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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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

YOGA is

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.

Conscious Relationship • 14 April 2017

Hanuman, bathers

April full moon, I wake up to shapes. Phosphene geometry traced into the backs of my eyelids in hypnopompia, making the jump into the waking state of consciousness. Same as last year at this time, I go in the 5am dark to my desk, sketching out the dream-image on scrap paper.

It’s a faint chain of octagons, each one separated by quadruple morse code, dots in rows of 8.

Back in the dream, we’re in a sweaty Mysore room and the shapes are a language my assistants are using to communicate with each other while they silently teach. The shapes are their animal language, transmited mind to mind. Extra-sensory asanas. I don’t know what they mean. I’m just watching them teach –their bodies fully express the spirit of the practice. They communicate it through touch and movement to the others, and then hold the space for it to mature.

I stop by imaginary Mysore rooms most nights. Usually the practitioners of dream-body ashtanga are sea mammals. It’s adorable, yoga as a porpoise. Nobody has to fuss with foot-behind-the-head. The social nervous system is ultra-conscious, drawn together in self-intelligent pods and schools. We are fluid. And, being sea mammals, we are more evolved versions of ourselves. We communicate through song, and through pictures traced in the collective mind’s eye.

(The dream knowledge thing works like this. But if you want, here’s a quick & crude way in. When you fall asleep, think I remember my dreams. Set three alarms, one for X:00, one 3 minutes later, one 2 minutes after that. When the first alarm goes, shut it off, return to your last sleeping position, and carefully collect images in the butterfly net of your waking mind as it weaves itself together. This may be hard at first. It’s a skill.When the second alarm goes, note the images in a physical notebook. Go fast. Deveolop a shorthand and reconstruct the details if you want later, after you get the first catch down on the page. At the second alarm, it’s time to get on with real life. Note with awe, or humility, or some other edifying emotion, the mystery that is consciousness. This whole process takes 5 minutes and leaves your mind extremely clear. It’s not about analyzing dream content, but about developing the kind of mind that (1) can look at itself with curiosity, and (2) can jump easily between states of consciousness. I find this efficient and mystical, and an intriguing way to wake up.)

When the chair of the Sociology Department was trying to lure me to Ann Arbor from LA, he told a story of the dream springs of the Midwest. This town has been frozen and dark for five months, then one day there’s a break in the cloud-blanket that’s been stretched between Lakes Michigan and Huron all this time. Thousands of over-productive depressed people see the sun. Farmer’s markets exuberate. Life explodes, he said, from the earth with the force of five months of repression. It’s true.

The first full moon every April, there’s a night-time luminary festival downtown. Main Street outside the shala fills up with dancers and drummers and people carrying glowing sea creatures on sticks. Angel fish, octopus, shrimp. Jellyfish make great light sculptures. The ocean theme is a natural, I guess; LEDs + vellum looks pretty well bioluminescent.

The luminary party this year was adorable, but not innocent. The dream world here remains beautiful in darkening times, and there is a kind of activist commitment to bringing it forth.

Once we get to April, Sunday mornings become a little wondrous. I don’t teach until 8, so sleep late and go to the shala at 6. It’s still as I walk in with flowers from the farmers market. There will be led class in a couple hours in the big back room, so I start practice alone in the small front room facing Main Street, facing east. I sing and chant and burn things, then take samastithi.

Directly beyond my thumbs are the superhero sigils at the comic book store across the street. They’ve had the batsignal lit for months. Vande gurunam. Two buildings to the north, our state’s insane governor – the one who let Flint’s water be poisoned and yet somehow remains in office –apparently sleeps in his penthouse. Samsara halahala. It’s around freezing on the other side of our leaky Civil War era windows, so I dress for spring skiing. The silk baselayer I wore on the slopes in 90s is perfect for gentle Indermediate Series at 55 degrees. Pranamami Patanjalim.

There’s sunlight in the east by the end of the surya namaskara, and by kapo I have company. It doesn’t work to ask someone in the fourth ashram of life to wait until 8am to practice. Ashtangis in the 60-80 age range are wired well before sunrise, so on Sunday mornings a little crew assembles. Me plus the sweetest hearts in the shala.

My experience with these folks is that they are extremely grateful about having a body, and extremely interested in the present moment. These are sanctuary-type emotions powerful enough to pack our small room with awe and wonderment.

So that’s how the weeks start now on Main Street – superheroes, Jedi septugenarians and the sleeping demon governor. Practicing like that during Sunday sunrise is doing this weird thing where it takes my relationships to time and to the body and pervades them with peace.

………………………………………….

About dreams, there’s one that keeps coming through, since January when a dear friend first took me to the Gosai Ghats, on Karnataka’s River Cauvery.

This is real: I was born in a 100-year-old ranch house on the edge of a creek in Montana. In a grove of cottonwood trees so large that by now half of them have cracked and fallen in the changed climate’s wet snow. The house is a low stucco cube with terra cotta roof tiles, and a root cellar out back from before there was electricity. What was my little bedroom fills the southwest corner, and has window seat overlooking over a steep green slope down to the creek. That seat, barely heated by a fireplace in the next room, is where I learned to read, and to build pillow forts.

In the dream, my brother and parents and I move back to the ranch house. It’s a museum of curious objects, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Everything’s a supposed heirloom, the leavings of our lineages within the shared psyche of the family.

Suddenly there is a basement. The house has a whole new underground where my brother and I live. His room opens on to the Cauvery River, with a broad view over a delta filled with waxy green plants. It flows north. Everything glows. Clusters of floating plants approach us and keep flowing out of view, like this.

I find my room. It is the same, but the window seat is a veranda, and the creek is the Cauvery. There is a stairwell going up. The light is golden and so warm. My parents are distant voices upstairs, moving heirlooms around. I call up to say there is not room to bring in more mementos. The house is full. My parents say no, you are mistaken. There is space. There is an increasing amount of space. In the dream, they’re right.

