Fluctuations of the Mind: Sutra 1.5

Vrttayah Panchatayyah Klishta Aklishtah

“There are five kinds of fluctuations in the mind and they can be painful or painless.”

Vrittayah = modifications/fluctuations (of the mind-stuff); Panchatayyah = five kinds; klishta = painful; aklishta = painless.

The precise list of the “five kinds” comes up in Sutra 1.6. For now, though we get the two categories of pain and painlessness. Notice it is not “pain or pleasure” as we’re used to hearing when discussing the operation of the lizard brain and it’s reaction to painful or pleasurable stimulus. Both pain and pleasure are stimulating, so in this sutra, they are not contradictory. Pain/pleasure are a ephemeral, creating excitement within the spectrum of body-mind. That would make “painlessness” closer to  the idea of serenity.

So, each kind of fluctuating thought will either bring pain or not–and their category can change (and usually does). The thought of good times with an old friend can sour if the relationship goes south. Conversely, the memory of an arduous task can become positive when reflecting on how much it pushed you to grow.

From the previous Sutras, we might get the idea that vritti (fluctuations of the mind) are something to be banished completely. After all, aren’t they the things that keep us from abiding in our true natures? Well, abiding is not a permanent state fur us created beings. We live in the world. We’re meant to experience the world and all it’s variegated territory. Life will keep challenging us, and we are asked to navigate whatever comes at us, and to do so from the peaceful, essential part of ourselves–because that’s where lasting happiness resides.

Sri Swami Sachidananda (yoga master and translator for the Sutras) comments that we can steer the mind away from painful fluctuations by focusing on thoughts that bring us to peace. The mind’s job is to jump from thought to thought. This is how it grows and develops, especially in the early stages (think of the easily-distracted attention of a young child). Quieting the mind takes practice. Before we get adept at emptying the mind, we can take intermediate steps. One such step is avoiding indulgence in selfish thoughts by allowing complete indulgence in selfless ones. Selfish thoughts will usually end in pain. Selfless ones have a stronger potential to bring us peace. Sachidananda cites love. If our sensation of love is based on the expectation of getting something out of it (selfishness), it will ultimately result in pain. If love comes from a place of selflessness, even if the relationship comes to a close, we can be at peace with its conclusion.

The ripples and turbulence of the mind has been bringing me down lately. Much of that turbulence is intensified by hormones. I’m dancing to the recent tune of menopause, and for the most part, I’m cool with the changes, the hot flashes, the mood swings. I laugh about being able to carry summer with me through February. I notice the rhythm of mood swings and can flow through and out of them again. Sometimes, though, I stumble in the dance.

Today was one of those days. It’s a video day for me and it was pure torture editing the footage. I hated everything about myself, my voice, the way I looked in the clothes, sitting in a chair. I might as well have been wearing a Jabba the Hut suit the way my mind interpreted images through the haze of hormones. I don’t remember feeling this down on my appearance since puberty! (Hmm, I wonder what the similarity between menopause and puberty might be?) I nearly deleted the entire video. I had to stop, get onto the mat, and give myself time to connect with my whole self. Flowing through my practice allowed my mind to be present with my body as it exists in the here and now, while stilling the fluctuations that insist (shrilly) how my body should be. It didn’t take long–the benefits of a consistent practice include clearing pathways to a peaceful centered self, so it gets easier and easier to “arrive”.

Afterwards, I was able to finish up editing and publish the video. I could quiet the ego’s judgmental nattering and get back to why I started the channel in the first place: to share the benefits of yoga as far and wide as possible, reaching people who might not have access to a studio or instruction. Making the physical shift of doing yoga precipitated the mental shift I needed to complete the project from a place of peace, despite the traps laid out by my hormone-soaked mind.

[This is a series of commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a classical text compiling yogic wisdom. Claims date the writing anywhere from 5000 BCE to 300 CE. It is often regarded as a core text of yogic philosophy.]

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