The Restraint of the Modifications of the Mind Stuff is Yoga
Here’s where the language of the sutras can lose you. “Modifications of the Mind Stuff”? What the heck is that? And jumping ahead to peek at upcoming sutras, I can see it doesn’t get much better. A reference book comes in handy*, and also just trying to take my time to get past the awkward phrasing, to think about what these words might really mean.
The original sanskrit is yogas chitta vritti nirodha. The root of the word yoga refers to the act of yoking; yoga can also refer to the essential union or Oneness of the individual with the Self. Chitta refers to perceiving, knowing, observing and can be translated as “mind” or “mind-stuff”. I can’t help but love the word vritti because it sounds so much like what it is: whirling, dizzying movement. Nirodha is best understood (according to my text) as an approach to mental mastery, requiring discipline and the redirection of attention. It is characterized by discernment, non-attachment, and clear moral and ethical principles. It is the means to regain the memory of who we truly are.
I know I am just at the beginning of the sutras, but it seems to me that this sutra says everything you need to know about the simple, yet radical way in which yoga can change your life. Here is how I understand it:
Yoga provides us with the means for restraining the mental chatter so that we may focus the mind and see what is.
For me, it is a daily challenge to still my mind and just see what is. Seriously?: it is more like a moment-to-moment challenge. In early 2014 I came to Colorado to ski (at least that was the excuse) and also because a man I have known since we were both in high school together had been inviting me to visit him in Colorado for more than 10 years. “I think I’ll come” I said this time, surprising us both. We fell in love, and by summertime Alan said “I want you to move to Colorado to be with me”.
Despite the fact that I am starting an entirely new life, with a man who has given me unwavering love and support, I often have to fight against my own impulse to interpret every new experience based on regrets or wounds from the past – or fear and defensiveness about what the future may hold. With little provocation, my mind becomes a whirlwind of vritti, searching for patterns: contrasting, comparing, categorizing each new event to see how it might fit into old patterns. Sometimes even modifying my experience of present events, attempting to force them to fit an old pattern. Ultimately creating a false sense of reality.
None of this leads to greater happiness.
Today Alan and I took my dog Luke and went for a hike up on Quandary Mountain. I was preoccupied with worrying about how I would find work in my new home, my mind swirling with vritti. We sat for a while on a rocky ledge, and the sound of moving water from a stream below began to soothe me. Two birds calling to one another through the forest caught my attention, brought me back to the present. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and let go. And whether through yoga or grace, everything stopped and just for that moment all the world was flowing water, pine trees, and bird song.
*My primary reference book for this journey is “Inside the Yoga Sutras” by Jaganath Carrera, a student of Sri Swami Satchidanandaji Maharaj.
Painting from by Ellen Dittenbrandt, from ShamanTube