As the delegations deliberated like dogs chasing their own tails, a thousand men fought over a podium screaming incoherent, incomplete sentences into a broadcast system that not everyone could quite hear. The chairman of the board was away on what seemed to be a permanent vacation of sorts leaving the thousands of committees and delegations to argue amongst themselves and wrangle for control of the corporation. Like a ship with a thousand captains at the helm, courses were plotted and replotted as the men shoved each other out of the way and jerked the wheel around, rendering the corporation useless. Where there was once a united and consistent aim, now there was nothing but pandemonium. And so it goes for the individual without a consistent center as they become subject to the whims of a thousand passing inclinations.
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodah,” proclaims Patanjali in the opening of the Yoga Sutras which translates to “Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind.” Learning how to control the modifications of the mind through the practice of observing one’s thoughts objectively is one of the main transcendental aims of Yoga. Through the art of observation, one learns to “see” and cultivates the ability to “do.” To “see,” in this sense of the word means to experience; to see what is, without any “coloring” of the thoughts. The mind and the senses, which receive stimuli from the body and from the outside world, are like a movie screen being colored upon by moving pictures. The screen holds the space for the movie, yet it does not take on the qualities of the movie itself. In the same way, one who can see, can peer through the colored veils of subjectivity and perceive an impression exactly how it is as compared to how it may initially appear. The ability to see is strengthened by the practice of daily meditation and sustained directed attention throughout the day. The ability to meditate and direct one’s attention comes through the application of the will which is motivated by the desire to awaken from the state of happenstance.
When one is in a state of happenstance, the world around them becomes the canvas upon which they are painted. It is not uncommon to hear a parent yell unto their child, “you make me so proud” or “you make me so angry,” thus hinging their mental and emotional state upon the actions of another. Without proper awareness of why and how one is affected, it is impossible to think, speak, or act in an unhinged manner. The Upanishads warn the Yogi to “watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.” Through the steady practice of objectively watching one’s own inner dialogue, one can alter their ability to adapt and adjust to situations, rather than simply becoming a product of them. When someone does something hurtful to another, for example, they can react and become the unconscious product of the situation and do something hurtful in return or stop and consider why the action was taken and choose to act in a graceful and compassionate manner in return. This does not mean becoming a doormat for others, as boundaries can be respectfully stated and maintained. Instead, the Yogi chooses the path of least resistance and greatest benefit to all involved based upon the situation. In doing so, the Yogi breaks free from the chain of action and reaction and becomes the one that “does” rather than the one who “happens.”
In the traditional practice of Yoga asanas, one is directed to slow down and observe the fleeting sensations which accompany the pose. Through observing the way in which the poses are approached and executed, the practitioner can gain many insights into the inner workings of their mind and how their thoughts translate into words and actions. The body is like a sounding board for the mind and the emotions. This can be clearly seen in the gait of one who is confident as compared to one who is timid. Likewise, as one learns to tame the movements of the body and move without resistance, the mind and the emotions will follow along. Ideally, in the midst of a pose, the mind is actively engaged in observing the subtle and not so subtle sensations in an unattached manner. Modifications are made in order to protect the body from injury if the initial execution of the pose is too strenuous. Thereafter, relaxation is applied and the pose is settled in to and held as effortlessly as possible. At times throughout the holding, certain thought patterns may try to interfere, yet the yogi constantly chooses to stand diligently and unaffected by the modifications of the mind.
In order to proceed on the path of Yoga, one must humbly acknowledge the fact that their practice is a process. Characteristically, a person will not have the desire to attain something which they already believe they have. This is why it is imperative for the student to try and perceive as clear of a picture of themselves as possible. Without an honest assessment of oneself and one’s greater aim, progress upon the path will be hampered and one will fall back into a state of happenstance. A constant reaffirmation of commitment and effort is necessary in order to be able to affect the unconscious flow of thoughts, words, and actions. At first, this endeavor may seem quite tedious and fruitless, yet with time, it will become easier to create a space between that which is observed and that which is observing. With patience and slow, methodical, and consistent effort, the student will awaken unto themselves and sow their own thoughts and reap their own chosen destiny.
The chairman of the board begrudgingly returned and observed the chaos created in his absence. One at a time, he settled the disagreements between the different delegations and committees creating a unity in the midst of division. Through honest reflection, he reaffirmed the aim of the corporation and delegated what was to be done in order to achieve that aim. Each delegation and committee was now to do their proper task and serve as his support. Those ideas which were incongruent to the greater aim were summarily discarded and laid to rest. Through proper attention and intention, the chairman of the board guided the corporation through the tempest strewn seas of disharmony into the calmer waters of unity, of Yoga.
Brian Kleiner, E-RYT 200 serves as the Assistant Director of Manitou Yoga School. He holds certifications from Kripalu and Sivananda Yoga and has been teaching Yoga since 2001. Brian is also an instructor at the Pikes Peak YMCA, Manitou Yoga, Manitou Springs High School and Phoenix Yoga Lounge. Brian infuses philosophy into each of his classes, guiding his students towards a deeper understanding of themselves through Yoga.