Generally, when humans think about time in a functional way, the concepts of past, present, and future remain broken apart as experiences that have happened, that are happening, and that have not yet happened, rather than indistinguishable swirls of reality.
But say you were to take past, present, and future, and consider them as one entity. Could you calmly conceive it? Or would the resulting reality of your imagination create cognitive chaos? You might give it a try to find out, since sutra 4.12 this week is asking you to do just that:
Sutra 4.12: Both past and future exist in the present, each in its own way, although there are differences in the manifestation of their characteristics. Translation by Kofi Busia
Sutra 4.12: But that does not imply that the past (the memory and the tendencies) is false and that the future is abolished (by their disappearance). The past and the future exist in reality, in their own form – because the characteristics and the natural differences of countless beings follow different paths. Translation by Swami Venkatesananda
I love this non-linear thinking. I find it exciting to imagine the bigger picture and get lost inside of it, like a single splat of paint in a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s what helps me keep perspective. But even I sometimes need to translate big picture perspective into little splat of paint practicality.
And so we go from big picture Pollock to functional tools Painting 101, where past, present, and future exist on a line that we can trace. It affords us the ability to conceive of ourselves at all: by looking back at our history, we can imagine an origin and trust that we have a future.
This makes me think of three key principles of living that I was reviewing with my Teacher Trainees last night. Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. These make up “yoga in action” as presented in sutra 2.1 and are essential tools for mental calm and joyful living.
Tapas, which comes from the root word for fire, is the self-discipline or perseverance that creates transformation from one state to another. It’s the extra oompf that it sometimes takes to get yourself off the couch and to the yoga class that will almost surely leave you feeling more energized.
Ishvara pranidhana, which essentially means surrender to that which is beyond the intellect, is the flip side of tapas. It’s what you use to surrender to the reality of a situation without getting yourself in a tizzy about it. Want to go to yoga class but have a bad cold? Ishvara pranidhana is letting go so you can find peace with not being able to go to class because of circumstances you can’t change at this moment.
Svadhyaya, which literally means self-study, is the process through which we learn which of the above energies is needed to stay true to ourselves (little and big picture selves.
Svadhyaya is also the bridge from the past and the future to the present. It’s the key element that lets us learn cause and effect, action and consequence, and what makes up now, then, and next. Somehow, getting to know oneself (through all that entails) gets us from splat of paint to Pollock, even if we weren’t looking for the big picture.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.