My mind comes out really clear on nights I dream of the house. Whatever else it may be, the house is a restorative pocket in consciousness. When I am roaming around at night and want to find it, I look around for a stream of warm light.

…………………………….

I left the shala a little early a few Thursdays back, to go to New York. My brother had artwork in a show there, so it was a few days in an alternate world I’ve contacted through him for 20 years. Michigan is the deep heart of red America, but you can finish work on Main Street a bit before 9am, fly out of DTW, and be in Manhattan no problem for lunch. I walked up to the 10:01 as they were closing doors. Someone at the desk was trying to get on standby. She had big silver hair and a big Brooklyn accent, and a joke for me about us boarding late.

Ohhh shit. Just me and the chair of my dissertation committee. A thrilling personality, brilliant and productive as hell; a radical historian of the working class, and my devoted advocate. I had not seen her since 2009 in LA. After that, I went another way without a meaningful explanation. In academia, it’s not great when one you’ve championed leaves the scene.

She was stunned to see me, then made a crack about the yoga industry. Touche’. Then we were in our seats, before I had time to say anything. Oh well. It’s not for me to defend my choices. Her view is right in its way, and if she thinks I set aside questions of social justice to buy in to an industry that gets energy from social inequality, in this case it’s not my business. I thought over my relationship with her and the rest of my committee for an hour, noticing what it shows me to see through their eyes. Then we were on the runway at LaGuardia next to the president’s airplane. Duhn-duhn.

And then at the end of the terminal there she is, waiting for me, asking if we can travel into the city together. I’m overjoyed by the gift of 45 minutes in a cab together, but she turns it in to a roving, 2.5-hour, New York party. “Let’s take public transit.” She escorts me to the East Village, on a super-crowded bus, a walk through the snow, and a few links on the subway. So much movement and emotion and eye contact is shared. So much has happened in her life in 7 years. Our views and understandings of each other are remade, now that we are two humans not the least bit entangled in each other’s decisions. We cover so much ground.

I savor the togetherness without trying to push back on that that original comment about the yoga industry. But at the end, there is this gift. She kisses me and says she’s happy to see me happy, and so glad that I am doing good work. Woah. What she taught me, the time we had and the advocacy and the knowledge, they were not for nothing. A massive open loop in my psyche closes, and energy begins to circulate there. Mutual recognition happens, and I experience this as one of the greatest blessings of my life.

…………………..………………..

I want to get up the nerve to write about conscious relationship. About the different forms of student-teacher relationship I’ve experienced through yoga. About how meditation is when you can stay conscious as you see the personality arising. About the idealization of the others – perfect woman, perfect man, perfect teacher, perfect mate – and how we have to give that up for ultimate prize of friendship. About Husserl and Buber before the War, and how they gave western minds ways to see through projection.

And especially about the relationship to self and other that comes up in the act of being a student. For me, this has the most intensive year of being-a-student, in Mysore and everywhere else. There is so much revealing itself about my personal and human programming. A desire to be recognized. A desire to have something special with a teacher. A desire to have epiphanies with teachers who I want to believe can read souls and orchestrate personalized learning experiences. And what it takes to not be led around by these desires, to let things be spacious. To deconstruct thoughts, instead of try to gratify them. To take responsibility for my own awareness. There’s more here for another time.

For now, just this. There’s a flip I can do to make relationship conscious for my own purposes. It’s to be a student, instead of being right. If I want to get something from another, or get them to see something, then my energy isn’t so much on learning. Any moment someone goes in to obvious projection, I get to flip or not. Do I push back on that, or do I stop and just study what that does to me inside? If the projection is overly positive, I’ll probably push back. If the projection is everyday negative stuff, maybe it’ll sort itself out through relationship that has no agenda. And if the projection is of the really warped kind, it’s best not to engage with it anyway. So that’s two out of three reasons to stop and flip.

When I’m awake enough to just watch an impulse towards being right, instead of acting on it, that is when I get surprised. It’s when experience can un-pattern itself and get weird in a good way.

Awkward, Cwoissants • 11 March 2017

Ganesh in plastic

It’s a time of contradiction. I’d say paradox, but paradox is cute.

Watching America from India this winter was like seeing a glacier calve on the internet: rumbles in a little box on a screen, representing a centuries-old formation melting all at once into the sea. The bureaucratic shock-and-awe swallowed up my words.

This week it was a bumpy transition from India to Michigan. An emotional goodbye to Mysore, with uncertainty about when or how the Ashtanga scene there will resurge. Two long haul flights, 12 hours’ rest at home, then back in to teaching and running a yoga school. My bones are still glowing, but the flesh is in pain. My emotions are high, but the mind’s a little scrambled.

The internal weather system was like this. It’s the end of the hardest practice trip I’ve ever made, and by far the most peaceful and loving. Some ego-programming has been brought to light, and I’m not the same person I was. I’m less hopeful; more just generally in love. Less buoyant; way more michievious. More accepting; but super- impatient with mediocrity. I’m filled with love for my friends, coursing in profane delight about indomitable spirits and the forces of nature, trying to tap these strong emotions down into sattva. Unusual phenomena, all of that.

So, America. It looks worse up close: what it looks like is the massive flatbed trailer trolling the university campus, covered in anti-immigrant, anti-woman signs and possibly guns and knives (there are sharp objects and streamers, anyway) while blasting Born in the USA. Yet somehow America feels better than it did from India – it feels like a lot of people being honest and brave and caring for each other. Mining trauma for purpose and verve. It’s fascinating. America 2017 is one epic backdrop. One would have to be so white to deny its immediate evil. And one would have to be ignorant of history to pretend it’s all gonna be ok.

