Letters from the Internet • 7 December 2018

Zelda Spoonbender, feline dominatrix, has retired to her winter palace. Said residence is my belly. In my dreams I’m aware of whiskers in my face and weird warmth in my spine. She’s invented this inter-species tummo, purring fuel into my solar plexus so that I wake easy before the alarm, stoked to salute the sun for the 5755th (+/-30) practice day in a row. Stoked, even though said sun won’t show for another 4 hours.

Somehow that makes it easier: being so far beyond the sunrise’s event horizon. It is just dark and cold all the time now, like when you’re floating in space. There are no ideal conditions, except for the ones forged on the inside. Freezing four am ain’t bad, the way we’re living it. More:

Feet on the floor and Zelda’s beta-twin, Moonpie, hears me from downstairs. She gallops across the 120-year-old floors. By the time she hits the stairs she’s up to a full whimper-sprint, crying for me to rendezvous at the the bathroom. This is the one place that is hers only; over five years she’s worn down a plaster corner for marking it so much. She bolts in, tail quivering and eyes wide, vigilating for her big sister. I latch the door, turn on the heater and throw her catnip-stuffed banana on the bath mat. She dives and misses, but immediately enters a full kitty-crack placebo state. Ecstasis. Ecatasis?

So here I am, eyeing the twenty-three pieces of clothing I must layer on before going to the shala in the snow, jazzed for practice like a kid, and Moonpie makes her move. She chortle-meows, the result of trying to roar while also diving (again) for her banana; while also stoned. She opens her round eyes to the roundest, in the middle of her round moon head, and does this arm-raise thing, fluff-belly prone and like a cartoon human who just woke up. Then she makes her biscuits. In the air. Literally she is cuddling space. It’s cosmic. Inhale right paw squeeze, exhale release, inhale left paw squeeze, exhale release, remember to purr, remember to lock eyes with the human. Cute catastrophe. My world disappears. There is only fur + rapture. After timespace coalesces and collapses a few more times, I try to talk sense to Moon about the need to get to work.

This is not a drag. Cold Midwest magic continues on through these quiet deep Mysore mornings when all three batches of my students start practice in the dark. The trees downtown are strung in lights; the collective mind of this super-concentrated town is fixed into its end-of-year projects; and when you go outside now there’s a frosting of snow on everything, just a powdered-sugar skiff. The daily work is simple but not easy, teaching not so much WHAT to practice as HOW. Let the discipline and passion ramp up only to the degree you can outrun it by a hair with equanimity. That’s the will and surrender thing: run as hot as you want, but only as far as you are cool. Cool enough to have nothing to prove, sweet enough to let the curiosity grow ever stronger with the skill. Playful when it’s hard. Open in the mind.

I am teaching a teacher for the first time in a couple years. There is a lot to say about this that will go unsaid for now. But I want to mention the ways that original values and motivation define a path. All I can hope in this weird time for our practice is that yoga will evolve to be something deeper and less delusional in the future; what I see I can do for that is invest in a few people who have the potential to take it further than me if they want. So I’ll train someone for their own sake, and for the sake of practice. Not for me. Not for money or power or to make my job easier. The meta-message for a new teacher is that you’re never going to get any bling from this; teaching isn’t an actualization or an arrival, not a way to “make it” or get fame or wealth. Yoga’s just sacred. Offering the tools to a tiny number of new transmitters, in the simplest and most disciplined way possible, with no investment in the fruits of that action… I guess this feels like the strongest move I can make for the practitioners who haven’t been born yet. My way of being a good ancestor in the practice. Same as me, there will be others who know that all we can do to give thanks for this priceless healing knowledge is pay our thanks forward.

