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Why you should aim for sorrowlessness

At the beginning of class I occasionally engage the students in a short yoga philosophy discussion. The discussions are usually inspired by my on-going reading and contemplation of yogic texts, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. (A sutra is a short phrase. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a book of phrases, which are an important part of Iyengar Yoga.)

These discussions are important for a number of reasons. The most important initial reason is that it reminds the students that yoga is not an exercise regiment. Doing poses can have health benefits but that is not the bigger aim of yoga. My goal is to at minimum let students know that there is a bigger aim. Whether they pursue a bigger aim is up to them.

Last week in the classes I read a sutra which states … inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light. And then we had a discussion about the importance of sorrowlessness.

This sutra is giving advice on how to practice to still the mind. The thought waves will always fluctuate–sometimes a little and sometimes wildly, depending on circumstances. Our aim in yoga is learn how to still the consciousness, when it needs stilling.

There are MANY MANY ways to still the consciousness. This sutra is stating that one way to create stillness to contemplate a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light. This light can be anywhere, even inside you.

In our discussions last week several students pointed out that the word sorrowless was interesting to them. They wanted to know why that word was used. Why didn’t it say joyful?

To me, joyful, as nice it is to feel joyful, can be tricky to manage on an on-going basis. If I go to my practice with the aim of being joyful I might be very disappointed if it doesn’t occur. If I feel disappointed often enough I am likely to quit practicing—because I will think this practicing thing is not really working out right.

Aiming for joylessness sounds really depressing. So we are back to sorrowlessness. Something more neutral.

The result of practicing for years now has been that I am continually moving toward more neutrality in my reactions to life. This doesn’t mean that I have no feelings (believe me I do). It’s just that usually my reactions to them are not well balanced. Yoga instead says just try to strive for more neutrality, knowing that as humans we are never going to be completely neutral. There will always be some residue of my previous impressions which are informing my present moment.

Prashant Iyengar, in a recording I heard, said that we can so easily notice and remember our sorrow. But that hardly anyone is aware of or remembers their sorrowlessness. If I can notice more often moments of neutrality and study them then I am on my way to avoiding future false impressions. Which in turn leads to a better state of mind, in this moment. This moment right now. Right here.

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