Powering Through (On Fumes)

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The second chapter of the Yoga Sutra-s directs its teachings towards busy-busy people with distracted minds.

The chapter may seem to begin with a splash of cold water:

“Wake up! There’s work to be done (tapas), and it’s work you need to be doing (svahdyaya), and the crux of it is, ‘Not everything’s about you (isvara-pranidhana)!'”

But the splash of cold water arrives with love:

“What you’re going on about endlessly?! That’s not who you are. You’re so much bigger than this. (samadhi bhavana arthah – the goal is being established in intimacy) Come on. You can turn this around. I know you. (klesa tanu karana arthah cathe goal is diminishing the causes of suffering).”

Many times when I’ve been on the receiving end of this conversation (usually without the Sanskrit parenthetical-s), my knee-jerk response has been, “I’m sorry, I just don’t see it.”

To which Patanjali (and my conversation partner) might respond, “Exactly.”

Avidya, the inability to see things as they are, is offered as the overarching cause of suffering.

That love-infused splash of cold water reaches us like the hand of a trusted friend; with a squeeze it says, “I know you’re in pain. It’s coloring your world. Let’s deal with that.”

Although there is a relentless optimism and faith that pervades the chapter on practice, that optimism comes from acknowledging some hard truths: it’s painful

  • not getting what we want (duhkha),
  • not being who we think we are (asmita),
  • chasing after temporary pleasures (raga),
  • avoiding what disturbs us (dves(h)a), and
  • watching everything slip away (abhinives(h)a).
Powering through past these realities exacerbates their difficulties.  Gary Kraftsow used to call that approach the “rat paper” model; each attempt to free ourselves gets us further stuck.

Patanjali offers a different path: a way of acting (kriya yoga) that acknowledges that we’re entering this practice in the midst of our busy-busy lives. And it recognizes that, yes, along the way, we’ve developed habits that flow from deeply rooted tendencies which are exacerbated by the environments we spend our time in and the ways we have oriented our relationships to the people and objects in our lives.

The first layer of kriya yoga could be summed up as “Stop. Get a hold of yourself. It’s not all about you.”

“I know, I know,” the chapter on practice seems to say, “it seems like there’s no time for this… Put this off long enough and you’ll be right.”

* * *
In the Middle

of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still.
the chimes don’t ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

– Barbara Crooker, from Yarrow

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