Autonomy, Moral Codes + Naked Beer Goats • 1 March 2018

I. There’s a new code of conduct in town.

II. Autonomy = ruling yourself.

III. The Yoga Alliance fears us when we’re clear.


Ashtanga is a wild cast of characters, all just anti-establishment enough to wake up in the dark every morning to go hard against the stream of social norms. Yes, yes yes, we take the edge off that with our reverence for seventh series – a grounding of this disciplined, awe-driven sadhana in the context of mundane family life. It is an everyday person’s practice, because some householders are also Jedii.

What I’ve found is if you take the inborn mystic-disciplined outsider-ness that draws a person to ashtanga, and then add to it the years of self-study and surrender that make this practice a deep kind of yoga, what you can get is a powerhouse of love and service in this world. Lots of times it goes wrong. Good influences help. Luck helps.

Are ashtanga practitioners really that marginal/ underground/ strange? Well… we value dis-identification from the thoughts we hold most dear; we carve awareness extremely deep into our bodies in a way many would find terrifying or infuriating; we mine our emotional triggers for blocked energy. For fun, we massage our flesh with castor oil. Each one of us becomes gradually more surprising, cantankerous, exactly who we are. We’re disciplined in life because ritual is what we like, it’s what we choose. We choose a teacher and stay true to them I think because this is incredibly subversive (thus re-balancing) in an age of impulsiveness, and escapism, and human objectification-via-internet. Devotion is subversive. Choosing a teacher and spiritual community, and staying alive to them for years, means you have strong non-mainstreaming influences on your life path.

The ones who tap into this stream and follow it beyond the phase of looking insanely hot and getting everything you want — they have stuck around to practice yoga that for its own sake. They go on entering altered states of consciousness and ecstatic community day in day out for years, until it’s not a thing anymore, as casually as they brush their teeth. This “normal” is so, so not normal. Sometimes I forget.

Ashtangis have a funny, paradoxical relationship with rules. Most of us are extremely autonomous. Self-ruling. We don’t want to practice to a stupid playlists or be told what to do according to the random group-sequence-of-the-night. We love, love love technique – lots of precision, learning challenges, stuff so complicated it demands all our thoughts and emotions become focused. We want to own our practices, do them when and where we choose, and very fundamentally breathe at our own pace. The paradox is that the rule we give ourselves is to enter relationships with both teachers and friends on the path. Relationships challenge autonomy. The yin to our hyper-independent yang is that we are a definite WE. There’s a love for stable habits – sadhana makes intrinsic sense to us. We love expertise, and thus place a huge amount of value in long time experience, and therefore in legitimate experts. We’re good with tradition – this is not the crew that needs variety for its own sake, but rather a tribe that naturally finds increased depth in repetition. What the internet forgets, too, is that this tribe is almost entirely analog. What you see on the internet, including here, is just steam. The way ashtanga works is that you lone-wolf it a lot, off-gridding in your bedroom or in private shala spaces. And then you make contact with your expert, either once per practice in the Mysore room, or once every year or two for a study trip.

The emphasis on autonomy means we have a lot of energy around student-teacher dynamics. If and only if I choose to enter into a relationship where my autonomy might be influenced by another, I get learn from any compulsions or reactions that arise. I also get to experience surrender in a way that isn’t the cop-out relinquishing of responsibility that westerners might assume, but rather a kind of nervous system event that involves two people and one line of shared experience and expertise. It’s impossible for me to put this surrender in words, so I won’t try. But I can say that my moral code includes “because my teacher said x, I do x” and this is one of the deepest forms of autonomy I know. Quit my professional job; don’t teach in yoga studios; these are my hard choices based on his nudges. I actually want to channel his expertise over my own if there is any disagreement. And I trust my personal morality itself to catch me and force me to rebel if I ever find myself in an immoral situation.

For all us strange birds, there is this not-unproblematic element of accepting instruction. Years ago now, my teacher told me to give up a project he thought I was arrogant to undertake. I had to make a choice – accept the instruction and stay in integrity in the relationship, or leave the relationship and carry on the project. I did exactly what I wanted to do. I chose to trust him. His vote of no confidence actually changed my inner desire because I trusted him. I accepted his point of view, added it to my own, and therefore my view changed. Those of you who have been agreeing with this post so far because I’m writing like a rogue might suddenly be super uncomfortable. Sorry. The thing is, I can do what I want and be in a devoted relationship with a teacher who may alter my course. I have not abdicated my view; I’ve found a person who sees and respects me well enough that I want his viewpoint to influence my own.

Learning to show up fully as myself in this dynamic has been the major teaching of my last ten years. I first went to Mysore to pay my respects only. I judged that others were there to get a piece of the teacher, to grasp after attention or authorization; I wanted to remain invisible and reverential and giving. But, I was expected to ask for more. To get out of the back corner of the room, to learn to make something like soul-moving eye contact, to let all my feelings show besides the overwhelming gratitude… feelings I found so easy to ignore because I for whatever reason I learned right from the start how to hack my discursive mind and practice without thinking. For the first 9 years of practice, I thought that my super-concentrated mind meant I was doing it right, that Angela’s particular personhood didn’t belong on the mat. The message in relationship, though, was that was more to my yoga than my perfected concentration and my exactly equalized inhale/exhale. Getting the subtle energy technique exactly right had enabled me to hide whole continents of my personality, and made the student-teacher dynamic overly easy because I was only showing up with my light. Over the years, my breath changed and sometimes got more uneven, as I let the subconscious mind and more start to permeate the experience on the mat. Now the work is re-stabilizing the breath, from that place of openness to everything that I still don’t know about being alive. Cantankerous Angela is very much integrated now, but she has a light touch.

I think for many of us the emergence of a unique inner teacher has something to do with the nature of each unique mindbody, and how this interacts with the concept of a fixed ritual. The bodymind might not humble you at first – you might think you can embody perfect breath or vinyasa without fluctuation. But eventually you must let your awareness rest in the energy body and in the previously unconscious/collective mindspace, where the practice is driving it. To survive this without going to the dark side (Siths are real), you must give yourself laws for how to practice with truth and non-harming in the mind-body you have. Hang on to the letter of the law and you’ll simply break your body or destroy all your relationships or dissociate into a two-dimensional cartoon; a safe way through for the long term is to develop a guiding spirit of moral conduct on a personal level.

So… you study your impulses and your heart in light of the incredibly abstract moral code of yamas and niyamas. Living theory/practice like this, I think, is a meaningful way to find a moral code. Our deep, moral autonomy. If we find it at all.

So now ashtanga has a new code of conduct. These external rules are less stringent than the rules I have given myself. They say don’t exploit your students for personal gain, dress modestly, stay off the workshop circuit. These other things are non-evil and potentially harmless: teacher trainings, pricey workout “style,” workshopping postures you body’s not ready for with a teacher you barely know. But they distract from this particular method. The code just says knock off this twenty-teens bling.

My personal teaching code is based on love of Mysore style + grad student economic values + personal aesthetics. This is just what I find works for my work: teaching at home, taking on a small number of students, putting others/groups/breath at the center of attention. So there is no question about signing the CoC. But secretly it has made things a tiny bit more boring for me. I’m an ashtangi – like the rest of y’all, I like doing what others write off as impractical, too hard, naively idealistic.

Thing is, if you have enough expertise to support students through the entire life-time of their practice, then an independent, quiet Mysore-style school (the model of the CoC) is easier and more sustainable than the yoga-preneurism of the internet set. If what you love is Mysore Style, and you believe things happen in that setting that can’t happen elsewhere, then your actions are already a lot more refined than what they need to be for the CoC.

I remember ten years ago, August 11 2008, when an email went out from Mysore to all the AYRI teachers saying something even stronger than the new code. It said cease the TT’s at once – they’re an affront to the method. Knock off the worshops. AND come back to Mysore every 18 months because we are all students. I read about it on the EZ Board: that old ashtanga internet was a two-tone green message board where we used made-up names and emoji didn’t exist yet. The next day, after Mysore class, my mentor and I went for our usual hours-long coffee sesh across the street from Yogaworks Santa Monica. I remember we skipped the café that day and sat at a wire table outside the Whole Foods. We ate muffins. I was incensed about the letter, having absorbed the opinions on the internet, where victimhood and resentment ruled. Who did these people in Mysore think they were to try to regulate our precious practice, telling local teachers what to do? My independent values flared. Then my mentor – still the biggest lifestyle rogue I know – set me straight. He understood the situation better than I did, and didn’t have a problem with the letter. The deep, rich content of this practice comes to us from our teachers; who are we to bite the hand that feeds us? Sitting in that wire chair I re-examined the story I’d pieced together from angry voices on the internet, trying to integrate the influence of this actually experienced teacher, who’d spent years of his life in Mysore. I was entitled and belligerent. He, as usual, didn’t absorb the opinions of others and didn’t lose his cool.

Back to this new Code of Conduct. Could I have followed it if it came to me ten years ago, when I got all angry about the letter from KPJAYI? No way. Had I been teaching then, I would have wanted to look outside of myself for guidance – how do other people make it as a yoga teacher? What are the “industry standards”? The inner logic of a grounded, relationship-centered Mysore program would not have been viable until I felt that I was enough as a teacher. That I had enough support, and understood enough, and was non-reactive enough, to support another person. Because I waited to teach, in the first couple of years of our program, when the number of students 4-6, they also were enough. Grasping for more would have compromised what we had together. As it happened, that small early crew formed a foundation for deep practice both locally and in the various places they moved—-where they, too, know that their practice is enough. Like my mentor, though unlike me at times, they just don’t lose their cool.


Is that crazy, to live by an honor code?

Do you know anyone who you suspect runs on one?

It’s big. I think a human has to go to the crossroads of will and surrender to even find their honor code. It’s not received through some external initiation, or from some talking bush. If you have a living code, it’s because you have wrestled with living in the world and you’re working out your honor through that process. Yoga if you take it to heart is good for forcing that kind of inquiry on you. For killing absolutistic mindsets. Living with a code is a razor’s edge thing, and it is rare.

Even more rare now: small groups where honor codes truly work. Take for example the simple idea that “word is bond”: if you say you will do something, that’s a contract. There are many good reasons not to live by this code, but it’s possible and potentially beneficial. And, there are worlds where this contract holds. Cultures of self-mastery. The Stark family. Some ashtanga school in Ann Arbor. It’s not a conversation topic. It’s just an action pattern.

If a person has an honor code with guts, it’s sourced inside. It’s not a shame-based super-ego thing, an attempt to look virtuous in the eyes of others or stay out of trouble. Spiritual warrior codes are self-given: your code is intrinsically good to you, intrinsically true, intrinsically beautiful. You choose it, and interpret it, and it’s alive through you.

A lot of “moral” behavior comes from shame. Pace cheap New Age narcissism that says you should never feel bad about your small self, I’d argue that healthy shame is fine. Guilt about narcissism is not tragic; it’s safe. That super-ego keeps humans who don’t care about others from stealing, killing, lying and such most of the time. Basic social norms restrain violence a little bit. BUT if there is a rule you disagree with on moral principle, yet you follow that rule out of fear, who are you? Maybe (a) you’re the kind of person who doesn’t do empathetic reflection or understand the consequences of your actions, so you need rules to be less of a menace to society. Or maybe (b) you’re the pawn of an authoritarian regime. If the later, what’s moral is to be different. There’s this other world, in which you take moral action not because you’re afraid or guilty, but because that’s what you work out inside regardless of the cost.

The autonomous person does what they want. There is alignment of principle, and desire, and action. Inner alignment. “Do what thou wilt” is the hardest code I know. I reflect on it now, together with the yamas and niyamas. I didn’t reflect seriously on what “I” “want” as a moral question until recent years, after more than a decade of practicing with the principles of nonviolence, truthfulness, nongrasping, contentment and so on. When my “I” had become environmentally and interpersonally connected so it wasn’t just a small ego; and when my “want” was “may all beings be safe, happy, healthy and free…” that’s when it made moral sense to me to start asking myself what I truly want.

The question tends to yield creative and non-normative ways to be useful in this world, to love all beings, and to enjoy being alive. The same question would have led to narcissistic pleasure seeking in my 20s. Now it’s the question I use to push my subconscious (often playful, wild, totally harmless) mind-pictures to the surface. To keep myself from falling out of love with everything, from falling back into my delusions of disconnection.


Currently the Yoga Alliance wants power to make ashtanga do what it wants. The underlying intellectual agenda here is something called “post lineage yoga.” Post lineage yoga (PLY) is anything you want it to be. Anywhere, any way. We love goat yoga, and naked yoga, and beer yoga. (Who doesn’t? Thumbs up for anything related to nakedness, beer, and goats. I especially love goats.) No judgment. No accountability. As long as there is no extended student-teacher transmission (that’s so important they put it in the movement’s name, “post-lineage”), and probably as long as nobody puts their feet behind their heads.*

Intrinsic to PLY is a new ontological status for yoga. In this vision, yoga is not a methodology or tradition rooted in India – yoga is a floating signifier.** It’s ahistorical, non-scientific, and lacks unified purpose.

Before you get angry, I’d like to offer the idea that this is a interesting and relatively harmless cultural phase. As humans living through the legacies of colonialsm and post-modernism, we kind of have to go through it. May as well do it consciously, by really studying colonialism. When I put the Yoga Alliance in this greater historical context, as part of what American governance looks like from 2016-2020, I accept PLY as predictable and very temporary. Also, because it has naked beer goats, I think it’s a little cute when it’s not acting hateful and dominating.

Let’s say that PLY got its way, and the new definition of yoga were to fully erase the the very old, impractical ethos of “yogis don’t travel, yogi’s don’t self-promote, yogis devote themselves to a few students.” (I think this old idea informs the implicit ethos of a lot of us, and the CoC.) Let’s say the yamas and niyamas were not just ignored – as they are in the marketplace now – but fully discredited as some sort of oppressive canon. Then, in yoga’s Year Zero, you would graft a new moral sensibility on to asana practice– the new modern morality would be whatever virtue signals get the most Facebook likes lately. When your only space for negotiating this ephemeral morality is the toxic negativity trap that produced it – social media – then the regnant “morality” will be the power of bullies. Just watch. That’s how social media works. Charismatic authorities create in-groups and mutual appreciation societies; they fill their cabinets with allies who don’t know let alone love the entity they’re supposed to regulate; they get energy by imagining and persecuting out-groups. The more power they think they have, the more narcissistic they act, and the more everyone else can see their abusive nature. Soon anyone with a little moral intelligence will see what’s happening. Give this scene another five minutes of cosmic time before it dies, and see it clearly while it lasts.

Meantime, here’s the fun thing. Ashtanga’s a big problem for the PLY agenda. Here is a massive, diverse group of people who know that yoga is from India. People who know diretly, in our cells, the power of transmission through from student/teacher, to student/teacher, to student/teacher. People who are irrevocably analog, present deep in the body, well enough acquainted with states of yogic absorbtion to know practice doesn’t really work with naked goat beers. People who take pilgrimage to holy sites; and who take profound moral journeys within themselves. People who understand yoga to have a purpose, and a path. People who are incredibly reverent as a result of our awe, yet not easily pushed around. People who have mastered themselves to some small degree, and who are very much on fire.

