Pratipaksha bhavanam

think-opposite

A friend often suggests “cultivate the opposite” as a way to approach growth or problem-solving. I believe she picked it up from her teacher; like a lot of this kind of wisdom, it actually comes from the Yoga Sutras. In this case II.33, Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam. In the face of negativity, cultivate the opposite, or in the ashtangayoga.info translation, uncertainty concerning implementation can be overcome via orientation with the reverse. But the way my friend uses it is more like behavioural resistance training. You like to talk? Try being silent more often. Like to lounge? Take more walks. Tend to be busy? Plan a simpler schedule. It works for all things, good and bad. Any opposite can be cultivated. It’s also kind of an ear-worm; since she introduced it, I have started thinking of it all the time. How can I embrace the opposite of what I am doing?

(In my case, I tend to be susceptible to catchphrases, or to cognitive gimmicks with potential to sweep all my cognitive mess under the rug. This blog post is just one more bit of evidence for that, and in the spirit of cultivating the opposite I will work on a balancing contribution another time. But for now, I’ll follow this thread).

I like this one because it is layered – just identifying an opposite takes a lot of research. Knee-jerk reactions like immediately pouncing on whatever you usually do and ceasing to do that thing are probably a kind of level one engagement. For example, I love peanut butter and always crave peanut butter and am an immoderate consumer of peanut butter so what is a good exercise for me? Eliminating peanut butter. Or, I tend to avoid eating anywhere other than my house when I am alone, so I could try to enjoy a solo meal at a restaurant, or at the dining hall at university, or someplace that is not my couch.

But these level one challenges change behaviours, not mindsets. (See this genius column on the similarities between training marine mammals and getting your husband to keep track of his keys for a hilarious meditation on this truth). There’s always several higher orders of change available. Instead of eliminating peanut butter, I could try training myself to use it moderately. Maybe that could be having it only at breakfast, or only on weekends, or only when baked into other things, or whatever; the real opposite would be to go from thinking about peanut butter a lot to thinking about peanut butter no more than I think about any other food item. I have no problem consuming porridge oats or lentil soup moderately, so why should peanut butter be an issue? But to do this I have to get into the inner workings a bit more.

I do not think that Patanjali was thinking of nut butters when he composed this sutra. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when we get serious about yoga we often experiment with food. The daily process of choosing what to put into our bodies and what to refuse makes for a beautiful experimentation process with recognising, modifying, and eventually earning the ability to play with our tastes and tendencies as a means toward eventually freeing ourselves from them. Hamish Hendry put it bluntly at a workshop once: “Who’s the boss, chocolate or me?” Identifying the tendency, and then putting in the work to cultivate its opposite, starts loosening the grip of habit or expectation or samskara on us. It does this at first by bringing the samskara into view by giving it a name and letting us see just how deep a groove it has carved out through our letting it repeat.

Food, then, is probably not a very advanced samskara to work with. I’m imagining for myself a much greater challenge, attempting to adopt, deliberately, personality traits that I find repellent. I struggle with sanctimony, in that I find it objectionable when people praise their own moral stances as if they are the only conceivable choice for a thinking individual. If they do so without humour, all the worse, as far as I am concerned. In fact I attempt to cultivate the opposite, to approach my own stances and choices with levity and skepticism. Jokes at my own expense always make me laugh. But I cannot even be sanctimonious about my aversion to sanctimony: as I write this, I am haunted by the image of my junior-year high school English teacher, who once scolded me over a self-deprecating joke. “Stop!” she said. “Take yourself seriously.”

Now, more than a decade later, I would like to take her advice. And I will, I am sure, as soon as I can find a way to describe it in a metaphor involving peanut butter.

Knowledge and your body, asana and personality, why we all look different in adho mukha savasana

Asking for advice is difficult because we don’t always want to hear it. Listening to people comment on our choices can be difficult because we sometimes prefer to ignore what’s apparent to any casual observer. I sometimes think the deepest, most aggressively suppressed insecurities appear more clearly in my consciousness than the more subtle stuff. The formatting that makes you the kind of person to take the last cookie from the plate or makes it impossible for you to breathe on another person without apologising is harder to access than the stuff that makes you cry or lose your temper or indulge in retail therapy.

