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1.39 As You Like It

Updated: Mar 3, 2023


Yathaa-abhimat-dhyaanaad vaa


yatha̅abhimatadhya̅na̅dva̅ ||1.39||

By meditating on what one likes (the mind can be made steady).

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali | Chapter 1 - Samadhi Pada | Verse 39 | Commentary

During World War II, it must have seemed that the world itself is going to tear itself apart. More than 50 countries were directly involved in the conflict, and many more indirectly. People in all eras have to deal with problems of that age, and create opportunities out of chaos. But how do you even think about something other than rubble, ruin and death when whole cities are being turned to dust all around you?

Hisako Koyama was born while World War I was raging. Born at a time when and in a community where young girls were not pushed to have professional careers, she was fortunate to have a supportive family who valued education. She loved watching the sky, and her father encouraged her enthusiasm by getting her a refractive telescope.

During the world war, blackouts regularly hit the city of Tokyo to prepare and deal with airstrikes. Sirens would have blared; lights would be extinguished. People must have ran for shelter clutching at their hearts and loved ones. It must have been terrifying. Yet, for this young girl, it was an opportunity to gaze at the twinkling little lights in the night sky, which looked even better above the blacked-out city. While big men with great power and greater egos fought and sneaked to steal little but dirt, a young girl would sneak out and steal the stars. This was the beginning of a love affair between a young girl and our own star, the Sun.

Koyama went on to spend her entire life inspecting the sun and sketching it. Her meticulous observations and sunspot drawings went on to shape the modern field of space weather, and is the foundation of solar study which is critical in building all kinds of satellites and space probes. She inspected the sun and hand-drew each blemish and sun spot everyday for than 40 years – mor than 15000 days, and unimaginable number of hours.

The story of Hisako Koyama grounds me on both the good and the bad days. On the days when I feel anxiety overpowering me, I am reminded and assured of the resilience we are capable of. On the days my mind bloats with ego, I am reminded of how a young girl accomplished more during war than most of manage in times of peace. But more than anything, there is a sense of kinship when I look up at the stars - I am reminded how the human species have been enraptured by the night sky across space and time. I am reminded our capability to love not just one another, but the sun, moon and stars.

Koyama did not do anything for fame, or money. She was not a genius. She was ordinary – and her extraordinary trait was she did not try to become extraordinary. She liked doing something and she did it day after day, every day. She might not have even known what would be the use of her extensive study. But she achieved that only few of us ever aspire for, and ever fewer ever achieve – single-minded dispassion. I can only imagine the tranquility of her presence, the softness of her mind, and the gentleness of her voice.

The mind is like a monkey. It wants one thing, and the next moment it wants another. It is running away from one emotion, and the next second it wants to run away from another. It sticks to what it is instructed not to stick to. You go for buying a dress, and every next dress the salesman shows seems better than the last one, and either you end up more than your pocket can afford, or nothing at all. You cannot create a successful business if you keep on shutting them down every year and starting new ones. You cannot become a great writer, or a musician, or a computer programmer, if you stop doing after a couple of months and jump to the next impulse. You might have been initiated into a spiritual practice by an enlightened Master, but after reading some books/watching some videos, your mind will wonder whether the other Master’s techniques are better. It goes on and on, a hamster in a wheel, never gaining anything, never stopping, and going through the same events, and patterns again and again. The end result is exhaustion, and the realisation nothing has been gained comes usually at the moment death arrives. To get out of the wheel while alive, one needs to realise that there is no destination to run to. This realisation will bring you to a stand-still. Then, you can step off the wheel, and realise that peace had always been here – all it needed was a step.

You do not have to follow any technique given by anyone. Maharishi Patanjali here is telling the aspirant, ‘okay, forget everything I said. Simply find one thing that you like, and focus your mind on it like a laser.’ It might be baking, dancing, coding, running, breathing, or watching the stars. Let the idea percolate to your bones. Don’t worry about gazing at a light, or listening to a flute, or remembering an enlightened being. Don’t put effort in holding your breath. Every person has a different temperament and a lifestyle, and can pick one which suits him/her best. The only thing which is not going to help, is to keep on jumping from one sadhana to another because someone told you about the lights they saw, or the sounds the heard in meditation, or how sharp they had become by doing a sadhana. It does not mean you do not do anything else. You chose one thing to dedicate yourself to as you live. Do the practice with honour for a long time, and then transformation will happen. This will take you across. You will find what you need. You will find what you want.

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