Yoga incorporates the science of all the bodies – the physical body, the mind, and the soul. In other words, it covers the whole field of psychology. The word ‘psyche’ itself comes from the Greek psukhē, meaning life force or soul. Historically, psychology was the study of the relationship between the mind and the soul. In recent times, however, the role of the soul has been neglected in a lot of western psychology, whereas it is central to Yoga.
Through Yoga we explore consciousness, and what results in changes to the field of consciousness as we evolve through various chakras and koshas. In this series of articles, DAAJI explains the fundamentals of yogic psychology, with its foundation in Patanjali’s descriptions of the various mental modifications, some of which lead us to balance and well-being, and some of which take us away from balance. DAAJI gives us guidance and solutions to create mental well-being through yogic practices. In this third article of the series, he explores the fourth vritti described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: sleep, known in Yoga as nidra. In sleep we go beyond consciousness.
Part 3 – NIDRA
The five vrittis are the five types of energy patterns or tendencies we create in the field of our consciousness or chit. ‘Whirlpool’ is a literal translation of the word vritti, and the vrittis are the whirlpools, waves and ripples that form according to how we perceive and interact with the world around us.
So try to imagine the original state of our being, the Center of our being, where there is only stillness. From that Center everything we think and do manifests. You can call it the default position, the zero position. Of our three bodies, it is our soul that is closest to our Center. That is why the soul is so much at home in the balanced state of nothingness.
Contrast that with the interplay of senses, thoughts, feelings and tendencies that draw us out into the world of movement and thinking, creating the various vrittis in the field of consciousness. But our soul is also embodied, and is connected with the physical body. So the soul, the atman, is also involved in movement and thinking (atman: ath means ‘movement’ and man means ‘thinking’). In fact it is involved in everything that we think and do. Without it we would not exist for even a billionth of a second. So our soul is at home with movement and thinking, as well as with stillness. There is a constant flux between stillness and activity, as Vivekananda says, between activity and repose.
So try to imagine the original state of our being,
the Center of our being, where there is only stillness.
From that Center everything we think and do manifests.
Therefore, in Yoga, we try to maximize our potential in all three – stillness, thinking and movement. To do this, we are concerned with two main things: turning our attention inwards during meditation towards stillness, and refining our outward activities so that thoughts and movement are conducive to evolution, happiness and balance. We cannot exist in total stillness all the time or we would be dead, and that is not the aim of Yoga, which is also all about skill in action. So instead we learn to integrate stillness and activity into a happy balance in our daily actions. I have written about this in an earlier article on ‘The Stillness Paradox’.
This combination of stillness and activity, when lived out in purity and simplicity, allows the soul to shine forth, meaning inner joy and happiness. When the waves of the vrittis settle to calmness, as happens during meditation, we see our true nature. As we master the art of meditation, we then learn to externalize that true nature in all our other activities. This is another one of the specialties of Heartfulness – to carry the meditative state with us into the day, through the practice known as Constant Remembrance.
And a yogi of caliber can ‘read’ those patterns
in the consciousness field and
straight away describe a person’s state.
So if the soul is happy in stillness, thinking and movement, why are we not content all the time? It is because we create our own personal blend of vrittis, based on our likes and dislikes, and these pull us away from our Center. Our particular blend of vrittis is an expression of our personality. And a yogi of caliber can ‘read’ those patterns in the consciousness field and straight away describe a person’s state – peaceful or troubled, loving or angry, light and still or heavy and turbulent etc. and much more.
Patanjali describes these vrittis as being either colored (klishta) or clear (aklishta); in other words, they can be impure or pure. Impure vrittis lead to turbulence and pure vrittis lead to stillness. The mind is either a source of bondage or a source of freedom, depending on how we cultivate and train it. Yoga is concerned only with this: how do we use the mind? Mastery of the mind, removal of all the impurities in the mind, is Yoga.
Patanjali goes on to describe the five vrittis: right knowledge (pramana), wrong knowledge (viparyaya), fantasy or imagination (vikalpa), sleep (nidra) and memory (smriti).
All manifest life seems to require
a period of sleep, of calm,
in which to gain added strength,
renewed vigor, for the next manifestation,
or awakening to activity.
Thus is the march of all progress,
of all manifest life – in waves,
successive waves, of activity and repose.
Waves succeed each other in
an endless chain of progression.
So far we have explored the first three vrittis: pramana, viparyaya and vikalpa – right understanding, wrong understanding, and imagination. The fourth vritti is sleep, defining yet another state of mind, for a completely different purpose.
1.10: Abhava pratyaya alambana vritti nidra
Deep sleep is the subtle thought pattern
that embraces nothingness
– the negation of other thought patterns.
It is defined by the absence of content.
Deep sleep is an unconscious state with no content. In deep sleep, our brainwave frequencies slow right down, almost to zero, and these are known as Delta waves between the frequencies of 0.5 to 3 Hertz. There is minimal activity. At all other times, except during Samadhi, we have thoughts; but not during deep sleep. Samadhi and deep sleep are not all that different. It is only that in Samadhi we can be aware.
Why do we need to sleep? Delta wave sleep is rejuvenating and refreshing, because when we rest the body and mind other healing processes are able to purify and restore our system. Freshness comes as a result of deep sleep – we are mentally inactive, so our brainwave frequencies are almost zero, reflecting the stillness in our mental process. There are very few waves in the mind – the lake of consciousness is almost still.