Most people don’t get access to our deep-down selves. Why would they? The majority of the time, we are engaged in low-stakes interactions, ordering coffee or making plans to meet or negotiating some kind of deadline. Even if you have a childhood fear of abandonment that haunts you from the moment you wake up to when you fall asleep, it isn’t relevant or appropriate to make it part of your conversation with your hairdresser about whether you want to trim your bangs or let them grow out.

Experimenting with asana myself, and hearing about others’ experiences with it, makes me think that there might be a little more wiggle room in those categories. Or that we might be worse at keeping things secret than we think we are. Spending time in the Mysore room (or waiting outside the Mysore room) makes it apparent that every practitioner has a personality. Not just strengths and weaknesses, it isn’t just that some of us have strong shoulder girdles or open backs or whatever it is. Every person’s body is sending messages about their attitude, emotions, past trauma, future potential, eating habits, and so on ad infinitum. All yoga asana showcases this mess of factors, and the daily ashtanga practice uses repetition to make it appear clearly to the practitioner and his or her teacher.

It’s funny, this seems like a real dig-deep-over-many-years exercise, and it is, but I think that might just be true the first time you do it. As in, learning to recognise that this is the case probably takes years of preparing your mind for this possibility. The idea that people’s internal lives somehow appear in their gestures or breathing or how they hold their spinal column is pretty disruptive, because it means you can’t keep things to yourself. Privacy, discretion, secrecy all get a little destabilised if you are willing to think about the body and the physical practice in this way. But if you accept that principle, it could be that a whole world of information opens up to you, and you can learn this language of embodied communication that we are all unconsciously speaking all the time.

In the best cases, getting stuck on a pose might force this language into view. It pushes us to direct all your concentration and strength and flexibility to successfully performing one asana, and to review the catalogue of obstacles to doing that asana well (or well enough for our teacher to advance us!). We start to see the muscles that we are tensing unnecessarily, the moments where we are forgetting to breath or breathing fast and shallow. The bigger challenges take shape slowly, and we find we have always slouched or struggled with tight hips or avoided opening the front body too much. This the the bit that reminds me most of learning a new language. Once you see this new thing clearly, once you have this new tool, it becomes useful for everything and you see everyone doing it. It’s like when I learned the word discourse, or sacrum, or the Arabic word for skipping an appointment – I had never needed any of them before, but once I had them, I could see these concepts at work in a way that I couldn’t when I had no name for them.

I would not advocate watching other people doing their practices while you are doing yours. But, when your gaze wanders and you see someone else, it’s likely that other person’s practice will make an impression. Their practice might be “strong”, or they might be “flexible”, “calm”, have a “beautiful” practice. It could be “distracted” or “aggressive” or “angry”. Our brains being what they are, it’s likely some adjective will show up to describe it before we can retrieve our focus. But maybe we can turn the ability to receive these kinds of impressions inward, and see what information we get then. Or just try to look at your nose, like you are supposed to.

Progress, and thinking about bowel movements (and naps, and oil baths, and diets …)

In Mysore, it seems like your whole life revolves around your body. Its needs dictate your schedule, and resting it and feeding it and lubricating it properly fill the day so effectively that, by the time comes for you to put your body to bed, you are exhausted. The asana is physical, of course, but that is done quietly so it is a different thing. What comes after the asana, though, are pains and hunger and fever and what Sharath called “asana diarrhoea”. (It’s cleansing, he reassured us). Ministering to these needs, and discussing how to best minister to those needs, is what we do when we are meant to be practicing the other seven limbs of ashtanga yoga.

Of course, talking about these things doesn’t seem to bring us any closer to any sort of solution. Despite the talking, people are still seeking out panchakarma, ayurvedic consultations, massage. They are still eliminating dairy or wheat or cold foods or cooked foods from their already superclean diets. They have not figured out a way to surpass the pain, the fatigue, the hunger and transcend the bodies that they spend so much time caring for.

