Some time before the year 400 CE, a guy (or group of guys, no one knows for sure) named Patanjali wrote a book called the Yoga Sutras. It is an ancient Indian text, the yogic equivalent to the bible, and is comprised of four books, written in Sanskrit, each with 50-some sutras, or verses. As part of my yoga teacher training we were required to read a translation of these verses, an experience which I found to be both mind bending and mind blowing.
Throughout the first half of Book 2, Patanjali pays a lot of attention to outlining the causes of suffering in our lives, the role of misperception as the root of our suffering, and how we can learn to avoid suffering through discernment and objectivity. This sutra in particular gave me a lot to chew on.
(Sutra 2:17) Drastr drśyayoh samayogo heya hetuh.
Try that three times fast!
My favorite digestible translation of this sutra is from “Living the Sutras: A Guide to Yoga Wisdom Beyond the Mat” by Kelly DiNardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden.
“In order to remove pain we must learn to see the world objectively.”
My teacher talks about balance in a really beautiful way. While practicing balance in the physical body, postures of standing on one leg with ease & steadiness, she explains that instead of reaching up to maintain the pose, imagine falling in all directions equally and at the same time. This contradiction of intending to fall when the goal is to remain upright creates a sense of ease in rooting rather than tension in reaching.
In considering this contrast I was struck by the idea of how it’s possible, for some of us, that our perception of balance is actually imbalanced.
How do we perceive balance in our lives?
What are some words or qualities that come to mind about balance?
Does balance mean seeking to achieve a state of lasting light, joy, and peace?
Is it ease, rest, love, and all of the goodness we all desire to have more of in our lives?
Is that balance?
Consider an old school scale. Think the “Scales of Justice” – a balance beam on a fulcrum with a bowl on either side. An object is placed on one side and then weights are added to the other side until a zero point neutrality is achieved between both sides.
Here, balance is achieved in the space of neutrality. Adding more, think “all the good feels”, or removing more, think “all the bad feels”, throws the scale off balance.
When we apply this to our lives we can begin to see how a misperception about balance could cause us to suffer. Where might we be attaching ourselves to the idea that the experience of balance is all rainbows and unicorns? As Patanjali suggests, it’s our attachment to this kind of misperception, identifying with subjective experiences, that causes us to suffer.
If we again reference that scale, balance is found in the point of neutrality, between the extremes. It’s about delighting in the Light without attachment and navigating the Dark without aversion and resistance. Feeling joy with ease, and finding ease in sadness or pain. Like bright sunshine blinds us in the daytime, and darkness blinds us at night, our subjective mind is blinded by attachment to misperceptions in both pleasure and pain.
The practice of Yoga helps us put on Mindfulness as if it were superpower goggles. High tech filtered lenses which adapt in the darkness of Night and in the brightness of Light, so we can turn down our subjective input and better see with objectivity.
This past winter season was an emotionally intense one for me, and can be used as a metaphor for any time in life that is filled with trial and hardship. Rather than attach to the pain and spiral into an abyss of darkness, I put on my Yoga Goggles so I could see things more objectively. I listened to what my body & soul were asking for and rested. I gave myself space to feel and process the heaviness of my emotions. I was compassionate with myself rather than chastising myself and making it worse. I practiced deep self-care, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, even when I didn’t feel like it. And I leaned on the people who love me most.
This was my yoga practice off the mat. It is the reason for the asana (physical postures) we practice on the mat.
Through objectivity I could find my way to a more neutral state, which created ease and kept me from suffering, even in the midst of depression and psychic fatigue. This is what Sutra 2:17 above is talking about. Removing pain by seeing the world objectively.
The gift I received during that time was a new awareness of balance.
I believe that balance isn’t about creating a life free from strife and discomfort, it’s about accepting and allowing the darkness and heaviness in life to have a place at the table and meeting it with compassion and objectivity.
And it’s about delighting in light and joy with presence and gratitude, allowing it freedom to ebb and flow with faith that it will return. Balance exists in neutrality. Where we create space for light and dark, pleasure and pain, ease and tension to co-exist, falling equally in all directions at the same time.
How does your perception of balance cause you to suffer?
Where are you holding expectations that are getting in your way about what life “should” be like?
How could you see your circumstances more objectively?
And how does it feel to do that?
Send me an email and let me know, I’d love to listen and connect.
With Love & Light,