There’s a Sutra for That

“There’s an app for that” has become part of our modern vocabulary and often brings a smile. As we struggle with finding and organizing information, managing details of daily life, learning to connect in new ways, we are sure to encounter challenges and moments of frustration. When a cheerful companion tells us, “There’s an app for that” to solve our very personal particular problem, we recognize that we are not alone. Many other human beings have struggled with this very same issue, however personal it feels to us—finding that certain photo, remembering when to plant what types of flowers, monitoring our caloric intake and output—and we feel connected to a greater intelligence. Others have been here, walked in our shoes, struggled and arrived at solutions for moving forward in a complex world with greater ease.

“There’s a sutra for that” sends the same message. We face many challenges in our daily lives, our work, our relationships, our practice and we often feel at a loss for how to navigate these situations. Our culture sends us many messages about relieving our discomfort through consumption, projection, repression, expression, but we may question whether these are truly wise responses to life’s dilemnas. What would be a compassionate, skillful or conscious response to this life event that might create greater integrity, alignment, truth or peace? When we are caught in a personal situation, we often feel alone and confused, unsure how to best respond.

“There’s a sutra for that” reminds us that others have walked the path before us, have faced these problems, and imparted wisdom in how we can also move forward. The Yoga Sutra are one form of such imparted wisdom.   The oral wisdom tradition of the Yoga Sutra was systematized by Sage Patanjali approximately 2500 years ago and put into written form to continue to be passed down through the ages. The 196 sparse aphorisms lay out a map of our psychology and help guide our aspirations for higher consciousness. We can turn to this text for guidance in our daily lives to navigate challenges and continuously clarify our intentions and responses.

“There’s a sutra for that” offers us wisdom for daily life when we connect our momentary struggle with the larger understanding of the human endeavor. We can accept life’s challenges as lessons and reap the benefits of learning from our missteps as well as our skillful responses. We create a consciousness about how we interact in the world, what we can personally contribute to a situation and how we can internally process situations where we don’t feel we can make an overt contribution.

“There’s a sutra for that” grounds our daily experience in the universality of the human condition and the wisdom of those who have walked the path before us.

A few examples may be helpful. I have a difficult relationship with one of my sisters. We both acknowledge this. We have had times of deep connection and times of deep conflict over our almost 6 decades together. When the relationship is difficult, I struggle with my response to her, to her pain, to her anger, even to her invitations as I have become wary of the potential for conflict. Sitting with this relationship recently, struggling with how to respond, I realized “There’s a sutra for that”! Patanjali tells us how to respond to others in various emotional and psychological states. 1.33 Maitri karuna muditopekshanam sukha dukha punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam. In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil. Brilliant! As we interface with others, we cultivate these qualities in response to the attitudes of the other. We might not always be happy and helpful. While that might be appropriate with those who are happy and virtuous, for someone who is suffering or resentful, we would more appropriately respond with compassion and neutrality. Holding this sutra in mind does not immediately resolve my relationship. But it reminds me that even difficult relationships are our teachers and that we can choose how we respond. In doing so, I bring my practice off the mat or the cushion and into the messy circumstances of real life. And I am encouraged and inspired by the wisdom of how these external challenges test my awareness, growth and integrity.

Another example. The world is a busy place, our American culture moreso than most. We are constantly bombarded with sensory input, with demands on our attention and our time, with enticements for consumption and distraction, with intention for mindful practice and relationship. Sometimes we become overwhelmed with the pulls on our time and energy. The concept of multi-tasking tempts us to think that we can do it all and do it all at once! I remember many years ago picking up my 96-year-old grandmother to take her to our home for dinner. I helped get her settled in the passenger seat of my SUV and then climbed into the driver’s seat. As I pulled onto the freeway, chatting with her and listening to music, I made a quick call to my husband to let him know we were on our way. My poor grandmother was holding on for dear life, not just because of the speed of the vehicle streaming down the fast lane of the freeway but the speed of my various communications. It was as though she had stepped into the passenger seat of my mind, and was dizzied by the speed of twists and turns as I multi-tasked her through the fast lane.

Sometimes the demands become too much for even the most skillful multi-tasker, and with age I find that multi-tasking is far less effective and less enjoyable. Patanjali tells us, I.32: Tat pratishadartam eka tattva ‘bhyasah. Practice one thing at a time. Eka tattva: one principle, truth, topic.   Singular tasking. Intentional activity. When the distractions become too much, when anxiety overtakes peace of mind, we need to pull back and focus our attention. This requires that we prioritize, that we decide what is most important and place our attention and intention there. AA recognizes this truth in the wisdom of “one day at a time”, to not become overwhelmed, over ambitious, overloaded. Do the one thing that you are doing, and do it well. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing consciously, with presence of mind.

“There’s a sutra for that” invites us to step back from our immediate circumstance, to take in the larger context, and seek the wisdom of the moment. When we can observe our personal dilemma from a more objective perspective, we can connect it to our practice, our deeper intention and the wisdom of the ages.

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