Yoga is learning how to ‘un-know’
Patanjali starts The Yoga Sutras ‘now starts yoga’.
This, seemingly obvious statement is, perhaps, the most profound he makes. Everything that follows is based on assuming that the person has come to the realization that yoga is really worth starting – really, this readiness to begin is everything – and this is judged as to our readiness to abandon (at least to a degree), that we know about life; in other words, what is the most appropriate approach to it. For, as to what we want out of it and how to live it, the rest flows quite readily from there. It is no small matter to put aside everything we know to arrive at what is essentially the state of ‘pre-yoga’; which is the time when we are ready to actually use the method for its own ends, rather than simply attempt to incorporate elements we like into our lives. Indeed, yoga is about wiping the slate clean, rather than our normal notions as to knowledge as related to the taking on of more information.
However, this development of faith and courage to actually start with yoga, paradoxically, also takes yoga as a technique in order to arrive at. For the courage to break with the comfort of knowledge, albeit, fairly unworkable ideas we generally hold towards life, does, does take a method of building strength and stamina towards being able to start to be able to release our grip on old assumptions. This is not easy, for even though they are as constrictive and limiting as they are comforting; we seem to biologically favour safety over really living. In which case, what could be seen as a crisis point often needs to be arrived at, with or without the help of yoga, so as the comfortable becomes less comforting than it is painful or entrapping and a very different path, that of yoga, or unkwowing, finally seems like the only possible option. That is, to be really ready to start yoga, we will only allow ourselves to be pushed off that cliff that yoga entails, when what lies behind is truly seen as not worth returning to. This is quite as it should be, for it is naturally foolhardy to abandon what we think we can get for something we don’t know yields us any benefit.
For this reason, yoga text and the experience or practice are imperative in providing a little quantity of faith that there is another more happy way to live than through conventional ideas as to what we are and what the world is like as provided in the ‘certainties’ of knowledge. Instead, yoga is the great de-stabilizer; it allows a small window to gradually open up whereby we may gradually open-up to the honest admittance to ourselves and the world that we really do not know. It is this doubt that is the start of real knowledge. Once again, yoga-knowledge is not an active endevour, rather a knowledge of what is merely hoped for, ‘believed’ in, as such. An open-mind is very hard to come by, and, contrary to what we like to assume of ourselves, actually takes a great deal of time and effort to produce being, more or less, the whole thrust and effort of any ‘spiritual’ practice. That is, one interested in living as fully as possible, essentially, living in accordance to the way things are, as opposed to simply try to escape the fear implicit in our very being.
Indeed, most of the time, and quite instinctively, we can’t help but re-justify to ourselves what is already felt or wanted to be known. Which, is to say, that, most generally, we don’t usually care much for truth regarding knowledge, rather the comfort provided by what is deemed to be ‘known’ hence protecting us against our fear of our own inevitable loss of being. Put simply, we come out of nothing, so feel like we need something to ‘hang on to’in order to make a success of the whole thing. Yet, this is a mistaken reaction made through fear as to our most possible satisfaction with the experience we have come into. However, given half a chance, we tend to go on quite complacently as long as we can, so the very job of yoga practice is to capsize this boat of false beliefs that we use to shelter from the fullness of living.
At this point, it is also crucial to point out that it isn’t the safety provided in knowledge of a ‘thing’ we want, instead, what that means in justifying and guaranteeing the sense of us, ‘the knower’, behind it. In other words, that we only really care for certainty in the world as much as it defines and guarantees our own state. In which case, it is worth taking the time to consider for a moment our regular concepts of knowledge about ourselves and why they aren’t in any way really possible to believe in, let alone in any way reasonable path towards what must be our only intention, to understand what ‘happiness’ means to a human life and suit our lives and actions to the pursuit of that ends. It is assumed, as we have been suggesting that this lies in the knowing, the creating more and more structure and in this identity around our living, whilst the yoga-perspective indicates our happiness, in fact, lies in quite the opposite direction.
For, life; despite our hopes towards it, our instinctual fear about the confusion we have sprung from, something that feels much too much like our sliding back into it (for all extensive purposes, un-knowing feels like our death), still cannot be generalized as to the making of rules and conclusions to it in the way we attempt to. For, although this does away with the mortal-challenge of uncertainty upon us, when a tree is nothing more than just another type of tree, when all we have is the ideas related to structures of belief and not experiencing, life is that has been created is little more than a living-death. This is because, as well as our instinct towards finding a sense of certainty, we also, desire meaning in life – and one, that is related to an experiencing of it that defies the ‘certain’ knowledge of it.. This is deeply problematic, for, as long as we look for certainty and meaning, define ourselves in the outside world, for the subjective experience of meaning can never provide the type of consistency that we have assumed ‘knowing’ is about.
