Yoga Sutra 1.11: Humans Have a Memory Virus

Circuit Board

ANUBHŪTA VISAYĀSAMPRAMOSAH SMRTIH.
When a mental modification of an object previously experienced and not forgotten comes back to consciousness, that is memory.

Memory is the last of the vrittis, and it’s also possibly the trickiest. After all, the things we remember are real to us, even though they only exist in the past. How many times have you been sitting quietly, minding your own business, when some memory pops up in your mind for no clear reason? The memory may make you feel sad, or you might cringe with embarrassment. Maybe it makes you long for some happy time in the past or starts you wandering down a winding path of tangential thoughts. Suddenly, you’re not in the moment at all. You’re in the past. That’s memory.

If your computer randomly pulls up items from its memory regardless of their relevance to the current task, it’s really annoying, right? It crashes your game, slows down your work, and generally frustrates you. Same thing for human memory.

Like all the vrittis, memory has its place. We learn from it — I remember the only time I burned myself on a hot stove, so I don’t have to repeat that lesson! But I can’t keep thinking about that one time I burned myself when I was a little kid every time I try to cook something. If I get too distracted with that thought, I’ll wind up setting something on fire or just never trying to cook again. So, we do better when we moderate this vritti like all the others.

And how do we do that, you may ask? Well, that’s what we’ll start discussing with next week’s sutra! In the mean time, here’s a little bonus practice for you!

Bonus!

This week, practice being in the present. Keep an eye on your thoughts as you go through your days. Whenever a memory comes up or you find yourself lost in thought, pause, let the thought go, and bring your awareness back to the present moment. This sounds pretty simple, but you’ll soon find that the mind really likes to wander more than we usually realize. Make some mental notes or write in your journal about what kind of recurring thoughts you encounter and what happens when you let them go. Next week, we’ll delve more into practice and non-attachment.

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Yoga Sutra 1.10: Life Outside the Dream

. Supernatural

ABHĀVA PRATYAYĀLAMBANĀ VRTTIR NIDRĀ.
That mental modification supported by cognition of nothingness is sleep.

So basically, you’re not thinking when you’re asleep, except for dreaming, and we’ll get to that a bit later. But sleep is still a vritti. It comes and goes and most of us can’t control it very well. Many of us sleep too much or too little, a problem that’s often connected to both mental and physical illnesses.

In sleep, you are not aware. You do not make decisions. You do not think, feel or experience anything. So in a way, sleep is a little like meditation, except that we lack awareness or control when we’re sleeping. Most of us don’t know how to control our dreams or to wake up on time without an alarm. We also use sleep like a drug, for example if we’re depressed — In the past, I’ve used sleep like a fast forward button to skip the unpleasant parts of life.

So while sleep is necessary (just like thoughts are), sleeping excessively is no more productive than being lost in y our thoughts all the time. Developing a healthy relationship with sleep and all the other vrittis is part of the process of yoga, stilling the mind.

Just a reminder … My main source for these translations of the sutras is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swama Satchidananda. If you’re enjoying reading about the sutras from my perspective, I think you’ll find his commentary on them extraordinary.

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