There are days when I struggle to get myself onto the mat. I’m tired, my belly hurts, my shoulder aches, my… (it’s a long list, aging is a bear…). That said, there’s never been a time that I regretted getting myself to the mat, or as my teacher David Garrigues says, my “meditation cell”. Sure, sometimes these excuses are legit and practice may not have the zest it does on a “good” day, but it’s not about that. It’s about honoring a commitment I’ve made to myself to show up for something that I know in my heart moves me closer to my true self.
The first pada (chapter) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is titled “Samadhi Pada” because it provides us with information on the end game – the 8th limb – enlightenment or samadhi. The Sanskrit word “sama” is the root of our English word “same” and in yogic context indicates a state of equilibrium, integrity and balance. “Dhi” is root of “dhyana” meaning meditation or aligning one’s energy with that of Iśvara (Purusha or infinite consciousness). Samadhi is a state of cognitive absorption wherein the yogi is able to experience and tap into the consciousness we all share and know the consequences of his actions, clean up his karma, and end the cycle of samsara (birth – life – death).
Wow, OK, so that’s quite a thing. And we learn as we progress through the sutras that a lot of time, energy and effort must be put forth (by most of us) to get anywhere close to dropping into this state. We have to want it pretty bad or so you would think….
Why do we do it? What would propel us continue, day after day, to show up on the mat and move through these postures? Important questions to ask ourselves now and again. Checking in to be sure we’re staying the course for the “right” reasons. Reasons that are deeply personal and can really only be known within ourselves.
There is a grouping of three sutras (1.20 – 1.22) that give us some inkling of what it takes. What it takes to show up. I find these motivating and uplifting because they hit on concepts and feelings that I can detect within myself. A motivation to practice grounded in devotion, love and respect for those who’ve come before me.
The first is 1.20:
śraddhā vīrya smriti samādhi prajñā pūrvakah itareśām
Others (meaning those that need a path) follow a five-fold systematic path of
1) faithful certainty in the path, 2) directing energy towards the practices,
3) repeated memory of the path and the process of stilling the mind,
4) training in deep concentration, and 5) the pursuit of real knowledge,
by which the higher samadhi (asamprajnata samadhi) is attained.
It gives us a five-fold system to help us stay on the path. Śraddha is faith – a faithful certainty in the path itself as a vehicle toward yoga, toward liberation from samsara. Virya is energy – the burning fire in the belly of tapas to get up and go, surrender to the method, to the path, overcome fears, trust in the teachings, let go of doubts, and stay on it. Smriti is memory – recalling the peace that comes from doing the work, from engaging in right effort. Samadhi is absorption – the training in deep concentration that enables one to continue making decisions and directing his actions toward steadiness on the path. And finally, prajna or intuition – that inner gut feeling that this is worthwhile, that it’s leading us somewhere within ourselves that resides in freedom – and giving ourselves permission to abide there.
Abide there… avasthanam – quickly becoming one of my favorite Sanskrit terms. It comes from Yoga Sutra 1.3. Sutra 1.2 gives us an initial and profound understanding of yoga. It says “yogash citta vrtti nirodah” – yoga is the stilling (nirodah) of the activity (thoughts /vrtti) on the field of the mind (citta). But, why would we do that? It’s not just so we can be “calm”. It’s so we can abide there and connect with Supreme Consciousness: tada drastr svarupe avasthanam – then the SEER can abide in its essence. You know longer question who you are or why you’re here – you know and it sticks.
The second motivating sutra is 1.21:
tīvra samvegānām āsannah
Those who pursue their practices with intensity of feeling, vigor, and firm conviction
achieve concentration and the fruits thereof more quickly,
compared to those of medium or lesser intensity.
Here he affirms that is does make a difference how you approach practice. Simply showing up is a crucial first step. From there, the level of engagement we put forth does matter. The Buddhist 8-fold path includes an element that I like to draw from here. That element is “right effort”. It’s part of the mental discipline required to keep up the practice. We can think of it as the energetic will to prevent unwholesome states of mind from arising, to be rid of such states that have already come up within one’s self, to bring on wholesome states of mind not yet arisen, and to develop the good and wholesome states of mind already present. So, if we couple that with Patanjali’s guidance – the energy behind that will is to carry an intensity of feeling, vigor and firm conviction – drawing from the faith, fire, memory, absorption and intuition we cultivate. Stoking the driving forces behind our determination to uphold this commitment to yoga, to ourselves, that we have made.
And not being sidetracked when something doesn’t “feel good” or even when we are injured in some way. When I think of injury as an excuse not to practice, I call John Bultman to mind. The guy shattered his femur and was laid up in a hospital bed in India and he still practiced! Yes, it was significantly modified, but he could still breathe, he could still visualize and he could build day by day to get back to his mat. A year later he’s back out there rockin’ 4th series. https://youtu.be/oVsu3ROR9No
The third sutra is Patanjali’s way of hammering it home. 1.22 says:
mridu madhyā adhimātratvāt tato ‘ api viśeshah
For those with intense practices and intense conviction (1.21),
there are three more subdivisions of practice, those of
mild intensity, medium intensity, and intense intensity.
As if it wasn’t enough to say you gotta commit, you gotta show up, you gotta have faith and vigor, he adds that that vigor can grow in its intensity.
INTENSE INTENSITY. AAAHHHHH!!! Oh yeah, bring IT! Sometimes I just wanna strip off my clothes, give up everything I own, run out into the forest and go full-on yogi. That’s what this says to me. It’s the babas that wander the earth naked, speak, sleep and eat very little, practice often, warm themselves at night by the campfire, cover themselves in ash, wash it off in the Ganga, and always keep their minds on God. When my practice hits a lull, there are a few main inspirations I pull from. Hanuman – the pinnacle of love, humility and devotion; my teacher, David Garrigues, the pinnacle of striving to develop intense intensity and still remain here for us (and others I admire, like Tim Miller and David Life); and the babas that I sat with in Haradwar at the Kumbh Mela in 2010. Most people would look and them and see crazy, I looked at them and saw the burning flame of yoga.