The funny thing in all this, though, is that it’s the students who train the new teacher. I want them to invest their own experience, their own support, their own variable consent day to day, in the teacher’s direct experience. Long run, what this means is that the new teacher has not just me as a colleague, but an entire shala of people personally invested in their initiation into the role. This process does amazing things for the lines of interaction in the Mysore room. The students are the ones who know what they’ve learned from me and from their practice. They know what they feel. They teach the new teacher how to be with them, how to leave them alone, how to be with their energy and if needed their touch. When I give an instruction, it’s asking the student to manifest their knowledge in what they’ve been already doing for years, so that the teacher can try to feel that understanding intuitively. The amount of data available to the new teacher is overwhelming, of course. That’s why learning to teach this method takes a very, very long time and is mostly not describable in words. Apprenticeship: the teacher has to learn how to learn. Again, and extremely extremely well.

The other thing going on at home these days is that people come from other states visit for practice. I mostly let them decide what our dynamic is going to be, while always looking for funny ways to explode the stock role of the Yoga Teacher Who Knows. As visitors and I improvise new ways of showing up for reals, I am even more careful not to touch them in a way that might make them hungry for more of what I have. Sorry. My work is not a transaction: “service” in a yoga context refers to something called karma yoga, NOT to a drive-through “get-serviced” industry.

Yoga is meditation, is all. We are just being with ourselves, rhythmically always, and ecstatically if possible. When we get down with technique, it’s half high-end biomechanics as described from the inside, half how to think like a cat. Backgrounded with the meta-message to take the long view: move and breathe the way your 90 year old bodymind wants. Sattva guna. So easy to contact, really, in these quiet long night days.

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At night I’ve been reading helpful things, not for myself but for this work. How can my daily experience of teaching yoga be so mundane, understated and predictable… while on the internet the practice calling itself ashtanga is perceived by new readers as an exercise cult? The few locals unfortunate enough to have fallen down the yoga social media rabbit hole suffer for it and tell me it’s crazy out there. I don’t know, but maybe it has to do with the way the internet works now.

What helped this month was Barbara Coloroso, who evolved Catholic authoritarian education from spanking and behavior mod to a pedagogy of accountability. She did this because children who learn to hang on an authoritarian nun’s or parent’s approval/insults make the perfect “henchmen” for abusers. The “not-so-innocent bystander,” she writes. When you’re trained to hang on outer approval, you don’t learn inner accountability structures. Then in an abuse scenario, you don’t know what the right thing is. Coloroso’s anti-fascist intent is supporting humans to learn to protect society’s most vulnerable people, especially when the cost for taking action is social disapproval. The Catholics understand how wrong authoritarianism can go, in a way that has enabled Coloroso to work out an antidote to the culture of silence it created. She’s brilliant. I’m waiting for her to get a genius grant.

It has helped also to read bell hooks, a most beloved writer and human, who has been making books for 25 years on how to teach critical thinking. She articulates things I have felt in my bones, about how mutual respect of teacher and students edifies, and how learning without that respect degrades your soul. She’s done a lot to evolve the work of her mentor Paolo Freire, whose first articulations of a Pedadogy of the Oppressed inspired the field of radical education but also, at its worst, fostered a disdain for mastery that led to the new age cultures of the blind leading the blind. She writes in her latest book that she would never assign an exercise she would not herself do. She writes that establishing a context for students to have voice and express a personality over the course of many months together in classroom is key for pre-empting alienating authority dynamics in the classroom. Yes.

And (this is freaky) it has helped way too much to go back to Rene Girard. Girard is one of the few French theorists I really found silly when studying philosophy and sociology. Now I feel like I’m reading him the way you read Milton Friedman to understand rapacious capitalism. Girard : Facebook :: Friedman : The Chicago Boys. That is, Frankenstein. I am too optimistic to believe his theory of human nature, but the problem is, he accurately described 40 years ago the collective mind that would emerge today. For him, the organizing force of a society is everyone’s wanting what others seem to have, and the ritual scapegoating that emerges out of copycat jealousy spheres known as society. Public executioners, and the executed, are the twin gods in these worlds, where there are constant cycles of deification and villificaton simply to channel the violent envy everyone is experiencing because they want each other’s cars and lovers and yoga postures. Thanks for the insight there, Sauron. Here’s a fascinating overview that skirts the issue of Girard’s religious commitments.

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What brought me joy in reading this month were your letters. My god, thank you so much.