More problematic for the post-lineage agenda, we are a wildly diverse group of people who all understand from direct experience that the 200-hour teacher training model (the cash cow of the Yoga Alliance and its current intellectual leaders) is a joke. People who all agree that trying to teach without many years of daily practice and mentorship is not just a threat to students’ minds and bodies; it’s an actual a moral hazard, and a professional nightmare. This is a subculture where people generally agree that teaching an art/science you can’t define is factually confusing, morally problematic, and about as smart as getting drunk with naked goats.

It is good, and truthful, and beautiful, to be rogues in times such as these.

*Unless it’s one of the “hundred flowers [that] bloom. See the writing by and about post-modern philosopher Richard Rorty on the embrace of all views on all things, to the point of unintelligibility.

**See Stewart Hall’s really interesting work from the 70s for context here. The intro-level postmodernism that followed from that died in academia—except for in some anthropology departments—decades ago, but it’s now getting used as a warrant to carpet-bomb yoga practices rooted in India and establish a Year Zero for “modern postural yoga.” It’s also getting used by right wing communications operatives. The reason this sort of post-modernism died is that it is absolutistic about its moral relativism; like with most intellectual fashions, eventually its promoters couldn’t live with the performative contradiction that gave it so much juice for a time. You can see this absolutist moral relativism alive and well now when the Yoga Alliance folks talk about what yoga is and where it’s from.

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Ashtanga Now • 7 February 2018

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Ashtangis live long and large; ideally practice refines the personality into a unique, perceptive unit that is more than a little trouble for whatever status quo. Our social nervous system hugs the planet. When a drama ripples through the subculture, it can be intense.

There have been some epic moments in the practice in the 18 years I’ve been around: Sept 2001 in NYC; August 2008 when Patthabi Jois sent a letter to his students asking them to teach traditional Mysore programs and continue coming to India every 18 months; June 2009 when he died; Dec 2017 when #metoo came for said dead man. These last two months in Mysore, I went ethnographic. Listened without much responding. Asked open questions, stayed curious, took notes– the way my ethnography teacher taught me. I don’t personally perceive a threat in these times; I do perceive a new global awareness of patriarchy. This winter, I was in a place to listen.

When I landed in Mysore in late November, my teacher dropped me into a node of the social nervous system—assisting him for the first few batches of practice each morning. First I’m going to describe my position there, then I’ll write a tiny bit from my notes regarding patterns in the patriarchy.

I’m writing on a plane home to Detroit, and now as we begin our descent I see this document has reached 25 pages. Before I post, I’ll cut out 90%. I’ll edit out comments on the Code of Conduct, and about healing broken gender dynamics, and post those in March and April when these topics are not so hot on the internet. Those will go up on time on the first of the month, since they’re already written… and since I won’t have a crew of beginners those months like I do in February.

Though I want to share my experience, I’m not trying to contribute to or feed off the drama; my motivation is to keep my personal writing practice alive, and as a by-product of that, to share some of my perspective with those who read here.


Here’s an old post about assisting my teacher in 2014. I’ve studied with and assisted with him quite a bit since then, and this time around was different from everything before.

Most days this season, for the first time here ever, the teaching hours were consistently mystical. Not spaced out and dissociative, but sensorially sharp, non-narrative, and hyper-connected with people and objects around me. There was a sensitivity + stillness in the center of my chest. Afterwards I’d have a shower and a dosa and reflect on the quickly decaying experience.

Like leaving a great concert. Lots of nights, you go to a show and the energy doesn’t quiiiite come together. But then there are the epic moments when grace comes down. As a connoisseur it takes years of music study to really appreciate the art; it takes making peace with the awkwardness that attends your attempts at sonic creativity; it takes finding presence in playing scales for their own sake. But at random intervals you just merge. Absorbtion happens. And you don’t know it cognitively until you’re out on the sidewalk after, or in this case you’re at Sri Durga waiting for a dosa.

This season, day after day, the primary residue was a sense of connection. So many nervous systems, so much feedback between them: in influence given and received, in shared breath, in the singular feeling-tones of subtle emotions, in a sense of relationship that resonates almost as deep as kin. Sometimes yoga is art. Each day I was increasingly moved by this experience, grateful just to have the capacity to appreciate it all to some degree.

As for taking action, I wasn’t really. I was resonating with my teacher. At the very best, extending his intuitions and intentions, based on my knowledge of a head tilt, ability to follow his gaze, and rafts of pattern-recognition data stored up in my subconscious. Teaching at home is exhausting insofar as I have to make decisions. Responding to whatever’s coming up for a student, working with them co-operatively to pace their learning process in a way that supports their daily life – everything in this domain requires that I discern, weigh options, navigate consent. Assisting is just this: blanket the room as evenly as possible with your awareness, and be moved. Respect and care and love were there, irrepressibly, as you already know if you were in the room.

If hearing the description of something beautiful makes you angry, because there is anger on the internet, I am really sorry. It feels dishonest, though, to pretend it wasn’t healing, to pretend there wasn’t so much genuine connection—for many, not just me there riding the morning waves.

The good conditions were just luck, I suppose. But, preparation helped. I see two most obvious things that opened the door for assisting to be an absorption event: crossing a threshold into strong mutual trust with my teacher … and something about my hands.

I started teaching after a decade of practice, and after apprenticeships with two certified teachers. The jyotishas say my hands are star-blessed. Still with this preparation, and maybe a predisposition, I feel now how little I could sense those first couple years of teaching. My hands didn’t hear. But in recent years, rate of change in my receptivity concerns me – how much more development is still coming? What do I fail to perceive now, simply because I’m still so inexperienced?

A person who is teaching hand-blind may try to make things happen with their fingertips. It’s impossible to describe this, but intuitively we sense that non-feeling fingertips are creepy. Not empathic. Sometimes sexual. There are exceptions, but in I have learned it, most movement comes from soft palms. I often keep the fingertips barely off body, sensing the emptiness in the space between. Hands live-wired can find this yabyum of fingertips receptive, palms a little bit active. The balance favors holding space, not touching much. What’s a lot of work in teaching at home is setting up fields of awareness and safety where consciousness might move itself. I trust that when it is time, consciousness will move. As it is moving now, everywhere.

I learned last month that in the corporate yoga world, there’s a move toward consent cards for touch. Excellent. You’ve got various people you don’t know dropping in for a class after probably tough days; the relationships aren’t grounded in mutual receptivity or a sense of long-term care; there’s talking and/or music; and you’re a 200-hour trained teacher who might not have a decade-odd daily practice to draw on. Why touch people in such a context? The hyper-sensitivity of Mysore style in 2018 is a beautiful counter-point. Ideally, relationships are years-long; and teachers are long years into daily silent practice practice. If they don’t perceive what kind of day – and what kind of year – you’re having based on the resonance in their body, then something’s off with the situation. Like maybe it’s a workshop, or there are tons of drop-in students. Commercialism and consent don’t mix well. But the grounded, stripped-down context of a 2018-era Mysore room is there precisely so a student has verbal, facial, respiratory, emotional and bodily avenues for expressing how they are doing in great detail over the course of a morning.

If I was a live wire this winter, my worlds broadcast three different wavelengths. Mysore; my home shala in Michigan; and the ashtanga internet. All was well in the first two practice worlds; the internet was different.

The feeling in Mysore this winter was one of epic connection. You know the experiences when you make life-friends and you’re never quite the same – maybe the first weeks of college, or some camping trip, or an epic intermural season. Lots of years, Mysore’s not like that. This year, I knew we were making history for better or for worse; there was some presence of the past, but much more heavily a presence of the future.

Looking at my notes, the most meaningful conversations this season centered on two themes. First, the importance of voice and self-respect in the practice, a whole new conversation for the subculture about critiquing the kind of “surrender” that takes your discernment down a notch. About taking responsibility for one’s own path. About understanding the goal of practice as discernment, not bliss. That was last month’s post.

Second, and most meaningful for me, there was a lot of reflecting on motivation. Actually taking the teachings of the Gita seriously, without half-assing it. About practicing for insight, not to get things. About reflecting strongly on the things that darken the heart – jealousy, greed, laziness, hatred, whatever –rather than acting on them. About what service really is, and how little recognition is needed for service to happen.

I didn’t say much in these conversations, concerned that I’m too passionate on the topic to be credible. But consistently the inside of my nose would tense, then I’d be moved to bite my lip or look away.

Thursday I went to see Narasimhan, to thank him for all the knowledge he shares with my students when they visit him. He prompted me to ask the question on my mind because of all this: Why do I cry when I perceive that truth has been spoken?

“Because of the resonance,” he said. “There’s a vibration in the spoken truth that causes a vibration in your consciousness.” And sometimes the pitch is perfect, and then it moves you like nothing else can.

The chord was struck for me this winter. Again, and again, and again.

In the past, the ashtanga-conversation around motives of greed for getting things (postures, authorization papers, favor from a teacher, social media attention), and around teachers objectifying their students, has often taken on a “let’s be honest” tone. This valorizes the “authenticity” of just accepting that this is who you are. Who you are, if you are honest, is someone who is motivated by moving up a social hierarchy. Who you are, if you are honest, is someone who uses people for personal gain.

This has been painful to hear.

In my mind, there is an illuminating distinction here, between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for practice. Extrinsic approaches involve achievement goals. Intrinsic motivation includes self-understanding, healing of harmful thought/action patterns, finding joy of others’ happiness. With the Mysore social nervous system alive with conversations about the motive for practice, and the value of sadhana that’s not done for personal gain, I felt this incredible deepening of my friendships.

In recent years, Mysore has felt like a scene. A lot of people here to recruit new students, advance careers, get in with the teacher, have good stories for social media. It’s not subtle – these motivations scream themselves, and around town these are the voices that tend to get amplified. This year, a lot of reflection on extrinsic (hierarchy and stuff-driven) motivations have given strength to a counter-movement of investment in relationships for their own sake. Who around you do you find beautiful in their way-of-being? Who has a soul-level understanding of some life lesson that you’re learning now? Who is brilliant in ways you can’t possibly want for yourself, but just appreciate so much?

We know what friendship based in outer connection looks like – it’s the norm in social media land. It’s ally energy, in-groups, social hierarchy drives. Meantime, teh inner motivation I’ve experienced around me this season, it seems, has a potential to foster friendship based on profound inner connection. Simple, non-instrumental admiration, adoration and care. I witnessed life-long friendships taking birth all around me this season; I know you did too if you were there. Am I mistaken to read this as an outgrowth of a surge of commitment to inner work?

All this was going down while the internet ashtanga world, and my email, were blowing up. The global if not cosmic context here is not to be ignored: for example, the secret FB page for ashtanga teachers blew itself up the same day the US government tried to shut itself down. The practice/internet disconnect was disorienting and harsh; it’s that other set of conversations through private message and on comment threads that prompted what is below.


Disconnected notes from my journal: December 2017 – January 2018.

– The body teachers us that it is a gift when old pain speaks. People with a body practice know what old pain is, and that opportunities to heal it are rare. If there’s a suppressed woman’s voice, something new, the restorative move is to listen. Because it’s compassionate. Because it’s a gift to know what we did not know.

– Because the truth of others is not a problem.

– Because there is nothing to defend.

– Or is there? If there is defensiveness, that is important informaiton. Where there is defensiveness in the body, often there’s some history. Maybe there’s energy that’s not moving. Same in other layers of reality. Defensiveness is of interest when it comes to contemplative practice.

– I have not learned so much about Patthabi Jois this season as I have about my senior colleagues. There is heat around the idea of patriarchy. Protective energy. I don’t fully understand it, but I do sense it. I respect my seniors, so much, and have focused on perceiving them.

– It feels informative to empathize with their protective energy. It is important to believe those who have a bad experience to voice. It is also important to believe and not repress those who have a positive experience to voice. In my world, the vast majority of voices about Patthabi Jois are extremely loving stories of connection and healing. If these stories are used to quiet someone else who has been suppressed in the past, well, now is not the time for them.

– But also – and this is key – any effort to silence loving, grateful narratives is extremely problematic. Who would suppress such life-stories, and why?

– We know from George Lakoff’s public work that most thinking is subconscious and scripted. There is a script in ashtanga for silencing difficult narratives. This being 2018, you know what DARVO is. For anyone who teaches, it might be useful to use that as a manual for picking out the exact script used to suppress some women’s voices. There are three or four standard responses that proceed with escalating emotion, ending with an attack on the integrity of the perceived other. We always think when we’re making an argument that we are thinking it through, but if we’re repeating something we’ve plucked from the collective consciousness, most likely the thinking has already been done for us. Shoring up subconscious scripts is good for discernment in a time when negotiations about collective memory have hidden agendas. I’ll talk about this later when it comes to the Yoga Alliance.

– In 2018 I sense that one of the keys in my teaching practice is respect for the new generations of practitioners. I encounter a lot of milennials, the people the internet tells me to write off. Can you believe this (?): they’re the most morally intelligent generation I’ve found. I intend to pay attention there and give energy to supporting their growth. Ashtanga’s current obsession with the past is understandable, but very soon, consciousness needs to move. FORWARD.

– Charisma’s stock is crashing. Well unless you’re a racist nationalist – then this is charisma’s hour. But charisma is over for the rest of us. We’re learning to distrust it and critique it well.

– Western yoga teachers aren’t gurus. Yet there is a crew of white, European and American men who have grown accustomed to being treated as gurus the past 30 years. Some have expertly refused this power dynamic; a few have enjoyed it. Those who refuse to be treated as gurus consistently depict their own teacher as deeply flawed. Deconstructing the projection of perfection empowers students. This move also diminishes every teacher’s authority.

– Party line thinking will always present itself as a comfortable option in chaotic times. This looks like any culture of silence and complicity around a teacher past or present. Like any attempt to carry out a line of defense on behalf of an authority figure. This shows up in different ways depending on one’s positionally, but the energy is usually the same. Party liners facing off leads to factionalization. But seriously, true believers. Christ was not a Christian; the Buddha was not a Buddhist; no true teacher wants self-appointed para-militaries. They want students to walk their own path, in their own style, with their own steps.

– One of the most senior certified teachers made a strong comment about a situation in which one might perceive her as a victim. She said that social media promotes a culture of victimhood. It can be an intensely disempowering zone.

– The notion of discontinuity between old and new generations of ashtanga is based on lack of experience. Some young teachers are alarmingly inexperienced. Senior teachers have tons of know-how but might be incredibly out of touch with what’s amazing and super-intelligent in the younger generations. But there are those whose practices combine study with first generation teachers, and time in Mysore. There are dozens of us. From a methodological standpoint, we can tell you there is a continuity of development in this practice. It’s bizarre to hear so people act out and give power to narratives of “before and after.” I wish the young ones would have the respect and curiosity to meet and listen to their seniors, and equally I wish that the seniors would come to Mysore like their teacher Patthabi Jois asked them in 2008 to do every 18 months. This is one continuous family of practice. We are in it together.

– Who is carrying the moral burden of reflecting on the history of ashtanga and seeing to it that vulnerable practitioners are honored, heard, and safe? From my perspective, this moral labor is being shouldered by devoted practitioners who have come to the practice in the last 10 years. They plus a few of the most senior practitioners whose voices are strong and clear. I see a lot of complexity in the relatively new, devotional practitioners: integrating different versions of ashtanga history requires significant moral, intellectual and emotional discernment. Caring for others in a moment of narrative conflict requires empathic strength and a sense of personal security. My deepest love and respect is summoned now by colleagues happy to step in to that space of non-defensive, curious growth and care. There are a lot of you who care for students and community in this way; I’m so grateful to know you.

