Trusting the wisdom within: Reflections on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
As I write this I am in India, sitting at Sattva, the café of the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute and Research Centre and listening to the soothing rain. It’s calming hearing the pattering sound on the roof, not having to go out, just being in the here and now, watching my thoughts pass by.
I landed here a week ago to participate in an deepening course in Pranayama and Yoga Philosophy. My teacher Shri O.P. Tiwariji is conducting the course and we are 25 students from all over the world. The course is called Anusthan which means to sincerely and truly follow what you decide to do in a spiritual area.
I have longed to come here and be part of this very profound and amazing experience. The days are filled with interesting classes, lectures and meetings on yoga and the nervous system, the concept of Ishwara – God, yoga and Ayurveda and so much more, as well as enough time to just be.
During one of the first days with Shri O.P. Tiwariji he talked about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:20 Shraddha virya smirti samadhi prajnya purvaka itaresham. This has inspired me to write this month’s blog post which I hope will resonate with you as I share my understanding of this Sutra, as well as my own experiences with self-doubt and releasing old patterns.
Shraddha – to feel trust
Trust is the foundation for the experience and deepening of a spiritual development. Trust is also a prerequisite for each person’s potential to blossom in what he or she takes on in life. Trust is something that grows and deepens with practice, effort, belief, experience, awareness, wisdom and memory. Only then can we lose old habits that no longer serve us and start to establish new ones. Practising yoga in any form, such as asanas, pranayama or meditation with trust, belief, discipline, awareness, effort and wisdom means we will be better able to face what we need to in life with an open mind.
Seeing through illusions
Everyone has different things to face. There are always going to be obstacles that will prevent us from seeing ourselves, others and life as it really is. Maybe this is not the life we wanted it to be or think that it is? We need to be able to see through all the illusions, projections, fantasies and obscure thoughts. These are what create misunderstandings and delusions. Trust usually takes time to build and deepen, regardless of the path we choose to be on, in someone we have a close relationship to, or in ourselves.
Freedom from within
Daring to relieve ourselves of the veils that obscure and darken our reality can often be both painful and exhausting in many different ways. When we meet our demons in various forms, such as fear, doubt, dejection, apathy and insecurity, trust is a prerequisite for us to begin to cope, and to be able to use the tools that yoga can provide us with. This trust is not blind or addictive, rather the opposite. Trust, in Sutra 1:20, is about questioning, reflecting and discussion around these pearls of wisdom so that they become our own. This is not something we take on because someone says we should, or to impress our teacher, other people or ourselves. This is something we can use as a tool to find the freedom within us so that we are no longer dominated by our senses, old patterns, or other people’s demands and expectations.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali wants us to be free from within and find the answers we need, to be able to live with trust and faith in what we take on and for the people we have around us. We cannot have trust without faith – but we can have faith and no trust. We are born into faith, but trust is something that grows and develops within us.
Integrating the wisdom of Patanjali
A blind faith is something completely different. This means we bend ourselves to authority, for a particular tradition or knowledge. Some teachers also claim that this is the only true path and only for some chosen ones. Patanjali doesn’t say that; he encourages us to experience, reflect and try things out, so the wisdom he describes so beautifully can be integrated into ourselves and become our own wisdom. This requires trust, effort, discipline and awareness.
Based on this, trust in ourselves and in our spiritual path develops. Our trust in life’s small and large areas grows, and the choices we make become clear and authentic. We trust that we are where we are supposed to be. Only then can we see and experience the clarity that this Sutra describes. The wisdom that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras gives us will help us to live with trust in life and ourselves as it is.
Struggling with self-doubt
Everyone can join in, no-one is excluded. But we all experience life in different ways, depending on what we are facing, who we are and what our karma is in this life and body. Kaivalyadhama Institute is a place where I always feel at home. Shri O.P. Tiwariji is a person I always feel safe, secure and calm with. Here, confusion has been resolved. Dark places have become light. Disorder has become order and insecurity turns to security.
This time, I landed here with many thoughts and certain decisions that had to be taken. The first days of the course, and especially this Sutra, brought up feelings where I had strong doubts about myself and the decisions I was facing. Am I good enough? Do I really want to be here? Am I worthy? Is this for me? Am I welcome? Many other thoughts followed these thought patterns. I just wanted to leave on the next plane and travel home. After three sleepless nights with nightmares, many thoughts and much doubt, I came to Tiwariji with a heavy mind and tired body.
Witnessing old patterns fall away
I shared my thoughts, my doubts and my concerns. He listened, and I felt listened to, respected and free to feel what I felt. No reprimand, judgment or rating. This was what I experienced. This was my reality just then. The tears ran and it was not easy.
This wonderful man and teacher with wisdom and kindness beyond words reflected back to me in a clear and pure way. The veils disappeared and the doubt was dispelled. I saw my patterns far back in my life. What I felt and experienced now did not really have anything to do with this situation, but were old patterns that came to the surface. Everything is really wonderful at the moment and I’m in the right place with a wonderful teacher and I am privileged to be doing what I love most of all – sharing yoga. I am also lucky enough to be able to be a yoga student, immerse myself with a master, absorb yogic wisdom and spend time with like-minded people.
Demons from the past
Then they came, the demons from the past with thoughts that wanted to take me away from all the beauty, from joy and gratitude. Thoughts that say: Am I worthy of this? Am I entitled to all this good? Am I good enough? These thoughts can prevent me from enjoying life. Like, all the good things I experience have to be destroyed and taken away from me. That the light I experience is so strong that I almost have to escape from it. I know they are old demons, but when they come, they almost paralyse me. The baggage I came with was almost darkening my days here. I realised that the trust I have so slowly built up towards the tools of yoga, myself and the people I learn from is in one way fragile, but in another way as strong as an oak tree.
Transforming darkness into light
That night I slept. No nightmares haunted me and the worries and doubts I felt were gone. The thoughts are still there, and sometimes I feel a flickering of anxiety, but right now they don’t disturb me and I don’t get stuck in the thoughts. I know I’m in the right place with the right people and that’s a gift in itself. I’m good enough as I am and I’m home right here. Patanjali does not ask us to change something; he asks us to see more clearly, shedding the veil of delusion to be able to transform darkness into light, transform anxiety to calmness, doubt to trust, and daring to be where we are. Dare to live life with both darkness and light. Dare to feel trust and faith in who you are and believe in yourself, what you do and in those you have around you. Sometimes we doubt, sometimes worry is strong, but with trust, awareness, effort and experience we can turn the darkness into light.
Trust is a beautiful word that means more than words can describe.
Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by fate and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith