The other day I noticed that my daughter had moved the clock in her room. When I asked her about it she told me that the nightlight on the clock was making the cat figurine on the shelf look creepy.
I proceeded to give her this long “mom talk” that I remember hearing when I was a kid. The idea was something about how the night plays tricks on our mind and fools us into thinking regular things aren’t what they seem. I went on for awhile longer and ended with some platitude like imaginations are amazing!
Sadie listened patiently and then said in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Yeah, mom, I know the cat isn’t creepy during the day. It was just bothering me at night so I moved the clock.”
This incident reminded me of two important teachings in yoga:
Satvāda and pariṇāmavāda.
Sadie totally trusted her reaction to the cat figurine. She didn’t waste any time doubting her experience or talking herself out of what she was feeling. She trusted the truth of her perception in the moment.
This is satvāda: everything we see, hear, feel, and experience is true and real.
And well before my obviously unnecessary “mom talk”, Sadie knew that what she was seeing was subject to change. She knew the cat would look different in the day and the night.
This is pariṇāmavāda: our perceptions our subject to change.
Sadie acknowledged the truth of her perception even though she knew she would perceive that cat figure differently in the daylight. She knew that she was big enough for both ideas to exist at the same time.
It’s as if Sadie were embodying these lines in Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself:
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
This is exactly what we are called to discover on our yoga mat. Poses feel one way in one moment and completely different the next. What we could do yesterday, we can’t do today. The meditation that brought us peace in the past may no longer have the same effect.
This seemingly paradoxical way of trusting what we know to be true and at the same time recognizing that our experience will change is not just about yoga poses and meditation practices.
The play between satvāda, pariṇāmavāda, and our ability to take action can become a framework for how we engage with the world from the news cycle to our relationships.
There’s a bunch more to explore another time about these ideas and the theory of growth mindset in modern psychology. Stay tuned for that blog post.