When we reside in the present moment, when we can be still, everything can come into focus.
“Then the Self abides in its own true nature”
Why still the fluctuations of the mind? How is this going to help us? The fluctuations of the mind warp and distort our view of the world. When we find a place of stillness and immediacy, we can see the world clearly. Even more importantly, we can see ourselves clearly.
It reminds me of an old joke:
An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician were on a train heading north, and had just crossed the border into Scotland.
The engineer looked out of the window and said “Look! Scottish sheep are black!”
The physicist said, “No, no. Some Scottish sheep are black.”
The mathematician looked irritated. “There is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, of which at least one side is black.”
The yogi is like the mathematician in a way: rather than making the assumptions of the engineer, or even the physicist, letting the reality be obscured by assumptions, distractions and fantasy–memories and dreams and how we wish the world to be–we try to let go of all of that to observe things as they most truly are. This is at once mundane and profound.
The relationship of this to the asana practice seems to me straightforward–we put ourselves in a position where it is hard to become mired in the unreal, by working the body in a way that demands as much of our attention as we can muster. With no capacity to spare for anything but this present moment, we start to train ourselves to have that sort of focus, and eventually we can start to bring it off the mat.
“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”
Why inhabit the present moment? To begin to let go of our fantasies and see the world as it truly is.
For me, this isn’t the stopping of thought. Certainly some schools of yoga encourage this–an attempt to step away from the world entirely, to transcend and escape it. But few of us have the luxury or the calling to step out of the world. Instead, we have to find our practice alongside the everyday aspects of our life.
Rather, for us, it is the cultivation of a clear focus on the present moment, and what it demands of us, and the ability to step beyond what we fantasize and do what is truly within our capacity.
“Now begins the study of Yoga”
I’ve been told (though I don’t know to what extent it may be true) that in all the ancient texts, the yogis would start with the single most potent word that, if you truly understood it, would render all the rest of the text superfluous. Certainly in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, that first word, now, seems to hold the key to everything else.
Some people approach the yoga practice as one that is subtle, mystical and esoteric. While I respect their interpretation, for me, the practice of yoga–the complete practice, not just the asana practice–is an endless attempt to inhabit the present moment. What yoga has shown me is that this moment is the only real thing. What matters to me is my actual experience, which is mundane and concrete. Projecting our consciousness backward and forward through time, with memory and fantasy, may help inform our experience in this moment, but it is ultimately this moment that matters.