te pratiprasava-heyāḥ sūkṣmāḥ
“These [afflictions] are deep; [yet] by the process of involution, they dwindle.”
Patañjali says here that the afflictions are sūkṣma, deep, subtle (see I.45 for meaning of sūkṣma). They are part of our formation, what underlies our behaviors. They interweave with the adaptations we make, with our assumptions about life.
How I identify myself, what attracts me or repels me, what I seek to hold on to, draw out, make last–these form my personality. They are how I have accommodated to the experiences that have come to me. They have, perhaps literally, kept me alive. They are deep. They are natural. They are survival skills. Yet if they do not move, adjust, release over time, they will limit me and harm me. In their most full-blown and harmful aspects, they will manifest as addiction, obsession, anxiety, depression.
How do I let go of ways of thinking that are laid so early in life, that hold me so strongly? Some of these are my most comforting friends. For example, I have long labeled myself as an underachiever. Though that label doesn’t fit my current life and activities, I am familiar with it–kind of attached to it. It helped me out in some of the circumstances of my early life. Do I currently suffer from it? Yes! It is a bit like dragging along a ball and chain.
In sūtra II.2, Patañjali stated that the yoga practice will “thin” (tanū) the afflictions. Here, likewise, he says that the afflictions can be heya. Though it is sometimes translated as ended or abolished, heya (from the verb hā, “to abandon”) more specifically means forsaken, disregarded. The suggestion is that we are meant to leave behind the old ways. Through neglect, they wither. We come to new experience, the new day, with a more open mind and heart.
How does this refreshment happen? How does yoga work? Patañjali has described a process of transformation of the citta in Chapter One, and in sūtra II.10, he refers back to two themes introduced there: exploration (I.44) and renewal (I.41, I.50) . He introduces a beautiful new term: pratiprasava. The prefix prati means “back,” “counter,” and the verb prasū is “to flow forth”; pratiprasava, then, is “reversing the flow” of our consciousness. And by means of this counter-flow, we forsake the afflictions. They dwindle.
The counter-flow that is pratiprasava can refer to the practice of pausing before taking action, of taking the time to stop, breathe, feel. We commit in this moment to knowing ourselves, identifying our inner state. We learn, over time, more about our own psychology. We trace back, as Rohit Metha says, to “how the knot was tied.”
However, pratiprasava means more than this. It refers also to going in–or out–and tracking the underlying web of surface experience. This is a movement toward the source of things–the ultimate, the root of life. B.K.S. Iyengar calls pratiprasava “involution” (in contrast to “evolution”), and he depicts how the practitioner expands her awareness out to the cells of her being and in to her core, her self, and the source of her self.
In my experience, involution happens in the contemplation of exterior things as well. Going out, in to nature, spending time with children, witnessing great art, taking part in an act of social justice, finding the loving gesture in a difficult situation—something happens, a sensing of the numinous. The perspective becomes deeper, bigger. Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of “inscape.” Abraham Heschel, a Jewish writer and scholar of the twentieth century, describes “awe”:
The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. –Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 75
B.K.S. Iyengar describes the yoga process as a “marriage of the soul with the body and the body with the soul.” In the same way, poets and mystics have talked of a marriage of heaven and earth. Matthew Fox presents a translation/arrangement of thirteenth-century philosopher Meister Eckhart’s writings in Meditations with Meister Eckhart:
Earth cannot escape heaven,
Flee it by going up,
or flee it by going down,
heaven still invades the earth,
makes it sacred.
All hiding places reveal God.
If you want to escape God,
S/he runs into your lap.
God is at home.
It is we who have gone out for a walk.
–Meister Eckhart, tr. by Matthew Fox
If the afflictions represent how we become lost to ourselves, to our true nature and to what restores us and supports us, then the counter-flow that is pratiprasava is a means to getting found. We don’t often talk of transcendence in ordinary life. But Abraham Heschel is pretty convincing that awe is essential to our well-being. It brings us home.
“In the performance of āsanas two avenues or paths are involved. One is the evolutory, expressive or exhibitive path, taking the self towards the body, towards the pores of the skin, towards the periphery. The other is the involutory, intuitive or inhibitive path, where the vehicles of the body are made to move towards the self. The union of these two paths is the divine marriage of the body with the soul and the soul with the body. It is meditation.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 64.
“The Lord Buddha is stated to have told his disciples that if they wanted to untie a knot, they must find out how the knot was tied. The above sūtra is akin to that instruction. If one wants to find out how the mind can be unconditioned then all that one must do is to see how the mind gets conditioned. The prati-prasava is indeed a process of going back.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 117
• How would you identify “counter-flow” in your practice?
• What shift in the consciousness does a movement outward, say, to the pores of the skin, bring? What has helped you move your awareness in?
•Has yoga helped you “leave behind” psychological or emotional afflictions that you have suffered from?
•Do you experience yoga as a “return home”?
masculine pronoun, 1st case plural
|noun in compound (3rd case understood, “by”)
counter-flow, involution, return to origin (from prati-, “back, counter,” + prasū, “to set in motion, to bring forth”)
masculine adjective, 1st case plural
to be forsaken, avoided, left (from hā, “to abandon”)
masculine adjective, 1st case plural