We don’t get to live in 2018 and also be super happy about patriarchy. We can love patriarchy and protect it with all our psychic resources, but this means living in 1980. Maybe 1980 is better in some ways. But I dunno. 2018 is a damn mess so far, but it’s got me intrigued.

They say evolution is never really pretty. A big question for us, in the long view, is whether it will be beautiful.

P.S. Email notification of posts is found here.

Voice • 7 January 2018

Mysore. KPJAYI. Near Year’s morning, 2018.

A trembling line up shala road in the dark, waiting for led intermediate. The natives are restless, scheming the perfect spot in a room that will be way over capacity, fearing the inevitable – when intermediate series is complete but the class doesn’t end, instead taking on a section of Led Advanced. I love it all. The crisp high of intense mind training, practicing in unison with friends I admire and love so much, a rare moment of sheer athletic prowess in of a practice that nevertheless has nothing to do with physical performance. The last time I wrote about led intermediate in 2011, it was a cocktail party. Now it is a New Year’s bash, as dozens of long-term practitioners around the world have moved in to rare expressions of “advanced” asana practice. But this group is restless and adrenalized – far from refined in a yogic sense.

As the collective nervous system buzzes, four young women from the neighborhood walk down the hill in bright sarees. I guess they’re going to the Ganapati temple for sunrise. Their hair hangs halfway-loose, threaded in jasmine, and their green and pink dresses pick up the dawn. All the way down the line, they laugh at us gently. Hello good morning, good morning, hello. You crazy, fearing foreigners.

What, I wonder, is more powerful than a smartass young woman, free of marriage, free of children, free of career? Their potential secretly terrifies the world. So, their world conspires to brainwash them with self-hatred, robbing them of their innate confidence. Trying to make them forget that world is theirs to reclaim, to enjoy, to protect. All theirs. They’re scary. Everyone wants the potential, and strength, and creative genius and social brilliance that courses through truly free young women. More than anyone, it is they who can look at everyone else, see the knots we are tied in, and laugh at us.

Here is the thing. For five weeks I have been sensing the field of ashtanga yoga in an epic moment of self-reflection around how this practice has treated vulnerable/ strong women. The mirror flashes for us, not just individually but as a community that spans generations, geography, languages, cultures. It is time to listen to the experiences of young women. To stop talking them down, and just listen without an agenda.

Glory to god in the highest, a new zeitgeist is born. It’s showing up now in any cultural sphere that is evolution-hungry enough to be open to “new” information. We are at the beginning of a renewal time spurred by painful reflection on immorality and abuse. Art, film, education, spirituality, journalism, yoga: domains where evolution happens naturally if we listen and allow. For my part, I thrive in times like these. Looking at hard things is not a problem; it’s information. Re-examining my stories is not a problem; it’s yoga. There is a churn so strong everywhere that it’ll unearth much more than before of what has been pushed away. This is healthy. The zeitgeist’s drive for forgotten knowledge and justice is a response to extreme abuses of inter-personal power, and to abuse of the planet. Of course it is. We are one year into the loudest expression of stupid violence the world has ever heard, in the form of the joker running Amerika. Not separate from this, the American Imperial Alliance (of Yoga) has been beguiled by a Bannon-esque social movement based on information overload and the neo-colonial dream that yoga is not from India. Climate change is so scary we try to blame anything else for our general state of confusion. And so: a justice-driven counter-movement has been summoned. Renewal has to come. Silenced women will bring it. Irreverently. Inexorably. This is why the surge now of feminine voice and strength. We were dying without it. We have been dying for too long.

I am a young woman, but not so young. I’m more focused on listening respectfully to the wisdom of others, than I am on cheeky self-expression. Seventeen years of ashtanga practice prepared me to perceive at my best now. So did seventeen years of sociology, a radical incisive mind training to perceive the strange in the familiar, and the familiar in the strange. Put those together and there’s some small capacity to hold multiple perspectives at once.

So I have listened, on many levels, from Mysore. Embedded in this place that has become an anchor for my personal study, assisting my teacher every morning with a crew of friends and colleagues I adore and admire. Then doing my practice. Plus other layers: I’m also in close correspondence with the shala I founded at home in Michigan, where practice goes on at real depth in the midst of – even because of – hibernatory long nights and window-cracking cold. And somehow I’ve earned the trust of some colleagues, people around the world who interest and hold my attention, who are devoted to service who allow me to listen to their process. And I’m letting a couple of strong, hyperactive young students stay in my guest room – breaking my own rule of letting new arrivals struggle to find their way in Mysore, because suddenly it is so hard to envision a future from age 20 in this world. Because our life will depend upon their waking up, I’m up for supporting the people I meet in that life phase who have the discipline and sincerity for real practice. They teach me a lot. Finally I’m listening to my teacher, whose words on this matter are extremely clear and strong. For all my training in the analytical mode, I confess I’m filled with gratitude for the support I receive here. So take me with a grain of salt. The support I’m given here is unflinching when I falter. It is extremely intelligent in ways it’s hard to appreciate from my linguistically limited, cosmopolitan perspective. This support is rooted in a purity of spirit that, I admit, reminds me of the care and safety of my childhood home. It is moral ground that is now being churned, fertilized with the garbage of growing consciousness, and replanted for renewal. Like always, my promise is not to post notes from our conferences here, or attribute words to my teacher. I speak for myself. These words are my karma, as always. I pray this is enough, and that the role I’m inhabiting now is of some value if you’re reading.

In case my writing is too dense or your concentration is too ruined to read more, I’ll break now with my way of only saying the real stuff at the end. In listening to stories, re-examinations, and explanations and denials of the forgotten history of abuse in the ashtanga practice, I have very little to say in response. Unless there is denial. Otherwise, for now, I’m listening to information. It’s not a problem. Blocked energy is moving, and I want to try to feel that. What I learn from all perspectives helps me understand why my teachers have focused with such care on safe space, empowerment of students, and moral development.

Many things have been said. Great. Renewal is powerful when it comes. Spring green. And when the energy of a group moves toward recognition and healing like it is doing here, transformation happens quickly. However, here are two minor points that I have not heard articulated by others and somebody oughta say out loud.

First, the argument that women are fully responsible for their individual interpretations of adjustments is not logical, from the point of view of those who say this. Thing is, those making this argument are devoted to the idea of surrender to a guru. In this framework, the student gives their power away and the guru steps in to carry them. So it literally does not make sense to say, in retrospect, that a woman in a state of surrender to her guru was over-powering that teacher in some way and causing him to act wrongly. If a person is distracted by the attire or affection of someone who has surrendered to him, by definition grace is not flowing through the person with the power. Mistakes are flowing through them. I’m so sorry to say this and I ask already for forgiveness if it is too cheeky. I’m not against the perspective that there are multiple interpretations of some adjustments. I agree with this. But I’m asking that this sub-argument be refined with logic because – like most of the world still – it is misogynistic. We can understand that some adjustments have multiple interpretations WITHOUT repeating the distrust and fear of women that blames them for men’s mistakes.

Second, while a lot in the mists of time is hazy, it’s clear that at times some women were silenced by other people acting together. It seems that people who could have responded by believing and protecting them did not have sufficient moral clarity to act in ways that were uncomfortable for them. Women were not believed, or were told to calm down. This is something that happens to agitated women throughout history. And it is how this conversation links back into the bigger zeitgeist. Through the sound of women’s voices.


In the sociology of organizations, there is a triple movement charting institutional conflict. If something you can’t live with goes down, in the big picture you have three options: exit, loyalty, or voice.

I highlight this to honor a range of human possibility here. For some, leaving is the only skill they know how to draw on when something goes wrong. For others, there is only loyalty.

The skill being called forth now is something beyond the binary torture of “do I stay or do I go now?”

It’s the really strong move. It’s taking voice.

We speak the world into being, you know. Why be spoken-over? Why not create?

Voice is a tool for renewal. The female voice was spoken over and silenced so fully, and so long, in this world that women have internalized the silencing. Or we have spoken in voices of authorities outside of us, voices that are not ours.

Well, ironically here’s my voice. I am a one who chooses loyalty. Over and over again, I look at my life and despite myself the pattern is devotion to particular relationships, to the places and artists and writers I fall in love with, to uninterrupted practice, to sustained lines of study. Taurus rising. Someone will call this cult-mind, because they are suffering and jealous: but it is profound loyalty that gets you through adulthood to conscious friendship with mother and father, and nothing I’ve touched in the relational plane feels better than that. I’ve had my intelligence disrespected for this loyal personality, and I’ve watched myself make mistakes of being loyal to a fault. All right. I accept this conditioning while also analyzing it carefully, and to be blunt I enjoy how this bias shapes my life.

But loyalty doesn’t mean silence. Not silencing of others, not silencing of self. This, as ever, is my voice.


We’re in an open moment of figuring out the story of ashtanga yoga. I like it. No need to make anything happen or rush to narrative finality. The furthest reaches of evolution are charted by open questions, and by a deep feeling of nothing to prove and everything to learn. Given that my practice is grounded and secure, it’s extremely energizing to hang out in this cultural space of indeterminacy and creation.

So, I view this moment in the ashtanga practice through a lense of collective memory, which is an approach to understanding cultural history on the level of collective consciousness. There are some excellent, relevant conceptual tools there. As we negotiate the memory banks of ashtanga, I’ve sensed too many currents and sub-currents of culture to put into a post here. Briefly though, I want to highlight three tendencies I think a lot of people around here already see.

A person’s response to the idea that abuse and silencing could have happened in the history of ashtanga will be shaped by their lifestyle. Lifestyles aren’t just identities or clothing choices; they are entire resonances that give rise to internally coherent ways-of-reasoning.

I sense two big lifestyle tribes trying to figure each other out in ashtanga these days, and a third tendency that resolves some of their differences. First there are the hippies. Thank god for them – they are the ones who first rose up against their absent fathers and went nomadic, put on baggy pants and did drugs as way to be overtly non-conventional… and therefore eventually introduced us all to ashtanga yoga. Hippies aren’t a generation in ashtanga; this is a lifestyle that cuts across age groups while uniting minds. Young hippies rejoice when they find ashtanga, because it’s a culture in which they can make all kinds of friends and stabilize their lives. The inner hippie in all of us gravitates towards strong parental figures we can idealize, surrender to, and use to replace the absent, overworked parents who failed us. Hippie mind sees that sexual convention is a form of social control, and is biased against rules in this area as a matter of principle. Within this mind, the idea of the idealized surrogate parent doing anything wrong is mind blowing, and even more challenging is the notion that sexual energy should be regulated. There isn’t a lot of likelihood of standing up to an idealized parent, for reasons that have to do with underlying power dynamics. The conditioning around idealized parents and sexual freedom make good sense given the hyper-patriotic and capitalist life situations that hippie lifestyle helps resolve. But these biases are also a set-up for major discomfort on the moral ground where those two scenarios (parent figure makes a mistake + strong sexual boundaries are needed) happen to intersect. This is why for the first time in my life I’m gravitating towards the hippie corners of this community. There is energy in these pockets and I value it. It also feels like a zone within the practice where the broader zeitgeist is hard to integrate.

This puts the hippie ethos temporarily at odds with their old pals, the self-transformation crew. In many cases, it feels like this conflict is happening WITHIN individuals. Self-transformation and hippie-ness have existed together in this practice for decades, but now the self-transforming lifestyle is charting very different moves. Self-transformation is focused on sadhana, and personal healing as a road to compassion and service. Self-transformational lifestyle is little biased toward self help type activities, and may include unique personal wounds more searing than the bad luck of checkout-out capitalist parents. (The tendency toward self improvement doesn’t mean New Age, though; Ashtanga doesn’t mix well with New Age lifestyle. It also generates huge misunderstandings with the neoliberal postmodernism espoused by capitalist yoga stores – the aggressively “non-judgemental” view that “yoga is for everyone, and it’s anything you want it to be.”) The self-tranformers are the tapas people who take ashtanga as a kind of partner, who make sacrifices for the stability of mind it provides. I see in them an incredibly sophisticated understanding of sacrifice, devotion and service. The self-transforming lifestyle is karmic in its mindset, so it embraces difficulty. In this lifestyle, you don’t practice ashtanga because it’s fun and sexy; you practice because it is strong enough medicine to help you witness and decondition deep suffering. If there is news of some moral defect in the personal or cultural DNA of a self-transformer, they feel the pain of this intensely. It reminds them of how human they are, and how much more they have to learn. And then, feeling the pain, they are somehow thankful for it. That’s how they know where to grow next. Self-transformers are masters of catharsis, and their understanding of hard truth and renewal is the source of bright fire in this massive global community. The renewal upon us is coming out of that transformative fire.

My own identity is grounded in productive activity (maybe that’s a defect; I accept it), so I resonate strongly with the self-transformation lifestyle. But those who really know me affirm that I lack the strength of character to do things I don’t like. For some samskaric reason, I have to act from enjoyment to be productive, so I plant and harvest feelings of joy, warmth and humor in practice, work and in relationship. This is a little bit needy of me and something I’m learning to set aside when it’s not appropriate, but it’s also a mind-refining tool consistent with the practice of yoga. It’s also why I resonate at times with the hippie lifestyle – if I’m not experiencing joy and making a little mischief, I lose energy.

That said, the lifestyle that I hang out in most is distinct from above. I feel it emerging strongly in a many of my friends and students and am going to call it the Conscious Relationship M.O.

This way of being seems to be based in a playful fascination with growth within open-ended experiences, based on a commitment to de-conditioning, and especially studying our families of origin for our original biases. This perspective may come about in people who have completed psychotherapy, but it’s also a result of long term study of Indian philosophy, or of going deeply into one of many philosophical traditions that move a person towards phenomenology. This is because the conscious relationship mindset is post-metaphysical or non-essentialist.

Huh? This mindset takes identity itself, and the roles we play in life, to be of an essentially empty nature. Teaching is an activity, not a person; teacher and student are postures we step in to and out of. So, ashtanga yoga itself not infused with the character of a particular person, because no particular person is of an essential, inherent nature. The ashtanga practice, like every person, contains multitudes. Far from being a moral cop-out, this hidden philosophical assumption is leading people around me to express extreme personal awareness and responsibility in the ways that they inhabit their roles. If no practice is inherently wrong or right, and no person is inherently good or bad, suddenly there is more call for constant mindfulness of our being and our action.

Suddenly we have to – or at least have the potential to – be awake and at play in the field of identity all the time. Nobody gets to perfunctorily exert power as a teacher or cruise on auto-pilot as a student; relationships radiate with all the presence we can bring to them. The main inquiry is in to what is unconsciously conditioning our minds and actions, and how curiosity and direct experience of impermanence can increase awareness. Why? Because **being is beautiful. Because compassion and service can always go deeper through the mechanism of really being-with fellow beings without objectifying them.

The conscious relationship mindset feels pretty new in the yoga world, but it’s definitely here all around me even if it’s so hard to put a finger on for now. I wonder if what I’m tying to say will even make sense here. The lack of easy answers for those in the conscious relationship perspective doesn’t mean morality is less important. Instead, morality the primary center of gravity. There’s an emphasis on moral self-reflection, flexible acceptance of our character biases, and shamless embracing of the hidden parts of ourselves. This would be excruciating, except there’s a sense that our personalities are themselves somehow a little empty. This lack of strong identification with a particular view frees up space to empathize with other mindsets, including past the minds of our past selves.