Back in Mysore, the shala is also epic in its way. Take 300 intense/disciplined people from around the world. Teach them the same rarified movements, and the same half-whispered legends. Put them together in a pressure cooker. Doing the same actions, in the same place, with the same people every day. It’s a toss up: one either (a) turns into an asana-bot, bent on whatever arbitrary objects signify status in this scene (attention, postures, start time)…. or (b) one does some yoga. Status-acquisition and learning yoga are competing motives.

In Mysore, weirdly potent learning happens when life gets mixed up in the method. Like this. My teacher stops class to make an example of someone’s bad attitude. Or that person you used to get along great with shows up, but now for some reason he makes you self-conscious and not in a good way. Or some uncanny coincidence befalls you, as they tend to do inside a vortex, and suddenly you understand it as an omen. Or old memories or emotions you haven’t had time for surface with a vengeance, and you’ve got no choice but to ride them out. This is studying the self to forget the self. Studying the old story to forget that story.

It’s awkward. Awkwardness being the ricochet of self-wareness within the boundaries of a self. It leaves an impression. A dear friend says, “My practice is between me, my teachers, and god.” I feel the same, though now my practice is between those parties plus my students. And apart from just breathing around them, one way to get my expreience across is through these capsules of memory. Through the stories that practice brings up.

It’s hazardous. But I think we can learn how to make meaning deliberately rather than habitually. It takes originality, strong values, and a strong mind. During retreat, we get repetition and random chance and relationship and and synchronicity; and with these raw materials some start figuring how to construct symbolic universes and spiritual pathways. Then we go home, and we either merge back into a mainstream that says build yourself up, consume, and act normal, or we do the creative work required to live by a more interesting code. We decide to work for something other than fame and power and highs and money. We tell better stories. We create culture.

On practice retreat, my teacher uses my awkwardness (as defined above) a lot. It’s systematic and brilliant. I’m left with so many memory-capsules I could turn in to stories if I wanted. And with these, privately, carefully, I stitch together a learning process that will hold me stable in this insane world.

Nihilism is thrumming in the background here in America. Out of that you get exploitation, relationships in which it’s ok to use people, work based on short-term gain. Intellectual subtlety is decreasing; crappy aesthetic taste is increasing. Popular culture tastes like carrier oil for elite domination, white supremacy, and patriarchy.

So it’s gonna help to be able to make meaning on scorched earth. Construct symbolic universes that can stand over that which is stupid and flat. With subtlety, secret kindness, and the sort of truth that has nothing to prove. Because my God more now than even we need a counter-culture. I don’t know who better to talk to about this than semi-nomadic yoga people who eat mostly seeds and chant to Patanjali.

I’m tempted to drink on the weekends. I’m tempted to sit with my neighbors and smoke my face off in the afternoons. That’s the background nihilism getting into me. What practice gives, in addition to the knowledge of how to make meaning out of nothing, is access to the other altered states – those that bring perspective. Sitting practice. Ironic prayer to no one and everyone. Time in the forest. Reading history. Singing. Breath. These are a different direction of relief – consolation through perceiving more of the present moment, not less.

Madness is present. If I stop being nihilistic, then the madness is fascinating. How many people have you witnessed in psychotic break already this year? How much collective confusion has clouded meetings and organizations? Meantime the thoughts of a super-concentrated mind are nothing less than spells. For the people with a practice, the intentions and motivations we cast out will help determine the world. I’m not joking about hacking one’s way to a higher mental clarity. This feels more than ever like the time to guard the awareness, and to nourish it like mothers, because there are ways in which awareness is all we’ve got.

……………………………………

Another contradiction. What I learn through practice is so specific. But also impersonal. The habit patterns of the mind, the tricks it plays, the longings it rests in.

There is this desire to be understood. We want so badly to be with another consciousness that GETS IT. And yeah, sometimes there are moments when recognition arises. Sometimes there are people you can fully behold, and there are moments that you are truly beheld.

And sometimes the perception of that is just the illusion we create out of our longing. There’s a lot of this in the student-teacher relationship, and in the relationship to spiritual leaders and politicians. This longing for the perfect parent.

So with the yoga, it’s great to leave students alone if they’re going deep inside themselves. To back off instead of reminding them you’re there. Sometimes practice has to be impersonal. Teacher’s pet energy comes on in us so easily – that longing for the special connection. I studied it in myself but had to teach for a couple of years before I could see that sometimes I still get played. Students are wonderful, but it’s not helpful to let things become so personal.

One place I’ve learned to catch it: when we treat assistants differently from the big kahuna. Sorry, monkey. Everyone’s the Buddha, everyone’s No One, everyone’s the Christ.

I’ve also learned to scan for the “specialness” vibe in groups. Charisma is a property of a crowd, not of individuals (Max Weber first said this). Strange things happen when people gather before a stage. People who speak to groups know this – a few obsessives in a crowd, trying to make a special-secret connection with the speaker, will affect the whole room. This is where academic divas come from, and also celebrity yoga teachers. Teacher’s pet energy is “you see my soul,” or maybe “I’m your special monkey.” No. Everyone is a special monkey. There are no special monkeys.

This, at least, is something subtle for the mind to turn over. The impersonal intimacy of relationship. The impersonal awkwardness of practice.

…………………………..

More than once here at home, a student has joked that they’d like to practice with a bag over their head, to cut the self-obsessive delusions that the practice was building up. (This request delights me, but I won’t let it charm.) Charlie Brown style.

Ok, yes, but only if your bag is not special. Only if there is a pile of bags at the door. Touch the threshold, bag yourself, touch the threshhold again when you leave, and bin the bag.

Only problem is, sweaty paper sticks to your face when you’re heavy-breathing. (Tried.) How about if we do it like this. Every one gets the same costume. A body. Without a bag. Without a bag for now.

But that’s a bag too. Sometimes you just have to show up and be a self in some life postures. The awkwardness of being in the world is great for those of us who think we can do everything in an invisibility cape.

