Driving down IH-35 from Austin to San Antonio to attend a Mind Science Foundation board retreat, with the sun-dried fields passing me by, and the faster cars zipping around me with an occasional honk, I uncovered a solution I had been unknowingly seeking since my early 20s. I had not even realized that I had been seeking such an answer until I found it. But, some younger aspect of my present self set an intention long ago to find an answer.

I am assuming that each one of us has discovered some key ingredient, a secret sauce to a delicious recipe once forgotten, or come up with the name that had eluded us at the Arthouse Fundraiser the night before. We hear about stories of people remembering important things while in the shower. Yet, this discovery seemed to me to be a long time coming. It was as though I had once been close to making it, but had been distracted by something, a passing thought, or even a long-term relationship and had never circled back. In his stream of consciousness book, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), the author Ken Kesey begins his chapters with anecdotes. One such anecdote, in which he is describing a hike through a maze of paths to an old lookout from where he can exuberantly sing “row, row, row your boat” with himself, mentions that we sometimes stray from the main trail and never realize that we have strayed until we come back across the path we thought we were already on.

The previous night my allergies were so bad that I had only gotten about 3 hours of sleep. I had scrolled through my audio books and came upon The Autobiography of a Yogi (1946). I knew that 101 Zen Stories (1919) would send me into a hypnotic trance, as would Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970), so I decided to risk Yogananda’s fantastic tales, tales that many scientists would claim to be “from the fringe” at best. I wanted to pass the time being reminded that I was a representative, of not necessarily the specifics Yogananda weaves through his stories in his tales about India, but rather of the spirit behind them. Before walking through the door at my upcoming retreat I wanted to have my mind right. I do this on occasion, and it had been over two years since I had thought to surrender my critical mind and listen to his eloquence.

 The drive was relatively easy and I had left early. I decided to take my time. With cruise control set and having adopted a comfortable sitting posture in the driver’s seat, I randomly chose a beginning point at chapter 29. In this chapter, Yogananda speaks of his visit to the Visva-Bharati College, “the communion of the world,” created by Rabindranath Tagore, the polymath, renaissance man of early 20th century India. This poet laureate established the school in the early 1900s as a co-educational institute inside the premises of an ashram. In the chapter, Yogananda cites the inspiration Tagore inspired as the poet read some of his newly written selections, “referring to God in every stanza, yet seldom mentioning the sacred name:”

Mind Without Fear
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free;
 Where the world has not been broken up
 into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
 Where words come out from the depth of truth;
 Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
 Where the clear stream of reason
 has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
 Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-- Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” (pub. 1913)
In Yoga Sutra IV.4, Patanjali writes: "The individual mind-complexes proceed from the I-am-ness" (G. Feuerstein, 1979). This “I-am-ness” is the Asmita-matra, the origin of the individual spirit, the mutable, conditional, direct descendant of the immutable and unconditional Self, Purusha. Since chitta, the mind-complex, springs from this origin, it is the same in essence. I see it as that meshing of the infinite within with the infinite from without. The koshas, sheaths, are layered as in an onion. They become subtler as they near Purusha and denser in nature as they individuate into the elements of Prakriti. But since the mind-complex is this interwoven relationship between Prakriti and Purusha, its form is bound by specific conditions imposed on it from the external world of nature.

These specific conditions are determined by the individual's experience of the elements of nature, or one’s memory of past experiences. In other words, the ordinary individual recognizes the effects of the Tanmatras, the five elements, in the properties of their material counterparts. His chitta "takes the shape" of those effects. This shape, or form, is transitory in nature just as the remainder of Prakriti, the external world is. Yet we perceive it to be reality in its full extent. For example, to the yogis of Patanjali’s time, ether pertains to the potential (Tanmatra) of sound. The ear can perceive changes in ether, and as a result the equilibrium of the sensory receptors in the ear transmits information about the "sound" by way of neurological pathways to the brain, wherein the sound is determined and classified by the mind-complex. The mind-complex assumes the relative reality of the sound, and so understands its form. However, the ordinary individual's mind-complex does not discriminate between the essence and the form of the unparticularized sound. As Patanjali says, only the yogi who can discriminate that which is particularized from that which is unparticularized, understands the immutable essence pervading the form and the form’s potential. Again, Patanjali's idea is difficult to comprehend. Comprehension is a function of the mind-complex. But since the mind-complex is bound by the external world of nature, i.e., takes the shape of that which it senses through the organs of sensation, one must reflect back on its action, and thus, know the essence of the transcendent Self.

My sleep deprived intuitive mind opened itself up to the intention this younger aspect of my life had set, - i.e., to perceive the world from within, from the inside of a mind unbound by fear. Although it was temporary, I recognized, while watching the unfolding world between my two hands on the steering wheel lead me on, that I get out of it what I put into it; namely, that we can frame the world up as one of scarcity, or one of abundance. In a world where there is never enough, the veil of urgency descends before our eyes. Yet, as in the words of Neil Young, “though we rush ahead to save our time, we are only what we feel.” Our world is not broken into fragments. Knowledge is free. Tireless striving invigorates our mornings with novelty. And, we are fortunate to be awake in this great time of revolution for our emergent mind. The veil of urgency lifts and we are all that we see.

Explore More