The simple truth can be elusive. For example, in Tolkien’s book, The Lord of the Rings, the perplexed wizard Gandalf labored for hours to solve the simple Elfish riddle, “Speak Friend and Enter.” Similarly, within the depth and eloquence of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lies the simple truth for living a free and enlightened life. Surprisingly, in spite of its simplicity and clarity, this key to the sutras remains hidden.
Let’s uncover this “secret” found in the very first four sutras. They commence with “Now begins the study of Yoga. Yoga is the cessation of the movements in the consciousness. Then, the seer abides in his own true grandeur. At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.” You have probably read and contemplated these sutras countless times. What could be hidden there?
The very first word, Atha or “Now,” that initiates the sutras (and many Vedic texts) gives the clue. “Now” means more than “let us begin.” It is a call to attention. “Now” means the present moment, this very moment. Even though composed some 2,500 years ago, “now” spans time and brings us to the immediacy of this specific moment, to all that is. How powerful.
Patanjali states that the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness is yoga. A focused, unwavering, well-fixed mind, alert and poised can exist only in the present. At other times, he says, the mind identifies with its thoughts. What does “at other times” mean? If not now, not the present, what other time is there? Other times can refer only to the past or the future. If we are not present, completely alert to the here and now, our minds wander into the past or speculatively into the future, and we miss what is – the present. We miss living in the here and now. We remain identified with the mind’s wanderings and musings, which obscure the present and take us out of and away from a yogic state, out of touch with our innermost being and the fullness of life.
Of course, thinking is essential to our existence and survival. We learn from past experiences and make plans to guide our life situations in a positive and favorable direction. However, for most of us, our thinking goes well beyond the essential and becomes addictive. We dwell in the past with thoughts and feelings of regret, remorse, anger, sadness, bitterness, or other negative emotions. Unforgiven episodes of the past are the source of these aversions, negative feelings, and thoughts. Likewise, reminiscing with a sense of pleasure or nostalgia holds us to the past with desire or attachment. Or we fantasize about what is yet to come with anticipation, or with fear, tension, or stress – all of which deny the present moment.
Patanjali said that attachments, wants, and desires or aversions, hatred, and anger afflict and disturb the mind (II.3-11), cause unrest, and keep us from a state of yoga. In all cases, these attachments and aversions are related to the mind and psychological time – past or future. The mind can only exist in time, past or future. When we are fully present in the moment, there are no likes or dislikes, no sense of I-ness or separateness. The mind rests poised in the eternal present. Only then is the thinker thought-less, and the knower who dwells behind the thinker abides in his own grandeur, at one with being. This is dhyana or a meditative state, the first ray of enlightenment and profound transformation of consciousness.
Try this simple experiment, which might provide an experience of silencing the mind and being fully present. Sit comfortably, straight, eyes soft – opened or closed. Take a few breaths and inquire: What will be my next thought? Watch alertly like an animal waits and watches its prey before it strikes. Be intensely conscious of the present moment. (Pause from reading and actually do this now). Were you able to restrain your thoughts? This is the essence of meditation and of conscious living. Even a few moments in this state of yoga, of union, leaves a deep impression of peace, clarity, and serenity.
How can we cultivate this practice of being fully present in the moment? Begin to observe your mind carefully. Observe during asana practice, during pranayama practice, and in your daily life. How, when, and in what ways is your mind bound to time, attached to the past or future, and therefore in denial of the present? Observation is the first step. Shri B.K.S. Iyengar once said, “Presence of mind is divine.” To be present in mind is to be alert to what is. It is spiritual living. Any positive changes to our consciousness and life can only occur “now.” Living fully can only be experienced and happen now.
You may think that enlightenment, liberation, and the experience of effortless being are years away in an illusory future. It is not what you think. Enlightenment does not exist in the future. It cannot be understood. It can only be felt or experienced, and it can only be experienced “now.” All spiritual teachings point to this. “Now” is a key to the first four sutras, to living freely, to meditation, and to our spiritual evolution. The remaining sutras explain and guide us to this highest state. Now begins yoga.
About Dean Lerner:
Dean Lerner is a dear and long-time friend of the Feathered Pipe. He has taught many retreat programs over the years for the Feathered Pipe Foundation both at the Ranch and in Mexico with the likes of Mary Dunn, George Purvis and others. He is an advanced certified Iyengar yoga instructor and with his wife Rebecca, who herself is an certified Iyengar yoga instructor, direct Center for Well-Being in Lemont, Pennsylvania.