The funny thing is, yeah, when we joke about practicing in paper bags we definitely understand each other. Life, death, breath, eyes, energy, love, adoration, gratitude, longing, laughter, yes. That’s it. We all get it. That’s having a self. It’s just the madness that doesn’t understand.

…………………………..

I grew up on a ranch in a rural red state, and drove in to a nearby city to attend high school. At school, there was one French class, an elective, attended by kids who could perceive and appreciate certain things I could not. “That high culture is not for me,” I thought wrongly, along with just about everyone else.

Each summer the French students had an opportunity to go on a group trip to Europe. While the rest of us stayed home and drove combine for the summer, or worked construction, or babysat. I clerked at the video store, and gardened rhubarb and zucchini.

The French kids would come back from Europe obsessed with cwoisswants. They didn’t know, like the rest of us, how great it is to drive an F350 on Montana back roads, to skip school and ski the headwalls of Beartooth Pass for free, ride 4-wheelers through pastures after a thunderstorm. Maybe cwoisswants are what you long for in Montana when you don’t have a taste of your place’s own wildness and luxury.

Or maybe I need to step away from the masala dosa. Step awaaaay from the story – the parts of the zeitgeist that are killing us. Step outside of the self who is overwhelmed by this new reality. There is a slight reconfiguration of my being in this world, and a trans-valuation of my values. In these times how could it be otherwise?

We live in the most interesting times. All the more reason to make them interesting on our own terms.

Love in War Time • 7 February 2017

IMG_6062

Here in Mysore, the two big god-towers are covered in scaffolding. Deconstruction time. Chamundeshwari Temple on the hill, and Philomena’s Cathedral in the middle of Muslim town: you can linger on the grounds outside each, but the inner sancta are covered in dust. The gothic awe you’re supposed to feel as you lift your head and release the soft palate, gazing up at the spires, has been replaced by a neo-noir vision: caged churches rising out of human ruckus.

From halfway up the Chamundi Hill stairway you can stop and look down on Philomela’s in the distance, a pile of hazy hash tags out there on the valley floor. I tend to climb the Hill on rest days with friends, and go to Cathedral alone on hot weekday afternoons. Philomela’s catacombs are cool and evil. The walls are etched in thousands of names, European names, a record of violence and colonial memory. Big donors, I suppose. I dig my fingers into the grooves of the familiar surnames, re-archiving some of their black grout-dust under my nails. How do you get here from the teachings of Jesus? At the lowest point of the catacombs, there is a Rube Goldberg situation where you can roll rupees down a ramp, through a fence and under a Philomela mannequin in to some kind of secret bank below. I usually send Philomela a fiver.

On the new moon I climb Chamundi with a friend who is 13 years old. At the top we circumnavigate the scaffolded temple. Middle-aged men in joggers do push-ups behind the building, and a bull chews plastic in a pile of trash. There’s a rikshaw with one of the new Hanuman decals, a menacing orange half-face in an oval. She says he looks like a demon.

I agree and mention the super-demon Ravana. Hanuman setting his tail aflame and swinging it through Lanka like numbchucks, burning the demon city to ground and springing sex-trafficked Sita out of captivity. One of us free-associates from there to Jesus in the temple, his divine rage at the money-changers. Then we jump back to Hanuman’s clarity (Ram doesn’t know himself as a god, but his buddy Hanuman can spot the play of Vishnu on contact). Then we note the awkward moments in Hanuman’s devotion. Monkeys do funny things.

The idea of the divine having many faces would have freaked me out at 13. But the planet is growing smaller and time is growing shorter. Those facing superdemons need all the resources we can muster, and god knows Hanuman is one. On the drive home from the Hill, I sing his song in Hindi. Like any poem with power, the Chalisa is a spell, and this trip I’m learning its forty verses by transmission over forty days. That’s also the duration of Jesus’ test in the desert (and thus of Lent), Moses’ on the mountain, and of kundalini repatterning rituals. Forty days seems to be is a base metric in philosophical time, maybe because that’s the time it takes a nervous system to burn out a nasty samskara, or to build a new one.

In other words, for better and for worse, 40 days is the duration of normalization. It is in itself a spell. We must be so careful about that now.

……………………..

A few winters back, I returned home from Mysore with a weird new ability to say the word anus. Anus. Big toe. Shoulder. Ear. Anus. A hidden linguistic-associational puzzle piece recovered.

Now I’m recovering an ability to name delusion. To name evil. We are facing serious sub-cultural taboos and blocks here. (Consider the whole “see no evil” trip, which is a great insight for a different epoch.) I will return home after 40 days and then some less shy about naming psychopathy, and seeing ecocide for what it is. This rests, for me, in a practical everyday commitment to feeling intimately the delusion, and the capacity for going to the dark side, within myself. Feeling it, and not acting from it.

The sweet side of this is resting in the heart motives and letting them cultivate themselves. Adoration, gratitude, compassion, courage. That’s my shortlist-of-the-spirit anyway. Simple, not simple.

Svoboda says America is now “Rahu world” – the nation such as it is has entered into an epoch (dasha) of special delusion – the kind in which ideas are detached from bodies. Hate and lies are empowered. So, those who get energy from hate and lies rise up. It is extremely easy now to be deceived. Time gets scrambled. And, in these ethers there is also room for rapid growth for those who are cultivating the mental clarity and emotional honesty to work with delusion directly. Viveka – the ability to cut through delusion – becomes the central skill.

For years I studied the history of epic social change, wondering all along about human love in times of Big Crazy. What forgotten beautiful connections have pairs and small groups lived out while their societies upheaved around them? Persecution, financial crisis, plague, extreme weather must always have contained within them humans’ secret devotion, heroic risks, epic sacrifice, character-defining courage. When times change, stuffy social norms drop away. Good people stop investing energy in self-promoting agendas. Connection and creation accelerate.