Last month’s post generated the most loving, personal responses I’ve ever receieved here. From a couple dozen of you who feel a long-time connection to the intimate voice here, tapping in to help me to understand what is actually going on in ashtanga now.

I truly want to understand yoga somehow, in these times, around this planet. That’s part of why I’ve gone more quiet these years. It’s why I’m not feeding, or reading, the feeds.

I will make time to write back after the new year, though sometimes I still don’t find words for writing back. For now I’ve re-read what you are saying, three times and more. First to get the sense of your experience; second to feel for patterns in the “data” across the group of letters; and third to digest my intuitions about what I’m really feeling out there.

Here is the thing about a letter, vis-à-vis a quip attached to a push notification. Letters condition us in the opposite way we are conditioned by social media. Staccato bursts that must be fast and short to be liked are more likely to be reactive, as well as angry or obsequious in tone. That’s the pace of such emotions.

A private personal expression takes concentration, creating a line in consciousness where connection and emotion can deepen over the course of writing. Language is a limited tool; my experience is that one of its few extremely good uses is between individuals and small groups, where we can develop relationship and understanding in slow ways. The emotions that go with this, I think, are the warm and connected ones. Care, admiration, listening, love even.

A letter is inviolable to me. I’ll not cite anything specific here or reveal in any way who it was who wrote. Even the one mail of hate, don’t worry: what you said is remains private between us.

In the most general way, though, I want to share two stable patterns. The kind of truth here is from my ethnographic and interview-based research methods training, which I took throughout the fourth year of my PhD. It’s not just what I want to see, but what the patterns surprisingly shore up.

First, there is a strong response to what I opened up about before, about the inner conditioning to privilege the emotions of the powerful. This is how everyone but the most entitled give our power away. And how the process remains invisible to those at the tops of hierarchies. So many people feel this happening inside them, but what I’m hearing is that the people we’re conditioned to protect from real self-awareness aren’t just those with the demographics of the silverbacks but also very much the Americans. We are an incredibly self-important crew, and the rest of the world sees this, sees our outsized egoes and the way that makes us presume to be the ones who know. And they don’t tell us, because they don’t want us to feel bad. This is a huge point of learning and resonance for me. My nationality gives me this opportunity to understand entitlement from the inside.

Second, holy, there is a lot of heart in this practice. People whose self-inquiry is honest and loving and damn devoted. People who feel pretty alone because of that. I feel like there is a whole ring of people around the world, practicing on a razor’s edge, developing discernment inside and out, sure that this is your path but not sure you have a community.

I have to say this even though there’s no fix for the feeling. Maybe just the winks and the possibility of magic in finding each other down the road.

More coming now that I’m back on schedule. Thank you again so much for writing.

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Broken Spells • 7 November 2018

Hey. Thank you to those who asked. This space went dark for three months, for two reasons. For twelve years I’ve committed to writing here at least by the month, but this fall was so huge. The streak broke.

Reason one: I have been ceding the podium.

This is what young western women are trained to do, when there are big men who are supposed to lead. We hold our piece. We stand by. And I am trained to be a good girl, complaint and loyal, one who follows the rules and supports everyone. As explained in the comments on the previous post, this fall, others needed to speak. It was not my time.

In August, the brilliant teacher Jubilee Cooke gave me an afternoon of her life. She made time for me and answered my questions with no agenda at all. I listened. I saw how I have not understood parts of my ashtanga family history. I had nothing to add. Personally, what I’m interested in for our community is generative culture and rehacking the internet. Fringey stuff. Posts I didn’t post.

Because on a community level, those thoughts felt less important than hearing from the silverbacks who were in power in America in Jubilee’s time. The zeitgeist called them all forth. We needed to hear from the ones who brought this practice to us and showed us how to worship. Thank you and we love you so much. What can you offer us now about your new learning process? Surely our wonderful leaders, who love us like we love them, would realize that we could not go forward without their going back to honor any woman who was disrespected, hurt or silenced. I felt sure that this fall they would wake up to how they (with the rest of us) helped create a system where they became protogurus, black holes of power and authority and reverence.

