Yoga Sutra 1.4 – Calm the Thought-Waves

वृत्तिसारूप्यमः इतरत्र ॥ ४॥

i.4 vṛttisārūpyamaḥ itaratra

“The ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind’s conception of that object or by a total lack of comprehension.” – Desikachar


After two weeks of travel—we slept in seven different beds in four different locations, celebrated two milestone birthdays, toured two national state parks, visited with at least twenty extended family members in both of our families—we landed at my parents’ cottage for our final week of vacation: just the two of us on the beach.

Sounds divine, doesn’t it? Except that by the time we got there, we were so over-stimulated and exhausted that we couldn’t communicate with each other. Our minds contained choppy thoughts, and what came out of our mouths reflected choppy. We tried a conversation, and it ended with K going for a walk and me organizing and fidgeting. I couldn’t settle my nerves enough to simply be on vacation, so I organized all our mess from our travels.

Before Meditation

In How to Know God, Prabhavananda and Isherwood discuss the mind as a lake – the thought-waves are the waves of the lake. Yoga stills the thought-waves. A few weeks ago, I described a metaphor for meditation wherein the mirror-like qualities of a still lake-mind reflect God. P&I, however, suggest that God is the bottom of the lake—where our soul touches God’s soul. If the waves are lashing, the bottom cannot be seen. Not only is the top choppy, but all the dirt underneath churns around, and the water is murky, and we can’t see God.

I like both of these ideas. The mirror idea describes the benefits our meditation has for others; the bottom-of-the-lake idea suggests the benefits of meditation in our relationship with God.

As I organized, I realized that if I stopped everything and meditated, I could free my mind from its rabbit-trail circles–at least for our first evening. If I kept letting it run, it would run in the same patterns. I needed a shift, I needed a stillness, and so I sat.

Inhale: Be still.

Exhale: I am.*

As translated by Prabhavananda and Isherwood, yoga sutras 1.1-1.4:

“This is the beginning of instruction in yoga. Yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind. Then man abides in his real nature. At other times, when he is not in the state of yoga, man remains identified with the thought-waves in the mind.”

According to P&I, the “state of yoga” is abiding in one’s real nature by controlling the thought-waves of the mind. Not letting them own you. It doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, but it means they don’t define you. You realize that you are a lake, not the waves in the lake.

When we’re not in a state of yoga, we run the risk of identifying ourselves – at least identifying ourselves in that moment – with our state of mind. Our state of mind dictates how we think and respond, rather than who we are dictating how we respond.

After Meditation

While meditating on that first night of our vacation from vacation, I felt all the conversations from the past days begin to settle. I noticed all my thoughts zinging around in my head and just let them dart, not following them. When they realized they weren’t being followed, they quit asking for my attention. After awhile, I was able to think more clearly. I was able to communicate with K (and he with me), able to choose a book, and able to relax.

If only I could train myself to have meditation be my first response always.


*From Psalm 46: “’Be still and know that I AM,’ says the Lord.”

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