Moving Beyond Busy & Into Understanding: Vrittis, part 3
We are a busy species.
In America it seems we wear our fatigue as a badge of success.
But being tired and busy means missed opportunities. I’m not talking FOMO (fear of missing out) on a party, a yoga class or a day out hiking with friends. I mean missing the more profound connection with your deepest self.
There is a calm, quiet and peaceful part of you that exists no matter where you are or what you’re doing. But with busy masquerading as success, the opportunity to see and hear this part of yourself is nearly impossible.
The chaos of being busy and agitated becomes a whirlwind of churning thoughts called vrittis. Yoga, however, teaches you to look for the calm center beneath the storm and reclaim connection with yourself.
This is the third in a series of four articles on understanding the nature of a busy mind. In the previous article we looked at the first of the five typical movements of the vrittis. Here, in an effort to bring balance and peace to life, we’ll continue the conversation on the others.
Viparyaya – Misunderstanding
It’s much easier to misunderstand what you see and what happens around you and within you when your mind is unclear or tinted by the noise of your churning thoughts. Lack of clarity leads to misunderstanding.
When I was a little girl, I had a conflict with my stepdad. My mom was there, she saw and heard what happened. But she did nothing, and said nothing. For years, I thought she didn’t care. I couldn’t understand her inaction.
Decades later—as an adult—I talked to her about the instance. Turns out, she did confront her husband about how he handled his communication with me. But they did it in private, and I had no idea. Not that she took action, not about what she said, nor how he responded.
The painful grudge I held had grown into the perception of abandonment and guilt. It colored my view of the world, making me feel like I was alone and unsupported for many years. But I had completely misunderstood what happened.
This is viparyaya.
From a state of inner peace, you can see things as they truly are, minus the biases of your misperceptions.
In yoga, even and smooth breathing clears your mind and calms the vrittis. With a quiet mind you can form a clear picture of what actually happened and create the space for forgiveness.
Vikalpa – Imagination
Through vikalpa you can wrongly convince yourself of something that might not be true.
In rock climbing, I constantly face the irrational fear that I will die. Risk of death while climbing (not mountaineering, which is something totally different) is less than snowboarding, hiking, sledding, driving and even giving birth to a baby.
I’ve been climbing for nearly 20 years, am very experienced, know how to use my protective gear and have systems in place to double and even triple check it. The chance of me dying while climbing is almost non-existent.
But when things look or feel exposed, I imagine the worst: death, injury, even fear of failure can creep in and overtake any calm presence within me. The chatter in my mind has been so strong that I’ve found myself in tears on the side of a cliff, so over my threshold that the only solution was to get down immediately.
This is vikalpa at it’s agitating worst, making the vrittis churn like butter from cream (only much less delicious).
This mental pattern might make you imagine the worst. But it’s also able to help you imagine the best. And imagination is linked to daydreaming —an act that has been proven highly beneficial for brain health.
“Daydreaming has a rehearsal function,” says an article on the site Best Health Mag. “So if something important is coming up, you might play out different scenarios of what to do.” In this way, imagination can help you project into the future and make informed, smart choices.
According to a National Geographic article, daydreaming can also boost creativity. “The daydreaming mind may make an association between bits of information that the person had never considered in that particular way. This accounts for creativity, insights of wisdom and often time the solutions to problems that the person had not considered.”
The trick with vikalpa is to steer your vision and thoughts towards positive outcomes. Through clarity you can see the truth, making effort to understand the reality of the situation. Then, with visualization you may be able to mentally rehearse different scenarios and find a creative solution to a challenging problem.
The next time you sit down to meditate or go for a run, make an effort to seek the truth. Then play out options in your mind and see what arises…
Nidra – Deep Sleep
Every night you die a little death. You sleep, and your old cells die off as new cells are born for your body to repair itself.
Each day, then, is an opportunity to be reborn. Refreshed and renewed, you can reset your intention to live a purposeful life, despite how busy it seems.
Yoga nidra gives you time to withdrawal from conscious activity, allowing both mind and body to rest. It is the sleep of no dreams and no thought —according to BKS Iyengar, “an inert state of consciousness in which the sense of existence is not felt.”
In the deep sleep that is free of time, words and thoughts, you get a glimpse of the calm and peaceful place within yourself. This state, reached when one is awake, is called samadhi: the final stage of both Buddhism and yoga’s eight-limbed path.
Smriti – Memory
Everything you experience leaves an impression on you. In emotionally charged experiences, especially traumatic ones, that memory is very strong.
Both pleasant memories and challenging ones can keep you locked in the past or fearful of the future.
Reliving the glory days of years gone by, or fear of being hurt again are common themes for all humans —but the solution is simple.
Be present. Bring your attention into the moment.
In his masterful book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “The more attention you give to the past, the more you energize it, and the more likely you are to make a ‘self’ out of it. … Give attention to the present; give attention to your behavior, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears and desires as they occur in the present. There’s the past in you. If you can be present enough to watch all those things, not critically or analytically but non-judgmentally, then you are dealing with the past and dissolving it through the power of your presence. You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.”
This presence is a practice. For most of us it begins on the yoga mat or meditation cushion. But the goal is to stretch your presence into every moment.
Through a calm mind, you become more present.
By watching yourself, as in the above quote, you can discover the discord between the truth, which is the peace of the current moment, and your tendency to harbor the beliefs about yourself and your behaviors that trap you in the past.
Presence is always the solution. And you cannot find it anywhere but in the present. Use your yoga to calm your mind and get beneath the vrittis. Breathe in a way that creates peace and an inner connection —this is the route to freedom.