Free, free! If only we were all free, all problems would be solved and everything would go well. So runs the slogan, and it is felt that by destroying all barriers and restraints, it will come about. But as a matter of fact, when we try it in a small way, we soon find out that our freedoms clash with each other. I want to be free to take a good place for the concert, but others want to be free to take that same place.

The freedoms clash within our very selves: wise old head wants to control diet so as to be radiantly healthy, but greedy tum wants to be free to stuff himself and get drunk every week-end. So one of them is going to be over-ridden and frustrated. Either I have to give up the freedom to have a lot of alcohol and have the freedom to be healthy; or else give up the freedom to be healthy so that I can have the freedom to drink heavily. We quite soon find out that we have to arrange our freedoms in terms of the higher and the lower.

But how are we to decide between them, and when we do decide, how can we be sure to keep to our decision? If I am my own authority, I can always change my mind. The Gita, which is the main text on yoga in everyday life, says that until inspiration comes, follow tradition. Afterwards, when inspiration comes from the supreme Self speaking from within you, you will be truly free because you will yourself be that inspiration, far deeper than any clashes between feelings and reasonings and habits. That will be your own experience; till that time, follow tradition, which
summarizes the experience of others.

Now we may feel, ‘Oh I don’t want to follow tradition. I want to be myself. I want to be free. Free to express myself.’ But if you look at people who claim to be freely expressing themselves, you notice that they are expressing only a tiny part of themselves. Moreover that expression is made repetitively, again and again and again, doing the same thing. You may also notice that quite often they no longer find much pleasure in it; it is just that they cannot stop. And it’s only a fraction of the self that’s actually being expressed. In fact true expression is prevented by internal rigidities and adhesions.

One teacher used to give the example of a cleaning cloth. He would direct that such a cloth be used for a couple of weeks, but not washed or wrung out. It was used for cleaning up dirt and grease, but not itself cleaned and ironed. It developed creases, and ended up looking like a screwed-up ball of cardboard. Even after being forcibly spread out, when it was dropped it again, it fell into the same creases. He would display it along with another one, which had been used for mopping up in the same way, but after each operation had been washed, hung out to dry, and finally ironed. It too had been used to mop up dirt and oil and grease but it had not then been just left. So while the first one became screwed-up and stiff with clotted filth, the second one was completely soft and flexible, and so clean that you could wash your face with it. The ironing creases are purely notional.

With the first one, you have to use force to get even a tiny bit of it that you can use, because it is a congealed mass. So you can’t use it to spread on the table, you can’t use it to make a bandage or a sling and you can’t put it away tidily; you can use it only perhaps to mop up a little bit more grease, and as a matter of fact it is not very good even for that. As it stands, its capacity is very limited, because it is mainly a hard ball of creases.

In the same way, our minds have clots and knots. Around them we can use our minds, but the clots themselves mustn’t be touched. Yoga is a method of washing and ironing the mind-cloth; even an old cloth, if it has been washed and ironed, can do whatever needs to be done. And when there is no immediate need, it can be folded up beautifully and neatly and slipped easily into the drawer ready for use again. The whole of the cloth is available for use and when not needed can be put away.

After the little demonstration of the two cloths, he told his pupils that in the same way the mind is so to speak washed and then ironed. It’s washed by the purification practices of yogic activity, when the actions are done in reverence for the Lord in the action and for the Lord in the object. It is ironed by meditation; the hot iron of Not this, Not this removes personality creases which have seemingly crumpled up the pure universal Self.

© Trevor Leggett