By Dhāraṇī Diana Díaz
In Sutra 1.13, Patanjali tells us that Practice is effort toward steadiness of mind.
But before we get into Practice, let’s define effort. Translated by Swami Satchidananda, effort is a continuous practice. He goes on to interpret that within this practice, we should be eternally watchful, scrutinizing every thought, word, action.
Now I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound appealing. And yet, this is how we work toward this steadiness of mind. Where to begin?
1.14 In the next Sutra, Patanjali breaks down this Practice, this effort into three qualifications: “Practice becomes firmly grounded when attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”
There is a lot of room here for interpretation. For instance, what is “a long time”? We can agree that it’s not just a couple of days.
“Without break”? Here is where continued practice or effort comes in. It’s steady, as opposed to practicing one day, then taking a month off, then coming back to it.
And, we need to do so in all earnestness — so in other words, wholeheartedly, happily, not begrudgingly.
When we think about it, this is what we expect from people in roles we look up to. I expect my doctor to have studied for a long time, taken those classes consecutively and practiced enthusiastically before putting my life in her hands. It’s not just doctors, though; we really do want all of those qualifications in any important practice and our own practice.
Or let’s take pilots, for example.
My father’s family is from a Tiny Island of Puerto Rico called Vieques. It’s next to another tiny island called Culebra. To get to Culebra from Vieques, you need to take a boat to the mainland, then wait a few hours, then take another boat to Culebra. Depending on the day and the sea, you might have just a few moments to look around before the last set of boats leave, or the captain might decide he’s done for the day and you might get stranded overnight.
Or, you can hire a private pilot to take you. And that’s what many people do. The thing is, it’s a short but tricky route. As the plane is descending, the pilot must maneuver between two mountain peaks, then make a hard landing on a short runway.
So, say we’re on Vieques and we want to fly into Culebra. We get to the pilot’s lounge and there are a bunch of them waiting to be hired.
“I need to go to Culebra”, you announce.
The first pilot says: “I can take you! ”I’ve been flying for 10 years.
“That’s great”, you think. Then you ask, “How many times have you flown to Culebra?”
And he answers, “Well I fly around to wherever I feel like going in the moment, but Culebra is hard and I don’t even remember the last time I was in Culebra.”
So pilot #1 has practiced for a long time, with enthusiasm, but NOT continuously. We can see where this is problematic. No, thank you.
You look around the room and a second pilot chimes in, “I can take you—I’ve been flying to Culebra every day for 10 years.”
“GREAT! Let’s GO!”
And they respond, “Wait, like now? Right now? I mean, okay I guess. Let me finish this beer, and let’s get this over with.”
So the second pilot has been practicing for a long time, continually, but not with enthusiasm. And it’s in the enthusiasm and wholeheartedness where you’ll build the mindful details of your practice.
The third pilot stands up and offers, “I can take you! I’ve been flying to Culebra more or less twice a day for the past 8 years, mostly just for fun. I love gliding between the mountain peaks, and the angle of the sun at every time of day—I can wait for you to fly you back and in the meantime I get to see my family for breakfast or dinner.”
“Great, let’s go!” you exclaim, and head for the door.
“Not so fast!” she says, “We will go, but we have to wait till this tropical shower passes. Sit for a few minutes and we’ll leave when it’s clear. Have some coffee with me and tell me what you’d like to do there. I’m certain we’ll make it there before lunchtime.
Needless to say, she’s our pilot.
And it begins to be obvious that in any important endeavor, all three need to be in place: Practice for a long time, without break and in all earnestness. And, in addition, as with our last pilot, Sri Swami Satchidananda tells us we also need to bring the three personal qualities we’ve also seen in our third pilot: patience, devotion and faith.
With all these in place, WE WILL make progress toward steadying our mind.
From Kino MacGregor’s book “The Yogi Assignment,” pp 182-183: “Only by fully releasing your need to get anywhere at any particular time does the power of practice really start to take effect. There is a humility that can only be cultivated over years of getting on the mat and putting in the work with no attachment to the goal. You have to learn to hear that quiet voice in your heart that says, ‘I will stay the course and keep the faith no matter how long it takes.’”
And when we practice things continually, they become automatic, like brushing your teeth. You had to learn that, then practice it, then do it hopefully a few times a day. Now, you wake up and brush your teeth without really thinking it’s much effort at all most of the time.
Frankly that sounds boring, but it’s not a new concept. After all, the best way to get to Carnegie Hall is Practice Practice Practice.