When I was learning this practice at the beginning of the century, ashtanga culture invested so much in our beloved senior leaders. We needed them, and we still do. In ashtanga we signaled their dominance in workshop marquis, domain names, cover photos on books. Most potently, we empowered them through the ritual incantation of their names in meaningful conversations. Silverback 1 says this, he is so amazing. Silverback 2 says that, yes he has taught me so much. We always loved them and needed them so much. As their era closed, I led my students on to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, to bask in their knowing, and feel so safe and loved and well led.

I did all of these things, and modeled deference for others. I loved our strong men. This love is in my blood. I won’t deny it. Not only do I like it that way, but I find this frequently healthy; it feels warm and safe and strong to be your dad’s girl. My own father helps form the center of my emotional deep-structures; this adoration has shaped my psyche and brought many blessings.

But there’s a contract when you ritualize a leader, and in our practice it was called due in this year. Not a surprise, from a certain altitude. There was a giant eclipse in on the July full moon of Guru Purnima, here in the year that Jupiter the Guru has (through the western view) traveled through the cosmic truth-finder territory of Scorpio. Expanding what was hidden so much we cannot not see. Today is Jupiter’s last day in Scorpio. The window I’ve been watching, waiting for them to step forward, closes in the morning.

Societies make ritual investments in our silverbacks for one evolutionary reason: so that they have the power to lead us when things get hard. I knew that this dream-team of beloved apostolic teachers were masters of timing. They were spiritual warriors of dharmic action. So I knew they would see their moment.

They would know how to make women feel safe when we needed it most.

And surely they did see it. But, Jupiter moves on now, and they did not rise to the times. Many days this year, I was more worried about the silverbacks and their emotional pain than about the women who really suffered in the past. Please please consider: suffering is not equally distributed. That is the last lie that power tells. But the vulnerable suffer more than those in power. Always always always. Nevertheless, still I worry about my beloved leaders, in part because I am still conditioned to care more about the emotional discomfort of those in power than about anyone else.

Right on time and apropos of everything: days after I met Jubilee, I recovered memories of being physically assaulted by boys in high school. Two incidents. I thought I’d survived, fought both them off, made ear-splitting noise, clawed and got their horrible mouths and hands off my tiny body. Turned it into a joke back at school. Sorry guys! Don’t feel bad that I rejected you. Let’s stay friends. This is how we collaborated to define those encounters out of my identity. I got to keep my life story happy. I remained good and nice and compliant. I believed it was nothing. Nothing in my nervous system. No shadow on my deep structure of trust. It was nothing revealing absolute nature of growing up a preacher’s kid in the reddest right wing of rural Montana.

Reason two this space went dark: September-October happened in Ann Arbor.

After almost a year of directing my energy to support the longest-term practitioners and not investing in many new relationships, I took on a handful of new students who had kept after me long enough to get me excited to do the foundational work with them. I also have gotten a little bit skillful at timing, sometimes. Eight autumn weeks in a Midwestern college town powerhouse + a bright-eyed crew of beginners: that is yoga gold. Everything else moved to the background, and I went mama-bird for the fall.

And then, Kava***** faced brilliant Christine Blasey Ford. He was a bomb here. A depth charge in the psyche of many who had written an attempted or actual rape out of our stories. This bomb went off in a way nothing else had yet during Jupiter in Scorpio. The recovered memories, the conditioning into compliance, the desire to be caring and liked and safe: these structures I’d churned through in late August were now the stuff of my town and my Mysore room. Healing, and heavy, and right on time. Painful. Intensely emotional. Not bad.

Still as old pain surfaced among so many ashtanga practitioners, next to nothing came from the old so-called leaders. And here’s me, watching myself carrying the same credential that the leaders use to hold themselves in a special place. The credential we as students use to hold them over ourselves! The line on the resume that’s supposed to make you turn up for their workshops and buy their videos and let them pretend to know things. Certification. A word we use to distribute power unequeally, and to evoke the privileges of silence when we have it. I was no different. When hierarchies maintain themselves through silence, it’s an indication they have nothing to offer. And here was me, doing the exact same thing to back up my seniors. I felt complicit, and didn’t want to be one of them. I decided the moral move was to give the title back. Do my tiny part to empty things out.