Maybe it’s like what happens when you make your own death a contemplation: love and joy and meaning amplify. You’re so much more alive in every moment. Keeping endings close to mind, if it’s done in just the right way, can be the most edifying and beautifying force for life.

Quieter than the crazy fear and anger, I suspect that all along and everywhere the heart motives have set a secret tone when lies and violence have appeared to surge. Adoration, gratitude, compassion, courage. No wonder so many people are crying at random. Let’s not say we are mourning. Let’s see that hearts are on the move.

……………………….

I leave America at New Year’s, as that country enters the Upside-down. All the demons crossing over from the dark side, showing themselves, going in for their kills. Our planet is so small – 35 hours of travel and I’m on exactly the other side. There is usually much psychic distance between India and Michigan, but not now. All poles are present; all developments are happening now; everything counts to me as real. I do what I can with the limited mind I’ve got, and with the years of preparation the yoga cave has given it. All our caves – these have been perfect staging grounds for what could be a bumpy ride.

Halfway to India, there is freezing fog at Charles de Gaulle. The pilot keeps explaining the weird weather as we roll along the tarmac on the 5:25 arrival from Detroit. The ground next to the runway looks like stalactites under billows of dry ice. Why is there no sunrise? Why does the ground have teeth? He says it’s just the freezing fog.

For a decade, the last day of the year has usually begun here on a plane. Seeing first light over Paris as we land. And then, another long-haul and 4 French films later, I’m fast-forwarded into the next day’s sunrise on the Mysore ring road. First light hits just as we drive under the aqueducts. By this point I’m always euphoric. I’ve consumed nothing in 2 days but Emergen-C and two quaffs of jet fuel, and now I’m back inside this city I love.

My brother nicks my old ipod each Christmas, curating sound for the new January. Offering my consciousness a medium in which to temper new experiences, and to deposit them deep in my tissues. Soundtrack : zeitgeist :: ghee : spice. I let him choose the annual mood, as long as he always leaves the Jayashree and the Jack White. Usually he offers a swath of new electronica, though one especially good year the soundtrack was Middle Eastern hip hop. Another year, it was just a funny-brutal Bollywood/Hans Zimmer shuffle. But those times are done. The spirit of this trip is something else entirely.

This year, I’m looping Arca’s Perdida when we reach the Mysore aqueduct. My airplane-addled mind invents original lyrics. This life is not forever. This scene is not forever. I will remember this light on the day that I die.

It’s true. There is no more waiting to see what will happen. Climate change is here. Economic change is here. War is here. Evil – not that evil is so shocking – evil is here. But also, peace backgrounds almost every moment if I’m awake for it.

Thirty-eight days later, that’s today, I’ve logged many many new hours of cranial-sacral therapy practice. Dwelling in this work is a gorgeous way of living out my evenings in this place, when the light is gold and everyday sounds take on the quality of a movie set. Like they’ve all been assembled for effect. Maybe later, words will surface around what this season of the cranial practice has taught me. For now there’s just a weird lot of stillness. There is something extremely subversive about the stillness…

By stillness I don’t mean the moments when the evening light, or a blank spot in the mind, presents itself just right and generates a nice aporia. Rather, this stillness is a marked physiological-perceptual moment when the constant tiny movement of the spine just. Stops.

This is potent as hell. Holding the paradox of human violence and absolute peace, both being the case, neither having monopoly on my mind. Mysore mornings and evenings, the adoration of them, are written in to me now. When I die, I will re-experience their numinous nectar-memory as the light leaves my cells.

This timeplace will be my arca perdida. One among many.

It is so tender.

Resilience • 3 January 2017

Ganesha, Darth Buddha, Whiskey, White Rose

Mircea Eliade called his book Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. In other words: Samsara, I got this. He was the first westerner to do serious scholarship on Tantra and Hatha Yoga and, surprisingly, Immortality and Freedom still reads as fairly sensitive respectful writing, able to half-transmit ideas across the gap from Indian to Western and ways-of-knowing. Here is Eliade’s one big idea at the end of all that work: yoga is technology that enables people to tolerate living in history. Yogis live in the world and in time, without being totally defined and defeated by those two conditions.

When I first read it I thought he was confusing yoga with Heidegger, but now I don’t know. The ten years since actually have been an exercise in “being in time” through yoga. Getting as clear as possible about what our collective historical moment really is, and thus taking action in this particular time, in this particular body.

Allright already, Samsara. I see there is no cave to escape to, no alternate universe, no next planet to colonize, no altered state of consciousness that makes this moment go poof. This, right here. This is the kind of freedom we get.

Freedom, if you can call it that (and Patanjali would not), arises from aliveness in time. The new year is not going to make climate change and racism go away. But some of us care about all that is vulnerable. If so, more strength and more love and more clarity will be required. Spiritual bypassing is a way out of this historical moment, but that ain’t yoga. Yoga is being and acting with consciousness in the time that we have.

Dark things are going down on this particular planet, and for now we are in it together. My heart melts when I contemplate the self-destructive power of my species. Petty disagreements and the need to be right fall away. I am not right. My whole species and I are wrong. Clarity on this feels like the way of love.

Alternatively, there is the way of domination. Here in Mysore, even though I’m not on instagram and miss 99% of my twitter and FB feeds, I feel in our human collective a strong pull to leadership that reproduces the zeitgeist. What does leadership look like in 2017? Collect followers and dominate their attention. Place yourself at the center. Shrug off accountability. Rule the internet. Why? Because leadership is not service in 2017; it is the position from which you suck another’s milkshake. Authoritarianism has a yantra – it is the shape of the Matrix. The power is at the parasitic center; everyone else gives it their own life force in the form of consciousness/attention. This is rulership, which is the opposite of energetic transmission. No problem. Yoga is full of tools to systematically train ourselves out of the inherent human weakness that makes us want to give our power away.