More importantly, when the body and mind are not demanding attention and creating waves, we are able to withdraw into the soul. In Yoga, this deep sleep state is known as sushupti. The knowledge of the physical body comes in the waking or jagratha state. The knowledge of the mind comes in the dream or swapna state, and the knowledge of the soul comes in the deep sleep or sushupti state. In fact, it is the soul itself.
In deep sleep we are absorbed in the soul in a state of oneness. This is a deeply spiritual state, close to God, but we are generally not aware of it. Because we are close to God, resting in the soul, we experience joy and bliss, also without knowing it.
Some yogis speak about retaining consciousness in the deep sleep state of sushupti, but is it really conscious? Not as we generally think of it. We can say it is conscious without familiar awareness. Consciousness is a function of the mind, whereas in sushupti we are at the very center of the mind, in the realm of the soul. In Heartfulness it is beautifully described as the state of higher ignorance, beyond the conscious mind, beyond the thinking mind, and beyond the observing mind. The early Christian mystics called it ‘the cloud of unknowing’. It is a state so much subtler than consciousness, on the verge of absolute nothingness. As the measured brainwave frequencies show us, it is not completely zero, but these very low Delta wave frequencies reflect minimal autonomic activity necessary for rejuvenation. It is baseline existence.
Adepts of meditation are able to attain a similar state to sushupti while meditating, in deep Samadhi. What is the difference between sushupti and Samadhi? Samadhi can be with full awareness and consciousness. But it is not always so – there are various stages of Samadhi, starting with the deep sleep like state of unconscious stone-like pashantulya, and ending with full conscious awareness. It depends on how we meditate, how we expand our consciousness, and how we connect with the soul.
The fully aware state of Samadhi is known as Sahaj Samadhi or the Turiya state – awareness in nothingness. In this Turiya state, very low frequency Delta brainwaves are measured just as they are in deep sleep, and in Heartfulness this can happen even in the very first meditation due to the effects of Yogic Transmission. We touch the soul, we nourish the soul, and we feel as rejuvenated by meditation as we do by deep sleep.
With the help of Transmission,
it becomes quite easy
to experience the Turiya state.
With the help of Transmission, it becomes quite easy to experience the Turiya state. While our body is fully relaxed, our mind perceives things. We are not sleeping, but we are in such a relaxed state. And then we learn how to take this condition out into daily life with eyes open. We transcend the Turiya state to the Turiyatit state, which happens when we carry that deep meditative state within us all the time. This will only happen when the mind is so pure and elastic that there are no complexities or heaviness blocking our ability to traverse all these states of being. It is the result of two things: our ability to let go of all the colorings (known as vairagya) and our practice (known as abhyas).
1.12: Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah
The vrittis are stilled through abhyas
(practice that takes us towards the Center)
and vairagya (the letting go of all the mental colorings).
Through practice and arriving at state of vairagya, we start to resonate with the Absolute state, the original state of stillness. We not only touch the soul during deep sleep but also during Samadhi, with more and more awareness. That connection then continues on through all our daily activities. Restlessness disappears. Our waking and deep sleep states are no longer so different.
To simplify, we can say that:
Consciousness + thinking = waking state, jagratha
Unconsciousness + thinking = dreaming state, swapna
Unconsciousness – thinking = deep sleep, sushupti, death
Consciousness – thinking = Sahaj Samadhi, Turiya
Witnessing can exist in any of these four states, but whether it does or not will depend on how evolved our consciousness is and the potentiality behind that consciousness. And the most difficult state for witnessing is sushupti. How many of us can be a witness to what happens in deep sleep or death? Practice is the key. It allows us to make use of these deep states of sushupti and Samadhi for spiritual growth.
There is an interesting question we can ask here: Why is it that we believe we are ignorant in sushupti?
One perspective is that our conscious mind is not active in this deeper state of sleep and hence no information is possible from that state.
Another perspective is that there is nothing to be known there! What can we know about the soul, about nothingness? Why should we want to know about something that is beyond knowledge? On entering that state, the elements of the waking and dream states withdraw and merge into seed form. From that point of view there is usually no awareness. So we call it ignorance, without understanding the real thing.
So sleep is the vritti that takes us deepest and
closest to the profoundness of our Center,
and we do this every night of our lives, from the time
we are in the womb until the time of our death.
If we can discipline our sleep cycles, it will change our lives.
How well we sleep and how deeply we sleep determines
our state of mind throughout the day.
So sleep is the vritti that takes us deepest and closest to the profoundness of our Center, and we do this every night of our lives, from the time we are in the womb until the time of our death. If we can discipline our sleep cycles, it will change our lives. How well we sleep and how deeply we sleep determines our state of mind throughout the day.
Generally, it is better to sleep early to be in tune with natural cycles. On the night you miss your sleep, observe how you carry out your activities the next day. Lack of sleep makes us irritable and angry, and we can never claim to be so creative. At best we will create more enemies! Now compare that with a night when you go to bed early, before you are already exhausted, and then see how you carry out your activities the following day. Sleeping well allows us to be creative. The difference will be so obvious.
When we sleep well, our morning meditation will also improve drastically; when we meditate with a rested mind we have a good grip over consciousness. And when we meditate well, we will be able to dive into deep states with awareness, into Sahaj Samadhi, so that we nourish the soul and let its joy radiate into every aspect of our lives.
Article by KAMLESH PATEL (DAAJI)