Ashtanga practitioners in their real lives talk about their bodies a lot, but those who come to Mysore find a whole community of people with the exact same concerns about keeping joints lubricated with fat, observing ahimsa with vegetarianism/veganism/pescetarianism/ethical meet consumption, and satisfying the overwhelming hunger that follows a two hour practice that leaves your clothes soaked with sweat. All of a sudden, they don’t have to worry that their particular concerns are bizarre or that telling the truth about what the yoga is doing to your body will make friends and family worry that your spiritual journey is starting to look more like self-destruction than introspection. So it isn’t surprising we spend a lot of time talking about our bodies.

A friend who is particularly devout about her practice asked me this week if it had ever occurred to me that there would be an end to the asana practice. Would we ever advance, spiritually, to the point where we don’t need it anymore? I told her it hadn’t occurred to me, that it wasn’t something I was thinking of for the future. But the question followed me, I kept revisiting it, thinking about what it would look like to move beyond the practice. I found I couldn’t visualise that point, couldn’t visualise this particular commitment working without the body bit. I am certain some people move on from asana practice, find that they are no longer served by the daily routine of exertion and sweat and coconut water rehydration. I am also certain others get tired of it, find that their body can no longer sustain it, or find other commitments that demand enough of them to make daily asana practice an unsustainable drain on their energy. There are loads of reasons to give up asana. We can call them all progress, really – none of us is moving backward in time, we’re all moving toward more information if not more consciousness.

Personally, though, I think there is something spiritual in the physicality of asana. The fact of choosing a road to a higher quality existence that goes through your diet, sleep, and body motion seems like a really excellent cosmic framing. Making mula bandha the root of the whole thing is the elegant final touch. If you want to do this life properly, your first step is eating in a way that doesn’t resemble farm animals at a trough, sleeping on a predictable schedule, and spending a couple of hours every morning making sure all the bits of your body are moving together in working order. Once you have that down, you graduate to being compassionate, telling the truth, not being greedy, exercising restraint, and quitting constantly comparing what you have to what you wish you had. Keep your mind and your body clean, be happy, learn some discipline, gain some knowledge through your own efforts, and think about what is divine in the world. Plenty to work on there for the moment, and if you start to think you’re beyond it, see what you are like when you have to speak to a customer service representative.

I had an exchange with PayPal this week that reminded me just how academic the question of moving beyond asana is for me at this point, so I think that for now I will try to forgive myself and everyone else for failing to be enlightened and being just a human being who cares about things like eating and sleeping.

Yoga, hunger, nutrition

I find eating exhausting. Not because I don’t like to eat – I do – but because I find choosing what to eat discouraging. I grew up on a diet, as did every other female born after 1950, so most foods seem risky.

When I first began a serious six day a week practice, I was used to not eating much, and I wasn’t very strong. Yoga meant I had to eat more, and that I had to eat foods that filled me and gave me real energy. I would love to say that I then discovered how to eat properly, became a macrobiotic vegetarian, and went on to develop from slightly underfed to slim and toned and that I now get tons of energy for my yoga practice from juicing kale and eating brown rice.

This is not what happened. What happened was, I gained weight, maybe 2 kilos or a bit more, and went crazy thinking about how to get it off. Over the next four years, I vacillated between trying to find a diet that would make me into a skinny yogi (various versions of eliminating animal products and eating more whole grains) and ones that would make me into a skinny person who did yoga despite her moral failings (various versions of increasing consumption of animal products and other proteins).

I relied pretty heavily on peanut butter for most of these four years to sustain me in whatever dietary regime I happened to be following. Diets that forbade peanut butter were out, so I never tried to reduce fat.

My findings? I am rubbish at dieting, and the only thing that makes me lose weight (again, we are talking about the 2-3 kilos that I added when I established a serious six-day-a-week practice) is to cut down considerably on how much time I spend on the mat. I can’t gain the strength I need to do nakrasana while maintaining a caloric deficit. My body can do a lot of amazing things, but it can’t get stronger if I don’t feed it.

