Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sutra 1.6

sutra 1.6


The five activities [of the mind] are comprehension, misapprehension, imagination, deep sleep, and memory

Let's take a visit to the not too distant past. It's 6:30 PM in the Joanou/Clifford Household and I have decided to freestyle dinner. A little Trader Joe's here, a little Whole Foods there, and some stuff from the very back of the pantry thrown in. What appeared in the pot was some kind of coconut flavored goulash with various grains. I placed the steaming bowls before my daughters.
"Eat up!" I shouted cheerfully, perhaps masking what I already knew.
They both looked fearfully at the white, lumpy gruel in front of them. Lucy was the first. She gamely took a bite. Misha emboldened by her big sister took a bigger bite. Together they both dropped their spoons.
"Yuck!" Lucy cried out.
"Yuck Yuckity Yuck!!" Misha wailed.
I was mad. I spent time and effort on the meal. I had not yet tasted it, but I was sure it was superb.
"You may
not say yuck at the table," I said, barely reserving my frustration. "And, it is NOT yucky."
To demonstrate the delectable nature of my concoction, I spooned a heaping portion into my mouth. It took all my self control not to vomit on the table. It was the one of the most disgusting things I had ever eaten.

There are innumerable ways this could go, but I realized I had backed myself into a corner. If I said it was, in fact, yucky, I felt I would be opening the door to future reviews of dinner that I didn't want to hear. I would also have to accept and admit that I was wrong. Dead wrong. I would also have to concede authority to my 4 and 7 year old dinner companions.
"It is NOT yucky," I repeated, gagging back the bite I ate.
The girls sat miserably staring at their bowls unwilling-unable to eat more. I said there was no desert and there were some tears. After they went to bed hungry, I sat on the porch waiting for David to come home so I could recount the story.
He exploded in laughter. "You HAVE to tell them you thought it was gross too!"
"But won't that undermine my authority?" And once I heard the words, they sounded ridiculous and false.
"You're right," I said. "They were right. It was the most foul stew ever."

I slept a dreamless sleep and the next morning I woke them and said, "Hey you know that thing I made last night?" They both nodded their heads with caution. "Well, I have to tell you the truth. I thought it was yucky too! I'm sorry. It tasted like barf."
They LOVED this! We all had a terrific laugh and they felt thrillingly vindicated. I did too. And now the experience lives on in family lore.
"Hey Mama, remember that time you made that really, really yucky stuff for dinner? And you said it wasn't yucky but it REALLY was, and then you said it WAS yucky—"
"Yeah! You said it tasted like BARF!!"
"YEAH!! Remember???"
Yeah. I remember.

How does this relate to the 5 vrittis of the mind? The right knowledge was delivered through my girls and we all agreed to the wisdom of acknowledging the yuckiness we discovered through our sense perceptions. Our source of wisdom and knowledge was our own indubitable experience. I had conceptualized the meal, that is I thought about it before I made it, and imagined that the ingredients might taste good, but I was in error. I was in further error by not acknowledging the reality of my direct experience with the foul meal, and instead insisted on the appearance of being "right." The memory of the experience was recounted to David and then again to the girls so that we all shared in the direct knowledge, and there we were full circle!! I even slept a dreamless sleep that night, so that my mind was unoccupied by the horror of the Yucky Stew, even though the seed of the experience was still present.

It's possible to apply the template of the five qualities of the mind to almost any story or experience in your life. What is important is learn whether the activities of the mind are serving your way on the path of Yoga. In this case recognizing my error and admitting it was a direction towards intimacy and trust with my daughters and the wisdom never to freestyle with a can of coconut milk and an package of mystery grains from Trader Joe's.

Only FIVE activities of the mind? That seems like a pretty small number relative to the incalculable number of synapses we fire each second we're alive. Five? Is that all we are, the odd number added up so neatly? Let's explore these descriptions of the
vrittis Patanjali delineated:

Comprehension—also translated as correct knowledge, or valid experience
Patanjali is defining is the moment when you just "know." How do you know you know? I don't know. But I know when I know until I don't know. Clear?

Misapprehension—also translated as misconception, perverse, or simply, error.
Sometimes you're wrong and you don't know it. Sometimes you realize you're wrong. Are you now right? How do you know that you were wrong? How will you ever know what is correct knowledge in contrast to misapprehension? Sometimes you're wrong and you do know it, but you go about your business anyway. See above story.

Imagination—also translated as doubt, day-dreaming, conceptualization
There is a word, and there is a thing. You think the word and imagine the thing. It is not the thing, but a concept of the thing delivered via the word or a memory of the object. I saw a can of coconut milk and based on my other experiences, I thought it might be tasty with some grains. I could conceive of a beautiful stew. Or, you think you know the past but in reality the past is a figment of your imagination, some of it colored by right knowledge, some colored by error.

Deep Sleep—also translated as a state of emptiness. This is to delineate between the dreaming state which may have features of the other four vrittis, knowledge, error, imagination and memory. In the case of the Yucky Stew story sleep was a blessing of blissful forgetting.

Memory—also translated as memory. This is a retained experience in the conscious mind, though it can manifest in dreams, knowledge, error and imagination.

Don't worry, Sri Patanjali will give greater exposition on each of these five
vritti, but for now it is important to look at each of them and consider each and how these activities operate in your daily life. Notice that they are interrelated and remember that Patanjali states in sutra 1. 5 that the mind is defined by what it does. Our thought and feeling processes are a matrix of the five vrittis that at certain times are beneficial, beautiful and draw you closer to your Self, and at other times distracting, disturbing or even harmful.

How would you qualify 'right knowledge'?

Is there a particular activity of your mind that occupies it more than others?

How does memory work in your life?

Is nostalgia a valuable experience or limiting?

Is there value in day-dreaming?

Recount in your journal a story where you were wrong and when you realized you were wrong what you did about it. Write about the process of discovering your error. Write about what you did when you discovered your misapprehension. How does your memory of the experience now color your feelings about it?

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