Brain Droppings of Patanjali
I relate a lot of things to the Yoga Sutras. I teach yoga so in some ways that makes sense. It’s also one of the few philosophical texts that I’ve read multiple times. I find it a fascinating exploration of the human mind and the journey within. I also think it has lessons for the real world today – even if it is over 3000 years old in written form and who knows how many in verbal. Because I find writing such a challenging and inward looking activity I can’t help but connect the two. Besides I’m practical. If you can’t take a practice, like yoga, and apply it to the real world then what good is it?
More than 3000 years ago, people were exploring the journey inward toward the Self. You can define the self any way you want to – capital S or small, Goddess, God, core of creativity, cosmic stuff, watcher in the field, observing I, your navel gazing core. It doesn’t matter whether your mystical or material, so long as you journey within.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. So these guys, went up to caves, sat cross-legged for hours if not days, did not eat, and tried to meditate – or travel inward – mapping as they travelled inside their heads. They had visions – who wouldn’t? They had dreams – you bet. The Yoga Sutras are a map of their adventures – not a map in the traditional way we think of but a series of short sayings that delineated the way complete with noted obstacles, traps, dead ends, and helpful hints. You just have to figure out what it means today as opposed to what it meant 3000 years ago. Oh yeah, and interpret the verse.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. How does this relate to writing? I’m stretching here. I know. But that’s how I grow. When I find stillness, I write best. I can tap into my creative self and write. I can’t write when my mind is racing in different directions; when I’m worrying about deadlines; when my anxiety is high; when there are distractions – any distractions – from Facebook to Twitter, to my dog asking to go out, to my email, to my physical practice, to my son asking me to help him with his homework, to my wife asking me to take out the garbage – in other words just about any and all of life. How do I deal with these things and sit down and start to write? Every writer has their own technique. Some write in the morning before everyone else awakens. Some go to coffee shops and plug in ear phones to shut out the rest of the world. Some stare at their computer screen or out a window at birds nesting. I think in all these ways we do a similar thing.
We withdraw from the world.
We go within.
And we write.
I still the patterning of my consciousness and look within. I follow the map. I search for a well of creativity, find a well – sometimes just a patch of wet earth, sometimes a bucket full and I dive into it.
It has been called “flow” in more modern times. It is a moment in time when you exist as one with what you’re doing. Sometimes it lasts moments and I go back and forth between flow and distraction. I hate that. It’s frustrating and hard to work that way. I don’t get much done. But if I keep at it I get something done. Those are the days the word count increases at a snail’s pace.
Other times I disappear inside and come out half an hour later (my normal morning writing time) and three pages have been written.
The more often we do this as writers – the more often we practice – make writing a practice (something we do every day) – the more we get done. The easier it becomes to follow the map inward. And here’s the thing. Even if the path shifts sometimes, new obstacles arise, old ones disappear or reappear in different forms – the yoga sutra has them all mapped out for us.
At least I think it does.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Patanjali and the Yoga of Writing
Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras some 3,000 years ago. Of course he wasn’t really the writer in the sense that he came up with them. He took what had been an oral tradition of verse, like the Vedas, India’s sacred texts, and put them down on paper. He codified the words so they could be remembered, forgotten, read and remembered again.
I’m using the Yoga Sutras in my yoga classes this month as a way to provide intention to the sequences and rhythms of the class. So much of yoga is about intention and focus. Without them it is just a physical exercise class. With them it teaches the great inward journey through the mind and down towards the soul of great cosmic “stuff”. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Every class opens the great doors of the mind and offers training for the journey in. Each reading of the Sutras I find new paths to follow and this text fascinates me.
I was thinking about the Sutras and writing and where I’m at now with my new work. The first sutra from the first book on Concentration, is as follows:
NOW begins the teaching of yoga.
I know. I know. What is all this talk about yoga and what does it have to do with writing?
For me everything.
I don’t know where true writing comes from. I know it comes out from inside of me. Others writer have told me the same thing. There are times when they look at what they have written and either don’t remember writing it or can’t figure out where it came from.
I don’t believe it comes from a physical place. Creativity is something intangible. I believe it is innate to human beings – just look at any child (before school gets a hold of them and forces them to color within the lines), yet it cannot be touched or held, or examined under a microscope. It’s effects can be – a great novel or a painting or a beautiful song can be read, seen, or heard.
Yoga is about the yoking or bringing together of the individual and the cosmic. It is the journey inward to still the fluctuations of the mind, to rest in the self.
Writing brings me to such a place. It is an inward journey to the creative spark. It is a place that is hard to find as an adult, totally accessible as a child, and each time found just a little easier to return to the next time.
The first sutra says NOW begins the teaching of yoga. It has been, to me, a call to arms – only in this case no swords are necessary. The tools are the physical implements of writing (pencil, pen, paper, computer screen and keyboard), stillness, and a well-trained mind. Writing is all about training the mind to make this inward journey. It’s the same path the yogi takes.
NOW begins the teaching of yoga. Not after the dog has been taken out. Not after Facebook has been read. Not after tweets have been tweeted. Not after blog posts have posted.
And here’s the cool thing. You can learn about yoga and the inward journey from classes but if you really want to learn you have to make the inward journey yourself. Again and again and again. To get the most out of your practice you need to do it every day, even if it’s only for a short time. You journey by yourself and you learn from your experience. That’s why it’s called a yoga practice. No one said the path to even momentary enlightenment would be easy.
Now it’s time for writing practice.