(A vritti is a fluctuation of mind. A whirlpool of thought.)
While driving to the grocery store on Monday, scanning through radio stations I heard the Dire Straits song “Romeo & Juliet.” I love that song. The first time I heard it, I was a freshman in college listening to the Indigo Girls’ album 1200 Curfews, a live album that included originals and (as was the case with “Romeo & Juliet”) a number of covers. The reminder from Dire Straits inspired me to revisit that Indigo Girls album.
Even though I hadn’t listened to it for a decade or more, I found myself in a state of unconscious remembering; I could sing every single word of every single song on that album, and I was pulled back by the listening to the music and the singing of the songs to my friend’s dorm room where I first heard it. No recollection was even required of me. The information had been stored, the song was the key to their file cabinet. A favorite sweatshirt flashes in my memory’s eye. The carefree angst of being 18 and in something like unrequited love, but feeling mostly awkward and self-punishing for falling short of the perfection required to “earn” love.
(This is just an example. It’s not even a traumatic example. Just an example of how things shift. Mostly slowly, sometimes quickly.)
And there was a time that such a memory, such a visceral memory, would have pulled me back into the feeling. The place where the memory was me, without any separation. And the confusion of time and space and memory and present sensation would have lead to suffering, dukkha.
But not today.
I am not there now. And even remembering the physical sensation of being in that place in time does not conjure a present sensation to arise. This whirlpool does not have the power over me that it once did.
A memory is just a memory.
Just like that.
After a half-of-a-lifetime of practice (I also came to yoga that year, shortly after I came to know Dire Straits and Bob Dylan via the Indigo Girls), a memory is just a thought.
In the Yoga Sutras, there are only 5 kinds of thought patterns or vrttis, they are
- right knowledge // pramana
- wrong knowledge // viparyayah
- imagination // vikalpah
- deep sleep // nidra
- memory // smritayah
And these patterns or fluctuations of mind, can be categorized as either colored or not-colored: klishta or aklishta.
What does that mean?
There are many ways of describing this dichotomy, and I like to think of them simply in terms of non-useful or useful. Part of the work that our yoga practice does (over many years, without attachment to the results, per Sutra 1.12) is train the mind to be more hospitable to useful thoughts and, furthermore, to be less disturbed by the fluctuations of even our useful thoughts. (They come and go, too.)
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah.
Yoga is seeing more clearly what is actually happening. (This is not a direct translation, but it is my favorite. Strict translation: Yoga is mastering the fluctuations of mind.)
And just like that, after all this time, a memory is just a thought.
And now it is gone.