Saturday, July 1st, 2006
My teacher in India, Pattabhi Jois, says “Ashtanga Yoga is Patanjali Yoga.” As I see it, the basic thing Patanjali is asking us to practice, at least at the outset, is the act of quieting the discursive mind, the thinking mind. I’m a lover of unbearable paradoxes and there is a good one here: Patanjali’s sutras are all thoughts, every last one of them. Here is a supposedly profound thought that tells us not to think. What’s left? Where did Patanjali get his thoughts from? Did they emerge in complete form from his pineal gland?
The emerging answer seems to have become: do both, think and don’t think. And I believe the crux of the matter, especially for Westerners, is that we can’t not think. We try to quiet our minds and it doesn’t happen. We spend our days working through all the issues within thought, such as: replace bad thought with good thoughts, try to replace kookoo mind with intelligent orderly practical mind, replace mind altogether by doing the American thing: drinking beer and watching TV.
We do the dishes and conclude that President George Bush has subjected his unresolved father complex on the entire world, at horrible cost, without a lick of self-reflection on his part. But the inner yogi asks: can you just do the dishes, just this once, without thinking about him? Or yourself? Or anybody or anything? Just being with hands, water, dishes, soap, bits of food, your own body, feeling your brain instead of living in it? Returning to these concrete realities when thoughts do come. Can you do that?
Why? One reason: there is a whole realm of bodily feeling, emotion, sensing, intuition, instinct, deep knowing, meaningful suffering, purposeful process, wounds waiting for attention, heart-centered delight, self-organizing vital energy, all of which I put under the heading of Soma, which is often partially or totally masked and obscured by the thought train. Worse, it is susceptible and radically manipulated by a mind mostly ignorant of the havoc it can wreak on its own vessel. If I could, just this once for starters, just for this hour and a half while I practice, live deeply in the soma, the heart mind, which opens the possibility of a psychosomatic process purified and sublimated by sustained yogic and meditative attention, which may eventually reach up to the level of Shakti and cosmic experience, not analyzed but directly and immediately known- and then enter that data into my thoughts…