‘Yoga chitta vritti nirodha’ is the defining sutra for Yoga from the sage Patanjali who lived around 400 BC. It is commonly translated as ‘Yoga is the cessation of mind fluctuations’, or ‘Yoga is a method of silencing the vibrations of the chitta (mind, intellect, and ego).’ While this may be true in theory, the mind being silent or without fluctuations seems for the vast majority of folks (including most yogis) to be a rare occurrence. Now, I consider mental silence a noble pursuit and worthwhile to put right effort into. And, the more people I talk to about mental silence, the more it seems to be a myth. Moreover, the attempt to achieve it and the ‘high’ state of consciousness that Yoga presupposes occurs when the mind is silent tends to render frustration, confusion, apathy, non-feeling, avoidance, and so on. In the effort to silence the mind, thought fluctuations in the form of judgment, expectation, shaming, blaming, guilting, etc. can appear to the practitioner as inimical. In this view, the intellect in relationship to emotion tend to conspire to keep the individual frustrated and in a general state of agitation.
I would like to offer an alternate translation for the aforementioned sutra that may be more practical and workable; ‘Yoga is the skill of not allowing the mind to turn on itself as an enemy.’ That is, to cultivate a friendly disposition toward all that is seen and observed inside and out. This is by no means to allow harm or to flippantly allow destructive behaviors to repeat. It is to access the genuine heart of friendliness amidst the the fiery truth of life. It is to know oneself in mind, body, and heart as being willing to allow the causes and conditions for happiness and change. It is to sit sweetly with oneself until judgement gives way to clarity, until emotion gives way to genuine feeling, until reaction gives way to the spontaneous organic response of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
By Brent Kuecker: Yogi. Musician. Educator.
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