vrittayah pancatayyah klistaklistah
There are five kinds of thought-waves—some painful, others not painful.
It's late afternoon, 1987. I'm driving down the freeway near 80 mph. It's LA. It's hot. There appear to be two suns hanging plump and low in nuclear orange orbs. I'm dreadfully hungover, or maybe still drunk, who knows. I can't remember which pill I took. I go through a tunnel and instantly fall asleep, but my car continues hurtling down the freeway. I reel through four full lanes of traffic, hit one concrete embankment, spin off that and smash into another. When I become conscious a guy in full motorcycle leathers is jumping over the concrete wall. He wrenches open the door, takes one look at me and shoves my teeth back into my gums.
This is one of the finest moments of my life. A few days later I awoke with another hangover. I blinked my eyes and then was quite spontaneously enveloped in a flash complete clarity. The morning light was coming in the window and I can still see the dust motes spiraling. There was a bird's nest next to my bed. I looked at it and realized in a crystalline, grace-filled moment that the drugs and drinking must immediately and irrevocably come to an end. Sometimes this is called reaching "the bottom," but for me it was the TOP. The beginning. It was an opportunity to say "yes," to a radical change of heart within an instant. It is on this moment that I have since built my life.
Patanjali describes the mind by the activities that engage it. He has reduced the effects to five. Some sages say more, some say less. Five you say? C'est impossible! There must be more than five activities of my mind. But you will see that the five activities or vrittis outlined in Sutra 1.6 are plenty. The importance of sutra 1.5 is the the examination of the effects of these mental activities. Patanjali is asking us: Do your thoughts bring you closer to a state of Yoga which is considered a state of painlessness, or do your thoughts take you further away from a state of Union which is considered painful?
Now my recollection of totaling a car on a hot, late afternoon could be retold as a painful memory (along with all the other moments previous where I was a reckless and selfish ass). Maybe!
But because I survived it and managed not to hurt anyone else, the experience left me an opening—it became one of the great high points of my life. In fact besides the miracle that I didn't die, nor did anyone else (except my former self), the motorcycle guy who jumped over the wall happened to be a paramedic and saved my teeth! I was not arrested even though I should have been and I was left without a vehicle thereby rendering me incapable of hurting anyone else or myself.
Patanjali is not only referring to ability to perceive and remember events, but he refers also to each and every thought that arises in the present. The meditation becomes, "Is this thought, (and action following) bringing me closer to a state of tranquility and union, or is it creating more confusion and suffering?" It seems impossible to check each and every thought that rages through the pipeline of the mind, especially if you're really drunk, high and driving super duper fast on Highway 101. This is where consciously slowing the vrittis (activities of the mind), becomes, once again, very valuable. If you practice asana, you will know that slowing the breath is an easy and immediate way to slow your mind.
Just think—if you manage to check your thoughts even once in your day, and you are able to direct that thought/action towards tranquility, it is said that no effort however small, brings you closer to Yoga.
My niece used to say to her siblings when they were being mean to her, "That's not very friendly!" This is another wonderful way of evaluating your thoughts.
Are you being friendly?
To the planet?
Bring a notebook along with you during the day, and when a thought arises that you can determine as "not beneficial" or "unfriendly" take the moment to write it down. Do this five times.
Later in the evening, reflect on why these thoughts were not beneficial.
Another day do the same exercise, but this time jot down a thought that seems helpful to your way in life or "friendly." Do this five times.
Later in the evening, reflect on why these thoughts are beneficial.