Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 12 July 2013

Somebody's Watching Me: Unravelling the Sutras (Yes, It Really Is All About Knitting)

Okay, I admit it-I'm dazed and confused.  (This is news, you ask?)  I've been struggling with the Yoga Sutras (as interpreted by Edwin Bryant) for a while now and I'm not sure I'm progressing along the path to understanding.  This succinct manual for the practice of yoga as systematised by Patanjali is intended as a guide to lead yogis through eight levels/limbs of yoga, in an attempt to reach the final level, "samadhi," variously interpreted by different schools of yoga as single-pointed consciousness, awareness of one's Self, a union of self and the True Self/Universal Consciousness/God/Whatever Else You May Call It.  In the yoga sutras, the effort is in separating the One Who Watches from The One Who Is Being Watched.

Heady stuff, no?  This is what happens when you leap down the Rabbit Hole of yoga philosophy-you jump, you fall and chaos reigns.  The problem stems from the attempt to talk about things which escape word and thought; the moment we begin to think about these matters, we become Ego/self, the thing that is being watched. We are one step further away from Purusha, the Self, the Observer (for Fringe fans) to which we wish to return. No matter who or what you think you are, You are Not That.

Sometimes, the background obscures What Is.

Think of it this way: as a knitter, you may make a scarf.  This scarf is a product of materials outside of us (yarns and needles). It is also the result of your accumulated knowledge, the knowledge of other knitters, your personal tastes and skills.  That lovely scarf contains a bit of you and every knitter who has gone before, as well as every knitter yet to be, but, in knitting the scarf, you are not the scarf itself, no matter how immersed you become in the process of knitting or how attached you become to the item.  Beyond the knitted item, beyond all the conditions required to make that knitted item, there is The Knitter, You, who simply observes the knitting and the scarf, without judgement or attachment. The scarf completed, you put needles and yarn aside and you are done.  Your work is finished and you rest, but You The Knitter remains.  The Knitter is not lost when you stop knitting.

Most of the time, we live and work with our knitting ego, not The Knitter.  Ego judges the knitting, makes choices which affect our work and those who share with us.  Ego is pleased, unhappy, neutral about our results.  We get glimpses of The Knitter in those moments when we stop thinking about our knitting, when we simply "know" what to do next and the scarf feels as though it's knitting itself.  (The instant we become aware of this "Knitting Bliss," it's gone and we are back to working with our Knitting Ego.)  Beyond it all, we are aware of our Inner Knitter, who watches, at peace.  We can't choose to be The Knitter; we can choose only to take the steps which might lead to Her discovery.

Those moments of Knitted Bliss come with long hours of practice.  I have yet to meet a new knitter who was aware of her Inner Knitter.  Most of those early steps are casting on and ripping out, two steps forward, three back to the beginning.  Gradually, with time and dedication, the new knitter moves to two steps forward, one step back.  She is making progress.  Slowly, she feels more connected with her knitting and with other knitters.  Eventually, if she chooses to go down that road, she will understand that there is Something about knitting that is content just to knit.  It no longer matter what she knits or how she knits it. She is knitting; however, she knits, The Knitter Abides.

If Patanjali's Sutras are the stitch patterns in yoga, we can think of Bryant's analysis as being akin to June Hemmons Hiatt's Principles of Knitting, the tome that explains it all. (I love that "sutra" translates as "thread" or "to stitch.")  Sometimes, words are like boulders in our path.  At other times, we need those words to act as guides.

I may be a wee bit closer to understanding the essence of the sutras.  I may be full of it and have things ass-backwards.  As I struggle, Purusha/Self/The Knitter watches.  And she knows.

Change the background and That Is begins to manifest.



  1. Great blog Deb! Patanjali describes the knitting bliss as one of the preliminary stages of samadhi. Technically, it is one of the four samprajnata samadhis (togetherness with mental content), specifically it is the ananda-level of samprajnata samadhi. The prior samadhi (vicara) is one where the knitter might begin to experience the knitting at a subtle, rather than gross level. You begin to see things in patterns and energy rather than as gross threads. The next samadhi (asmita) would occur when a distinct sense of "I-AM-ness" emerges from the experience of bliss itself - when the knitter begins to identify primarily with the witnessing state (purusha) rather than with the thing being witnessed (prakrti) - which would include the thoughts, memories, and imagination which remain identified with what we call the ego.

    1. Thanks, Colin! I may never look at knitting the same way, again.

  2. After reading Colin's comment, I may never look at Patanjali the same way again! ; )

    I find reading Bryant's commentary on the the YS to be most helpful when I pair it up with Desikachar's in The Heart of Yoga. Bryant is so scholarly and dense that the essence sometimes gets lost (in my most humble opinion!!). Desikachar has a way of making it feel very connected to real life. And if you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend taking a YS workshop with either Chase Bossart or Paul Sherbow. Chase is a long-time student of Mr. Desikachar and really makes it all hit home. Paul works with Bryant at Rutgers and is a Sanskrit scholar par excellence...both are wonderful to study with!

    1. Thanks, Robyn. I agree with you about Bryant-right now, I keep thinking, "Words, words, words, so many words!" Desikachar is on my book wishlist; perhaps it's time to make wishes come true.
      Hope all went well with your show in Saskatoon.