On the other hand, neither is this ‘knowledge’ meaningful. For, true meaning must inevitably and only found in a ‘felt experience’ of life, and thus one that cannot be objectively shared and defined in the outside world as to being ‘this or that’. Instead, true meaning, just is. In contrast, in fear we usually tend to enter in the delusion of finding a literal and external consistency, and hence meaning to our living, by pinning it on the shifting circumstances which, must then, be denied as so. In this way, our current ideas of meaning are related to the observation and categorization of certain visible phenomena (as modern science provides) that really provide nothing at all meaningful or sustaining as to our experience of living.
Nevertheless, this does not deter us from taking the second step away from the reality we only really want to know as to being ‘happy’, in assuming we can also control what we believe to have ascertained as our knowledge, and it is within this manipulation that our happiness consists. Yet, any manipulation of life is absolutely unrelated to the peaceful state entailed in experiencing our self, personally and subjectively, with conviction as opposed to confusion, which is what we really want. Further still, external reality is not quite so formulaic and predictable as we like to believe when we set about picking up its basic building blocks, imagining we can manipulate them to suit our preferences. Instead, it does not provide a transparent map where this is a possibility, so straining for certain outcomes adds just another layer of discomfort, when we are only looking for a peace that is rather framed by acceptance. However, we normally think quite differently in the illusory assertion of ourselves in limiting what we like and don’t like and then attempting to make life conform to these self-prescribed boundaries as if, in conforming to an arbitrary limitation of our own making we have arrived at a sense of ‘meaning’, that we take to be found in ‘certainty’. Which, indeed, it is in a way, but it is in the certainty, or conviction, of a feeling, not a thought.
Yet, modern knowledge, at very least, has created all kinds of ideas about reality which it then sets about constantly proving back to itself, and in the hollowness of this endevour, springs up the hopeful ideas surrounding the idea that this will all makes sense, be meaningful, somewhere in the unknown future. Whilst it is true that the only meaning is in the unknown, it is not this hoped for known we cherish as the kind of conviction we take as our most deeply held beliefs that all of this is, indeed, going somewhere. Still, reality doesn’t have any pattern we would want to recognize, for its pattern is a cyclical one, an inexorable process of organic growth and decay to do with an infinite number of interconnected branches that don’t have any ‘rational’ or understandable meaning to an individual-self. In the light of this then, the meaning must be in the pattern, as opposed to through it as we currently attempt in modern Science. Despite the hopeful belief that we are, in fact, our own gods, experiencing an objective kind of knowing and control, life doesn’t do our bidding, nor is it about anything extra for the individual in the world other than experiencing itself as it is, in the pattern of this reality. In other words, it is not about the ‘getting’ of anything extra in a material sense, but the return to an experience already present in a wider-sense than a limited perspective can allow for.
Instead, life is a whole, it cannot be separated into parts, and as such, has a whole living course, where every event is a new one, but, not one that stands alone, but one that is joined to an infinite number of others, in a kind of net of implications that make it deeply significant, but not in a comprehensible way to a personal sense of meaning. If, in fact, there could be one, for a personal meaning is quite impossible, only a closing-down on life through limitation to ‘know’ it in randomly designating and protecting a chunk of it small enough to seemingly provide this. Yet, it cannot be ‘summarized’ then, in the way we generally tend to do, in order to arrive at this mysterious ‘happiness’. Instead, when one string is pulled somewhere, an infinite number of possibilities are created making things wholly unpredictable so as we have to cling-on to our randomly conjured ‘meaning’, struggling against this constantly changing life with all our might.. Life simply doesn’t offer the kind of a map that we can reasonably draw ourselves upon. In contrast, it is a wholly opaque at best, and to this ends, attempting to assert any definition of ourselves on the outside is only a painful experience in as much as it is impossible.
Therefore, there is nothing really ‘relevant’ to us about the modern world we know’, if this is related to our personal ‘trajectory’ in life. As much as we may assume to predict it successfully and achieve some happiness in this, this is to say very little about anything satisfactory in living. For example, we may know that the sun will rise everyday, and that heating bread between two elements and infusing water with a ground bean or leaf will likely produce similar material effects. However, we cannot know anything about the experience that will transpire other than these most banal, scientific, facts. So, as for our motivation for ‘knowing’ as to producing our happiness, we as in the dark to this extent as we have always been. Our regular use of knowledge remains wholly separate and unrelated to anything to do with the engendering of a sense of personal conviction, so as to humanity we can take no comfort even in collective ideas of evolution as to our deep need for ‘meaning’. Instead, at best, we have done little more than an attempt in the classification of phenomena. The kind of justification of the technician behind this process is hardly a reward as regarding a reason to live.