Wisdom arrives inside the circle;
Affairs are left outside the gate.
Zen Master Hongzhi
Recap of what I have covered thus far:
- Atha Readiness and Commitment
- Citta Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
- Purusa Pure Inner Light of Awareness
- Drsya Ever-changing Mother Nature
- Viveka Keen Discernment
- Abhyasa Diligent, Focused Practice
- Vairagya Nonattachment to Sensory Objects
- Yoga as Nirodha Silencing the Heart-Mind
- Isvara The Source of Knowledge
- Karma and Samskara Action and its Imprint
- Parinama Transformation
- Duhkha Suffering as Opportunity
- Samyoga False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
Keep in mind that I will be using some Sanskrit words I have not written a blog post on yet. I will, of course, write the English word next to them, and I will be getting to those words soon.
I have been seeing these words come up for me throughout my daily life since I have begun this project. I am really, truly adoring this book, The Path of the Yoga Sutras that Nicolai Bachman has shared with the world. It has truly been a blessing for me to learn these, and for clarity purposes, I am writing these blog posts for a couple reasons. First, is because I just love writing, and I was kind of out of ideas on what to write about. Second, because I really wanted to learn about the yoga sutras because they are so beautiful, but I knew that if I just read the book I would only take on a half-hearted learning of it and it wouldn’t actually land deep in my memory and consciousness. I really want these words and ideas, especially as a yoga teacher, meditation teacher, and Fairyologist to come out of me as easily as I can say the color “yellow” or “bless you” when someone sneezes. Creating this project was my way of taking ownership of my next step as a teacher and professional. Plus, I love writing! So it is a lot of fun for me, and I hope you, my readers, are benefitting from reading these posts as much as I am benefitting from writing them.
Today’s subject speaks about activity in the heart-mind, or citta. It’s funny, this chapter, because I love the honesty of what Bachman wrote about cittas. For years (before I joined the group at greenmonkey yoga, of course) I felt that most of my yoga teachers would talk about how “mind chatter” was always a bad thing. “Mind chatter” was what it was referred to in my first teacher training, which, unfortunately, wasn’t very life-transformative for me. Fortunately, though, it was where I got my start, and I am so glad I did it because it gave me the space to show up as a TERRIBLE yoga teacher, so I could experience my best version of myself as teacher, which I am enormously grateful for.
My teachers in my pre-Kiersten Mooney days (she is the co-owner of greenmonkey yoga where I teach power yoga in addition to owning my own company Red Cheetah Yoga) would always speak of the importance of completing silencing our minds. Which, fortunately for me, was actually pretty easy when I was adhering to abhyasa, or diligent and focused practice. I do, however, recognize the importance of emptying our minds even if it is just for a moment during meditation/yoga/shavasana/exercise/washing dishes/etc, but the goal was always presented as being quite extreme for me: really empty our entire minds of everything all the time? What fun is there in that? We are gifted with the greatest brain ever for a reason!
Over time I realized that the object of meditation and yoga is not stopping thoughts completely. Many of my students would come to me and complain that they didn’t want to do yoga because teachers said that exact thing: “Empty your miiiiiiiinnnnnd compleeeetely.”
Myself and Nicolai Bachman are both here to tell you, you don’t need to.
We are also here to tell you it’s okay and probably necessary to empty your mind completely at least once in a while, and to do it in a wholesome way that benefits you now and later.
It’s also important to practice viveka, or keen discernment, on the things you allow to take up space in your mind, and to get really good at discarding the thoughts that don’t serve you when you recognize them as such. That does mean adding in mindfulness practices of some kind.
The word vrtti meanings “turning or cycling”. Harvard did a study where they wanted to know how many thoughts per day human beings had on average. They also wanted to know what kinds of thoughts human beings were having.
It turns out we think a lot, and we are obsessors.
As humans, we can have 60,000+ thoughts per day. Some people can have as high as 80,000 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of brain activity, which means a lot of cells being used.
What do those thoughts consist of?
All of those thoughts are almost the same thing repeated over and over again.
A whopping 90% of those 60,000-80,000 thoughts are repeated thoughts in a single day.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
No wonder so may of us stay stuck in the same place, in the same habits, with the same jobs, same people, same belief systems, because we literally have made no SPACE for ourselves in our minds to let anything new in.
Bachman defines five different vrtti-s, which will all get their own posts, because they all have their own chapters in his book.
- Pramana Valid means of perception/evaluation
- Viparyaya Misperception
- Vikalpa Imagination
- Nidra Sleep
- Smrti Memory
“Vrtti-s are not necessarily bad,” Bachman clarifies in this chapter. They can be harmful or helpful, it really depends on what they consist of, what caused them, and how they influence our behavior, or samskaras.
