So far in the Sutras we have been told that conscious awareness, or awareness of Being in the present moment, is the key to yoga, or as I’m choosing to term it for this conversation: listening. The obstacles that precipitate during the process of yoga are things that scatter the mind and lead to suffering. We encounter suffering as the obstacles transmute.
One way to steady the mind is to repeat the sound of “Aum“, and Patanjali has told us that this actually makes the obstacles disappear. But there are two handles we can use to turn the mind: obstacles present as a result of former states of consciousness, and obstacles we create with our current state of consciousness.
Pema Chodron in one of her stunningly loving & peircing dharma talks (I can’t remember which or I’d tell you… it might be “Getting Unstuck”) refers to this process with the metaphor of a potter’s wheel. The turning of the wheel creates the pottery, and the turning is perpetuated by the motion of the potter. There is an inherent momentum which drives the wheel, but we can choose to kick it every so often to keep it going.
The obstacles, or causes of suffering, are a consequence of the container we form on the wheel. As long as the wheel, our mind, turns the container is being created. Some call this process karma. You can also call it ego. It has an inherent momentum, actions and reactions that grow from what it is, which in turn is a result of what we have done and been. We can mold it by kicking the wheel to keep it turning. Even if we’ve taken our hands off the clay – “Look ma! No hands!” – if we keep kicking the wheel we’re unwittingly creating our container. And unwitting doesn’t mean un-responsible. It just means we’re not paying attention.
So how do we keep from kicking the wheel, from encouraging the momentum of our habits? How do we keep from building onto our container? And how do we abide its dissolution when we still our minds? First, by remembering we are not any of our things, roles, thoughts or conditions. And we can support that present moment consciousness, in which we know we are not this or that, through meditation on a single principle. Is that the same as repetition on the sound of “Aum” or concentration on the breath? That all depends.
On the path, we don’t just awaken all at once, stop our vices, extricate ourselves from our histories, cease desiring all that we’ve built our facades around. Our hopes, dreams, pleasures and pains transmute. We don’t simply become non-attached from the whole world in a moment. In fact, I’d be mighty suspect of someone who claimed to do so. I don’t know about you, but there’s a very fine distinction in my life between attachment and joyful duty. In fact, I’d say I’m attached to my most joyful duties, my husband, my dogs, my practice and my patients. I’m downright in love with them. But that’s another post.
For now, it’s enough to say that as we ponder and navigate the meaning of non-attachment, of how not to muddy the river after the distractions have precipitated during a given days’ practice, steadiness is a virtue. Given that all objects arise from the same source, it doesn’t ultimately matter which you choose. What matters is the steadiness and clarity of your focus upon it.
Which is not to say that any and every image, feeling or idea is equivalent. Some objects aren’t conducive to steady concentration. Some objects foster the depression, frustration and dissipation we looked at in the previous sutra. So, for instance, focusing on being frustrated wouldn’t be particularly helpful. However, becoming aware of where you feel that in your body, what sensations arise for you in a moment you feel as frustration, that might be a practice that returns you to your present moment awareness. Or chanting “Aum”, or “One”, or picturing a waterfall or praying in your tradition… the possibilities are endless, but not unbounded.
In the end, I’m reminded of one of Kerouac’s “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose“: #5 Something that you feel will find its own form.