When I lived in Houston my morning walk took me down a long boardwalk overlooking an inland waterway connected to the Gulf. One morning as I passed by, the water was woven into an undecipherable pattern of tiny, fluctuating waves. I stopped on the edge of the boardwalk and sat down. I watched as the waves undulate in one direction and then another, often so quickly that it was hard to determine the direction of movement of any individual wave. Each wave definitely had a unique identity, but they also seemed to have a collective personality. There was a large expression in the whole that seemed to reflect the smaller movements of the parts. A sudden thought arose in my mind, “Ah…citta vrttis….”
If you read the title of this article and you have no idea what the “citta vrttis” are, then I think your answer may have been a resounding, “NO!”. At first glance it may sound a bit like an itchy skin condition, or something you would pick up in a foreign country with poorly treated water. But, in fact, the “citta vrttis” are something that none of us, save perhaps the great Buddhas or Christ-figures of our world, escape.
In the second verse of the Yoga Sutras, the great sage Patanjali states, “Yoga Citta Vrtti Narodhaha”, or “yoga is deliberately stilling the thought waves of the mind.” So we can understand “citta’ as mind, and “vrtti” as the ever changing oscillations, or waves of thoughts, that move through our minds.
Just like the waves that live off the edge of my boardwalk are part of the great expanse that is the ocean itself, mind dwells in a space that is Pure Consciousness: enormous, pure and expansive, and we are in no way separated from it, yet we suffer from the delusion that we are separate, struggling and alone.
Like the waves within the great ocean the movements of our mind are endless, and essentially in constant flux, featuring moment-to-moment modifications. We can see the changing nature of the modifications of mind as an incredibly positive thing, generating energy, new ideas…change. At the same time, the fluctuations can be viewed as turbulence that renders the holistic wisdom of Pure Consciousness obscured. As a result we are separated from the truth of our own nature; that we are in fact Consciousness, already whole and perfect. This misperception leads us to various states of suffering.
By using techniques that focus our concentration (like yoga and meditation) we give “mind” an opportunity to slow down and become less fluctuating, less wavy, so to speak. Soon the peaks and valleys between the waves become longer, and visions of the clear, seamless calm of Consciousness more apparent. Eventually, the mind becomes so still that it simply resides in its true nature, unchanging and eternal. No longer tossed to and fro on the choppy waves of changing mind states, we are simply One.
Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yoga Citta Vrtti Narodhaha (Yoga is deliberately stilling the thought waves of the mind.)
Yoga Sutra 1.3: Tada drastuh svarupe vastanam (United in the heart consciousness is steady, then we abide in our own true nature.)
May you be happy, may you be free,