My therapist (yoga teachers need a therapist) and my mentor (yoga teachers need a mentor) fought me. They said I’d lose what brings me most joy in this life: my teacher’s trust, and Mysore. I said it was my duty to support the women. They said speak up already then.

But I can’t help heal anything. I wasn’t there. I can only listen and accept and show love.

I don’t know. I see that yes our history begins with patriarchs. Question is, how many degrees of our freedom does this delimit? Yes a person makes her own history, but not under conditions of her own choosing.*

I don’t know but here is a name to say. Jubilee. Jubilee. Jubilee.

A word of celebration. A word that sometimes means debt forgiveness. Jubilee.

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Behind all this another shadow rises, from even deeper in the collective unconscious. The patriarch. Yoga George Washington.

The shadow shows up in the fear that the practice will lose its power without a dead beloved grandfather at the start of time. Back when Jupiter entered Scorpio, I put the name to our condition. Patriarchy. Men and women unfreinded me online and in person for simply saying the name. It was that threatening, just to note the fact of what we once were. Saying the word patriarchy seemed to suggest, to them, that a different way of being were also possible. As if there could be another way. Criminal thinking.

Let me repeat this crime. It feels good. Yes there is an empty space in the center of my psyche for an old, dominant grandfather godman. When I am in that place, I can not make meaningful life moves forward without the idea of a founding father behind everything. Know the feeling?

This psychic conditioning says “What did the old man say? What did he teach me? How can I honor that and lift him up in everything I do? How can I be happy or safe without my father? Founding mother: eh. Politically correct, but weak and has low standards. It’s the elder father who can tell me what reality is. That’s who God is.”

I believe all that sometimes.

I have worshiped these feeling-ideas so long.

Have you sat before an altar? Have you made one? Part of why ashtanga is my practice is that it teaches us to pattern consciousness in this way. An altar is a map of the surrendered deep psyche. That’s the altar’s function! Soul entrainment. You alter your mindstate before the altar. Wash your mind empty, and the alter will project inside you the shapes before you like a photo negative. Every time I’ve altered my state before an altar of a grandfather guru, that surrender has retraced the old-man-god coloring book page in my mind. The heart explodes. Then it’s the everyday self’s job to recolor the structure with whatever perfect god-guru it can find to try to reproduce that experience.

Because of this aspect of my mind, I went quiet last winter when in response to my queries about the hidden history of ashtanga I was told, “a woman should know her place.” That is a spell. You are a woman and you are to know your place. This isn’t the droid you’re looking for. Boom. My psyche is conditioned to certain types of surrender. So when an old teacher told me “Be careful not to ask the wrong questions,” as if the ghost of Guruji might come back to haunt me for caring about women’s bodies, that deep part of me indeed accepted this rebuke and retreated back into silence. For a minute. The more obvious parts of me knew it was wrong, that a crew of senior teachers were raging about losing their certification, so enraged by a minor status decrease… while refusing to answer my questions about whether any women had been harmed. This is how it works: the privileging of the discomfort of the powerful over the pain of the vulnerable. Submission structures deep in the mind can be invoked with ritual language. Blessings and curses work the same exact way. And I have learned to be careful which alters I alter for.

When I left LA in 2009 and started practicing by myself in Michigan, without asking why I constructed different altars. At home: my altar now is roses and rocks, with deities and teachers and owls and monkeys and tiny objects from students around the periphery. At the shala: the altar is always ever Ganesha. A perfect beast! The summoner of the group and of your mulabandha, the tragicomic remover of the human obstacles, there in the place I’d been trained to put a father-god.

And this year, our shala altar got a conch shell, gifted by a student home from the ocean. Because in my mind, the Patananjali’s shankha was always the counterpart to the dharinam. It’s so obvious. The conch shell is sound, it is the calling-together-tool, and it is the secret right-befor-your-eyes worship of the female body. Pudendic symbols are everywhere, but we have been listening right past them, forgetting to bring them into form. Shankha. Shankha. Shankha.

