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Contemplating the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Understanding the meaning of the powerful verses which explains the real purpose of yoga

We will explore verses 1.2. and 1.3 from Book One, Samadhi Pada - Portion on Contemplation. These two verses are instrumental in understanding the primary goal of yoga, which is to calm the mind.

1.2. Yoga citta vrtti nirodah

Meaning: Yoga is the cessation of the mind's modifications or fluctuations.

This second sutra already explains what yoga is about. The entire science of yoga is based on calming the mind. The natural state of mind is peaceful, but the information collected from the surroundings through our senses moves us away from that peaceful state.

Swami Satchidananda enlightened us with a fascinating example of how it works. Imagine you are quietly sitting enjoying solitude when a pleasant smell comes from the kitchen. Your mind automatically starts the process: "I'm getting a fine smell from somewhere"; What's that smell? I think it is cheese. How nice. What kind? Swiss. Yes, it's Swiss cheese. Oh, I'm going to have a piece right now". All those thoughts modified your original peace of mind. And probably, your mind will only find peace again after getting your piece of cheese. The want is created and most likely the effort to fulfill the desire. The first step is to become aware of how the mind interferes with and influences our mood, feelings, and behavior.

This goal of yoga is simple but not always easy. This is because our minds are conditioned to follow thought strands that take us from topic to topic. We have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day. I compare the mind to an app we have installed, and its job is to produce thoughts. So being caught up in our thoughts feels natural because we do this all the time, instinctively.

We need to train the mind like we tame a puppy. The puppy is playful and restless, and we must tame the puppy to sit still and be calm. The same happens to our minds. It is about training, and the most important thing is to understand that you are trying to break an almost intuitive habit for yourself throughout your life.

When you try to sit and meditate, remember that. Don't feel frustrated or upset if your mind is all over the place. That happens to all of us. It takes practice to improve in the art of calming the mind. Be patient and practice self-compassion. Every time you notice you are not present but attached to a thought, take a deep breath and gently bring your mind back.

1.3 Tada drasthu svarupe vasthanam

Meaning: The Seer (Self) abides in Its own nature.

You are not your body or your mind. You are the one who sees the body and the mind. There is an excellent metaphor comparing the mind and the mirror. If you look at a dirty or curved, concave or convex mirror, you won't see your image as it is. The image will be distorted.

The same happens to the mind. If you have a clean and calm mind, you will see everything through these lenses. On the other hand, if your mind experiences too many disturbances, has too many negative thoughts, is too stressed, anxious, filled up with pessimism, or is guided by fear and pain, you will probably have the mind like a dirty mirror. As a result, you won't be able to see the true reality.

That's why you need to clean up your mind's mirror so that you can perceive yourself and the world with clarity. When the mind stops producing thoughts and the mind is entirely free from modifications, it becomes as clear as a still lake, and you can see your true Self and perceive things as they really are.

So when you are finally able to have a clear mind's mirror, and you can finally see yourself, who do you see? Who are you?

You may say I'm [my name]. I'm Andrea, for instance. Yes, that's the name my parents gave me when I was born. But I am not just that. That doesn't define me completely.

You can also say, I'm a teacher, or a wife, or a mother. So, yes, those are roles I have in society. But again, they don't define me entirely.

When we remove the adjectives that can only partially describe us, we will end up to who we really are: just "I". We are the same "I". This "I" make us all the same. We are pure consciousness. We are pure awareness having individual experiences in separate bodies.

Once I was listening to a lecture from a Swami, and he shared a fascinating example: if you have a bracelet of gold, how do you define it? As a bracelet or as gold? You can melt the gold and do a ring or a pendant. You can give the gold another form, but you are not changing its essence. It is still gold. This won't change.

So when you understand your true essence and that we are all the same, you can relate to the image of a wave in the ocean. You can see a beautiful wave breaking at the beach, but it's all water when it ends. All reunite together. The same molecules mixed up together. You cannot see the difference when the wave mixes up with the rest of the ocean.

The same happens to us in this existence. We are all waves having individual experiences in the ocean of life.

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