Fine. A good realisation.

Does this knowledge necessarily make me eat better? I am eating better than I was four years ago, when the non-peanut-butter segment of my diet was principally composed of tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese. I eat more cooked greens, more rice, more porridge. Less peanut butter, which I had to give up because it became an unhealthy attachment.

But yesterday, my textbook healthy regime of green smoothie at breakfast, roast chicken at lunch, and hummus and pita for dinner with snacks of fruit and toasted chickpeas was not enough for my day, and I woke up this morning starved.

I agreed with myself to just drink my coffee and get on the mat, but the coffee was too much for the empty stomach, and I didn’t want to get hungrier. Then I would eat, and everyone knows you can’t eat and then practice.

So I got on the mat, but when I finished the standing postures and prepared for Pasasana, I had to lie down. And once I was down, I wasn’t up but my smoothie was in the blender. I was starved, so starved I couldn’t do my yoga and had to eat immediately.

(Don’t worry, yogis: I will reflect on my hunger as citta vritti, but later, after I deal with it in its material form).

This is not atypical for me, worrying constantly that I am eating too much for my lifestyle (of which both yoga practice and wearing skinny jeans are a part) and ending up somehow energy-depleted, with not enough in me for the yoga.

There are some posts that are about the yoga, the realisations that come with the yoga, the wisdom that you gain with the yoga.

This is not that post. This is a post about how confusing it is to keep doing yoga, and how confusing it is to find oneself on “a yogic path”. Not that I would necessarily equate doing a lot of yoga with a yogic path – I just don’t know what else to call it. Needing to work your life around your yoga a bit, maybe, or needing to adjust your life to enable your asana practice.

I want to be a good yogi, but sometimes what that entails seems out of reach to me.

I find pieces about “discovering” how a certain diet works for the writer, and supports his or her yoga practice, and makes them thin and beautiful and strong and energetic, particularly discouraging.

Who are these people, that find that eating raw food goes along perfectly with their blistering travel schedule and graduate student income and 2-hour-a-day practice? This is not me. I find that what I eat is often out of my control, or, perhaps more accurately, that the need to constantly exert control over what I eat is less healthy than eating something fried or processed. That is to say, sometimes I am in situations where to eat “healthfully” means offending others, or inconveniencing them, or not eating with them at all. Am I the only yogi who likes to eat with other people, who don’t necessarily share my (borderline obsessive) approach to diet?

No one will be surprised at this trade off, the calories-for-peace-of-mind exchange of allowing yourself a cheeseburger, or an ice cream cone, or something cooked, in the name of sanity. (Pick your poison). We all do this, eat sometimes less healthfully than we ought to because it’s easier to just swallow whatever is in front of you than to go through whatever hassle is involved in finding something more sattvic.

For me, though, I find the most destructive thing is the constant rumination on what to eat. I feel like a failure because I haven’t found my perfect diet. I don’t know what magical combination of imagined allergies, moral repulsion and palate preference will lead to me being slim, strong and energetic. I mostly just feel bad about everything I eat.

Of course this is citta vritti. But it is a very persistent manifestation of it, for me and I imagine others who try to reconcile the messages they get from the mainstream media about beauty and the messages they get from the larger yoga community about how they should eat with their real lives and their real bodies. And I think the temptation to dismiss hunger as one more mind-trick is sort of a meta-vritti. That is, a refrain I’ve tried adopting because it makes me feel more enlightened, but that ends up essentially propelling me wayyyyyy further down the path of yoga than I am ready to go. I have not achieved such a level of mastery over my body.

There is no conclusion to this post. It’s just another episode of an ongoing dialogue that I have with myself – and that the yoga community has with itself – about food and eating and body image.

Doesn’t yoga make you calm?

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In my case, I think it goes both ways. I went out with two friends last night who don’t do ashtanga, and they were surprised that I was out past 9. Happy moon! They said. I confessed to them that I was thrilled to have the day off from yoga, since I was feeling irritable, and they were surprised. Doesn’t your yoga keep you from getting irritable? 

