Well, we made it. We are in our apartment, which is lovely, though we still don’t have any of our stuff besides what we brought with us on the plane. So, it’s a bit like camping … in a really nice apartment. We have clothes, an air mattress, one pot, two bowls, two spoons, two forks, and two knives. Turns out, that’s all we need.
In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the five activities of the mind. One of these activities is conceptualization or imagination. The sutra can be translated as: Imagination (vikalpa) is a thought pattern that has verbal expression and knowledge, but for which there is no such object or reality in existence. Our imagination is directly linked to our creativity and is not in and of itself a bad thing. It can be used to create joy. But it can also be used to create worse-case scenarios. For example, when we have to go to the DMV, we very rarely think, “I’m going to have so much time on my hands while I sit and wait at the DMV. I can get some reading done!”. Rather we usually think something like, “The line is going to be so long, this is going to take FOREVER, those people are always so rude …”. When we use our imagination to create ideas and expectations that have no basis in reality we always suffer. When things turn out better than what we imagined, we’re so stuck in our false imagined reality that we don’t appreciate it. When things turn out worse than what we were imagining, we feel slighted, as though reality has just slapped us in the face. Even when things turn out exactly as we imagined, we sometimes find fault and wish that things were different.
I’ve been thinking about this sutra because it is, of course, something I need to work on. The morning we left for the airport with all of our luggage and our animals, I was imagining absolute chaos. How were we going to get the animals into the airport? Were we going to be able to find a cart? The airline staff probably won’t be very sensitive to my concerns about the animals traveling. What if the animals get left in San Francisco when we change planes? They’ll probably get sick. What if they die? And on and on and on. Never did I imagine a scenario in which everything went smoothly, everyone was pleasant, and we all arrived safe and sound with minimal stress. And yes, that is exactly what happened. I had wasted all this energy wondering about all the horrible things that could or might happen, and in the end, it was a breeze!
The problem with what I was doing is not only that it undermines my ability to see the present moment for what it is, but it also shows a lack of trust in the goodness of others to do their part. I had an “us vs them” mentality, which was completely unfair to the multitude of airline staff who worked very hard to make sure our animals were safe and comfortable and that we humans were safe and comfortable. Even as the travel was progressing and things were going well, I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. My husband would comment on how well things were going and I would immediately begin to think that just by uttering the words he was tempting fate to turn on us. So silly.
Once we got to our apartment, everyone safe and sound and happy, I was finally able to see reality. I saw how smoothly the day had gone, how wonderful everyone had been, and what a great trip it had been. I was able to reflect and see the trap I had gotten myself into with my imagination and I am grateful for that awareness. It is an awareness that I would not have had if not for my Yoga practice. The me of several years ago would not have been able to see clearly what my mind had created, dismiss it, and accept reality. Instead I would have continued to create a version of the trip that matched my very low expectations.
As these next few weeks unfold, I will be working on this. Big changes continue to come my way as we get settled into this new city and new life, and as we welcome new life into our family. The greatest gift I can give myself is to use my imagination to express my creativity fully, rather than to envision scenarios that may never come to pass. Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. The present moment, aware and content, is where I need to be.