It’s so clear, now, that the many of us who teach have a responsibility to empower students. There must be a hundred ways to do so. Here are three…

(1) Ask them to learn lie detection, to use their brilliant bodies to sound out the deceptions coming their way. This is a little bit of freedom.

(2) Seek accountability in a subculture that says all that people on a growth-path need is praise. See if embodying the way of accountability doesn’t have an effect on those we work with. Might be radical.

(3) Suggest that we all learn to love privacy, to love spiritual practice that is for nobody but oneself, that has nothing to prove, that is more real for the fact that it is not advertised. Show by example that the most epic lives are the ones that never get documented. Really, let us all discover (or remember) the ways of being alive that are just too damn cool to need to be seen.

And therefore too cool to be archived by the NSA. Hi.

Here is where I’m focused in these times – on clarity, beauty, and care for others. I feel strongly that I must keep a line on the ecstasy of the everyday, or I will lose my feeling and energy for life-in-these-times. So my program for this year is one part beauty in everyday things, two parts love over fear, one part building a better bullshit filter.

What interests me is yoga as a tool for getting us through. But also, the I think that maybe we can get yoga through. Our practices could be just another casualty to a way of life that is ending. Or yoga may get stronger when it’s more punk. Because historically it’s been the shamanic outsiders who found their way to so-called “Immortality and Freedom.”

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It is 10 years since I started writing in this space. My academic advisers complained that my papers were suspiciously well written (science should not rhyme), so my brother made a blog to channel my frustration with that system. Blogging stopped being a thing, and 5 years ago I began putting all my creative energy into teaching yoga, but this remained as a practice space to keep me in relationship with the written word. Publishing as accountability.

It is 7 years since I moved from Los Angeles to Michigan. We did a solstice gathering at the shala on the 21st, and that anniversary hit me hard. We have done some things together as a shala these 7 years. A year and a half ago, I started sharing about that process here, because I felt a paradigm shift was coming, though I didn’t understand how hard and how fast. The shala model that we evolved on the outskirts of America’s first broken metropolis (Detroit) is post-capitalist, post-celebrity, and pro-community. It is survivalist, in an extremely abundant and relaxed way. It is an ecstatically connected social nervous system. It is a source for safety and care with the capacity to nourish great strength in any sort of challenging time.

In sum, it is just a student-driven yoga school. It’s an organization designed for a future in which there are – thank the gods of creative destruction who are upon us – not so many yoga stores.

Immortality and Freedom? I don’t know about that. What I can articulate is “decouple yoga from capitalism” (a taste of freedom) and “use yoga as a centralizing force for intelligent life” (an experience of being part of something much bigger than oneself).

The chapters of the shala cookbook are as follows.

1. May 2015. The Yoga Bio.

2. August 2015. Safe Space.

3. October 2015. Notes to a Young Teacher

4. April 2016. Yoga + Alienation

5. June 2016. Deep Local

6. July 2016. Vetting Teachers

7. December 2016. A Sentient Collective
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Those are my trade secrets. I’d love for you to use whatever’s useful. The time to do so would be now.

And, now, I’m a little lost in this space.

Sometimes someone emails to say “please write about x.” That is exactly where the cookbook came from. I am not an initiator and never have been. I respond to the right kinds of invitation, and initiation. (That’s not unfeminist, it’s just one of the weird truths self-study has revealed about this self’s particulars.)

If you’ve been reading here a while and you have one of those “write about x” inclinations, please respond individually to the newsletter or say something in the comments. I am open to questions I can’t answer. And really to whatever unexpected idea arises from you who have some relationship with this particular – changing – voice.

Love, and thank you for forgiving my awkward moments over many years, and for enabling me to be a little useful at times. Bring on the New Year. X0v0

A Sentient Collective • 2 December 2016

solstice 2015

The start of September, I faced my students for the first time in two months. While I’d finished my own practice in a side room, the main space had filled silently, with all these people I’ve known for years. Touching the threshold my fingertips buzzed in contact with its tiny nails. I called us to attention with a body full of excitement.

There’s an invocation we say to begin. It gets the body’s hidden drums (pelvic floor, diaphragm, soft palate, falx cerebri) vibrating together. It’s a poem to summon a line of teachers from back in time, finally describing a wild jungle shaman with cosmic tools who purges the poison of conditioned existence. I had been away in India, chanting call-and-response, but back home we do it in unison. I’ll never be a guru and thus don’t lead the rites: I teach it to beginners, and then we as a group co-create each ritual new. But that first day in September, my system was in the rhythm of following my teacher. After the first line, I forgot what to do next and stood there, facing them, empty. Not noticing I’d fallen silent, the student body filled me in. Putting Patanjali in his place.

That is the collective becoming intelligent. A flit in time, easy to miss, easy to dismiss. But there are so many of these hints of collective sentience now. They’re tiny but not trivial, because it’s not just social connection that is arising – it is a kind of intelligence I want to affirm. It shows up not just as shared resonance and esoteric knowledge reproduction, but as aggregate selfless action, collective health care and food sharing and safety, and the lateral transmission of energy in the form of inspiration, hormones and technical know-how. This becomes a group that can radiate altered states (a meditation we call tristhana) to the new folks without my saying much on day one but “breathe like the room.”

My hands know the hormonal cycles of these bodies, the ways they generate focus and pheromones among each other. Young women driven by western culture to amenorrhea (this is a hidden epidemic) recover a lunar rhythm. Secret stewards organize mats, and feed parking meters, and leave mundane/beautiful offerings at the altar. People stay home when contagious, because the health of the group pre-empts the fix they get from collective practice. The currently eight pregnant people connect in hidden ways. Those who are better off in a material sense know when and how to give housing and food to those who need to close a gap.