I told them it doesn’t. It makes me tired; it makes my arms hurt sometimes, so that I can’t type what I am meant to type for my DPhil work that day. It makes me feel worn out, so that I can be less patient. It makes me gain weight, since my body wants more food to sustain the workout schedule that, thanks to my efforts to accommodate a series of other obligations, it is still “getting used to” after four years.

They were a little perplexed. How can yoga do this to you?

I made some joke about having weak arms, and then we changed the subject to whether we were going to have late-night snacks. 

I kept thinking about what I had told them, which was both true and a lie. Yoga does tire me out, it does sometimes make me irritable, and sometimes I feel like just doing it is quite enough to merit my exemption from everything else for at least the rest of the day until I repeat the performance at tomorrow’s Mysore. This attitude is not always the basis for evolved thinking, for taking mature responsibility for my behaviour. Sometimes it is a justification for excessive introversion, or laziness, or an extra slab of cheese on my salad. 

Nevertheless, I never doubt that it has made me a better person and continues to make me a better person, despite the everyday failings that I regularly blame on it. It’s teaching me something better than how to never be irritable – which I think is a goal that I will reach several lifetimes from now. It teaches me how to not care that I am irritable, and hints at what it might feel like to be able to find that irritation irrelevant. It is a deep clean: it rearranges my irritability synapses so that they run on a different track, not overlapping with the synapses I need to be a good person. It’s nerve cleansing, Nadi Shodhana.

Of course, it’s good I didn’t inflict this thought-stream on them. It’s possible they would have found it irritating.

(No) crying in yoga

There’s a pose that I am not getting. I have been working on it for ages, and I am not getting it. I started cheating for a little while. I have a home practice, so it’s not that hard to cheat. The problem with this cheat was that I started to think that it was not a cheat, that I was in fact doing the pose, and was rather pleased to have mastered it after so many months of working on it. When I went back to my regular teacher, after a year away, he ended that happy delusion as soon as he saw me perform my watered-down version.

Then, when he saw me limp through the correct manifestation the next day, he pressed me, correcting mistakes as I tried to do the pose four times, each a little less dignified. I was so frustrated, I cried. Just one tear, or two, not sobs, but I had clearly gone past the point of equanimity. Then I moved on and did the next pose, and finished my practice. Crying was not a disruption.

Still, it was like hitting a wall. Once I noted my over-reaction and sat with it for a little, I realised how much struggle is involved in keeping up this daily practice and advancing into poses that take ages to learn to do, and I wanted to go home and sleep. For a week.

But this morning, off to Mysore practice. At least it’s Friday.

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The un-magic of yoga

Why does yoga have to lead to action?

I ask this question sincerely, not rhetorically – meaning it would probably be better framed, should yoga lead to action?

Choosing to engage in an eight-limbed yoga practice, in the lineage of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois or otherwise, means recognising the practice of yoga as engagement in an ethical way of being in the world. You may not embrace every principle wholeheartedly right away, but the awareness is a first step. In the writings on the internet and in books reflecting on the state of yoga in 21st century America and the world, I’ve observed a distinct tendency toward dissatisfaction with the amount of action in yoga. All these people doing yoga does not seem to lead to social justice, people point out. If yoga is so great, then why is this the case? There are a couple of threads I see, and I’m not unsympathetic to any of them. They all make me think about my own practice and the meaning of this daily investment I make in progressing as a yogi.

It could be we don’t understand yoga. We have failed to connect to the essence of real yoga and instead remain fixated on asana, and by implication on the body and health. This means we have a yoga that makes coconut water and a vegan diet cool. This kind of yoga is an ideal vehicle for corporate marketing.

It could also be we understand an old-fashioned yoga, designed for renunciants and invested in the discovery of the self at the expense of building community. This understanding makes for an atomised community of yogis, who might practice next to each other but cannot come together to support one another at crucial moments. This is a selfish yoga.