From the compassionate space of conscious relationships, there is diminished danger of abuse or of silencing. Because we’re all in process and we’re all incomplete, people are less likely to attach themselves to permanent identities of teacher or student, in which certain power dynamics can become entrenched. There is not the extreme loyalty to idealized parent figures that prevents people from using their voices when there is a moral problem. The devotion to doing hard karmic work that shows up in the self-transforming lifestyle softens a little bit with a feeling of freedom and even play.

Based on the listening across time and space, I feel strongly that this practice is in nothing less than an epic moment. I don’t know how we’re going to integrate this better ability to value of women’s voices, together with our own moral needs to take care of ourselves and each other. I don’t know if we will survive the political and climate changes that background the crisis of conscience we have just been though. But somehow the feeling of reflection renewal has me full of life. In the world I inhabit here, Indian women walk unaccompanied down streets at the end of a Saturday night, heckling ripped yoga men who are in a state of fight of flight. This scene doesn’t make sense in any of the old terms, but a new current that cuts across in my layered worlds is really going right.

Know Your Empire • 3 December 2017

Remains of defunct temple. Cauvery river, Karnataka State.

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Flying is insane. We are over Zabol now, now Mirabad. Karachi, Chaman, Kandahar.

Air France’s flight tracker asks which system I want to use to measure ground speed – Metric or Imperial? Sorry sleek Base-10; this brain runs on Imperial.

My little body and little mind will ache on the other side of the long hauls from Detroit to Paris to Bangalore. As they should, given what this fossil fuel burn does to the planet. James Lovelock, the Emmett Brown of environmentalism, said “enjoy life while you can, in another 20 years global warming will hit the fan.” He said that ten years ago. Ten trips to India ago, in my case. Half of Lovelock’s supposed twenty years are gone.

A few times I’ve fallen in love with a place, but my feelings about Mysore have a particular longing and adoration and sense of impossibility. It is such a big deal to fly all the way around the planet. I’ve wondered since the beginning whether environmental-political change would wall this off some day. As a result, every day here has an immediacy to it. Just as meditating on death intensifies your love of the present moment. This particular moment, here, feels historically weighty. I want to share about what it’s like in the Mysore yoga enclave now, in case it turns out to be significant for where yoga is going.

But first, here it all is, “hitting the fan”: climate change escalates, and fascism spikes around the world, and the crisis of knowledge deepens down high-walled internet silos. This is all one process. You see what is happening, right? It goes like this. Environmental change, fake news, knowledge silos, global fascism, and a new taste for despotic leadership everywhere… lead to loss of middle class cosmopolitanism due to limits on travel, decreased access to diverse world views, and degraded education… and in turn this leads to a staggering loss of global and historical knowledge. In the place of cosmopolitanism, what comes is an era of tribalism, hatred, and self-congratulatory ignorance. This self-destruction is coming for America, and it is coming for yoga. Because an empire is imploding. Long back, they said it would.

That was before ancient knowledge became a modern joke. Kali Yuga, ha ha ha.

I often feel powerless looking straight at 2017. We’ve reached Peak Cognitive Dissonance this year, in all domains. Behind the news is this civilization crash so big it’s hard to take in. But we do have power now. It’s the power of asking our limited minds to perceive this world and our conditioning a little more clearly, and to put it in historical and spatial perspective.

There are information silos where you will be told that yoga is anything you want it to be, and anything is yoga. This is what it looks like when an established knowledge stream dies the death of a thousand qualifications. But if you can get outside the silo, you’ll find that yoga is a coherent, non-violent life path; particularly it is a path of cultivating discernment. My teachers explain this to me in historical and grammatical (Sanskrit) detail, and they correct me when I’m obviously wrong, but still I don’t understand yoga. But I can say that the effort to cultivate discernment includes scrutinizing my conditioned beliefs and unconscious patterns. One of the anchors of my mental conditioning is American Empire, and this is why its collapse is both mentally overwhelming and an opening for massive self-understanding.

Thinking is a tunnel. I burrow in to lines of thought, make homes inside them. No matter how clean and straight a tunnel, it leaves almost everything out. The only thing that gets me a sense of my conditioning is perspective. Sounding out unconscious assumptions and dropping them at the rate of discovery. Perspective comes from sadhana, from teachers who have more knowledge than I do, from dropping habitual roles, from learning history any way I can, from meditation and reading and listening. And for now, perspective comes from travel.

At the start of college I got a scholarship to spend a semester at the University of Costa Rica. I landed there a libertarian, like everyone else I knew in rural Montana. A history class on the history of US military intervention in Latin America destroyed my notion of a noble nation state system and began to eat away at my received libertarianism. Rather than navigating by ideology, I began a life-long project of knowing my empire. At first this happened through the kind of travel that gets you your own FBI file; I needed to see America through the eyes of its “others” from Cuba to Vietnam. From bodily adventures I moved into books, and studied world history. Hard. For a decade. These two external limbs of Empire-study formed a basis for internal practice. Now I study the Empire inside.

Why study empire? For discernment. For self awareness. For predictive power. And for the sheer horrifying thrill this lens opens up on the epic arc of history. Holy god. This is the thriller we are all living. Get curious and do not miss it. Star Wars means the world to us because it is the world, condensed into myth. Your life will be richer and more epic if you learn to feel the textures of Empire, not just hum the tune.

Empire is a hyper-object (FN1). It is cultural yet also personal, something we enact yet also part of received physical infrastructure. Abby Martin articulates brilliantly a dharma of Empire study(FN2). Her work is heroically discerning, with a clarity that may even be strengthened by the insanity that surrounds her.

Again, one aspect of Empire is inside. It is relational. It is the preference for a base-12 measuring system and the particular way this orders and re-orders the world. It is unconscious racism and phobia of otherness. It western white people claiming to be the inventors of yoga.

Wait, what?

Yeah, I’m really sorry. This is just how Empire works. It’s in the script. Study history on this one. In the west, the empire (America) before empire (Britain) before empire (France) before empire was Spain. What an epoch. It’s fascinating and horrible, and it puts light on so much. To begin, you probably know that where the Spanish Empire didn’t conduct all out genocide, they focused on erasing religion. Empire has an ideological/collective memory bent, where minds are reconditioned. And it has an infrastructural bent, in which physical symbols are annihilated. The Spaniards found the holy structures and destroyed them. No other site for their churches would do. The previous sacred structures had to be erased. Replaced. Those gorgeous cathedrals of southern Spain are built on the ruins of Moorish mosques.

“This is ours. We made it. Whatever was here before is dust.” This is the perennial line of Empire. In Michigan, it is unstructured sitting practice that leads me to suspect my home is built on an erased sacred ground. And it is historical documents about land grants from the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi that suggests my intuition could be right.

When I first came to Mysore I was checking this place off a list. (Bucket list = Imperial mind.) Peter had died and I desired perspective. Silent morning asana practice had long been my daily ground for self-study and care and inquiry, so I figured I’d check the pilgrimage box. I arrived very knowing. And particularly angry about the so-called history of this practice, something about knowledge left on banana leaves that got eaten by ants. There was a dissertation there, exposing the ruse of the banana leaf story. My adviser and my partner both told me not to write it, because I couldn’t write credibly about yoga history without going back for another degree in Sanskrit first. So with my self-certainty challenged, I just started trying to listen. With… curiosity. This was how I got a first glimpse of the Imperial nature of my rationalist anger. The colonial mind is so obsessed with “artifacts” as what authenticates history that it plunders them, Indiana Jones style, and enshrines these collections of loot in “museums.” See the India collection at the British Museum of London. See the original Birth of a Nation, apotheosis of Empire, for illustration of domineering force of the “historical facsimilie.” This is all a long way from the pre-textual, person-to-person, knowledge streams of the oral tradition.

The mind of my Indian teachers had different relationship to authenticity and historical credibility. They placed more value on diffuse, old knowledge from oral tradition, than on the individual intellectual property which is the touchstone of Capitalist truth. They had an ability to hold surface contradictions in historical accounts without forcing one into rational dominance over another. In addition to having the best debate and discussion and transmission skills I’d ever encountered, hey held entire books in their minds verbatim. They were so much smarter than me.

I first came to Mysore to stake out an experience, and demonstrate my knowledge. That lack of curiosity was shameful, but it wasn’t just me. It was the Empire inside. When that started to crumble… that is when I started to fall in love with all this.


The Unlearner

Whatever yoga may be, self study is a big part of it. Study by yourself; and not just the book of yourself, but also the books with good historical knowledge. And the book of the world. And the book of the cosmos.

There is this gorgeous passage in Dewey’s Art as Experience, which I read last week. He’s applying James’s doctrine of radical empiricism to the notion of passionate aesthetic experience. Radical empiricism is a pragmatist doctrine that feels like it was conceived between hits of nitrous oxide and Advaita Vedanta, two of James’s favorites. It says that the relations between things are as real as the things themselves.

What? Dewey puts this in to practice. He writes about a short story he’s read, The Unlearner, in which an interminable afterlife is spent living and reliving the events of the life before, until a person comes to fully understand the hidden relationships among all the apparently random and discrete events. Very Groundhog Day.

The idea is, for the most part, we experience experience piecemeal. It seems like bits of data, disconnected in time and space, because our minds are not capacious enough to grasp the inner connections between everything we think, and everything we experience.

So this afterlife of the unlearner: it is self study. It is suspending the notion that one understands, in order to more fully understand. And the ground of that understanding is not discrete things and events; it is the hidden inner relationships between everything that is and everything that happens.

Increasingly I feel that I have no clue what yoga is. I’ll never be in a place to explain it, define it, boil it down, or argue for it. I wonder if this is a feeling that results from wanting so much to understand my conditioned mind, wanting that understanding enough that I’m quick to suspend feelings of certainty around yoga.

Radical Empiricism is a kind of epistemology – a theory of knowledge. But what The Unlearner points to is a sort of reverse-epistemology. Ways of not knowing.

There are a lot of theories of knowledge out there, and potentially just as many theories of ignorance. Here is a form of not knowing that vibes like Imperialism. It’s the not-knowing that says “here is something that is not known on my terms (e.g. historical artifact and text), so I am going to re-define it as mine.” Exhibit A: Yoga. We don’t know what yoga is, so let’s say it’s anything you want it to be. Let’s say yoga is whatever it is I’m teaching today. Let’s say my house-cleaning is my yoga, my weight lifting is my yoga. Because nobody knows.”

This is aggressive not-knowing. Imperial not-knowing. It is different from spacious not-knowing and from mystical not-knowing, because its objective is to claim territory for itself.

There is more to say about unlearning, reverse epistemology, and the flavors of not-knowing. For now a big question for me is, can I open up space for some sense of mystery and indeterminacy in the future history of the world, without pretending to know how this all is going to play out?


Yoga in Mysore is amazing right now.

There is a coming-together of practitioners from Korea, China, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, Spain, Dubai, Egypt, Montenegro, Venezuela, Mexico, Austria, Singapore, Taiwan and, oh yeah, North America.

The international system may be collapsing, but what we have here is comraderie across geography, language and culture.

What is shared is that people here are strongly self-reliant, concentrated, dedicated. They share a sense that they are on some sort of path – one of self-study and self-care. They also do hard things, usually alone without cheerleading. Specifically, everyone I’m close with here has some sort of mentally and physically challenging yoga sadhana that she practices consistently. Most teach. Mysore is their chance to be supported by community, a knowledge base, and teacher-student relationships.

We don’t speak the same grammatical languages, but the rubbing of shoulders is part of a language of the body that – to a degree – is shared. The level of body-intelligence here, especially among the older practitioners, is like nothing I’ve found anywhere. The long-term practitioners exemplify intelligent movement and intelligent rest. I sat in a room of 350 of them yesterday, sensing the collective stability of their spines, admiring the fluidity in the way they moved past each other. In the way they moved together.

There are very few North Americans here. Ashtanga is a global phenomenon, whereas in North America it hasn’t been so easy to sell because of the emphasis on autonomous practice, self-study, and practicing early in the morning to set the tone for the day, instead of in the evening as a way to recover from the day. Ashtanga falls outside the 90-minute units of experience that North American yoga studios sell. I’m not sure that these constraints are so important in other places.

American Empire is still present for us here, no doubt. I find myself assuming that the language of discursive instruction will be English. Three hundred years ago, that would have been French, a hundred years hence, it’ll be Chinese. For the moment, English reigns and those who speak it fluently have tremendous advantage over the many who don’t understand it at all.

My mind falsely assumes that North Americans number in a majority here, because we are the ones who take up the most psychic space. We are the ones with the well-publicized instructional books and videos that make a name for us; we are the ones with the workshop circuits. (How interesting it will be when people from everywhere else lead the teaching junkets to North America.) Because this is what we do. We put our stamp on things; we accomplish things. This is one of the ways that Empire expresses itself inside and out.

For the moment.

(1) Hyperobject is a term coined by Tim Morton. Here’s a short overview.
(2) Abby Martin.
(3) There is a post here each month, and a subscription to it.

Intimacy and Efficacy • 31 October 2017

Solitude in Academia

Ghost is the creepy way of saying ancestor. There is history, and there is secret history. The latter does the haunting.

My memory’s been stormed since September with the learning that was exciting and new a decade ago, through projects and classes with Peter in the magic months before he died. Meantime, I’m listening to the people who talk about regenerative culture, considering what it means to be a good ancestor, both to future Earthlings and specifically yoga practitioners. Some small part of that is stewarding the memories that are in me, but not just for me. Peter’s insight and contribution were so strong; and ten years on I wonder if they are already most forgotten. All of a sudden now I keep mentioning him in parentheses: the way he taught enlightened game theory, the fact that he was the first person as far as we know to take troupes undergrads on meditation retreats, the way he used the rubric of school grades to introduce the idea of karma without ever saying the word.

So, to be clear: my mentor’s name was Peter Kollock. He was a star undergrad teacher at UCLA, pioneer of integrating mindfulness into university education, an expert in the sociology of trust-building and cooperation, a secret Zen monk and even more secretly superrich maven of the early internet. People didn’t think much of him. Not that they thought poorly of him; they did not think of him at all; he was as evanescent as he was clever. He left good knowledge with people, but always without a trademark or a whiff of personality attached. He found the notion of ownership unbeautiful, and trademarking trite. Peter died at the top of Malibu Canyon in 2009, when his motorcycle slammed in to a tree.

Last week someone asked what made me go to Mysore for the first time, nine years after starting to practice (and nine years ago). Usually I just say I went to pay my respects. But this time more of the history came out. “Uhh. My mentor died and I didn’t know what to do and he’d told me to stop pretending not to have spiritual life and… I guess it’s time to share what happened there.” At the time, January 2009, I wrote about it vaguely, with spacious reasonable emotions and no clarity on the cosmic emptying force of his departure. I expressed violence towards motorcycles, and an intention to be marked but not scarred by what happened.

I was vague, because lost. We had been working for years on a book (on the development of trust in alternative markets, the elimination of middle-men like banks and brokers in trade relationships and something amazing called implicit contracting). That semester, I was assisting him teach Sociology of Culture to 150 undergrads. When he stopped breathing, all this ended. My Chair called on a Saturday and said “It’s Peter.” Those two words gave me the what, and the how. I spent the following days in gentle, super-reflective shock and carefully watched for years as different aspects of grief moved through my system… even as they are moving now. But at no point was there the very bad sadness. No empty damp downwardness of loss. This is socially inappropriate and smells a little like depersonalization; and it’s why I haven’t known what to say.

