The obstacles and their symptoms (tat) can be reduced or prevented (pratisedha) by practicing (abhyasah) focusing on one (eka) method or technique (tattva).
PRACTICAL LIVING Sutra I.30 described the nine obstacles to inner peace (or a state of Yoga), followed by Sutra I.31 explaining the five symptoms that result from the obstacles. In this current sutra, Patanjali states that in order to decrease mental agitation, we need to choose ONE object/idea/method/activity to focus on. The focus on one technique in depth decreases the mental agitation. Too many options agitate the mind. This sutra relates to Sutra I.2, which describes Yoga as the process of (1) choosing something to focus one, (2) focusing on that object and (3) sustaining that focus for a long period of time. This sutra is telling us to avoid doing too many things, but telling us to do something, which reminds us of the concept of practice and detachment (abhyasa-vairagya) seen in Sutra I.12.
If we think about times when we felt heavy, lethargic, dull or depressed (see Sutra I.30), doing something, regardless of how little effort it required, was difficult. On the other hand, when we have been frenetic, agitated and restless (see Sutra I.31) choosing only one thing to do was a struggle. In both of these extremes (either too dull or too hyperactive), we were not in a state of Yoga. If we become aware of our mental states when this happens, it is recommended to choose ONE thing to focus on – something that will bring us some calmness, some clarity. Patanjali does not say what that one thing should be – he leaves it up to each individual to figure that out for him/herself. What brings you calmness? Is it playing the guitar, chanting, journaling, pranayama, going for a walk in nature? Whatever your object of choice, Patanjali suggests that we stick to one object consistently. Choosing several objects at the same time, or choosing several different methods at different times just creates more distraction in the mind. Are you constantly changing jobs, partners or hobbies? A clear modern example of someone who is continuously choosing different objects is one who buys a different “daily deal” for a different Yoga studio every week. This person does not create relationships, community or depth in any place: they are jumping from one place to another, exacerbating the mental mania, the inner distractions that Patanjali has been referring to.
When we discover a new method (a new hobby, therapist, diet…) there is often an excitement similar to one of falling in love with a new partner. By continuously changing methods and partners we might be able to keep this excitement going for some period of time, but we will never find out what Yoga and love are truly about. The purpose of a relationship is to recognize the deepest, purest and most loving part in each other, and the purpose of yoga is to recognize that depth, purity and love in ourselves. Both are experienced by choosing to be dedicated to the same partner or the same method respectively.
Some commentators on the Yoga Sutra-s have used the metaphor of digging wells in search for water: there’s little value in digging shallow wells in several different places. After some reflection, choose ONE spot and dig deep. Even if one encounters a rock, use whatever it takes to overcome obstacle and keep digging. Only by going very deep will we experience the process of concentration and calming the mind.
IN THE YOGA WORLD Patanjali is suggesting that the object in itself is not important. Any idea, object, chant or philosophy is merely used as a symbol to hold onto as aids towards inner calmness. Since we are all different, the object of concentration will vary from one person to another. My teacher may be the perfect guide for me, but may not be for you. We often get caught up thinking that our choices, belief systems, styles of Yoga etc, are the best ones and we judge the choices of others. It is important to understand that just as I have confidence in my object, teacher, Yoga lineage or diet choices, someone else has confidence in their own. We should not disturb others in their faith, nor let ourselves get disturbed from our faith.
In my opinion, this is one of the most fascinating concepts that the Yoga Sutra-s presents: Yoga is respectful of individual differences. Our individual choices are not what make the difference, it’s our attitude of concentration and dedication to that object that will calm the mind. It’s the dedication, with enthusiasm and for a long period of time that will transform us (see Sutra I.14).
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON I have just spent 5 days with a beautiful human being: Ceci. Not only is she in my mind as I replay and reflect on the wonderful moments we spent together, but many of our conversations are applicable to this sutra. Ceci is a focused woman. She chose to raise a family and has been extremely dedicated to it for over 2 decades. In her search for personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose, life has brought her to explore new projects, leading her to start on a completely new path. She shows this stability, this focus, this deep understanding of dedication for ONE thing in many areas of her life. Like many of us, she has learned these throughout the journey. But just spending time with her is a clear example of that: when she is with you, you feel like you are the one she is choosing to focus on – you feel loved. And I did! Thank you Ces, for the profound conversations, the laughter, the hugs, and for teaching me so much through simply being YOU. Love you soooo much!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will look at how friendliness and compassion are wonderful options as a practice to cultivate more inner peace!