Harmful vrttis cause emotional stress, and, by the way, vrtti-s include ALL thoughts and emotions. Negative vrtti-s then cause negative impressions and behavioral patterns. When our actions involve suffering or we have an experience that is negative, our minds record that memory, which can be accessed in our memory bank to support future harmful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Bachman’s constructive criticism example is great. If you are unable to take constructive criticism well (this used to be me before the greenmonkey yoga teacher training changed not only my mind about constructive criticism forever, but countless others, too), and you get defensive every time someone tries to give you some, it creates harm in interpersonal relationships because not only can people not trust that they can be up front and honest with you, but it also harms you in that you take the criticism personally, and literally harms your fragile spirit as a result. A positive vrtti reaction would be to calmly take the criticism in, see what you can glean from it to make future experiences better, thank the person, and move on. This can not only save a lot of emotional suffering, but also maintain friendships and interpersonal relationships as well. Reaction creates small-mindedness and a narrow focus, when what we want as human beings is expansion in all ways: in our consciousness, in our connection to others, in our growth as human beings, in our growth in even the external things that move us forward like our businesses and other things that are important to us. Reacting by definition is the opposite of growth because it is low vibrational energy that keeps us stuck, in the hamster-wheel of negative beliefs about ourselves because we have chosen to give in to harmful vrtti-s.
Positive vrtti-s are emotions and thoughts that help move us forward as individuals. When we choose to exchange poor habits for good habits we affect our own lives in a positive way, and a side effect is that we also have the ability to affect others’ lives too. For me, positive vrtti-s have shown up as the daily practices I have chosen to adopt: meditation, gratitude journaling, written prayers in my journal, using my Awesome Jar, and being in the practice of thanking people for being in my life, from in-person to making sure I include it in emails and text messages to others. It’s amazing to me how this practice I have adopted since February 2015 has really been connected to the yoga sutras all along, and I never really landed on that until this blog post.
The difference between the negative and positive vrtti-s remind me of the meditation seminar I teach publicly and privately (depending on who hires me to teach it). I lecture on a researcher named Dr. Fred Travis who works extensively with PTSD patients, and he says that EVERY experience we have creates marks on our brains. Those marks come from electrical activity, and they all represent experiences we have in the outer world, our own inner experiences, and our thoughts. In his presentation on YouTube he was clear to say that as soon as we have a traumatic experience, it is important to follow up the traumatic experience as quickly as possible with a holistic one. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out traumatic experiences, but holistic ones vary considerably, and, depending on the traumatic experience, the choice of holistic experience can make a difference. Holistic experiences include, and are not limited to: meditation, eating well/right, forgiveness, having a conversation/saying how you feel, going outside for a walk, getting involved in an art, playing music, going out in nature, spending time alone in nature or with your pets, writing, and the list goes on. Dr. Fred Travis’ research has shown that following up traumatic experiences creates a more integrated-functioning brain, whereas the stressed brain, or the brain dependent on negative vrtti-s, has a disintegrated functioning brain.
So, our work as human beings is to practice viveka, or keen discernment, with the thoughts and emotions that come up for us, and to practice vairagya, or nonattachment to sensory objects, including thoughts and emotions, because these are things we experience and not things that we are.
It’s okay to get caught up in them from time to time. In fact, it’s even healthy to, because giving yourself permission to experience negative emotions and thoughts fully gives you the space to clear them out of your heart-mind more quickly. Give yourself permission to move through those experience so you may get to the other side more efficiently, but be honest with how much time it takes you. Where these things get ugly and disempowering is when they are allowed to go on for way too long, beyond the amount of time necessary for them to teach their lessons, that we become addicted to the drama that our brains become awash in.
So, slow down the pace of your life. Take the time out of your day to meditate and journal about the great experiences you have in your life. Because when you are going through your 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day, 90% of which are all the same, make sure that those thoughts are the ones you want to keep around! The POSITIVE beliefs you have about yourself and your abilities, thoughts that include your goals and where you want to go with your life. Never underestimate the power of journaling exercises of all kinds to help turn your mindset around, because, truly, your mindset is EVERYTHING, just like how my first yoga teachers said it is.
Give yourself permission to let your thoughts wander, see your thoughts for what they are. Practice attaching to them to see what that’s like, and then practice detaching from them to experience what freedom is like.
And, once you finally experience the liberating bliss of detachment, forgive yourself for not having done it sooner.
You can’t afford to carry guilty emotions about wasting your time with old, heavy, negative thoughts and emotions, because that is only putting you right back where you started.
And your mission is to march forward into open space.
Your thoughts and emotions are designed to work FOR you, rather than against you, so let them do that, and choose the ones that empower you rather than the ones that hold you back. And, when you notice the negative ones becoming your habit, work to change your habit by employing abhyasa: diligent, focused practice.
The activity of the heart-mind can conceal our inner light of awareness.
Practicing yoga includes doing everything I can to cultivate a calm and stable heart-mind.
I will reduce distracting and harmful thoughts by practicing meditation regularly, even if it is for only a few minutes each day.