On January 10 what I had left in addition to so much implicit instruction about Being was just this: the keys to various offices and file cabinets, the blessing of responsibility for coordinating the funeral with his family, and the one serious instruction he had ever gone to the trouble to offer. Peter had been hyper-alive, but nobody was shocked by his departure. We all agreed that he’d gotten ready. He’d just taken six months of retreat alongside beloved teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. He had almost no stuff. Even I (his only grad student) wasn’t a loose end; he clearly knew that even if I didn’t.

Being lost, I followed the one instruction. I am still following it.

The thing is, Peter kept his spiritual practice in the closet. Of all the professors in our department, only the Chair knew about the Zen thing, and only because he had to know why all the important mail went to me for months on end. It was smart for Peter to hide his practice. Being a meditator-intellectual is cool now because the Mind and Life Institute and the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) made it cool. Ten years ago, contemplative practice smelled like religion and it was a good way to get yourself disrespected at faculty meetings. Academic condescention is hollow, but still it kills. In material ways: that condescention kills your projects.

As he quietly helped lay the groundwork at the MARC, and recruited me to one of its maverick projects, Peter would say to me that times were changing in academia. It wouldn’t always be taboo to have a contemplative practice. He knew this then-anoymous blog existed for some other side of me, the part that was absorbed with yoga, and this anonymity concerned him because he knew it was still necessary for me as a professional. (My brother and another friend created this as an anonymous playspace because academic writing made me miserable. They also named it, something random that included my favorite bird. Owls weren’t hipster yet, because Etsy and the home décor section of Anthropologie still did not exist).

In my career, Peter said, I’d have a responsibility to be out about my yoga practice. Be an example of a person who could integrate scientific and spiritual reasoning. By that time, ashtanga had been the foundation of my daily ritual for years and I was crazy serious about it. I was not “dedicated” (that term is too polite), so much as ludicrously interested. Still am. But this was hidden in the Department, where I was a serious professional with a strong publications and a future. So, after Peter’s funeral, when I told people I was going to India for an indefinite period to grieve and to pay my respects to the lineage (what?) of my yoga practice (no way), I looked a little nuts and a lot unprofessional.

Peter was the guy who won university teaching awards, all of the time. He was captivating in the classroom, but more importantly he had an ability to leave people with practical knowledge that stuck, instead of the memory if his name or face. “Intimacy and Efficacy,” he told a group after a difficult auto-ethnographic project on their own relationships with money. These are the two things you need to be happy in this life. Not money. Intimacy and efficacy. I bet a lot of us still steer by those stars.

Peter never gave me a teaching formula; he studied me well enough to understand my biases, and then communicated his way of being/doing through language and values we already shared. This was how he mentored – he took FAR more interest in the mind that I brought to the relationship than in any agenda for how I’d think as a result of the relationship. And then he let me observe him just being himself. I watched him draw the best out of students over and over, watched him create situations where they could draw the best out of him.

He was always so much fun to talk to. He’d been a pioneer of the early internet, during his grad school days in Seattle. He was a data junkie, like me. And like me he was interested in too many literatures, too many disciplines, and – worst of all – metaphysics. He made excellent tea. He undertook spiritual journeys, mostly within and sometimes through pilgrimage. He was extremely funny and irreverent and yet sensitive enough to be the only other vegetarian in the building. I think that I grew especially fast with his advising because, once he accepted me as a student, he trusted me and was extremely generous with me. I did not have to keep earning approval or trying to please him. He wanted me to enjoy my life and work, and just my being. How subversive. I responded extremely well to this deep acceptance, and began to experience academic work as play. I got way more creative and productive. And, integrating Foucault, I started to see various mental prisons around me for what they were, opting whenever I could to get more free.

In an Economic Sociology seminar, I assisted Peter teaching Robert Axelrod’s early game theory book, The Evolution of Cooperation. This is the story of the emergence of mutually assured destruction – the way that global annihilation “logically” emerges from successive encounters in which individuals try to maximize their personal gain. We offered the students space to play the simple “Prisoners Dilemma” game from Axelrod’s research but to try out blind trust… and to directly experience that a tiny majority of actions based on blind trust lead to a radical increase in wellbeing for all – even for selfish freeriders. Assisting 150 people to integrate this empirical truth changed my life, and set the foundational premises for the way I now do so-called business.

Peter guided every group of students to a crossroads. His work always secretly addressed the deep mind – where long term memory and subconscious beliefs reside. There would be a project at the crux of every class, just before the drop date, that would push students to some sort of hard edge of self-reflection. Some would give up and quit the class; many would generate a realization that would alter some deep structure of their received belief system. In his “Art of Peacemaking” class, the crossroads was a long weekend at Thic Nhat Hahn’s monestary in Escondido, called Deer Park. God knows how he got away with that in the aughts, but there we were, taking undergrads on Zen retreat where they harvested the vegetables they ate for lunch, and interviewed Vietnamese monks about the quiet life, and began to learn how to think about thinking. Back then, most of them would leave their phones back at the dorm for 3 days straight. Those were beautiful weekends.

Peter was uncompromising with the grading process, as I am now when I teach university. Students earned the grades they earned. He never created situations in which they could benefit (and degrade themselves) by acting in a manipulative fashion. And he especially avoided situations in which students could flatter him in any way. Through this, I came to experience by its weird absencre how pervasive flattery is in hierarchial cultures, and how degrading it is to both the giver and receiver. Anyway, there wasn’t space for manipulation or debate or specialness in his protocols. Grades weren’t an index of student-teacher rapport. They expressed the student’s relationship with the material itself.

Like this, Peter kept a lot of space between himself and most everyone. His boundaries were transparent and very very broad, in harmony with his aesthetic of minimalism + Pureland Zen. His way of setting boundaries with me involved refraining from drawing me in to a hierarchial dynamic where he was my patron and I owed him and tried to cultivate his approval and personal investment in me. He just didn’t care about bossing me around or getting my gratitude. We were together in the same boat as secret meditators and vegetarian metaphysicians, and he treated me as a colleague. I cannot overstate what a weird, self-defeating stance this is to take with an inferior in an intensely status-determined environment.

Not that Peter had much of a self to defeat. Talking with him gave me space to question the values of the academic system, and of the yoga subculture I inhabited. Were the regnant ideals in those scenes (insider status, hard work) used to hold systems of toil and hierarchy in place? (Yes.) Was there anything wrong with just enjoying the process of being an academic, the process of contemplative practice, without ANY sense of achievement or goal orientation to drive it? (Weirdly, yes.)

So instead of making me wait until I reached the appropriate place in the social order, Peter gave me the keys to one of finest offices in the building. There I quietly did my research and very often my yoga practice throughout grad school, and didn’t mention the address to anyone who’d resent it. Instead of using his grants to purchase books we could use from the library, he’d take collaborators and me for dinner at the finest restaurants in Santa Monica, where they’d chuckle at my idea of “indulgence” over a big salad and tea. He liked being alive, a lot, and sometimes that showed up in material ways. But he didn’t experience luxury and cost as overlapping. Luxury was a minute alone at the desk with the computer off, a beautiful memory of his teacher Thay, and most certainly it was plain rice at the Faculty Club. He wanted me to be well supported and well nourished in a time when otherwise I was – and long had been – cruising high on notions of asceticism. Introducing the resources of new knowledge and support into my life, he took care that I’d never think I owed him a thing.

That said, when I read back to what I wrote about Peter almost 9 years ago now, I see that the days following of his death are when I decided that my whole life was a story of generosity I’d received and could never repay. When he died, what was brought into relief for me, and transmitted, was his implicit ideology of service. Something like that had always been there, given who my parents are. But I had fought the notion extremely hard, maybe because I had not fully understood how much I had to be grateful for.

Then Peter went jumped into the emptiness before anyone could say thank you. Clever.


Peter’s whole pedagogy was this: don’t get between students and their karma. Let them realize the path that they’re already on.

He died. And we gave him a beautiful, super-awkward funeral. And then I went to Mysore to pay my respects. There Patthabhi Jois was, too, at the end of his life. I tried to stay invisible practicing in the midst of that, just thanking the yoga that had long been and might always be my inner home.

After two weeks I decided to change my ticket to come home early. I felt done and was sick of being hot and dusty. The feeling at the KPJAYI in winter of 2009 was so sad. But then, something went backwards. I started to feel a bond with a teacher, someone I’d met in America years before; someone currently in the middle of the painful family turmoil there. This was a moment, I think, when Peter’s implicit instruction about pilgrimage and devotion fastened into my mind.

Not understanding myself, I changed my ticket not to come home early but to stay longer. I went more into the sadness and discomfort there, and then accidentally was in love with the life and study in Mysore as an end of itself. And then I went home and realized that the life I had was re-anchored in my practice, in a way it was no longer possible to keep hidden. From that time forward I was out as a contemplative practitioner, far sooner than Peter had suggested it would happen.

Self Ownership • 30 September 2017

I worked in a factory farm. I was 19 and it was adventure. It happened to be the most money I could make in the shortest time, enough to cover 9 months of living expenses at school.

We signed our summer contracts at the Seattle Labor Temple. Four English speaking college kids, and a whole extended family who lived around eastern Washington and western El Salvador, reuiniting every summer on Bristol Bay to harvest King Salmon and Sockeye. Then the company flew us to Anchorage and on to Dillingham. I had stopped eating animals the year before, not for any reason I knew of. Animal suffering was not something I thought about. Something was there, threatening to be felt, but it remained pinned down firmly in the subconscious.

I got what I wanted at the time. Western Alaska was remote and epic, a slate blue watercolor canvas layered in the forms of ocean and sky and mountains and glaciers. Shimmering blue skin of the salmon. Sleep was no object under so much sun. We worked 16-20 hour days, 40 of us in a warehouse on the docks, between lulls when the boatmen were out harvesting. The taupe containers of fish, still jumping, still fighting for life, would roll across the threshhold and a hook from the ceiling would dump them into a conveyor belt. The belt rolled them first through a guillotine. On breaks I’d wander to that part of the warehouse and imagine a cloud of fish souls.

Tienen almas los pescados? Si Angelica, si creo que tienen almas.

In the 2-day lulls between work sprints, I’d trundle through the weird landscape, mushy tundra and high blonde grasses, every step a potential sinkhole. The weathered docks looked ancient, pounded and frayed to white splinters and collapsing back into the ocean marsh. The soft, low seacliffs were where the previous colonists buried their dead. Marble tombstones marked in Cyrillic, facing the Aleutians, facing Russia.

On the solstice, the fishermen were out making a killing. Back on land, the dock foreman took some of us swimming in the mountains at the edge of a glacier. Earth had never overwhelmed me quite like that. In the remaining down time, the other three English speakers tore through my copy of The Brothers Karamasov, soaking up old Russia, steeping in epic guilt and an ache for salvation. I kicked back with the Salvadoran clan, adoring them and amusing them, learning good Spanish slang, understanding what little I could about thier recent civil war and what it was like to have half your family relocate to Ellensburg. Then, a string of 18 hour days. In the next lull, the foreman came along for a walk across the tundra-mush to the ocean, me in workboots and thrift store jeans. He was a swarthy auto-didact from Great Salt Lake. My age, but somehow it was his 6th summer working the docks.

I told him it felt insane that our life there was so beautiful. We were living an actually cool, actually gorgeuos version of a Calvin Klein ad. (The look of that summer was already a shade more obscene than what A&F would soon become, our whole sleepless- ecstatic- illegal labor scene so secretly hot and hidden and out-of-bounds.) He walked me in to the surf and kissed me and said (factually) “Good thing you’re wearing your Calvins.”

I said somehow it felt that we would pay for this later. This freedom was not free. This work was not good work.

After that, he gave me the keys to the forklift. Out there on the docks, I didn’t think about the contents of the taupe containers, just the problem-solving game of of the work. As absorbing as Tetris, but with the added bonus of heavy machinery. I didn’t think about the guillotine either. The whole summer was epic, for our small-self serving purposes.

The audodidact foreman’s self-actualizing path was continental philosophy + math + mushrooms. He’d tell me about the after-effects of the drugs, the cosmic connectivity and ecstasy and joy. Even in my freedom and weird adventures then, I was at all times extremely gentle with myself, conservative with food and substances and relationship. I was eager to etch on my self with travel and books and conversation, but shy with connection. So the experiences went in, but I merged cosmically with nothing and through no one; and like most humans my nervous system remained disconnected. Alone. That part of the learning process– the yoga process, to be exact– that moves from the inside out would not come online yet for several years.

For a year after we took the last prop plane off the Bay together, the foreman would send letters in modal logic. Heavy graphite shapes smudged on cottony paper, by highly intelligent and heavy-handed sweat. I’d read them next to the original Lebniz, translating the symbols as love code. I sent him a boatman’s compass from an antique store in Saigon. He asked me to move to Utah. I came to my senses.

Farm kids where I grew up were never not laborers, but I started selling my labor outside the home at age 16. At that point, being also an auto-didact, I formulated a dogma of work. This ideology was designed to protect me against the demeaning feelings associated with being used by the rich, or being too poor to buy food. I refused to feel exlpoited or hungry, because I could not afford the hit these feelings took off my resilience. My prophylactic belief system combined the worst of the Protestant Ethic, with the best of Nietche’s critique of the master-slave relationship. In short, the ethos was to work extremely hard, creatively, wherever I could, and yet to never work for money or mere survival, and never under conditions I hated. Rather, work served the purpose of my own higest learning. No matter the task, it was teaching me something universal and making me more knowledgeable at the end of every shift. I would not have my energy and soul drained out for the benfit of my employers, ever. Rather, I would take advantage of every work situation. They weren’t using me. No, I was showing up fully and doing my best work in order to educate myself on their shop floors.

There is a lot about this theory that served me as an individual. It made me a great team player and quick study, even though my ends were purely self-serving. I was always operating on the level of being a conscious cog in every machine that employed me. Cogs are by nature bounded, and in the end I think my philosophy of work was profoundly egotistical. It kept me from getting my spirit crush, but it also kept me stuck in the consciousness of a cog.

Alaska nearly sunk that ship ten years before I was ready. Something there was so disturbing that my paradigm wavered. To sustain my dogma on the docks, I had to push down the knowledge of our racist, colonialist machine. I had to stay forcefully unconscious of the extreme, mechanized violence to another earth species. I had to remain a cog. Suffering outside of my skin was somehow not mine. Faced with the possibility of really feeling another species in a moment of horror and the role of my work in that suffering, I dodged. I spent more years doing everything in my power to prevent experiences of union.

The ecstatic interconnection my friends were experiencing at that time was drug induced. It was a state of consicousness that left residue, but did not permanently alter their stage of consciousenss. This is the convenient thing about states of consciousness. They come and go. If we want the joys of oneness without the pain of interconnection, it’s best take oneness as a drug. Take it as a hit. Do NOT shift into union as a default setting.

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind? God this confusing, insofar as it keeps me in my head. How about yoga is the dropping away of that deep subconscious agitation that makes us fixate on a small self. How about… yoga is the flat-lining of that vritti whose constant function is disconnection.

I have no idea, but I wonder if people go there just at parties so they don’t have to stay there. Long time interconnection with this present world is not just pure joy, but also pure suffering. You get pain. Factory farms are in that picture. Domestic abuse. Polar bears. The prison industry. Amazon prime. Samsara is hard.

