The Yoga Sutras tell us that Yoga is control over the activities of the field of the mind. Then we stand in the true Self, purusha. All other times, we stand in our thoughts, prakriti. In this dualistic system, we can never experience purusha and prakriti at exactly the same time even though, as embodied beings, we experience purusha via prakriti. Purusha is pure consciousness, absolute and unchanging. Prakriti is material consciousness and evolves from the most gross sensual experience of the earthly realm to the most subtle realm of the mind. And this is where the practice of Yoga is happening – in prakriti, in the mind.
In my experience, it is that moment in meditation when I come back from … where? ... from somewhere where I was not aware of my thoughts. It’s that instant right before I realize, “Oh, I am me and I am meditating.” But where was I? That might be my favorite question of all time.
The answer? I believe that in that moment I transcend my own personal, individual consciousness and connect with universal consciousness. I abide, for however long, in my true nature. More than any other word I can use to describe the experience, it is quiet. It is also peaceful, light, bright and free, and I bring a sense of that encounter back with me. Back to where? Into my everyday awareness. This is the essence of purusha and prakriti. I live my daily life in prakriti, with a greater awareness of purusha, which has dissolved the notion that material consciousness is all that there is. It is from this knowing that I realize what I am and what I am not. And what I am not is my thoughts.
In the 5th sutra of Book One, the Samadhi Pada, Patanjali says that there are five activities of the mind– the vrittayah panchatayah – and they are either klishta or aklishta. The root klish means to cause trouble. Klishta vrittis are thoughts that are troubling. Aklishta – the a negates – means thoughts that are not troubling. Many words in English can be used to translate klishta and aklishta. Thoughts can be painful or not painful, afflicted or not afflicted, impure or pure, negative or positive, moving away from seeing the truth or moving toward seeing the truth, leading to bondage or leading to freedom.
As long as we are embodied beings, we will never not have thoughts. This is the … problem? Issue? Dilemma? It is none of these; it is just a fact of life. The Yoga practices offered in the Yoga Sutras teach us ways to control our thoughts. It is a very personal and internal practice in which we become acutely aware of how what we are experiencing through our senses affects what kinds of thoughts are coming up in response. In this way, we find a quieter, more peaceful, lighter, brighter and freer way to exist in prakriti.
Over time, with practice and experience, we continuously refine our minds, identifying thoughts as klishta or aklistha, working toward letting go of whatever it is that drives the klishta vrittis that are binding. In the legendary words of Led Zeppelin, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” And with that, we continue down the road toward Self-realization.