Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following was written by Joy Kellman in response to her studies in class theme and development. This assignment excerpt details her consideration of one of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as a class theme.
II.33 vitarka bᾱdhane pratipakṣa bhᾱvanam
To counter negative thoughts, cultivate their opposites.
I find the Sutras to be dense, poetic, and whole, and as a beginning student, I find their meanings clear yet veiled. I read the Sutras as lessons and as a call or invitation to wake up now. I do not know if I selected this Sutra or if it selected me; it is the one that kept sticking, resonating, encouraging inquiry and play.
As I have journeyed through life, I have, to a degree, intuitively adopted the practice recommended in this Sutra. I also am drawn to the duality presented - the concept of the sum of two halves making up more than the sum of the parts, almost like a circle - perhaps because I am an identical twin. With the opposite of negative being positive, my mind jumped to Pema Chödrön’s chapter on joy in The Wisdom of No Escape, as well as my own name.
Writing in my journal, I recently remembered the parable of the farmer and the wise man. The story has been told many ways but as I recall, the story unfolds like this: the farmer is going rather crazy because his wife’s relatives have moved in with them and there is no space in their small home. He travels to see the wise man, who calmly tells the farmer he must bring all the chickens from his farm into his house. So the farmer travels home and does exactly as he was told. After repeated visits to the wise man and subsequent trips home to follow the wise man’s advice, there comes a time when the farmer returns to the wise man and is again told to bring something else from outside. But this time the farmer tells the wise man that there is nothing else outside to bring in; he has brought in the chickens, the sheep, the cattle, the dogs and everything else that could possibly be moved. The wise man sighs and says the farmer must go home and return everything that was originally outside to its former home on the farm. Of course once this is accomplished the farmer feels like he is living in a castle because his home is so roomy and large. In the end he is satisfied with what he had all along.
While the story speaks volumes about context and perception, it also speaks to Sutra II.33, the distressed farmer seeking positive advice from the wise man. The process illuminates the possibility of repeated action dissolving negativity into positivity. Finding one’s seat on the mat in yoga, ‘coming as we are’ every day, helps us experience ourselves now, in relationship to our sangha, our world, and our personal practice. As Pema Chödrön writes in The Wisdom of No Escape, “The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore; we don’t even have to call it discomfort. It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The first noble truth also recognizes that we change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon. We do that and there’s no reason to resist it.” Ultimately she says, “We can use our lives to wake up to the fact that we’re not separate; the energy that causes us to live and be whole and awake and alive is just the energy that creates everything, and we’re a part of that. We can use our lives to connect with that or (not). As always, it’s up to us.”