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 is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Mathew James, regarding one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
I.8 viparyayo mithyājñānam atadrūpa-partistham
Misconception is mistaken knowledge, based upon a misconception of the form of the object.
According to our English language, a misconception is defined as “a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.” It has been my experience that as humans we are conditioned to build misconceptions both consciously and unconsciously as we progress and gain knowledge. Even small children think they have an understanding about certain foreign objects, but then take the objects and misuse them in function. For lack of a better example, this reminds me of the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. In the scene where she enchants us with her voice in the musical number, “Part of Your World,” we see Princess Ariel take a fork, known to her as a “dinglehopper,” and run it through her fiery red hairs as if it were designed to be a hairbrush. Though this may be a simple and childish example, what I mean to articulate is that many times what we see, know, and think we understand is not always the truth. Misconception surrounds us in many forms; it is not restricted to the form of material tangible objects.
One of my undergraduate degrees is in Theology with a concentration in Jewish Studies; the breadth of my research and independent study work was devoted to studying the Holocaust. I enveloped myself in literature, interviews, films, art, and discussions – nearly anything that could inform me about the historical genocide. Through extensive research I thought I had somehow brought myself closer to the Holocaust and its historical significance through acquiring knowledge. While this may be true in some respects, I was deeply awakened when I was given the opportunity to travel to Germany and Poland for immersive study and research. While there, I visited the Jewish ghettos, the significant venues that Nazi Germany occupied, a labyrinth underneath a Catholic church where a Jewish artist was hidden, and interviewed and stayed with a Holocaust survivor. Most importantly, I visited multiple death camps in Poland (Treblinka, Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek).
When I initially found out that I had been chosen for this research opportunity, I knew I had to prepare myself for the journey I was embarking on. Through the knowledge and information I gathered, I thought I understood what I was going to experience. As I anticipated the moment of entering the gates of Auschwitz, I contemplated what I would feel, how I would react, what I would think and say. I had expectations about sensations I would encounter, but these false notions dissolved quickly as the vastness of the death camp magnified as the bus drew nearer; my misconceptions about this moment of immersion shattered. Each piece of Auschwitz – the railroad car, the bunkers, the crematoriums, the gravesites, the exhibitions in the camp – all brought my misconceptions of how I would respond to the forefront and startled me with the truth. My experience was nothing like I had prepared for. The knowledge I had brought with me to the death camps was still valid and informative, but it was not until my feet were planted firmly on the soil of Auschwitz that I was able to honestly understand the profound power that would transform me.
Though I continue to form misconceptions, I come back to this moment in Auschwitz to challenge my false notions in my present life. I have found that in my yoga practice I sometimes form false perceptions about the journey I am going to experience as I take my place at my mat. Of course my perception is always hazy, and thankfully I am met with surprise, not always a pleasant surprise, but a revelation that leads to new ideas and deeper understandings about myself and my practice. Through my teacher training I have found that I have begun to release these misconceptions about the journey in each practice, allowing the yoga to inform me and lead me on an honest journey, not dictated by false notions and expectations.
Misconceptions are tricky and very interesting. I am grateful for having my misconceptions confronted and destroyed, because it led me to deeper understanding that I would have otherwise missed out on if I had not experienced Germany and Poland for myself. This is not to say that misconceptions are ‘good,’ but that we should allow ourselves to ask if we are misconceiving and then challenge those notions to seek truth for ourselves, rather than basing our understanding of something through mistaken knowledge.