Greetings! I originally started working on this article while teaching in Kovalam this past winter but I was never fully satisfied with it so I put it down. Joy brought it back up to me a couple weeks ago and again it has gone through several tweakings but alas, I am very pleased with it and happy to share it with all of you. Nirodha is one of the cannons in the Yoga world and I hope this article will help shed some light on a topic that is often discussed.
P.S I have received many books on Yantras the past couple of weeks and our house is full of amazing images. This photo of a Yogi etched in Sanskrit has Joy enraptured and we thought it would be fun to share it with all of you!
Nirodha: or will my monkey mind ever stop?
‘yoga citta vrtti nirodha’, yoga is the cessation of the turnings of the mind. The word nirodha means to block, to stop or to cease and conveys one of the yoga sutra’s most cherished images, the promise that through stopping all thought, the ‘monkey’ mind disappears, and what remains is the experience of the ‘void’, a state of consciousness that is unfettered, empty, silent, reflective, immovable, and imbued with wisdom. The mind in the suspended state of nirodha is free of repetition, compulsiveness, habit, want, doubt, noise, self talk, regret, clutter, worry, anxiety, mood swings, indecision, planning, remembering.
However because the mind has a built in tendency to block or repress psychic contents that you find uncomfortable, applying the technique of nirodha can be deceptive, challenging. Within your mind, any given time, there is a twilight area of consciousness, and area between the light of consciousness and the dark of unconsciousness. I call this the “gray area”, the potentially conscious area. This area houses the internal mental states that are difficult for you to pinpoint or see clearly because of your discomfort with the thoughts, emotions etc at any given time. When, for whatever reason, you don’t want to be aware of something you have mental defense mechanisms that can swiftly and effectively cover up or screen out that psychic material. At times this process could be likened to a ‘negative nirodha’, a stoppage of thought or emotion that serves to increase unconsciousness rather than expand consciousness.
To develop your yoga practice is partly to internally see or feel what you would rather not see or feel. This could appear contradictory because you rightfully practice yoga each day to feel better, to get relief from or to check your attacking, ‘negative’ mind. And this is where the image of yoga as a dance on the edge of a sword is applicable. Practice needs to support you, give you strength and greater empathy, but it also needs to continue to be difficult enough bring out your ‘ugly’ reactions, your maladaptive coping mechanisms, so that you can accept and transform a great range of different aspects of your self.
When you step on your mat, in effect you draw a ‘magic circle’, you intentionally create a safe, enclosed setting, you do this, at least partly, in order to work on the challenging aspects of your self. Through the rigorous physical and psychic demands of practice, you accept momentary, daily discomfort, in the service of long term well being and insight. Because practice continually tests you, you come to know the ‘ugly’ you, your shadow, the difficult aspects, and you learn to work with and better express the energy contained within these parts of you.
And it is when you are working within the gray zone, in the uncomfortable areas, that you want to contemplate the concept of nirodha, expand your definition of what stopping thought might mean. To block thought without repression, to be able to truly diffuse the energy behind an unwanted thought, requires discipline, strength and keen discernment. And thus because of the built in paradox, working with the concept of nirodha requires persistent contemplation, like a monk wrestling with a zen koan in meditation. As you can see based in this discussion that contemplation of nirodha presents a kind of insolvable riddle, a double bind, a puzzle that yields its insights stubbornly after turning over it’s various facets at great length. You must not repress what comes up in your mind and yet you must stop thought, you must block junk thoughts, or else your monkey mind will run you ragged.
And it is precisely when working within the gray zone, in the uncomfortable areas, that you want to contemplate the concept of nirodha, expand your definition of what stopping thought might mean. Your maturity and growth depend upon you letting in some vritti’s, as opposed to attempting to block them out, so that you can relate to, befriend, examine, and transform their specific nature as is necessary or desired. This process is a delicate one that is a main subject of practice, and is best approached through making the breath more subtle and working for clarity and refinement in your asanas. You learn to orient your mind in such a way as to catch your self making nearly automatic choices, you become inwardly stubborn enough to pay attention to, or stay with what you feel compelled to screen out as it is happening.
Through becoming more receptive, alert and more comfortable in the gray zone, you will learn to expand your consciousness by accepting and admitting more of what was previously unacceptable to you. You’ll move further inward and closer to the true spacious foundation of the mind, away from the small mind, the imprisoned ego with its attachments and aversions. This new awareness can clearly show you the fallacy of reacting in fear and continuing to create harmful unconsciousness that stunts your growth and causes suffering.
Thought can cease ‘effortlessly’, without blocking, by an expansion of consciousness, rather than a narrowing of it, and this could change how you look for the experience of nirodha in your practice. You can experience the unbiased vastness of ‘no mind’ as naturally as truly looking up and seeing the fathomless vastness of the sky. Thought automatically ceases if you let it, like the winding down of an old fashioned pocket watch, the lesser fluctuations lose momentum, unwind, and come to a stop all by themselves, leaving space for deeper, more profound awareness.