It could also be we fail at yoga. Despite all the hours on the mat, we continue to be judgemental individuals who are obsessed with our bodies and their capabilities – a malady that Charlotte Shane described incisively for The New Inquiry. Yoga might actually turn you into an egomaniac, a far cry from the progress toward kindness and tolerance that it promises.

As I said, I am sympathetic to all of these arguments for yoga to deliver on more of its promises to make us all into better people, or, for us as yogis to invest more deeply in pursuing a higher standard of yoga. Still, I don’t think that describes my own yoga journey.

It could be that yoga has made me a better person, but you’d have to ask my friends and family if that is the case. What four years of a six-day-a-week practice has done for me is, make it possible to have realisations. Now, I can get on the mat in the morning and recognise when I have turned this simple act of showing up into a massive hurdle to get over before I can have coffee and look at Twitter. I can feel when a powerful negative samskara has taken over my thought-stream, and in moments of real clarity, I can acknowledge that samskara and recognise it as citta vritti. I never would have been able to do this without a regular ashtanga practice. Still, they remain small victories.

I am sympathetic to calls for a better yoga, for a more social conscious and socially just yoga. I would love for yoga to remake the world in its image.

But we are its image. There are no super-humans doing yoga, just regular humans who struggle to control their egos and are occupied by worldly concerns like fitting in time to practice asana between numerous other commitments and finally learning to balance in pincha mayurasana and losing five kilos to look nice in a party dress. Does the fact that yoga fails to make them saintly mean it is not working?

To me, part of doing my yoga has meant learning not to overestimate the yoga. David Garrigues told his Mysore retreat participants this year that he had done amazing things, become a person he never imagined he would be, thanks to yoga. But still, he said, I am stuck with same old suffering me. And so are we all, stuck with our same old suffering selves.

The fact that yoga has become a $6 billion industry without transforming the world for the better isn’t a strike against yoga, I don’t think. The yogic tradition has lots of ways to describe our human weakness and ineptitude. It doesn’t claim to be magic – although sometimes yogis make that mistake.

Appendenctomy recovery journey

I had my appendix out on June 20th, and after I was back to semi-normal eating, drinking and standing I immediately wanted to get back to my yoga practice. I was surprised how little there was about this kind of recovery on ashtanga blogs! 

Ardash at the Yoga Circus posted about his own recovery journey (http://ahyoga.blogspot.com/2010/01/slowly-slowly-starting-back-yoga-after.html – for some reason hyperlinks are not working today), which I consulted several times (so thank you!). But mine was a different journey so I wanted to put it online – maybe another post-appendectomy ashtangi can benefit.

Since I’m working from six weeks of accumulated research on this (which is admittedly not much, but more than I had when I went into the surgery) I’m going to share what I’ve learned up front.

First, what is a laproscopic appendectomy? It’s a surgery where a camera and two instruments are inserted into your body in three small incisions. The biggest incision, for the camera, is in the belly button, the second toward the left hip-bone in my case, and the third right above the pubic bone. Doctors use the camera to see their way toward extracting your appendix.

What this means for your mula bandha is that you have three punctures through your abdominal muscles, and the soft tissues that hold your organs together (which is what we all typically look like inside – not like a toybox of organs next to each other, but a spiderweb binding them) are snipped through so that the appendix can be extracted and removed.

When the instruments are removed, the surgeons close the innermost musculofascial layer of the abdominal wall with sutures (see http://www.swedish.org/About/Blog/February-2013/Activity-after-open-or-laparoscopic-abdominal-surg#axzz2bv3ilOgY) and these are what take time to heal – if you don’t let them close properly then you are at risk of an abdominal hernia. Undesirable.

There’s the newly acquired knowledge.

My practice had to change a lot to accommodate this kind of physical re-arranging – having a tunnel drawn right through the middle of my bandhas wasn’t easy to get my head around. 

More importantly, what this meant was that my intuition was, frankly, not all that accurate. I continued to think that I was “ready” for more practice and had to let my body correct me – that is, by experiencing sometimes painful sensation in my injured areas.

