Learning how to “Move in” so we can “Move on”
Our reactions and emotions are just self-created fantasies, our peace of mind is sabotaged by our own ego.
Students often arrive on the mat for one reason: to let go of what occupies their minds. Phrases like ‘I want to relax’ or ‘I need to clear my head’ are not unusual. Most yogis will admit the hardest part of the practice is to ‘get out of their own thoughts’. The determination in a way is to ‘move in’ in order to ‘move on’.
This common desire of most yoga students is not surprising. If one reads the ancient texts from which modern yoga originated: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it can be quickly observed that even thousands of years ago, yogis struggled with exact same problems.
2500 years ago, Patanjali, the founder of raja yoga, described the practice as ‘cittavrtti nirodhah’ – the cessation of movements in the consciousness. Thus the goal of yoga is to stop the constant process of thought, which finally bestows peace of mind, allowing the yogi to reside within the true self, the divine self.
In essence the real challenge of the practice is to clear the mind of all thoughts. But clearing a restless mind is no easy task. Fundamentally, the practice was created for our mind to move on from all that disturbs it. Learning that moving on is challenging and requires a specific practice may be comforting to many aspirants. Even after thousands of years, it seems we have been unable to progress in this sphere of existence. In fact, it is possible we may have even taken a step back when it comes to mind management and spiritual progress. Human attachment and desire continue to hurdle our spiritual pursuits, generation after generation. Overthinking has been happening for thousands of years, and there seems to be no magic cure for it. Even though the material world has progressed substantially due to science and technology, it seems our inner world has not been affected by this change.
According to Patanjali, our minds have four functions known as citta (consciousness), manas (mental dimension), buddhi (intellect) and ahamkara (ego). By observing the four functions of the mind, one arrives at the very centre of the mind, where one becomes the witness. At this stage, the yogi remains perfectly calm, even in the presence of all adversity, like the eye of a hurricane.
Manas is like a lens, which separates the subject, or the self, from the external world of objects. It acts as a receptacle for the data from all the objects surrounding us. For instance, if we observe a cup of tea, first the mind receives the image of the object as perceived by the sense of sight. The intellect then processes the image and classifies it as ‘a hot cup of tea’. The intellect gathers this information through a process of thinking which compares the image to stored knowledge and the experience of the senses. ‘it looks like a fuming liquid, it smells like tea and it is inside a thick cup, thus I classify this object as a cup of tea.’ The ego then identifies with the object and starts a process of reaction, depending on the previous experiences. It may identify to the object with pleasure and desire – ‘yesterday I enjoyed a cup of tea’ or it may react with fear – ‘I spilled tea on myself last week and got burned.’
The intellect operates on a fairly shallow level, identifying objects according to their function in the world of matter. The ego is driven by memories or samskaras, which carry an emotional significance and are related to sensations of pain and pleasure. It is the ego which forms attachments to objects based on a process of judgement, which relies completely on previous experiences, traumas, repressed memories, etc. The most important realisation we must come to, is to understand that our attachments, likes and dislikes are a creation of the ego and have nothing to do with reality. The truth of an object is perceived through the lens of the mind, but our interpretation of it is far from real. Our exhausting thoughts and memories which constantly occupy our mind, causing us to overthink everything is only a fruit of our own ego’s interpretation, which is nothing but illusion. Since we create the thoughts, we should in turn be able to stop and control them.
If we want peace, we must first rid ourselves of the clutter of the thoughts created by our ego. This is achieved by letting go of our interpretation of reality, a process which bestows clarity. When we are able to see clearly, then our mental lens becomes transparent and remains undistorted by the ego and intellect. We are thus able to perceive objects the way they really are. Then the object, the observer and the act of observation itself all become one. Separation ceases to exist, and union – or Yoga – fully manifests. This state is defined by Patanjali as drastuh svarupe avasthanam – “the seer dwells in his own true splendor. Through clear mind (manas) we can see our divine soul (atma), and the union of this soul with all that there is. This is the only truth, the only thing which is real.”
‘Moving on’ only happens through ‘moving in’. Self-observation is the way forward. We must start by observing ourselves, identifying our feelings and reminding ourselves that they are just projections of the ego. Our reactions and emotions are just self-created fantasies, and it is our own ego that sabotages our peace of mind.