abhyāsa vairāgyābhyām tan nirōdhah (PYS 1.12)

Identification with the fluctuations of mind is stopped by practice and non-attachment.

In our relative world, growth, transformation and the rearranging of elements occurs where there is time. Sadhana (spiritual practice) involves discipline— a process over time—a steady, repeated application in order to attain results.

We can think of time as a person, as the Great Goddess and call her Mother Nature. But then to use phrases like “it happens over time” seems not to give Time her due credit for the part she plays. Instead we could say with rather than over. The term over can imply dominance—to get something over on somebody. As a species, we have been hell-bent on finding ways to dominate nature and exploit Her. 

In 1.2 of his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines the state of Yoga as when identification with the fluctuations of mind (the thoughts) ceases. Then in sutra 1.12, he offers a 2-step method for how to facilitate that and thus how to attain Yoga. He tells us that through abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment), we will be able to stop identifying with our thoughts and be able to see the true reality of who we are. At that point, we begin to realize who we really are beyond our thoughts.

So all we need to do is practice and not be attached. All very good as a concept. But how to do it? What do those concepts really mean? 

Abhyasa means to practice, and to practice something implies that you stay with it for a while. You sit with something, and every time you have a reaction to it–like why do I have to work at this job? Why doesn’t my husband listen to me? Why do we have to hold thisshoulderstand for five minutes? or Why should I just sit here and try to meditate, I have important things I need to be doing? –you note your reaction and you let it go. Then you note your next reaction, and you let that one go, too. And on and on. You do that as long as you need to.

During my early twenties, I studied laboratory Alchemy, which shares some kinship to yoga in that it deals with transmuting the gross to the refined. So my first real spiritual teacher was an alchemist. By “real spiritual teacher” I mean that he consciously gave me teachings and practices to help me understand the spiritual principles underlying all of existence. By “alchemy” I mean the ancient practice of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.  He was a photographer by profession and his knowledge of chemistry was not only practical but metaphysical as well. I initially came to him because I wanted to know the cause of physical matter: what makes form form

Under his tutelage, I studied the basic building blocks that constitute matter-the twelve cell salts. These salts, being crystalline in form, actually provide a mathematical or geometrical grid that attracts subtle vibrations and organizes them into what eventually becomes manifest form. I also learned how to grow crystals in test tubes in a laboratory setting and assisted him in classical alchemical long-term projects that dealt with elemental properties of minerals, especially mercury and gold. He taught me the value of meditation and how to look deeply into ordinary things to discover essence, which included the investigation of words and their root etymological meanings. He infused our lessons with practical science, providing what he promised was an experiential connection to truth. 

Abyhasa–regular continuous practice, done with detachment, meaning no matter what, will help the settlingof your mind and lead to peace of mind. The implication is “with” time a number of obstacles to freedom will fall away. The practices of yoga— as well as alchemy— are magical practices that alter one’s perception of the world, one’s selfand of time. Such an altered perception can help you to live in harmony with nature, rather than viewing yourselfas separate from nature. The development of that harmonious co-existance, once perfected, can lead to the arising of enlightenment—the transformation of the individual into something (someone) more inclusive—one who knows themselves as part of the whole of creation rather than a self-centered, skin-encapsulated ego. This living in harmony with nature can be enjoyable; it doesn’t have to be a life lived in asceticism, which has been an all too common image of the renunciate yogi—the hermit in a cave. Living in harmony with nature can be enjoyable, sensual and savory.

The body of the enlightened yogi houses the light of truth. The yogi as alchemist works with nature to effect their own transformation from ignorance to enlightenment. This takes time. In fact without her, no transformation is possible. Without being born into life—the embodied physical experience—purifying ones karma (past actions, relationships with others) is very difficult if not impossible. There is an old alchemical precept that states: “through repetition the magic is forced to rise.” I like this saying because it equates repetition, which can only occur with and by the agent of time, to the key ingredient necessary for magic to arise. 

-Sharon Gannon