How to Unfold Our Potential According to the Yoga Sutras
If we want to understand our place in the cosmos, we just need to carve out a place for ourselves in our little world. Carving out our space looks like realizing our place of meaning and contribution to the world. That requires aligning ourselves with a positive/productive mindset instead of a self destructive mindset. This happens by using our minds correctly. While it would be nice if correct use of thought was second nature, we are programmed to internalize negative thinking as a survival instinct. Therefore positive thinking, or opportunistic thinking is something we have to consciously program. The Yoga Sutras, a few thousand year old text, is considered a master text on how to successfully navigate the fluctuating thoughts and emotions we all go through.
In Book One verse 20, the Yoga Sutras say that in order to experience our potential we must “follow a systematic practice rooted in faith, strong vigor, insight, stillness and memory.” That is if you weren’t already born with a knack for enlightenment. Those people may not need to follow a set course. But for the rest of us, systemization supports spiritual development. The Sutras give five methods for the lay person: faith, vigor, insight, stillness and memory. Let’s consider each one.
Faith does not refer to any sort of religious dogmatism nor does it ask for willful blindness or turning away from what is controversial to us. The sanskrit definition of faith is a little different than how we understand it in English. Reason is still alive in Sanskrit faith. In fact, faith is defined as "what makes up a man or woman". It is the essence of who one is. It is what drives a person to act and why.
Faith can also be defined as the process of moving from believing to knowing. To successfully reach any goal, requires a belief in the process of getting there. That belief is what makes it possible to wake up in the morning and repeat the same action steps day in and day out. As the process works, one’s faith is strengthened beyond belief into knowing. They know their process works because they have lived it. Faith is required at the beginning of the journey in order to get to the end result. If there was no faith that something could work, there would be no motivation to take action.
Stillness is the process of becoming one-pointed. One pointed awareness happens when we concentrate or meditate or put our attention fully on whoever or whatever is in front of us. Because the mind becomes quiet in stillness, it results in the suspension of our own beliefs. Our usual mind chatter and who or what something is stops. This allows us to take something in as it truly is, not as we, in all our emotional chaos and biases, perceive it to be.
Insight is the natural next step after stillness. It is the wisdom or intuition that arises from the still mind. When the mind becomes still and we see the world as it is, we perceive previously unrecognizable patterns in nature. We have separated the truth of existence from our own emotional overtones. We have insight into the true nature of the universe.
The Sanskrit translation for memory is smriti. While in some contexts it can signify the memory of a past experience, in this context it points to something more profound. Instead of recalling experience based on the five senses, it asks us to recall our consciousness beyond the five senses and the physical body. This is an experience of consciousness outside of what we are used to (except maybe in sleep or if we are skilled at meditation). It requires an initial faith or belief that it is even possible to have an identity beyond the physical body.
Maybe another way of describing consciousness beyond the body as memory is the experience of familiarity one can have when they do experience deeper states of meditation. If, when the mind is still and the significance or awareness of the body is negated, and it feels like I have been here before, perhaps that is a memory from deep within the recesses of consciousness.
Our identity beyond the five senses is interwoven with the holographic universe. Our consciousness is capable not just of experiencing individuality, it is capable of experiencing unity and connection to all living things. When we look past the surface, the universe is composed of one undivided whole.
This is actually something we experience on a daily and hourly basis. Any time we are able to extend our awareness beyond our individual body and into the shoes of another person, we are extending our consciousness beyond ourselves. This experience is so normal, we take it quite for granted not realizing the unifying field of consciousness which allows us to do it in the first place.
Which of the five practices from verse 20 of the Yoga Sutras do you resonate with? Which do you need to strengthen?
Stay tuned for the final installment of Being and Becoming in the next blog post!