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.

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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 …

On failing to keep yoga to myself, or, what is a yoga community?

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The reason why I wanted to start writing,about yoga specifically, is that I find that I have no one to talk to about it, and I really want to talk about it. Hence this blog.

There is something magical about a Mysore room, where you end up on such familiar terms in your head with people whose names you maynot even know, but there is a distinct lack of chatter. I have come to value that sort of no-need-to-speak companionability. 

But. I am a PhD student and have a more discursive style of apprehending the world! I need to discuss. Not necessary even to give what it is I need to do such a serious name. I need to talk. And I find that a lot of the time what I want to talk about is yoga.

I generally go to the shala to practice, that is, when not recovering from my several days of relaxation, and the faces there are familiar and comforting. Since we’re a small university community, those familiarfaces often appear in other venues, and it’s always a welcome chance to get acquainted with people in their fully-dressed and groomed manifestations. Seeing them around, both at the morning practice and outside the shala, reminds me that I am part of something.

But I also think that I am part of another community of yogis, a larger community of yogis, or maybe more specifically ashtangis, that is in an ongoing talk about what it means to structure your life around practicing six days a week and rising before 6 am and seriously working on getting your ego under control. Until now, I have been in a conversation with that community mostly in myhead, and I feel like it’s time to commit to having some of my own thoughts. 

The image at the beginning is the symbol of Mercury, planet of everyday expression and communication – precisely what I am after, or in need of. I borrowed it from cafeastrology.com .

 

 

 

 

The yoga of coming back from holiday

I’ve just been on a much-anticipated holiday in Norfolk and today came back to my real life and my yoga practice. While I was checked out of my responsibilities, several things happened next to one another that seem uncannily coincident, and the crowning coincidence was seeing this post on radical acceptance, via YogaRose and featuring Angela Jamison, which really brought me back to what it is that I appear to be getting from the practice, though it certainly is not what I went into it to get.

When I first began doing ashtanga, I had already been practicing yoga for almost a decade and had a great opinion o my own resilience and flexibility, so when I all of a sudden started getting injuries and experiencing kinds of physical discomfort that I had not before experienced I summoned every bit of prep-school wisdom and discipline that I still had in my body to get to the mat every day, and I really believed that the practices was all about discipline. It was about learning to keep yourself hungry, to learn not to experience pain or at least to control yourself enough to be able to ignore it, and to stop feeling fatigue. My practice was all tapas, I guess, and that must have been what I needed at the time. Since then, though, after three years of basically a daily ashtanga practice, I am ready to try a different approach.

Radical acceptance, the way that Angela Jamison talks about it here, is certainly not a principle that excludes tapas. Far from it. But it strips tapas of the striving and grasping that I was seeing in it, or wanting it to do for me, for some time. If radical acceptance is a part of what you are doing on the mat, then the fire of tapas can burn without any expectation that it will destroy something or ruin something or burn away something that you don’t like. You apply discipline in a different way – maybe in a way that I haven’t learned yet. But learning to let go of the idea that there will be a prize at the end of the disciplinary exercise – like, I don’t know, a beautiful body or a brilliant dissertation or a house that is always clean – you can move into this space of discipline without anger. Cheerful discipline, maybe, even.

It may not be surprising that I am having this realisation as I make my acquaintance with karandavasana. My teacher took me through it for the first time – and when I say took, I mean carried – before I left for a remote paradise, and it was as if I had my whole nervous system flushed. I felt like the wave tank at a science museum (pictured)- totally washed and sloshed.

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All I am saying is, moving your body that way – even letting your body move that way – requires some new perspective. I am talking about both karandavasana and the wave tank, although the former is more immediately relevant.