Part of what the practice does – or has done for me – is teach how to react with awareness and self-possession. Sometimes this means not reacting. When I encounter pain during my practice, I wait to experience it and examine it. (The Confluence Countdown hosts an ongoing conversation about the differences between pain and discomfort and their utility for the practice that addresses what that means for different practitioners: http://theconfluencecountdown.com/2013/07/17/in-defense-of-yoga-that-hurts-you/) Part of this process is teaching yourself not to automatically respond to pain by letting the accompanying fear and anxiety throw you off completely, and continuing to breathe and keep the mind focused is a part of this. I.e., you keep practicing.

In the case of surgery, you’re dealing with a pain that requires more deference, in body-depths that you don’t know as well. (I’m less familiar with the capabilities of the innermost musculofascial layer of my abdominal wall, for example, than I am with my hip flexibility – which is why twinges in supta kurmasana don’t throw me off, but post-surgery ouches in surya namaskara A perhaps should). 

Recovery and healing is delicate, and it isn’t something you can “do”. I had, and have, to get my asana habits out of the way in order to let the deep-level healing happen. This is a way slower process than I thought was going to be right for my ashtanga body – yet another proof that the magic of yoga does not include transcending biology.

 

On looking inside and seeing nothing

I recently attended a workshop with Hamish Hendry, and during the lecture/discussion portion he included some stories about Guruji. Guruji apparently would tell students that when he looked at the wall, he would see God, whereas other might see only the wall. When he looked inside himself, he would also only see God. Hamish told him, Guruji, but when I look inside, I don’t see anything. “Very good,” was the response.

Of course we laughed, but it’s quite a riddle, isn’t it, that response. How it is very good to look inside yourself and not see anything there. Yoga does ask that we maintain an interesting balance between knowing the self and detaching from the self; of course, as I understand it, we are meant to detach from what is purely ego and learn to see (or feel, or in some other way apprehend) atman. There is quite a lot to sift through in that process, though. I sometimes envision myself going through my mental belongings as I go through my clothes when packing for a trip, or through an old box of photographs found somewhere in storage, and making piles. To pack, or not to pack; to save, or to bin; egoistic delusion or true self. I am sure the idea is that your gaze gets sharper with repetition of this exercise, and you are better able to anticipate what will ultimately prove itself unnecessary, but for now it’s quite hard to tell. Surrender plays a role there, I guess, appearing as the willingness to wait for the superfluous and the essential to identify themselves over time.

I also find that I can be confused with comparisons. When I hear that Sharath wakes up at one in the morning each day to practice yoga, for example, my first thought is always that I should not regard my own tiredness as ever being relevant if there is a human being in the world that can rise at that time every day without fail. Then the excuses come – he does nothing but teach yoga; he has no PhD work to attend to; and so on. Finally, there is the acknowledgement that I am not Sharath and will never be Sharath and thus the comparisons are unproductive. However, that still feels something like a failure, as if I’ve set my goals lower down the ladder than whatever the highest rung is. And of course, the notion that there is a ladder is egoistic delusion par excellence.

So, it would not quite be accurate to say that when I look inside, I see nothing; I could say, though, that when I look inside, I see that much of what I have going on there could be left to go on without my direct attention until its utility reveals itself.

Moon days are not magic, apparently

I was a little disappointed to find out, via the Confluence Countdown, that we take moon days more out of a commitment to consonance with Guruji’s routine at the Mysore sanskrit college than out of genuine deference to the force of the universe, making you over-strong on the full moon and sluggish on the new moon. It was less that I was disappointed with the news than that I was stunned at how many sensations that meant I was imagining in my head on full and new moon days! Never mind those.

Whatever the reason, observing moon days feels like a lovely indulgence, which is almost always welcome. 

Astrologically, this new moon is meant to be quite powerful. Susan Miller at AstrologyZone, who I feel is one of my close personal internet friends, is calling it Monster Moon. So ominous for what is really just an excuse for a lie-in …