The Imagination Modification

My on-again off-again relationship with meditation is back on, for the time being anyway. I appreciate Brad Feld for recently writing about his meditation journey and inspiring me to start meditating again. For the last week, I’ve meditated almost every day.

In a previous post I wrote about the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and how Patanjali teaches that yoga is about stilling the five modifications of the mind – memory, imagination (fancy), right knowledge, wrong knowledge, and sleep. At the time, I was fascinated by the predominance of memory in my meditation. I have noticed that my tendency now shifts toward imagination – thinking about the future, or watching visions/dreams play out in my mindscape. Today, I even imagined writing this blog post, until I stilled that thought.

I also learned a lesson about being gentle in meditation. When it comes to discipline, I’m usually a bit harsh – on myself, and others. In meditation, I’ve learned that when one of these modifications arises, it’s a good practice to bring your awareness to your breath. Today, rather than abruptly trying to bring my attention to my breath, I first noticed my breath was there, and this of course brings attention to it. I then gently let my mind go of the modification which was consuming it (imagination mostly), and brought more awareness to my breath. In doing this, I noticed that even when the modifications came back, there was more space in my mind. Every time, there was less and less of a crowd.

That additional space kept me absorbed in watching. I usually set a timer to make sure I meditate for a certain amount of time – usually twenty minutes. At some point in my meditation, I have the thought “I wonder when the timer will go off”. This morning, that thought never came, I was absorbed watching all the way until the timer emerged.

Memory as a Modification of the Mind

I had an enthralling yoga experience while on my last visit to India, and have begun a new relationship with memory as a result. I am very grateful to Binod for the invitation to join him at the S-VYASA Yoga University for a 2-day yoga workshop last weekend. S-VYASA is outside of Bangalore, and was founded by an ex-NASA engineer and another man – both of whom have many people who consider them a guru. I have been practicing yoga in the United States for 17 years, and have never experienced anything like this kind of yoga.

I am also grateful to Komol, who hosted Binod and I for the weekend, and with whom I had many interesting conversations as I absorbed the experience. Here is a picture of the three of us on the campus grounds.


I learned about satvik food – low spice, vegetarian, energetically enriching food, and how delicious it is. I participated in a Hindu havan ritual – mantras and offerings to a fire in the middle of a prayer circle. I learned a specific yoga asana series for relieving stress. I attended other asana practices. I had a traditional Ayurvedic massage – and learned what it’s like to be totally marinated in oil and then steamed until I was nice and tender. I sat in the audience of a guru, named Mohanji, and learned about the Bhagavad Gita and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, and asked questions and received answers about the workings of the inner self.

After the meeting with Mohanji and discussions with Komol, I became fascinated by the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. At the bookstore I purchased a copy of them, with wonderful commentary by I.K. Taimni – it was the same book that Mohanji had with him. They are essentially instructions on how to do yoga. Not yoga as in the physical exercise. The second sutra says “Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind” – basically calming your mind. Further sutras then go on to explain how the mind works, and then how to still the modifications. There is much more, but that’s all that’s necessary for me to say right now.

There are only five types of modifications of the mind – right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fancy (imagination), sleep, and memory. I have been so intrigued by the notion of categorizing everything that happens in my mind into just five categories. And particularly memory. So often when I’m left to myself in meditation, driving, waiting, what is in my mind is a memory – replaying something from the past. Just the act of labeling this activity has changed my relationship to this “modification” of my mind. I feel certain that after some practice I will now be much more capable of stilling this modification. I have not settled into anything about this yet, but this discovery is a meaningful one for me.