I bring faith, technical and historical information, a bit of planning, and the right sort of predictability. They trust me to be strong for them if there’s a breach in safe space; some tell an old story about exactly what that looks like. There is also the matter of embodying, after semi-deprogramming from western mind, our lineage’s acutely peculiar relationship to time. (Ashtanga time is nonlinear but absolutely exact, mystical, hyper-intuitive, and dotted with retrograde cycles where you age in reverse and the tides of transmission turn and flow out to sea. Long story.) Beyond bringing them these things, six years in, I’m a center that does best to fall silent.

So this is not a teacher-centered collective. But here they are, offering astonishingly refined energy back to me. Go to minute 10:10.

Listen. There are crowds, and there are collectives. The crowd is not compassionate. The crowd is not smart. I’m a rural right-wing preacher’s kid from one of the poorest counties in the country, exiled and reconciled to her roots. I love where and what I’m from; it is humble heartbreak territory. And I won’t lie to you about the primal side of me. Of us all. No the crowd is not compassionate. And no it is not smart.

But the collective that can congeal anywhere, anytime. The collective that practices. The one that is designed well, and then freed to create itself. That collective may be compassionate, and that collective may be go far beyond smart.

This ain’t politics. It’s a matter of what kind of information can travel through a social nervous system. For now, care, compassion and radical creativity are not the default in a human complex system. In these times, you must be deliberate if you want them to come about.

And now we are here. Pure uncertainty. Don’t tell yourself you can ride out what’s coming on without a new paradigm. You’ll waste your strength trying to hold an old reality together. Every day each of us will be deciding. What to perpetuate, what to join. And what to generate.

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The last two years, I’ve tried to integrate the learning from my 20s into my work now as the director of a yoga school. In that past life, I studied cultural and economic history in a sort of salon, the Historical and Comparative section of the UCLA Sociology Department. Dear friends who shared those years remember them as our golden age, getting schooled hard in Marx by Maurice Zeitlin and the sources of social power by Michael Mann, learning to read a book a day. Our crew of of international intellectuals would debate for hours on my Santa Monica balcony at night, and then I’d get up and do corporate asana at Yogaworks Venice or Beverly Hills, practicing next to Tobey Macguire or David Duchovny (two of the few then-celebs whose sweat smelled good). I disowned all that because ashtanga was eventually just better. Better than golden ideas and sunshine and brilliant friends. Yoga subculture really is that good. (And yoga subculture is also potent; we can redirect what we’ve got to be far more awesome than we’re being now). I let that old life go to seed until last year, when I realized that yoga teachers would do a lot better by their students if we dropped the promotional capitalism frame that westerners take for granted, finding more fertile models in grassroots social movements and complex systems.

The writing on this topic has been called scholarly. (As an insult.) I’m so sorry to alienate anyone. Honestly I know how weird it can feel when a girl plays in the masculine domain of macro-economic, historical knowledge. I also get how it’s nasty to openly undress consumerism. But some say my attempt at integrating these two lives offers them new resources. That’s enough. And for what it’s worth, there’s a new cache of techniques below.

Timing matters. Before now, I couldn’t say this: in the arc of socio-economic history, financialization of the economy and devastation of the environment have for years been rotting capitalism and the nation state. Crisis of land and economies is cyclic. In the past, history has kicked up depressions and fascisms in response to paradigm-rot; but at other moments humans have generated communities of care, radical spirituality, and waves of ecstatic solidarity that leave western rich kid festival culture in the dust. I spent 1999 and 2000 in post-Sandinista Nicaragua and Jesuit El Salvador getting a feel for that ecstatic solidarity, albeit not embodying the selflessness that was manifesting because my life was never in danger. To this day I can only half-appreciate the power of their radical collectivist Christ – what that entity did to rewire social nervous systems and define the meaning of life for generations.

This is a different time. A pulsing metaphor can be a key resource, but there’s more. Post-fossil fuel technologies, a fall in many production costs due to 3D printing and such, the benevolent death of consumerism, and social media can change the game. Yoga can absolutely change the game.

For the last two years my intention has been to show that carefully designed, non-commercial collectives are most nourishing for yoga in these times. Such collectives will endure, and will give birth to more of the same. (Why “careful” design? Because de-programming takes so much clarity of consciousness. Consumerism is in the water, and we’ll drink it down if we don’t filter it out.)

Teacher-centric yoga (personally-branded, consumer yoga) is not bad. Yoga is an entity and has its own intelligence. For twenty years it used the consumer machine to spread a thinned-down image of itself. Like a virus. Good job, yoga. Now everyone has some idea of you.

But the consumer yoga of my 20s is not helpful where we are going. We need collectives that are independent of the sick parts of our society – of which consumerism is the very sickest. Put yoga in restorative economies and generative cultures, and watch that marriage of intelligences go wild. The compassionate, creative kind of wild.

Restorative economy and generative culture are abstract terms, and like the other abstractions in this series I use them to point to rabbit holes you can find online. The grassroots are in full ferment right now. Compassionate, intelligent collectives are arising everywhere.

Here are some pieces of practice. Or praxis, as the ecstatic Marxist Christians of end-of-the-century Central America would say.

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The shala here has come to life in two overlapping phases. The first was conscious design by a director, collaborating with a tiny group to build a foundation. The second is a selective stepping back, so the collective has more space to become self-intelligent. In this phase, I trust the group to generate goodness that I alone cannot.

Phase 1 – RAW MATERIALS.

I’ve said a lot about this, but here are some more techniques that helped us foster a grassroots group without much consumer mentality in the mix.

FIRST. Recognizing relationship as foundational. Regenerative and creative culture arise from connection. Far better than consumerism (where energy exchange is inherently exploitative) a relationship-based paradigm is a natural match for a tradition based on student-teacher relationship and long term commitment. You can’t sell inter-subjectivity. You can only develop it.