From this perspective, work is a whole different thing. Harm in one quarter is harm to the self. It’s felt. Competion is logically absurd beacuse it is quite literally the path to mutually assured destruction. Especially if you get pain from stuff outside your skin and outside your species, the paradgim tilts toward cooperation no matter how hard you try to resist.


I’m re-experiencing my relationship with work at age 19 beacuse of the many so-called Millenials showing up in my life. At their age I was working every way I knew how, while also mainlining modern philosophy and novels the size of bricks. I was not having to cope with social media, or what Frithjof Bergmann calls the job apocalypse. Certain things were easier for me then than they are for people first coming of age now. I feel as though I’m comig of age again, with them.

What I see are very young, and young-at-heart, people seeking Jedi mind training, initiation into a community, and an astonishingly unique – collective – version of the hero’s journey. Their voices are changing – sometimes literally- and their sense of responsibility is deepening.

No matter our age, for better and for worse, in western culture we are are all silently charged in to find some gift inside of ourselves. If we are listening at all, we are called to make meaning and a living and sense out of our “sensuous human activity.”

So this cohort is tripping into a paradigm shift, driven by the chaos and the evil of our times. They (we) were spoiled and distracted and narcissistic until a cluster of them (us) were not. Now they are forging concentrated minds from a place of never having read books or turned off their phones. They’re coming of age in a world full of splintered sense-making and a collective nerous system constantly triggered.

We have got to stop competing – morally and culturally – with each other across so-called generations. The only thing we can do is give ourselves to each other.

So this Frithjof Bergmann. He was a philosopher at the University here, an old student of Hegel and Nietsche and the like, until he left academia to get things done. When the factories starting closing in Michigan, he went to Flint to work with people laid off, and to Detroit to people starving in the food deserts, and there he shared radical cooperative approaches to work based in the Continental notion of self-ownership. Self ownership, that is, surprisingly combined with intimate community connection.

Frithjof looks like the Old Man from the Sea, full Hemingway in hat and beard, but with a feeling of pure radiant kindness. His old mind is supple and gorgeous, open, audacious, more alive than almost all of us. He loves expansive conversation and challenges, he integrates his wonderful strong emotions into intellectual exchange, and he does everything he can not to be treated like some respectable old fellow who needs to be addressed as special.

This man is a prophet, and as such he is completely unknown. This is the place to start. Then this.

Frithjof doesn’t say get free of corporate power. Just to do something different. Something you actually want. Don’t console yourself with passive, vapid leisure. There’s no eros in that. Our poverty is one of incomplet desire. So find what you passionately desire and take action in that domain. This is hard. Frithjof talks a lot about and the frailty of the human condition – how hard it is for us to be strong. We need ideas and communities that give us courage and strength. We humans, he says: it is our nature to be easily discouraged.

So, his work as a philosopher on the ground is to encourage. Freedom is not free in his view. It’s an accomplishment. Knowing yourself well enough to take the action you really desire is a form of strength.

Frithjof agrees with my 19-year-old self that instead of being used by our work to produce things for some corporation, our work should serve us in deep ways. But the difference in this vision from that of my 19-year-old self is this: work that excites and fulfills my self is work that very often requires giving that self away. This is literally what is exciting at this phase in my own changing consciousness: being an encouraging presence beyond my physical skin. Owning my work well enough and fully enough to just give it away.

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Vortex and Vacuum • 31 August 2017

Feels like we’re in a vacuum. Of power. Of structure. What an open moment.

Glaciers and nation states going down. There is no strong vision-logic holding things together.

For August I went home to the west. I love the way my mind feels inside Cascadia’s interlinked lifeworlds, even now when funneled in a massive updraft of fire. BC, Washington, Oregon; and later Montana. It’s all burning. Sunset and moonrise are red. The fires have names like storms. Crews are working on containment; some of these forests will burn until it snows. At the same time, so much water is surging in the wrong places. Another Category 3 on the make, right now, in the mid-Atlantic.

This is a super dangerous, creative time. Between realities. Between toolboxes. I feel it on the level of countries, cultures, practice communities, families and my day-to-day being. Cognitive dissonance that slides into aporia, and then just empty-mind and wide open eyes.

But vacuums favor the canny mind. They’re non-normative. Creative as HELL. This is where big ideas come to life.

There’s a place offworld I call the vortex. It’s freaky, and it should not be talked about. But everything feels unusual just now, with the qualities of this vortex surging forth into more minds, egging on a cascading change of view. Even though it is or was wrong to talk about it, I’m going to throw some words over the vortex like a sheet over a ghost.

This cascade coming down could be beautiful or violent. The vortex doesn’t care which. It’s just an address in consciousness where everything is chaos and void. Simultaneously. Tohubohu. It was Shinzen, when I phoned him about it, who gave me the word, probably building from Descartes, who theorized the motion of the planets as “vortices” of spinning bits of matter.

The vortex is a real place. Inside, it sounds like the womb – that safe rocking chaos of white noise – noise that that evokes no images nor need to understand. You’re post-cognitive, floating in static. (It’s not pre-cognitive: primal, pre-differentiated blob consciousness is different from the vortex.) Visually, it’s like the space between old TV channels, if you were INSIDE the TV. The play of light on the backs of the eyelids feels like it’s happening in every cell of a body that has broken to bits. In every little light-sensitive mitochondrion. It’s like the Magic Mountain ride, but instead of hugging the edge of your roller coaster seat you get to draft up and down (simultaneously) as specks of conscious stardust. You can get on this ride at least three ways: by luck, a shit-ton of practice, or with a psychotic break.

The light-play aspect of the vortex is very Wind in the Door (Madame L’Engle in her obsession with mitochondria being waaaay out ahead of the bulletproof guy Dave Asprey, whose new book is on hacking the light in the cells). What the vortex feels like is teleporting: sometimes in an elevator or airplane the body pixellates, you know? And then you blink and put your feet down and you’re back in a world somewhere shifted.

I wonder if Descartes came up with his vortex theory of the planets because he had direct experience of the swirling column of consciousness (weirdly, the father of western rationality did base his reasoning in subjective, mystical experience.) For Shinzen, the power of the vortex is best described in Eliot’s Little Gidding, an epic written in a moment like our own. Ash covered Eliot’s world, as power sucked up and out of the polity like oxygen up a flue. His response to the earthly vacuum and the bombs was to give us a poetry of the vortex, one of the most meaningful scriptures I know. The “cleft” in consciousness, the “still point” between wave and undertow. The fire and the rose becoming one. Read from the right angle, the words take you inside the empty float between expansion and contraction. If you’re in the vortex, it’s because your self has been blown to smithereens. Great, but how you re-constitute is a crapshoot. Freedom’s tricky.

So the vortex is a room, somewhere in mansion of consciousness, and it’s a place the writer of Genesis, Descartes, Eliot, and lots and lots of other humans visit. The reason to point to this is that the movement of creative chaos in the vortex is what makes me feel the unscripted nature of our socio-political-environmental moment. There is this roaring, sucking updraft-downdraft behind everyday life now. It’s not the exact woo-woo vortex, but an almost physical vacuum. Destruction + mild anarchy + un-writtenness.

Anything can happen.

In the early 2000s, I’d sit on a cushon and sometimes see the vortex through a pinhole between my eyebrows. Last Saturday on Georgian Bay, Jeff Warren – brilliant and hilarious— described this to me as “tunneling to freedom.” Yes. Consciousness mining is a thing. That tingle it gives you is more than nerve endings electrified.

In 2010, I landed in Michigan and at almost the exact same time, fell far down in to this tunnel between the eyebrows. There was a column of chaotic void, with no end and no beginning. I’d sit on a cushion, straighten my back, stay a while. Then the column would open and consume me. It’s not something to understand, but to be understood by. Being known, it was better than sugar, better than viparita chakrasana, better than whatever else I was using to get my thrills at the time.

You just pixellate. Vaporize, even.

This how meditators depersonalize, have energetic crises, undergo psychotic breaks or otherwise go pathological. Great reason not to meditate. Psychotic break is real, and that’s where it goes down if you don’t have the ego strength, or luck, or teacher backup to find a rudder in the pixel storm. You can speak ill of the vortex, but it’s real. I don’t think it’s good or bad anymore than the airspace at 40,000 feet is neither good nor bad.

The point here is that without some stabilizing tools, a feel for the primal empty chaos is useless or even harmful in everyday life. The void is a bunch of nothingness and non-determinancy. Roiling spacetime. Strong discernment and ego boundaries can turn it from a mind-scramble into a source of ideas and freedom. I’ve had extremely good guidance and extremely sound methodologies for practice; probably I’d be terrified by the vortex without those supports. Even with those supports, the worldly vacuum of power and logic that’s upon us does scare me. I have to remind myself that this new chaos, too, can be navigated. C

With every new disaster in the world, I feel us moving more deeply into this socio-political-economic-envorinmental vacuum, which itself feels like it is shaped by the wildness of the vortex. Fire, and water, and air are moving in extremely dramatic ways. Power works differently. History moves differently. My mind feels different.

I’m anchoring my awareness in beautiful kindred and super-clear minds, the above-mentioned and others. Thank good for good books at the right time. Adrienne Maree Brown’s, for example. In Emergent Strategy, she says to navigate the moving edge of creative activism with this question:

What is the most elegant next step?

What is the most elegant next thought, next opening, next understanding? There’s so much creative energy now, and urgency towards acting well and caring more deeply. Here are some new starts, flying up in my mind from out of the chaos-void. My journals from this month are bursting, so for tonight in the last hour of August I’ll just get some of the pixels on the page.

-This is the time for a few strong ideas. We’re so hungry psychically, epistemically.
-Yoga was made for these times. These times.
-Own your work and do not be owned by anything.
-Build a better bullshit filter.
-Interrogate spiritual repression.
-Do the hard things already.
-Cognitive dissonance can be a point of strength.
-Cults fill the void in uncertain times – so discernment has to strengthen too.
-Exorcism for a world without demons.
-How easy it is for a human mind to hold lies. Stories are false-true. How easily they narrow us down. Or take us down.
-In a power vacuum, language is a primary form of magic.
-Security is from community, for worse and for better.
-The company you keep is most key when chaos reigns
-Epistemological generosity: how many paradigms can one hold without going to pieces?

I don’t know what will take shape next. But combining ways-of-knowing, towards an unknown-emerging strong idea, is my most elegant next step. Or if not elegant, at least a little more free, to see – and move through – the chaotic empty aspects of this world.

Not Two • 31 July 2017

Lake Leelanau fire

1. False Alarms

The fire alarm went off in the Mysore room last week, three days out of six.

That was the climax of a month of hard practice, with weekends I didn’t take off. Firefighters storming the shala stairs under flashing lights and the shriek of indoor sirens, stopping short when there was no fire, just rows of humans calm-breathing and hearts moving slow. (Plus one less calm human, me, saying yes it oddly seems they’re not evacuating, so could I just get your keys to the basement control panel now, right now, because they’ve been down-regulating through this for 20 minutes already?)

The experts said there’s no way yoga can trip an old fire alarm, and luckily our landlords agree. But our building (which feels alive) is as old as the Civil War; she is steady and mischievious, with a hyper-sensistive nervous system. The last thing that happens before the alarm trips, every time, is the old floorboards swell and there’s this sudden slip under my heels. Maybe the same humidity spike pushes dust and spiderwebs into a sensor. In any case, by that time it’s too late to hit the A/C; just feel the slippery ground and deepen the breath.

The siren is SO LOUD. I shout to that the students that they are welcome to leave and to my shock each time they do no such thing. Later some say the alarm comes in waves that, with practice, seems to massage their cells. Others say the mind training clarifies their technique and gives more energy than coffee. Alarm days are their strongest and most beautiful days, full of clear action and (by contrast) so much silence. Magic.

Now summer has crested; we’re in that weightless moment before the rush of release. When I say practice this month was “hard,” that’s not a comment on physical exertion. It’s that reality has been sharp for better and for worse – terrible news has arrived for so many; old suffering has surfaced like shrapnel, the long days and the strength in the summer body enabled many including me to face down old bullshit. Weeks of saturated insight, magic, delusion, beauty, pain. Pressure, humidity, heat, light, memory, breath, death. Reading Macy and Jeffers in achingly peaceful firefly evenings full of horrible news, I’ve felt more than ever the truth of the end of things, how human violence is turning back on the planet in a massive wave, bringing our own destruction fully into view.

The whole learning process is brilliant under conditions where there is urgency, meaning, space and choice. I feel the practice evolving, as students talk to me about predictive perception, and exactly what psychological projection feels like in the mindbody. (For me, projection is a three alarm fire: adrenaline hit + flash conviction another is absolutely wrong + a drive to be 100% right.) With sharper awareness of the pain within, they group sharpens up new moral questions about the pain in the world: How am I using the practice to avoid thinking about how much I’m consuming all of the time? How can I piece together the historical reason that US dollars go so far in India, and what that means for my special access to this potent knowledge? What if my life purpose is based on fear of sharing the same fate as everyone else? Because of them I have this tiny faith that yoga practice could evolve for these times, rather than becoming the next opium of the masses. If that happens, it will take place through well supported, collective high-pressure self-study that brings hard things to the surface of consciousness, and chills you out enough to act on them decisively.

Beauty is what persists despite ugliness. It is pushing back so hard now, forcing the boundaries of selves to expand. Awe and wonderment have a saturation point; the sense of who we are swells into the future and past, and across space, and species. Shit! This is the self that includes groundwater at Hanford, Palestinean children, whales killed by plastic. All the beings and ecologies in the first wave of nation state collapse: Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan. There is more space in the self of wonderment, and good thing, because there is also way more pain.

Equanimity is like this: hurts more, bothers you less.

It’s not a tranquilizer.

There are so many ways for a yoga teacher to numb out, and teach others to do the same. But from a mystical standpoint it feels like the increased beauty I perceive has an acute intelligence, and a function of trying to wake me up. In makes the reward for presence – awe and wonderment and connection – slightly more reliable than the pain. Like there is an ethical drive within aesthetic experience. Wonderment wakes me up. And for now beauty has a lead on suffering. There is so much energy in awe.

We have maybe 20 seasons here between the Great Lakes, marked rhythms within the greater rhythm. From the Fourth of July until last weekend’s bonfires on Lake Michigan: that’s one long moment in culture and nature. Thunder and lightning are scheduled twice a week for midnight and 6 am, as predictable as the tornado sirens Tuesdays at 1. Salt on the skin, salad on the palate, honeysuckle and hydrangea as thickening agents in the air. Ladies in the shala pregnant out-to-there. Our pack of millennial students water-logged and skin-crisp from jumping in the Huron after practice, then sun-drying on the docks.

It’s against this backdrop that the pressure comes. The fire in the mind, the vritti storms, powerful waves of projection, crazy dreams lacing light sleeps, bad news, sudden endings, tearful outbursts… enough churn to bring very old poison to the surface of the mindbody. In high pressure times, the mindspace feels damp and opaque, like mirrors steamed over.

“Hard” practice is like this: pattern recognition under pressure.

A tool when there is doubt or freak-out or anger or sadness or crazy mind is to just say the words will and surrender.

Effort and letting go are not two different intentions. Effort and simultaneous letting go is the goddam practice. You perform your action impeccably and at that same moment you release the fruits of the action to a higher purpose. Doing and being. Will and surrender. Practice and non-damn-attachment.

