YOUR EYES ARE DECEIVING YOU
One of my friends recently recommended reading this really cool book about how our brain builds our experience of reality through vision, or she said, “you could just watch brain games on Netflix”. So I went with the second option and watched the first episode of the season and it had some really interesting insight into the visual cortex and how we build meaning out of what were seeing. What was most interesting to me was how easily the brain can be tricked through vision.
I was reminded of this concept in Yoga philosophy of the five-faceted mind, and how the sense impressions (vision being one) are part of the modifications of the mind. Essentially the yoga philosophy would suggest that the senses trap our mind into a limited view by identifying with the material world as our only reality. “These modifications or vrttis of the mind make us extroverts and confine us to the material world” – Geeta Iyengar.
The Modifications of the mind are:
Pramana – “proof as experienced by the five senses and the mind” – Geeta Iyengar
Viparyaya – a mistaken view or wrong knowledge. The famous example is mistaking a rope for a snake
Vikalpa – fantasies or imagined scenarios with no basis in reality
Nidra – sleep
Smart – memory
“Yoga teaches us to restrain the five vrttis and to lead a spiritual life” – Geeta Iyengar
For today, let’s just focus on vision.
When you wake up in the morning your eyes open and right away you see where you are, and you find meaning in your physical surroundings. Like, “oh yeah, I’m this person, I have this job I have to get ready for, I have these responsibilities today, this is who I am in the world.” So immediately and very naturally we allow the senses to pull us into a limited thinking.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a daily practice. And this is one of the reasons why it’s recommended to practice yoga in the morning.
Taking time to meditate or practice mindful movement reminds us thats there’s more to life than the reality that we’ve constructed for ourselves in the physical world. Or as it’s said in one of my favorite movies on the subject, Fight Club, “you are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet, you are not your f***ing khakis”. I was in Junior high the first time I watched this movie. If you haven’t watched the movie or read the book, the protagonist is an “everyman”, who is deeply discontented with modern life and the white collar world, and seeking liberation for his soul sickness imposed by his lifestyle. The concepts totally blew my mind and at the same time deeply resonated. I watched it over and over for the next 5 years.
Beyond the physical benefits Yoga gives us, which I often focus on to help solidify the novice students resolve in choosing the path of yoga, there is a whole world of possibility, formerly ignored by the senses, that is opened up to the seeker.
Ultimately yoga is practiced as a path to enlightenment. Often people are initially more intrigued by the physical benefits, myself included. I don’t want to pretend like I was on a spiritual quest when I first walked into a yoga class, and I don’t wanna pretend like I’m not still stoked on the daily physical relief and strength I get through practicing. But, I guess the practice eventually touched on something in me that I was feeling needed to be addressed, but I couldn’t put into words or ask for help with or describe to anyone else properly. And if I can take time to be still daily I can get back to addressing the spiritually malady that I can inflate through wrong living, and unskillful action.
There’s something going on beyond what we perceive with the senses. When we start to practice asana (yoga postures) pranayama (breathing meditations) and meditation, we gain insight into a world beyond the physical, beyond what we see with the eyes. This is when we tap into something much bigger. Carving out time to do this daily gives us fresh eyes with a new lease to look through. This daily renewal helps us to look at what we are experiencing in a different way. It’s like the first time the astronauts looked at earth from space. What a perspective shift, what a trip. It makes all the silly problems we obsess over seem so little. This perspective shift is the main reason that I keep coming back to the mat on a daily basis.
photo from Haru and Mina