Consumerism disposes of people as objects; but in the open space beyond that paradigm, one can see how broken relationship is a very deep loss. If there are lies or abuse, perhaps it must happen. From the perspective of safe space, it is good to filter out such energy from the start. The shaucha of healthy boundaries is indispensable in a collectivity. Still, when it’s clear that relationship is what we have, reconciliation and forgiveness become high spiritual skills. If a story is being used to create hardness of heart, this degrades material, energetic, mental and spiritual resources. Relationship narratives that stabilize healthy connection breed strong energy economies.

Big picture, it’s important not to be story-poor. Not to let the imagination fail us.

SECOND. The banality of capitalism says a little consumerism is no big deal. “That’s just how things work.” Mmmm hmmmm. Suddenly you’ve got an underpaid front desk person, a retail space and a group-on. Commodification is the inexorable inner force of capitalism, and this is how it worms in. I respect it. And I see within my mind how easy it is to turn yoga in to things – an approach to practice based on postures and tricks and one-off marketable experiences where there is no sustained relationship of teachers and students.

Resistance is possible. But it’s easier to do things an entirely different way.

THIRD. Marketability meh, accountaiblility yes. For example, seeing how lazy I can be, I’ve set myself up in relationships where I am forced to grow. This originally began as a funny counterpoint to the capitalist imperative of constant profit growth. I chose students whose arc was steep and strong, so that I myself would be forced into spiritual growth. As it has turned out, that has usually meant staying in the super-inspired headspace of beginner’s mind myself.

Meantime, workshops are the yoga consumer item par excellence. So far I’ve found it undermines consumer mentality if I only teach them in places where I have a long-term student-teacher relationship with the director, and if I commit to coming back repeatedly to support the group’s and my own growth. I can’t recycle content on them; I have to keep going deeper. With repeated contact, and sincere mutual investment in relationship, the creativity gets more interesting every year.

FOURTH. Ownership. Students here like that some of them pay more, or less, or in the form of service outside the shala. What’s important is the agreement, the recognition that we live in an unequal society and for our group to be egalitarian the contributions need to vary in both quantity and kind.

This leads to a sense of ownership of the shala that undergirds the ownership each person has of her practice.

By the way, if you wanted to make sure ownership/stewardship of one’s practice or one’s collective do not arise, shame students. Shame is emotional napalm. Shame is scorched earth. Shame is cheap control, and it’s not helpful if collective intelligence is the intention.

FIFTH. Understanding that story organizes collectives clarifies that awareness of scapegoat/martyr mind is key. It is easy for shaming/blaming mind to take over entire movements. The easy discourse of “I’m shall now make an example of you” excites the witch-hunter whose potential we all carry.

Think yoga people are beyond this? No, we love it. To exemeplify an exemplifier, think briefly of M. Remski. Yum. This mode of meaning-making cannot exist without a yoga damsel in distress– from the drifting everywoman at the start of his Gita essay, to the wife he finds when she comes for astrology expertise and her reading reveals she is just the right quarry for the magistrate himself (*important – see FN in the comment below), to the deluded smoothie drinker who he rescues with Ayurveda in his piece on bitter greens. That’s where I stopped reading, because I saw the structure this was solidifying within my mind, smuggling misogyny over my gates.

Demonizing/victimizing is a moral modus operandi that may that have some use, if only because it lets off steam from the medieval mind in all of us. But right now it is important to describe evil in a way that affirms interconnection and does not increase a charismatic figure’s power. Is evil one man? Discourses in which victims are rescued and perpetrators destroyed obscure the systemic nature of 21st century suffering. This keeps black and white capitalist morality going. These mindsets are addictive until we see them for what they are. If you’re thinking of that Jung line right now, well so am I: “The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.”

Here is the thing. The more clearly and fully we see life as a complex system, the easier it is to think like the universe, and act as the world.

Phase 2 – SENTIENCE

I don’t know, but this is what seems most useful for me now if I want the collective I’m behind to have space to become increasingly compassionate, creative and intelligent. There are just three practices that I can see for now. Still figuring this out.

FIRST. It matters how much time I spend in meditation, nourishing my intuition and non-reactivity. Looking at how my work flows in relationship with depth or lack thereof in my practice, quiet time apparently matters a lot. Sometimes 30 minutes on a cushion is all the stillness I get in a day. But I’m a stronger background presence for the shala if I get more emptiness (as if you can measure the void, heh!), and if I stay off the internet except in focused spurts of jumpy chaos. There is now a countervailing desire to have my finger on the pulse of rapid political change, so to the degree that I’m reading a lot more than usual online, it seems I must be careful to not let the chaos of this historical moment determine my consciousness.

SECOND. Get out of the way of other people’s interconnections. With a certain set of values guiding them, the collective seems to want to create miniature barter economies, art collectives, spontaneous acts of service. Yes. They need to have unmediated connections with each other where the teacher isn’t in the way. Who knows what will come of that, but so far it’s beautiful.

THIRD. Oh my God, we must learn history from people. So much human intelligence is there.

I remember being ten, my dad saying the words “great depression” and me saying “what?” He could tell me the masculine macro-history but my mind wanted a breathing, feminine, interior account. He helped my call my grandmother and I sat against the wall under the rotary phone and learned about the winter of 1931 in Oskalsoosa, Iowa. At 70 she could bring alive all the feelings, all the earned understanding, and she gave me all she could of the resulting skill. The way she cried to me through the phone, it woke up knowledge already in my cells because of her. This consciousness carries the intelligence of collective care through economic uncertainty; getting her story out in the open while she was alive activated that skill in me.

A generation is leaving us. These are the humans who brought in to the world the ideas and forms of connection we will take forward. We can leave that latent in the backs of our collective mind, or we can stop and get as much of it conscious as possible. Books are important for learning history we cannot contact another way, but the history right here in the beings around us is an extremely promising source of intelligence.

Meditation and inituition exist right now. But in esoteric yoga time, past and future are now too. More and more, my feeling for our collective’s possibility arises from a feeling for history. This is is what makes my understanding of where we are going become most compassionate, most caring, most fearless, most free.

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