Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.12 – 1.17
1.12 The Changing States of Mind are stilled by practice and dispassion (detachment).
1.13 Practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind.
1.14 Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.
1.15 Dispassion is the controlled consciousness of one who is without craving for sense objects.
1.16 Higher than renunciation is indifference to the gunas. This stems from perception of the soul (purusa).
1.17 Samadhi consists of the consecutive mental stages of absorption with physical awareness, absorption with subtle awareness, absorption with bliss and absorption with the sense of I-ness.
As the great sage, Nisargadatta, has said, Spiritual Practice is will, asserted and reasserted.
We find one thing; the breath, a mantra, connecting to the lower abdomen, a prayer or connection to the Divine – and we just keep coming back to it, doggedly returning despite the boredom or frustration or resistance or the feeling of being hands down the most ineffectual yoga practitioner in the last two thousand years.
As the great zen teacher, Shodo Harada Roshi, has said, practice is like filing a bucket one drop of water at a time. Every moment of awareness, every moment given to the breath, is a single drop in a bucket. Each moment that follows with awareness and care is another drop of water in the bucket. As long as we continue to give our full-hearted attention to the practice, the bucket will slowly, inexorably, begin to fill. But if we lose our awareness and fade out into thoughts or get pulled around by desires and fears or only give half of our attention to the present moment because we incorrectly assume that it is, after all, just there and obvious – no need to give it such importance – then the bucket will not only stop filling up, the water will very, very quickly drop back to the bottom. How many times have we been in meditation or asana practice, feeling our energy level and focus growing, sharpening, clarifying and then something pulls us away for a moment and when we come back to the present moment we can be surprised and discouraged at how difficult it is to get back into the practice. The momentum is lost and it takes time to slowly begin again and come back to a focused flow.
Giving our full attention to every breath, every moment, never assuming we know this moment and how it will unfold into the next. Every breath is new. Imagine that! How many thousands of breaths we take in a lifetime and not a single one is exactly the same! Yet, do we notice? Isn’t it true for most of us that each breath feels exactly the same as the next, even as we’re paying attention? This is what it means to take the present moment for granted, to be ignorant and blind, only half aware of the brilliance of this life, this moment we are participating in. So much of life is passing us by without us being aware. If we knew we were half asleep and with blinders on to boot, we would probably walk and observe much more carefully., give much more attention to everything realizing that a lot of information is passing is by. Slow down. Pay attention. It’s all slipping by so quickly. This intention, the will to keep coming back to the practice is phenomenally precious. It’s bringing us back to something concrete and real, away from a sleepy, half lived existence.
We slowly add one drop into the bucket after the other. That this process is difficult, seemingly impossible, is not a reason to stop. That emotions from boredom to fear to anger rise up and sweep us away from the practice is a matter of course. When we can, we come back to the moment and continue to practice. We continue to assert this will, this desire to be present. We continue to fight against the ego’s wish to be content with the dull and the repetitive pattering of the mind. As Nisargadatta is pointing out to us, ultimately, it’s that very thing that wills to find freedom that is discovered to be freedom itself. This is when the bucket overflows.
As the bucket is filling up, giving our full attention to the majesty of every present moment – we find ourselves feeling better and better. The mind clarifies and sharpens. We’re more confident. Problems, both internal and external begin to resolve themselves, often spontaneously and without effort. We find ourselves slipping, naturally, here and there, in and out of samadhi just conducting the normal activities of our lives. In short, we begin to grow, to develop as human beings. We get excited and, perhaps naturally, assume we are now advanced practitioners. We’ve figured it all out, or close enough. We drop everything and become yoga and meditation teachers, start teaching others about this wonderful path. Now, this is all wonderful and fine but how many of us on this path realize that we’re only half way there? This rising energy, the confidence, the growth and realization of essence, the development of the mind and spirit, the samadhi – these are all symptoms of a practice that is only half full, maybe even very close to being totally full, but not of a mind that has come to overflowing. It can feel so good and so right that we stop practicing, we stop striving because we assume that we’ve ‘got it.’ This is sad and entirely too common in our modern spiritual culture.
The only remedy for this is to keep asserting and reasserting that will to practice. Just don’t stop. A mind that is practicing is always starting over. A mind that is practicing is always coming from the place of a beginner. A true practitioner is always letting go of the past and reasserting the present. We are in a constant state of forgiveness. Constantly letting go. There is no such thing as an advanced practitioner, only people who carefully and humbly and whole heartedly give their all to this moment. All true practitioners share this in common. Those who claim to themselves or others to be advanced got lost somewhere along the way. Fortunately for all of us (and, let’s be honest, who hasn’t fallen into the trap a few hundred times?), all we need to find ourselves again is to just come back to this one breath and start filling that bucket, asserting and reasserting this will to freedom.