escape society or is it possible for us as modern city dwellers to achieve a hint of the peace that Patanjali is talking about?
There has been so much written about this sutra and great lengths have been taken to explain the key Sanskrit words, citta and vrtti but this is not my aim here. Please see various translations by the wise and wonderful such as Ravi Ravindra (www.ravindra.ca) Georg Feuerstein or Swami Satchidananda for example, for an in-depth explanation of the sutra itself. My aim here is to first identify what we mean by a calm mind (in the modern context, in daily life) and then to see if we can implement a few practical tips to help achieve a certain amount of peace.
As we all know we are daily, and sometimes unfortunately even nightly, bombarded by thoughts at the speed of light (or thereabouts). Commonly this erratic mind is referred to in yoga as “the monkey mind” because just like a wild monkey it jumps from branch to branch, never sitting still.
I like to compare the mind with the surface of a very choppy sea where there is a lot of movement and traffic created by the waves, the boats and the swimmers. With so much noise and turbulence on the surface it is impossible to see down to the beauty and to hear the silence lying below. So too with the mind … if we are continuously inhabiting the turbulent space of the surface we will never connect to the underlying peace and contentedness that is inherent deeper within ourselves. If we are continually engaging with the outer world and its noise there will never be enough space to listen to the silence, to see the beauty within and to connect to our innermost selves. Not only can we not connect to our innermost selves, we can also not truly connect with each other because we have no space to truly listen, to truly feel and to truly love. Therefore trying to find this calmness of mind is imperative not only for peace within ourselves but also for peace amongst ourselves, for peace with each other.
How do we access this peaceful state?
Patanjali, in his wisdom, spent the next 194 sutras explaining this. (Those of you interested in knowing a little more or getting your first taste of Patanjali are heartily invited to listen to our guest Ravi Ravindra on the 1st September 2014. Please see our workshops page for more information.)
I will however limit myself to giving you a few practical tips for daily life, most of which are already familiar to you.
First of all each one of us needs to identify what disturbs our mind the most. That takes a bit of self-study or Svadhyaya. I think I’m not wrong, however, if I broadly assume that for many of us modern technology, despite its many plus points, is definitely a disturbance to our inner peace.
- Set a time every day when you unplug yourselves. If you wish to have a quiet evening after a long day interacting with others then switch your appliances OFF. Be strict with yourselves – DON’T SWITCH THEM ON AGAIN. Use the natural slowing down of nature as it transitions into evening and nighttime to support your own slowing down of your minds. Use that time to do things that nourish your soul: perhaps listening to good music, reading a good book, meditating, being 100% with your loved ones (and not half an ear while doing something else).
- Create oases of space in your day, when you just sit and watch people, nature, cars, trams go by. Allow your mind to simply watch and not to react to what you see.
- Once a day become completely absorbed in what you are doing for a few moments. It can be anything as simple as folding your washing. Allow your attention to become completely focused on the texture of the material against your skin, how easily the material folds etc.
- Cut out multitasking! We pride ourselves in being able to do more than 1 thing at a time but it is not productive, our systems were not meant to cope with multitasking. In the end we just ‘burn out’. So learn to fully concentrate on one thing at a time. There was a recent article in one of the national papers on how detrimental multitasking is for our children. When they study they need to switch all exterior noise off and focus on one thing. We need to re-learn that. In Sanskrit this is called “ekagrata” – one-pointedness or undisturbed attention.
Now it only remains for me to wish you all a wonderful summer filled with many peaceful, silent, contented moments as you dive deep, deep down away from the surface noise and into the silent depths of the bottom of a cool lake.
Hari om tat sat,