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Practical Patanjali

The gas tank on my motorcycle has two different settings used when the engine is running; the “ON” setting is for regular riding and the “RESERVE” setting allows access to a little extra quantity of fuel when you need to get to a filling station and avoid running out completely before reaching a gas pump…

With the many changes happening in my life lately; from traveling back and forth to Canada to spend time with my aging Mother, to trying to plan a work and life transition toward retirement, and figuring out the workings of a new relationship, I find myself tapping into my own reserve somewhat frequently these past few months, but as I reflect on the many wonderful discussions I had the pleasure to facilitate with the weekly Yoga Sutras Study Group this fall, I am fascinated by how relevant all of Patanjali’s teachings are to our everyday life!

It’s easy to read some of the sutras in the first book, which was the topic of this semester’s exploration with the study group, and think that this stuff is only relevant to people in search of deep spiritual meaning; and it certainly is relevant that way, but given that for the majority of our waking hours, we have to function in the world, I find it comforting to see and experience how potent and applicable his instructions are to our very concrete and mundane life!

In last month’s column, the focus was on sutra 1:12 in which Patanjali recommends practice and detachment as a means to gain mastery over our mind but in 1:20 to 1:22 he provides the keys to keeping our internal tank nicely filled by emphasizing the level of effort required along with dedication to practice and detachment over long periods of time… This allows us to cultivate and refine our awareness and thus be able to recognize our limits and capabilities, and when we can push a little more or when we need to reconsider our approach, our priorities, or ask for help and make time for self-care…Once we have built enough “muscle memory” around the state of calm, clear and tranquil mind that comes with prolonged dedicated practice, we can more readily and easily recognize the threat of the many obstacles Patanjali warns us about in 1:30 and 1:31…

Whether it’s lingering doubt about not doing enough, not being enough, or indulging in that extra drink, that heavy meal or dessert and watching movies late instead of getting a good night sleep, thus exposing ourselves to a weakened immune system and potential disease… we can at least recognize the signs and realize when we have dipped a little too low into our reserve… and while a little imbalance is understandable from time to time, we can tell the importance of returning to a full tank regularly enough to avoid damage and know to return to the mat and cushion for a fill-up as frequently as needed.

In 1:34 to 1:39, Patanjali offers us several methods to cultivate a calm clear and tranquil mind and we can adapt many of them to perform small emergency refills of our tank, to sprinkle our day with tiny lifelines and keep from tapping into our reserve too much… From a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing in the car while it warms up as we leave home or office to a brief moment of contemplation on the light of pure consciousness and how we can feel it with gratitude at the heart center, or chanting while doing the dishes and taking a moment to reflect quietly on someone who always inspires us while waiting for an appointment, we can take little “shots of fuel” throughout the day…

Part of the wisdom that comes with long term dedication to practice and detachment is the ability to discern what is critical from simple noise and when it is OK to continue on the reserve for a while versus when a full replenishment is needed (yoga nidra to the rescue!)… It’s also knowing when that extra bit of research or testing or documenting you wanted to do on a project at work can easily be delegated to a team mate or when it’s ok to keep those sheets on the bed a few more days…

It’s also the awareness that we are flawed human beings while remembering we are filled with love and with the essence of pure consciousness at the very core of our being… that we can recognize the signs of our physiology and biology telling us that we need to take care of our basic needs…

It’s being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of accessing the luxury of a full length asana practice and meditation session after relying on quick and partial refills on the run for too long…

It’s about not freaking out when realizing that with the frenzy of the last month or so, we neglected to take care of our driver’s license renewal and need to somehow find a way to take time off to go spend half a day at DMV which incidentally, is where I am writing the bulk of this column…

Basically, once we have tasted a hint of the progressive peace and stability of mind Patanjali describes in 1:40 to 1:51 we are much more attuned to the signs of this calm, clear and quiet state slipping away from us and are much more willing and able to make it a priority above all else, to keep that reserve as intact as possible, to always return to a full state as soon as we can, and when all else fails, we can always go back to reading 1:33 in which Patanjali instructs us to cultivate an attitude of friendship instead of animosity toward those who are happy, compassion instead of cruelty toward those in distress, joy instead of jealousy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity instead of self-righteousness toward those who are non-virtuous… and, most importantly, to apply those instructions to our self as well as to others… it’s the most basic and easily accessible “magic sauce” for a favorably disposed, serene and benevolent consciousness!

Incidentally, it’s also a good recipe for success during the upcoming Holiday Season, so best wishes to you and all your loved ones! And stay tuned for information about the next session of the Yoga Sutras Study Group coming in 2018!

With much love and gratitude,
Anne-Marie Serre
RYT-500

 

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