Sometimes this mystical-practical aporia, which is always right there staring at me, steps in and smacks me in the face.

Paradox is not a problem. It’s an erotic union. It’s where the wonder comes from.


2. Resolution of apparent opposites

For a lot of us, we become conscious of the nervous system by swinging between its extremes. Experiencing the oppositions of

fight/flight/freeze and rest/digest/restore

a.k.a., sympathetic and parasympathetic

or, left and the right

exhale and inhale

down and up

lunar and solar

restorative and responsive

felt and seen

esoteric and exoteric

subjective and objective

allowing and intervention

gnostic and methodical.

The poles continuously create each other somehow. I guess this is how things go, here on a planet with only one moon and only one sun.

Still, the breath astonishes me. How it works. This two-part rhythm, which seems to be binary, and is somehow entwined with the other dualities of the nervous system. Phenomenal. That experience of pulling the breath across the veil of unconsciousness, then using it or being used, in a way, for consciousness and energy to expand. I marvel at the way breath begins and ends for an animal. How it is anchored by a deeper and prior respiration, literally the “primary respiration” of fluid up and down the spine.

The more conscious an autonomic nervous system becomes, the more the apparent dualities break down. Are inhale and exhale mutually exclusive? How about parasympathetic/ sympathetic?

In evolutionary time, a third branch emerged, the social nervous system, with cell nuclei in the brain stem nestled right in amidst the on-buttons for sympathetic and parasympathetic. Three years into biodynamic cranial-sacral training, we are now just beginning to feel the activities of these three autonomic circuits – the nadi junctions that enervate smooth muscle, facial and other subtle functions that tend to run automatically but can be migrated across the veil into consciousness with training and practice. My favorite of these nuclei is an a occipital nadi switching station that lights up your larynx, soft palate and vagus nerve. It is called the nucleus ambiguous.

Here is the thing. I live by a technique, tristhana, that integrates the apparently binary nervous system. Over time, if actually understood, tristhana has the power to resolve the the polarity of action/restoration and will/surrender for long moments of paradox in the nervous system… before a new polarity emerges and the small self takes shape once more.

This is rare, but it ain’t abstract. Check it out. What does a triggered nervous system do? First, it sees most everything as a threat enemy and reactivity runs the show. The breath moves into the ribs while the smooth muscle actions from the anus to the navel (reproduction, digestion) go offline and the tissues around them – the pelvic floor and low-abdominal armor – draw taut. The eyes sharpen. Breath, bandha, driste. You try to do all those techniques at once, too soon, in an unsafe environment, and your parasympathetic nervous system is going to become something from a hyper-reactive Hulk Hogan to a deer in the headlights. This is part of why it makes sense to learn the real stuff from a seasoned teacher, unless what your highest self really wants is to become an anal retentive adrenaline junkie. To pick up the paradox, you have to jump into a shared breath somewhere, be with other bodies in the present moment and channel the radical acceptance that underlies the so-called triggers.

Tristhana throws down a baseline of calm safety in the form of sense withdrawal, and then – incredibly – it lightly pushes the buttons of the fight-or-flight system. This is so delicate. Think Operation, the board game. If you do it right, what you get is the primal reactive energy that enables you to throw a punch to save your life, or mothers to throw cars of children and; but now it’s not an animal program. It’s nonreactive and it’s conscious and it’s put in to the service of blessing all beings in all worlds. Summon the animal nature, love and respect it, and systematically integrate it into a low blood pressure, low heart rate, low reactivity way of being.

From this point of view, the paradox of will/surrender isn’t theory. It’s describes direct experience that maybe should not be possible. Yoga made it possible. Brilliant.

Back to the third channel in the nervous system, the social. It’s time that this be popular knowledge – the place to start is Stephen Porges and the polyvagal theory. Of the many insights here is the way we are hard wired for constant social monitoring. We scan for safety in the facial expressions of others; we scan for status by monitoring their behavior. Social monitoring is full-on monkey mind, and it is structured into the nadis. Respect.

The tool for the monkey is driste. Driste gets your external monitoring off others’ faces (because you have established your safety), and out of their business (because you have made a conscious decision to set aside status anxiety). Take the physical driste and the meta-driste inside, reclaim the energy that by default spreads out into the social environment at all times, and all of a sudden you can feel so much inside. The levels of sensitivity to yourself multiply many times over, subtly, psychedelically, beautifully. Again this is easy to muck up. You don’t want to experience the whole inner world all at once. But it comes, magically, gradually, if you set your gaze right.

You learn to look through, not at, the world of form.

Not to space out, but to sense more clearly.


3. Delusion

We are always giving birth to this reality, to some sense of a self. Along that line in lucky moments, there is no separation between (1) impeccable action, and (2) releasing the fruits of that action. The will, and the surrender, are not at odds. Both and.

That said, in this world, at this time, I feel my role is to give an edge to surrender. This is not a resignation of responsibility. Ever. It doesn’t make you a blob. It actually helps you use your power. If your intention is something bigger than meeting personal goals for achievement. Don’t be needy; act freely. The world responds.

This tristhana program, it’s not a conquest. What utter delusion to believe the monkey, and the internet, when they say yoga is about looking awesome. They will keep saying it. But practice is your breath. It is your death. Letting go is half the program.

The sirens and lights trip in to emergency mode and you ask your Jedi nervous system not to fixate just yet; stay calm until it’s your moment. Let the alarms add energy to a system relaxed and clear enough to take that in along with everything else.

For years, I taught Ashtanga yoga and made the closing benediction an option. This mantra is strong magic medicine, and unbelievably powerful if taken to heart. Out of respect, I thought it best to just let people know its literal meaning, and its function of surrendering the fruits of the practice. If they really believed in it, they could choose to say the sacred words. I reasoned that surrender is not real for everyone and it’s not something to force. Not everyone gives a shit about all beings in all worlds. Not everyone wants to have selfless feelings.

What profound delusion on my part. Yoga can be the opium that dulls the leisure people into pleasant mind states while shit goes down for other unseen beings in unconsciously adjacent contexts; or it can be a program for poking holes in the blinders of mass narcissism. Now that is a polarity worth sharpening up, rather than collapsing.

I have stopped pulling my punches on higher mind. These tools we’ve inherited and turned to selfish ends, they are to be understood and honored. Breath and death (agenda death, resentment death, neurosis death), sensitivity and expanding consciousness, and the wherewithal to just feel what is real. If we take posture and personal power as the goal, it is because we have not understood. Postures are little anchors to steady consciousness enough to feel the pain and experience the beauty. When you’ve integrated a posture, you stop grasping at it because your nervous system knows you can never pin it down.

Actually give up the drive to make yoga give you things, the drive that is somehow “normal” in these insane times, and you become some sort of devotee to impermanence and beauty. This is a predictable thing: I see it all over the place. Humans using true knowledge and the will to let go of their grasp.

Chapel Perilous • 14 June 2017

UCLA Sociology Building + Royce Hall

There is a seven-year pulse in the deep psyche. At least that is the rhythm of mine. This is my seventh year out of LA, so when my teacher said he was doing a week of yoga on UCLA campus in May, I turned my life around to get there. A wave of old conditioning has been coming to the surface; this was a chance to ride it consciously. When I bumped in to my PhD adviser on a plane to New York last month, and then we took the morning together, I got some taste of the integration that is possible here.

Los Angeles was heaven for me from age 24. It was so good, and so transformative, for so long, that afterwards it was painful to recall. I drove off UCLA campus at the end of 2009 (drove away is how you say walked away in Californian), and kept on going to Scottsdale. Then Marfa, then Nashville, then into the freezing lonely winter in Michigan. The sun went away behind Lake Huron’s permanent cloud layer, the toes I got frostbit in my teens went blue. For months I was heartsick, furiously cold, and missed salad. The sweetness of being-a-student had been taken from me and here I was exiled in a flat, conventional place.

Eventually the self-pity jag, addictive as it was, just got boring. What showed up next were purpose and meaning. The present moment got more beautiful; the whole pace and content of my everyday mind shifted; and I started learning to do honest work.

Love the world you’ve got. That was the first real decision. Not sticky fan-girl cheerleader like-your-social-media love. A love of I will listen to you and know you and accept you and not claw away at trying to fix your surface features.

Back in LA just now, I was reminded that presencing the past feels like science fiction, wobbly and surreal. Los Angeles itself is epic: thrilling, beautiful, vata-deranged, willfully shallow. At the center of all that: the oasis of UCLA, which holds the past selves that interest. And on top of that: led intermediate series in heavy A/C, and a hundred or two beloved old friends, and my teacher. I spent afternoons in the city and on the beach, and crashed in a pool house near the marina – a place my thoughts wouldn’t find me and neither would my friends. Sleep there was eerily quiet. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept without vivid dreams; it emptied me out to go without the night show. That plus constant déjà vu made the day show more vivid than ever. When the sensory information got to be too much, I’d sneak down to Venice and drop in to a puffy white void by the pool.

Otherwise, it was like this: morning circum-ambulation of the Sociology building before invocation in the gym. Dense sensorial memory, years of it stowed in me, now surfacing in response to full-blooming jasmine, jacaranda, and the cypress and sycamores. Tight lane-changes on the 405, one place besides Mysore where I enjoy the way people drive. The first classroom where I taught sociology, accidentally unlocked and empty, with the blackboard covered in notes on cooperation. People asking me at Whole Foods and Profeta and Sage if they knew me, not because they did but maybe because I got that familiar.

And… a visit to my chapel perilous, the grad library where I found the first threads of the esoteric and gnostic literatures 14 years ago, and where I took refuge following the initiation drama of my qualifying exams. That’s when my mind first broke open from some kind of days-long satori/vata derangement/dissociative episode. Nobody at the corporate yoga place saw the signs, so I tried to find my way back to ground in the library. Better than nothing. Robert Anton Wilson’s spiritual comics were where I first learned the grail lore term chapel perilous, and thank god, thank Thomas Merton, thank Gopi Krishna, thank Patanjali, thank every other spiritually mature guide who says don’t just stay there in your hall of mirrors and magic and woo; don’t fail to realize how siddhis and shamanism are just another way of solidifying the self.

The chapel perilous is any labyrinth in which your self inquiry takes you in circles and you either don’t know or refuse to be honest about it. Instead of getting insight, you get off. Over, and over, and over. The hits that keep you there can be the post-practice high, compulsive sex, addictive love, the teacher or scene you have to be together with all of the time, ceaseless knowledge accumulation, and so on.

For me, the chapel perilous went from being that library and what it represented, to a sentimentality for old spiritual highs. Falling back on remembered ecstasies. This too is spiritual materialism. But past is past. The consciousness I have now is the field of practice.

On campus this time, there was graduation glitter on the sandstone stairs that lead directly from Sociology to the ashtanga ritual at the other end of the quad. Conferences after practice communicated something true, not just factually true and contextually true but simple and direct enough to lodge deep. Seven years from now, some effervescent remnant of this weekend will resurface and then be gone.

The day I left, the Sociology building was empty. You’re supposed to have keys on weekends, but the door next to my old office was open. This is the door one floor above the department where Carlos Castaneda wrote his fake dissertation on his imagined shaman (he never did research, just hung out in the same library I did and plagiarized anthropologists who had gone to the field), and across the quad from the undergrad library where Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 about the future burning of books. That last morning, I walked the halls like a temple, then took the red stairs down to led primary with so many friends, said goodbye to the group with my eyes, and sped down the 10 Freeway to the Krishna Temple + Masonic Lodge of Culver City.

Krishna and the Masons sit together on a corner in the middle of film industrial zone, just down Venice Boulevard from the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I went to re-meet years of secret Saturday mornings. I don’t know the people who dance 5Rhythms in that temple every week, but I know them. The daytime rave scene is nothing new; it started 40 years ago with some of this crew. Aesthetically and culturally, their scene is about as close to my style as a pro football game. But secretly, what really excites me is process and play and experimenting and a little weirdness. So from the first Saturday I found the dance, I felt completely at home its chaos and tenderness and anonymity and intimacy. Just as I feel home in Mysore rooms. That spontaneity can be hyper-intelligent, bringing consciousness to ideas, knots, funny habits and pools of numbness hiding in my organism that don’t show up clearly anywhere else. Doing it every week, for years, exploded my creative life, ate away at my interest in professional stuff, and ended up being the thing I missed most bitterly when I left LA. (Until dancing by myself became the way to wake up every day here in the rust belt…)

These dance people, they show up every Saturday as a practice, without language, but without form also. I hear rumors that they are a bunch of screenwriters and therapists, but they don’t bring identities like that to the space. I was disciplined enough about the chaos to ghost all my comings and goings, so I never met them on the threshold; and if we saw each other around town we’d make fleeting eye contact and not talk, same as in the dance. As my Ashtanga got more fluid and gentle, dance became the only place I really sweat; and last week it was the same, brushing against bodies and looking in eyes I haven’t seen in seven years. Nobody rushed to greet me. They don’t have a name for this face and don’t want one – but they knew exactly what was happening when I surfaced among them. What was happening the rhythmic level. In terms of the seven year pulse. So many nods, so much recognition for what we all look like now and how differently we move, years on from our last time together. Recognition, gravity, chaos, again goodbye.

Everyone says LA changes constantly, and does not change. Many of my best places are gone now, but the freeways are the same; campus is the same. I know and love this city. Same and then some for my teacher. Put those two forces together, and the way that the city attempts to understand my teacher is a little weird. LA understands the value of an action by what it looks like on camera, it understands rock stars, it understands the pace and pressure of freeways, it understands always always always through charisma and image. Celebrity culture and yoga have mixed together here for a long time, but usually ashtanga has been too gritty and quiet to be the headliner. For the mundane long time practitioners, this is no glamorous practice. It is not a special event. You wear the same clothes on the same runway for for years and years, letting them become a part of you (cue Garth Algar). The non-industrialized practice is boring from the LA perspective. For which I am grateful. The culture of star worship is a whole other circle of the hall of mirrors.


This March, I felt a return of the vegetable hours.

When I started teaching years ago in Michigan, to 4 or 6 students per morning, holding that room together took all the concentration I had. After, I’d collapse in their non-vegetarian sweat on my sofa, mind-numbed from concentrating so hard. They were trying to learn a complex concentration technique in a room where nobody but the guide really understood it yet. (At the time, they did not know how technically clueless they were, how much more focused their minds would become, how it would feel – later – to practice in a state of gentle undulation and a concentrated mind. Later, once they had owned it, they were glad they labored through the steep start and I respected them so much for it. Everything got easier after about 4 months of actually doing the work.) So building tristhana from scratch, without a gestalt of developed practitioners to support you through osmosis, is extremely hard mental work. When that first batch could transmit it implicitly to a new person, my formal teaching responsibility became lighter. New ones could walk in to the waves, become sensitive, and absorb the habitus. A technique this rhythmic – whether its done well, or done technically wrong – travels laterally.

But back to vegetable mind. It is concentration/reasoning fatigue in the extreme. It feels like you just took two standardized tests in a row. In the worst months of it, there on my sofa, it would take two hours of vegetabling before I could gather the will power for a shower.


When I got home to Michigan from Mysore in March, just being in the country felt like those mornings on my sweaty sofa.

