Change is coming. Birds are hatching, animals are being born. Grass is growing and flowers are budding. People are falling in and out of love, having babies they have waited a long time for and babies they never planned on, changing jobs, changing careers, changing from coats to jackets. Change is thrilling and it is foreboding. It requires effort, whether to make the change or to continue to live despite it. Change is necessary, yet terrifying. We simultaneously look for it and avoid it.
I am leaving NYC in just a few months. Leaving my home of 10 years, my job of 8, my friends of what feels like one lifetime in a lifetime of many. Leaving my practice, my teachers, my ways of living. The choice to leave comes from a deep unsettling, the knowledge that stagnation has set, the path has been laid, for all its glories and defeats, and though my feet valiantly carry my heart, no limb or organ is truly satisfied. It’s time to shake things up.
A brief sutra lesson: The first book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (written about 2000 years ago) is called Samadhi Pada. It is a guide book to samadhi, the ultimate goal and final limb of yoga. Think liberation, freedom from the mind’s limitations and controls. The very second Sutra says “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”. It teaches us that to reach samadhi, we must still the “mind’s stuff”, the crazies, if you will. So, Patanjali is telling us that to reach liberation from the crazies of the mind, we must first still the mind through yoga.
As humans, we are actually naturally inclined to do this. We get our thoughts together before we make decisions. We take deep breaths, count to ten, make lists. We establish order in the mind. Stilling the mind-stuff, in the way Patanjali taught, takes this natural human condition further. Keep a still mind to reach liberation from all potential disquiet. To keep a still mind, concentrate on one-pointedness. Disallow distractions or interference. Refuse the crazies.
So, let’s get this straight. To reach samadhi, one must practice yoga through cultivating one-pointedness of the mind, thereby disallowing any of the crazies of the human mind to interfere. A kind of keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize mentality.
There was once a family man who, in order to provide for his wife and children, did not rule out harming others. He felt justified in this, as he was taking care of those he loved, and he assumed that the ramifications of his harmful ways (karma) belonged only to him. When a great sage became his intended victim, he was suddenly faced with the insight that his family would suffer the same ramifications of harming others as he. This scared the man- he wanted his wife and children to have pure karma- so he asked the great sage for help. He was instructed to set aside all of his worldly duties- fatherhood, marriage, provider- and focus his mind solely on Ram. The man did this and eventually, through single-mindedness, cleansed his karma and his family’s karma and became, in his own right, a revered visionary of Rama.
A lovely story of cultivating a still and tranquil mind through the pure concentration on one thing of importance, in this case, the worship of Ram. He kept his eyes on the prize, didn’t allow for interference, and he and his loved ones were all the better for it.
But what happened to everything else? What happened to the man’s family? Who took care of them while he was cultivating his mind? Who cared for his wife and brought food to his children? What happened to all the worldly stuff he was responsible for and invested in?
If we are to still the mind’s stuff through a single-pointedness of the mind, what happens to everything else? If my intention with moving, my prize, is a good job and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else? If my prize is to fall in love and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else? If my prize is to be the best yogi I can be and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else? If we live a singular life, what of the rest? Where does single-mindedness end and stagnation begin?