Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When a Piece of Rope is Mistaken for a Snake

When a Piece of Rope is Mistaken for a Snake

Yoga Sutra 1.8: Wrong knowledge is knowledge which is false and not based upon the true nature of its object*

Zuri’s Worry for her Brother Eric

It was Saturday night; Zuri was sleeping soundly, mostly because she was exhausted. She spent her first week at school with her new backpack and studied hard all week. She was beautiful, curled up, cheek on her pillow and it seemed that perhaps she had a tiny smile on her face. Eric, her brother, was home.

Eric had not been home for days and she had convinced herself that he was dead. She didn’t tell anyone. She just carried that around as a constant thought. Early last week, he and her mom almost had an incident. Zuri’s mom had found the yoga bag in Zuri’s room. She held the bag, screamed at Zuri, “Where did this come from?” Zuri stared at her mom. “Zuri! WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?” Zuri cried and with as tiny of a voice that she could muster said, “Eric. Mom, I got it from Eric.” Her mom threw down the bag and went to look for Eric. Zuri grabbed the bag and hid it deep in her closet. Close call.

Zuri had not seen Eric since that day. He heard them and ran out the door. She thought for sure he was dead and it was her fault. She thought that thought all week.

After school on Friday, she dug into the yoga bag and picked up the yoga sutras. She saw all my notes as she leafed through the pages. Her eyes landed on Sutra 1.8, the sutra on wrong knowledge. She read my notes. She saw where I underlined the words, “The classic example given in yoga literature is that of a piece of rope which is mistaken for a snake. In this case, wrong knowledge will cause us to fear the rope and avoid it or try to kill it.”*

Zuri is so bright. I saw her thinking and thinking. “What if?” she thought, “What if Eric is like that rope? What if he is with his friends trying to make mom mad and I am thinking the worst?” She thought more. “I did just what this book is saying. I couldn’t stop thinking about Eric. I couldn’t stop worrying about Eric, so, I sort of killed him. I have been sure he was dead.”

It’s hard for Zuri. She lives in a tough neighborhood. Some kids really have died in accidents or acts of violence. So it is real, her fear. Yet, I know that Eric is at his friend’s house. I know Eric has been going to school. Zuri doesn’t know it, but her efforts and hope inspire Eric to try to do the right thing even though their parents and most of his friends are struggling. He is mad at his mom. Their mom wants him and Zuri to be perfect and she gets full-on drunk every night. Not okay. So, he’s at his friends, to make her mad, and going to school.

He is the rope, just the rope.

Eric came home Friday night and kissed Zuri on the forehead and whispered to her, “I missed you kid.” Her heart was so full she almost burst and tears ran onto her cheeks (quickly wiped). She said, “I love you Eric. I was scared.” He laughed, “Zuri! Girl! You need to relax.”

And so it was that Eric was okay. And so it was that Zuri thinks she might understand a little bit about a rope just being a rope.

The Process

According to Patanjali, the practice of yoga can help individuals become aware of delusion and misperception in their thinking. The practice of yoga, the breath work, the asanas (postures), the meditation, they all contribute to presence of mind. When we are present, we see things as they are. We settle our bodies bringing our nervous system out of a reactive, sympathetic response and into a reflective alert awareness. Here in this bright and clear presence we can see things, even scary things as they are.

I am like this with flying in planes. When I was headed to Africa in July this year. I made that flight (actually three flights there and three flights back, but who is counting?)—so those flights--  into snakes. The reality was that those flights were done thousands and thousands of times with no accidents. The flight, each one, is the rope. I was going on a trip that I will cherish for the rest of my life. And the only way to get there was on a plane. I had to fly.

When we fly, we can make that rope into a snake. Yes we can- BUT- there is another option. We can breathe and reset our intentions. We can be aware of the rope seeming to be a snake. We can commit to seeing the rope as it is. Better yet, we could commit to seeing the beauty of the journey on which we are headed and let all of the snakes go.

Zuri and I know that fear can turn ropes, wondrous journeys, and even brothers into snakes.

I know that yoga and breathwork are effective anecdotes for this fear. I hope Zuri keeps reading because I wrote so many things in those books that can help her. I know this because they have helped me, changed my life really. So, sweet dreams Zuri and keep reading.


[PS- this is for Laura]

*Prabhavandanda, S. & Isherwood, C. (1953). How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. London, England: Vedanta Society. 

For an overview of the people in Zuri's life fo here
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