The level of ambient mental static was overwhelming, with huge amounts of misinformation and disinformation and generalized mental disturbance screaming through the air. It was extremley hard to concentrate, to reason, or to hold to a stable point of view. The internet was moving fast and people were on it way more than before, fully hooked up to the machine with a push notification drip. Emotion was everything: people would say “I feel x about y” in context where they should be describing what they see or what they think. Their eyes would dart around. There was more alcohol, and more people getting strong prescriptions to take the edge off. Conversations were disorienting, with mismatched thoughts/emotions, incomplete ideas, and a tendency to take the opinions of dramatic commentators as one’s own without thinking them through. There was a messianic feeling around both politics and commercial yoga. In both spheres, there was one brutally clear road to prominence: condemn some group of people, and perform witch hunts while talking incessantly, and illogically, and pointing to a brave new world of safety and promise. From vegetable mind grows cult mind: this how it works when logic goes away, emotions dominate, your reasonable friends lose their ground, and people are too exhausted to hold a single line of thought. So we rest our minds in demagogues. Demagoguery doesn’t have a political valence; it’s just a storm of victimhood and unreasonableness and drama.

It has gotten a little better now. I saw and felt the mental endurance all around me strengthen so much this spring. In response to a strange new challenge, some people stop knowing what to do. And, some people get very clear and creative and strong. The strategic ones have found reasonable friends, instituted some mental hygiene around screens and social media and the so-called news, toned down the substance use. Among them I sense a weird new interest in personal accountability, responsibility, and being really honest. Brilliant. What an amazing dialectical move to take out of collective insanity. This is not droll, old-school logic. It’s spiritual warriorship for our wild new zeitgeist.

Before I got this glimmer of hope that some minds would get stronger and clearer in these times, I was afraid to even name the vegetable mind. Instead, I just shifted the entire focus of my teaching this year to the subject of yoga for mental health and discernment.

That focus remains. It may remain for a while.

It will help to learn to be uncomfortable with uncertainty in a new way. There are stories behind the so-called news and we won’t always be able to see them. The options for dealing with the pain of that are to (A) join a reality silo or a cult, or (B) stop living in the world. These are the hall-of-mirror options. Or (C) we can come up with ways to to deal with incomplete information without that breaking our spirits or making our emotional bodies hyper-reactive.

The stakes are high. In addition to everything moving really fast now, people and psychopaths smarter than the rest of us are trying to scramble our minds. What they want is this: they want all the natural allies in the world to fight among ourselves over dumb things. So they can proclaim the loser. And they want the real battles to happen behind the scenes. My gut has gotten pretty good, but it still takes me time to know when a person doesn’t have a conscience. To that end, it seems helpful to notice who is in the business of proclaiming losers, being a savior, and making you feel awesome for agreeing with them or being their friend. These actions meet some primal human needs, in a dark way. Psychopaths are 1 or 2 per cent of the population. They like politics, the business world, and spiritual/religious scenes – arenas in which they can play with people. Please don’t let’s be divided from our neighbors over small differences. There is more important work to do.

Discernment. Discpline. Pattern recognition. The people around me who are getting it together are the ones with a systematic mind training practice. Something dispassionate and daily that establishes a baseline of stability. Yoga doesn’t always do that. Sometimes it’s just dissociation and entertainment. But again, there is more important work to do.

Yoga’s Not Property • 12 May 2017


I’m on the Indiana dune shores of Lake Michigan, east of Chicago and south of the especially-white-supremacist zone of Michigan state. Three days alone to read and write and vision, between walks in the forest. There’s a lot of reality to catch up on: world events the past month, emails from anyone who’s not a student, life-plans for anything beyond the monastic day-to-day of carrying a Mysore program. A reading retreat rather than an inner-contemplative retreat.

Indiana explains some things. This woodsy airbnb sits on the grounds of a radiant green nature preserve, walking distance to views of the Michigan City nuclear reactor on the shore. A million frogs are mating; their lewd evening loudness is a different kind of quiet. The people who live here grow vegetables together and practice cooperative governance. Their buildings are minimalist and sustainable: mid-century modern meets doomsday prepper. Sadly, I like that. Surrounding the preserve is the heaviest, rustiest, most depressed and racist post-industrial America I’ve found. Everything is decayed and for sale. Billboards dominate the ghost-landscape and are written for second-grade literacy. Land of Pence; land where the political lie of re-industrialization means everything. The lady at the vegetable market said “why did you come here?” Sometimes I imagine I understand this country through strong ties to poor rural Montana crossed with a lot of time agitating or studying history in west coast cities… but there’s such dramatic socio-economic change going down that I feel I don’t understand this country’s trajectory at all. We are destroying the land, and our own minds, in ways it is so hard to make conscious. I intend to try.


About the monasticism of stewarding a shala. It’s like this: very long mornings in the Mysore room, the peaceful administrative hours, cooking at home, sitting practice, email, and evenings walks in the woods behind my house. If the job description is just to support one’s students, then I guess it’s right that slowly my capacity to show up for others is increasing. From four relationships in the first year, to three times that in the second, and so on up to a limit. The quality of my show-up is determined by the quality of my mind. Like on formal meditation retreat, during the teaching week, there is an incredibly nourishing rhythm to the days; the radiant, slightly tired, super-embodied, energetically hyper-sensory vibes around all of this activity mean that things go a little dim in my pre-frontal cortex. Things the monasticized life does not include: TV, film, push notifications, social media feeds, dinner, eating weird, public gatherings, running errands, keeping up closely with friends. These things are nice at times, but they just don’t fit in the teaching week.

Everyone sees that digital connectivity is fragmenting our minds and making relationships shallow, but I also think that the social-entertainment industry meets (to excess) a human need that’s beautiful: our need to hear and tell stories. Some of this is degrading, sure. Political life reduced to cock fights; channeling of our drive for transformation into violent team sports; everything related to celebrity, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong: story-less-ness is the main thing many of us are discovering in yoga. Emptiness. How to drop the narrative, and the problem-fixing, and the explaining, and the compulsive search for something to happen. But also, in the very long run, practitioners are on some sort of a path. Sadhana is not static. Sadhana changes you. Usually this makes for a few big stories to share – stories that express the growth of consciousness, and that do give energy to others.

Twice this month someone said this: You must write a book of the stories of people who come to this place. It wasn’t always like this, but yes, the last couple years the shala has felt like a dense, deep narrative feed. Epic realization and transformation all over the place. Apparently, a long-run Mysore practice might also anchor personal revelation, prophecy, acts of courage, self-mastery, extreme synchronicity, demon-hunting, dragon-slaying, rapture, confession, realization, completion. The practice changes minds, changes bodies, clarifies realities. I am buffeted now by these storylines playing out for the people I see every day. I hear TV is good now, but this probably beats TV.

It’s like I get to stand off to the side of the stage with a finger holding up the background where a lifeworld plays out. Events, ripples in consciousness, rise and fall. They must, because we’re humans. This involves suffering, but from a certain standpoint it is still extremely beautiful.

The people we trust with our privacy are the ones who really listen closely, but don’t hang on to a detail. The trust-worthy know that next year you will have a different mind, and they won’t hold on to anything but compassion for your future past selves. So there will be no notes, no books, no stories at all outside the cone of silence that is this Mysore room. My role is to witness with soft eyes and then forget. Poof. And then, without disrupting the stability the work requires, to find some space-time for my own rising and falling action. Because no human really stands outside narrative. Otherwise we’re dead.

The time in monastic/teaching mode has gradually taught me to live a state of flow. Literally. A long-term, deliberately constructed, disciplined life-practice eventually normalizes states of deeply concentrated, non-fragmented activity. Somehow this embodied, embedded version of a “newsfeed” has the opposite effect of my fragmenting twitter feed. It is deepening the experience of being in a stream of consciousness.


After two days here in the woods, I’ve slogged down to emails from from late April, raising the question of who is the rightful heir to the yoga method I practice. Sounds like there were some good internet debates about this.

Ok. Who is the rightful heir. Rightful. Heir.

Rightful heir is the language of primogeniture and legitimacy.

Primogeniture is the medieval M.O. of property.

Property is the machine of kingdom, and class, and caste, and capitalism. Where there is a property claim, often there is violence or the threat of it.*

This question – who is the yoga’s rightful heir – is serious, but not because of the answer. It’s serious because the question itself solidifies the dominant assumption that yoga is property. Most conversation and activity around yoga now is already turning yoga into a commodity, and therefore into property. This brings on important questions about ownership, transmission, appropriation and legitimacy. This extreme question – who is the yoga’s rightful heir – throws light on to all of that. Excellent.

Fast response: Yoga’s not property.

What is the “yoga” that this question refers to? Hmmm. Thinking this over highlights for me that, for now, working definitions of “yoga” fall in to three big bins.

1. Yoga is something that is yours, or part of a personal identity. It’s property.

2. Yoga is something you do. It’s practice.

3. Yoga is something that happens to you. Yoga is a state of consciousness.

This is not to say that yoga’s a “floating signifier,” (a term coined 57 years ago to show how the meaning of symbols changes constantly, based on the power of those using them; I’ll shut that rabbit hole because what happens down there often obscures exactly that – how power is used – by focusing on the diverse, un-pin-downable nature of meaning). What I’m saying is descriptive. This is meant to clarify assumptions, and consequences, of the ways we use ideas. So, YOGA has three extremely different meanings among people I interact with. And there are three worlds that surround each meaning.

Details on Yoga1, yoga = property. This yoga is a noun. It can be inherited. Claimed. Stolen. Mis-represented. Rescued. Authority is key in this life-world because it legitimates property claims. A lot of the activity in this zone involves performances of authority and legitimacy, and rituals that solidify one’s identity as a member of the property-holding group. The people who own more of this yoga are more special. This is measured, as in all of capitalism, by counting. Material mind commodifies, and then it accumulates. Asanas, students, money, followers, friends, anything you can boil down to a hash mark.

Yoga1 has won. This definition dominates all discourse on yoga. It just won the whole 21st century. Yoga1 created the yoga industry. Yoga1 is defended by a nasty invisible army (the imperative of increasing profits) and it is now so successful that it’s hard to even see anything else.**

I guess the hazards of the yoga-is-property mindset are obvious. There are a few notes in the typology graph. The easiest way for me to think about this is to observe the long-term effect of commodification on planet Earth. The key activities here are property claims, separation from nature, resource extraction, isolation of certain elemental qualities into quantites and their sale as commodities. There is a loss of beauty and natural intelligence. Property is the one concept that drives the capitalist mindset. It drives the colonizing mindset.

In the typology I included benefits and hazards of all three definitions, and want to note that Yoga1 is brilliant in a way. Accepting yoga-as-property enables those originally oppressed by that definition to push back against it. Strongly. This is keen co-optation, not so different from women who love women taking back the language of “dyke” and filling it with personal power. Dyke is a kettle bell, dyke is a cannon ball; similarly “yoga” as intellectual property, “yoga” as patrimony, has that kind of weight. A Yoga1 backhand gets colonialism where it lives. Like this: “No yoga is not yours. It’s ours. You stole it and in so doing you propertified it to make yourselves rich, and now we will rightfully claim our property.” Nice! This is a smart way to resist, and when property is being used to accumulate massive amounts of power/wealth for a few, and oppress anyone else, it’s the best strategy.

But Yoga1 also keeps a mind in a defended, tightly bounded place. If yoga is property, most people I connect with, well, we are not super involved in said yoga. Because the property mindset isn’t epistemically generous unless you’re fascinated by marketing. It does not breed much learning for people who know the next two yogas. This conceptual poverty is a peaceful means for a worldview to die. Not because it gets defeated. But because it gets boring. May we all be increasingly bored by the bling. OM.

Which leads on, into the dance of Yoga2 and Yoga3. Oh god, this is where the yoga lives. Or lived. Before Yoga1 dragged us off the dancefloor. Yoga1 is exactly that, a drag.

Quickly on the Yoga2 (practice), and the Yoga3 (transcendence).

Yoga2 is a verb. It is what you repeatedly do. But it’s not anything you do – please let’s not go down the side track of on how folding laundry occasionally is “practice,” or sitting on a meditation cushion thinking about other people is “practice,” or drinking beer consciously is “practice.” No; well-theorized and grounded practice – praxis – which you systematically show up for cannot die these deaths of a thousand qualifications. Yoga2 is a whole living library of techniques that address human imbalance, and delusion, and self-congratulation, and proceed to heal and clarify the mind and body. This is a big topic. My life-work is about it. This blog is about it. Yoga2 is above all consistent, dispassionate, equanimous. However, if practice is all yoga is, ever, it’s a long, dark night of routine.

Yoga3 is not a noun or a verb or any other part of speech. It’s a syllable, is all. Yoga as OM is nothing more or less than, um, OM. You can’t own unity consciousness. Can’t even practice it. Oneness happens. OM. There. Yoga3 sometimes asserts itself over all else and pretends nothing else matters. That’s just Shiva’s devotees being cheeky, and they don’t mean it. He knows, and we know, that OM, it comes and goes. And the thing is, if we’re even talking about pure empty awareness, it’s because oneness has gone off hiding, poised to re-infiltrate the spaces between the letters.

Yoga=practice and yoga=transcendence bring up a ton of good trouble. On one hand, yoga is what you repeatedly do! Dirga kala to the core; D(iscipline) to the D(edication) to the D(etermination) to the D(evotion). But no, on the other hand it’s easy to see that this emphasis on “works” is just a trip. Yoga isn’t the doing; it’s the light and the nothingness that shows through it. Yoga is only oneness. Stop talking already.

OHHhh!!! for godsakes this is so rich. Go ahead, make an argument that one of these two is primary. If you want to put more life in your practice, and drain more energy off the experience of Yoga as I-Me-Mine, go find the debates on sadhana versus sadhya. Live them out. Inhabit that space between abhyasa and vairagya, discipline and non-attachment, between works and grace. The epic narratives, the transformation arcs that go beyond the shallow stories, all of this experience cycles through the vibrating space between practice and pure consciousness.

You can’t wake up today and exult that yoga is only consciousness (!!!!!), only something that happens TO you from BEYOND you, if you didn’t wake up YESTERDAY with the glory of nonreactive rhythmic practice on your lips. And if you didn’t ALSO keep practicing, without attachment, right through the rapture. It is DOING that begets BEING, and being doing, on and on and on until some humans finally invented concepts like the dialectic and the lila pandava. These are maps of the space between action and consciousness, wherein all the true stories arise.

Process and destination, abhyasa and vairagya, consciousness and manifestation. All of this is the Yoga2 of practice and Yoga3 of OM. Practice without OM is a brittle old noodle. OM without practice is the water on the edge of a ripple, waiting for some reality already.

Put the two in relationship and you have electricity. Breath, emptiness, devotion, passion, mistakes, prana, sunshine, new moons, awkwardness, brilliance, newness, remembering, learning, discovery, LIFE. We’re actively forgetting this vitality. Distracted from the dance. We make yoga an identity ritual, a life style, a career, a body size, a legitimacy trip, a pair of pants. Dammit, this is just not alive. It’s just not interesting. Consciousness at play has no agenda except its own expansion.

To study the history of property is to see how it makes us dull and sad and selfish. So in response to the question of who owns this yoga, I guess I have to argue, as far as I honestly can, against the notion that yoga can be owned. The rightful heir is no one because yoga is not property. Its understanding “belongs” to those who actually practice, and who know well because of the emptiness that this action doesn’t make it theirs.