Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chapter One, Sutra Four

sutra 1.4


Otherwise, we identify with the activities of the mind.

In 1985 I bought myself a sweater in London. I thought it was the coolest, most hip, gorgeous thing in the world. Whenever I wore it, I felt I had almost super human powers. I felt insanely attractive, tall, glamorous and well, damn near divine.
Then one day this girl, Dawn, said to me, "That sweater doesn't fit you right at all. It makes you look short-er. And it's made with nasty acrylic."
Holy Cow! I thought. Is this true? It must be, because
she can see me and I can't really see me. The love affair with the London Sweater was instantly tarnished. I still have a few pictures of myself before my heart was broken, wearing my cool, beautiful sweater, casually smoking and feeling so worldly. And then there are a few pictures AFTER, where it's clear I just don't feel quite the same about it.
Frivolous, I know, but humor me.

Both truths about my London Sweater were distortions because of course I am not my sweater (contrary to the previous post where I claimed to be a tree but just didn't know it yet). If I were actually, deeply thoroughly aligned with my sweater, believing my sweater to be the origin and end of consciousness, then nothing could have possibly changed the way I felt about it. I would be my sweater and my sweater, I. In yoga the "I" is not subject to fashion trends—even powerfully intoxicating ones like those of the 1980's.

Our personalities, our thoughts, and behaviors, both conscious and unconscious (
vritti and samskara) are ever-changing costumes covering our real Self—or Reality as some translators will call it. One of the first steps in yoga is coming to grips with the fact that you are not your sweater, (or your job, name, family or body). Nor can your sweater change who you really are. It becomes clear, as you realize this, that it is very hard to know exactly who you are because subjectivity is unreliable and changing almost moment to moment. The Yoga Sutras tell us, the mirror isn't distorted, it's just our gaze that is clouded—My sweater wasn't cute, or uncute. My feelings about it however were loaded and personalized. According to yoga we collect these thoughts and reactions and are also born with them. Our work is to slow things down (nirodah) so that we can sort out misunderstandings and incorrect perceptions.

When Dawn ruined my relationship with my London Sweater she could tell I was upset.
"Don't take it personally," she said casually, lighting a Virgina Slim.
"How the hell else should
I take it?" I shouted, reeling into a frenzy of hurt and embarrassment.
"Don't get so wicked ma-ad," Dawn said and continued singing along to
Little Red Corvette, her favorite song.
I might have said something about how lame Prince was, and she might have responded by saying something about how stupid the music I liked was and then our conversation might have devolved into yelling with a few F-words thrown in. Perhaps...I really don't recall. If we extrapolate, I suppose this is what war amounts to — a series of misunderstandings so powerful they result in violence and sorrow.

If I were a little less attached to how I looked and felt in my London Sweater (or thought I looked in my London Sweater) I would see that Dawn was correct. Her perception was as distorted as was mine, but it was not personal. We were misunderstanding each others
apparent realities. And even more to the point, in the state of union, or yoga, we would have known that at the center of our being, Dawn and I were exactly the same.

Why do we have personalities, mind and distorted perceptions at all? Why do we even have the crazy activities of our mind when they can be a source of confusion and mistake?
Desikachar says: The world exists to set you free! When I first read it, I found the words baffling. In reading the Vijnana Bhairava, the state of Yoga was described as a reunion with a beloved after a long absence. The Bhairava suggests that it is precisely the separation that galvanizes the reunion. Is it another way of saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder?"—sort of—except that the desire to end the absence of the beloved exceeds fondness, personal gain, pleasure and even love. As we journey on the path of Yoga the goal is nothing short of total union with the object of contemplation—a state that supersedes affection, desire, love and personality. As the clouds of distorted thinking begin to clear by way of dedicated practice, one aligns oneself with Reality, a place where true joy and understanding preside.

I remember long ago, standing by the international arrivals gate at the airport watching people reunite. I witnessed happiness so unbounded it was breathtaking. And in that sublime moment, I don't believe anybody was thinking—"This would have been
soooo much better if I were wearing my London Sweater." Or "Wow, she looks fat in that stupid sweater. Is this fabric acrylic? It feels like crap." The peace of being liberated from identifying with the sweater, the job, your family, your thoughts or your body, even for a moment, might just be enough to keep us working toward greater understanding.

List 10 positive characteristics of your self.

List 10 negative characteristics of your self.

How do these indenties help you?

How do they hinder you?

In all honesty, do you think it's important (or even possible) to "lose the ego." It's really ok if you don't think it's important. Search your heart and mind to explain and write what you think a loss of identity would mean and why it's important, or why it's not important (or possible) at all.

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