Witnessing this structure the old altars traced inside of me, I will give it a little less power.

So although I am heartbrokenly grateful he existed and accept the devotional place he holds in some of my friends’ hearts, this is not a post about Pattabhi Jois. Thank you, gone man. I say your complicated name. I say it out of respect for people who do love you. Out of recognition I’d be lost without this practice and the people it has given me. But also, most of the time, I refrain from saying your name out of respect for others who are not you. Because respect is to be equally distributed too, and there are a lot more of the vulnerable women who are triggered now by your name than there are, well, of you. Sorry, dear long-departed human being. Your emotions count for less than they did. I am not afraid to hear of your mistakes. And, we must keep moving on.

Controversy about ashtanga history, efforts to change the story from a good one to a bad one, calcifies a wound in my psyche that wants to heal. Fighting over the good/bad status of a dead guru I never knew confirms and confirms and confirms that all our meaning has to arise out of how we define our relationship to a gone grandfather god. Yes that conditioning is inside me, and no I’m not living that story anymore.

It’s important to note that for my generation of teachers, we can all collect power and reverence and defacto authority in one very easy way. By activating those old frames, to use Lakoff’s language. What we do is: we model for our students the idea of the perfect authority figure, and we show you how to surrender to it. We imply this is the embodiment of virtue. This is the ritual mode of frame reproduction. It gives students an implicit model for how to treat us. This is how I and my generation learned to treat the American silverbacks as gurus. It is, apparently, a bit dangerous.

I’m going to get myself in trouble now, being noncompliant for the good of the group. Last month, my junior colleague in Toronto promoted the work of a wonderful female student who had written a blog post legitimating the notion of the guru. Describing himself as her guru. We read how this white western male teacher gets guru-like (absolutistic) power over her even when he does problematic things, and thus we have a model of how we too can have a yoga boss. This power move rests on the energy and image of a virtuous, trust-worthy, compliant woman. Surrendered + supportive women are where godmen get legitimacy when their power is on the line. When the virtuous woman steps forward and takes the hit, performs the moral labor, and stands by her man, it is through her that we empower him. In my deepest conditioning, I am great at that move. It feels so good to be the adoring one. I have to go inside my psyche in order to understand these impulses and resist them. That is really hard, but the work feels good in a different way. If authoritarianism is getting this needy for legitimacy, maybe we’re on the edge of new growth.

Anyway, back to the depth charge of October. I tell my therapist and my beloved silverback mentor that I want to withdraw from the scene entirely. I say I have duty to fulfill with my students, and this duty is pure joy. Let me just be a student to my teacher. Let me be with him in Mysore and just absorb, and then be here and just transmit. Let me opt out of the symbolic churn of nonsense that somehow happens on the internet adjunct to the real practice. My accountability people tell me that’s to easy. That I don’t entirely belong to myself now. That I have a duty to speak from the place inside of me that doesn’t make everything about the old men.

They summon this other part of my mind.

Yes. In fact, I can do what I need to do without a domineering man standing over me.

But wait… I always had this. For a decade my teacher has done nothing but reject my efforts to be a nobody at the back of the room, has shaken me back alive when I disappear into a puddle of surrender and adoration and self-abnegation. Mysore from 2009 has always been like this for me. The opposite of the spiritual bypass. Forcing me, in my role as a student and teacher, out of silent invisibility.

Do not believe western people doing virtue signaling about guru worship on the internet. There are many sources of this practice, one of whom is my teacher in Mysore. This celebrity guru worship stuff – to whomever it is directed – tells you that a person has not put in the time it takes with a real teacher to understand.

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I first went to Mysore in 2009. That self was fully formed as a practitioner, my tenth year on the mat, trained by the first generation through the advanced series.

Ashtanga yoga was my practice from the beginning; I was one of the lucky people who find in this life a practice that really does it for them. My dear spiritual-friend Angela came around the world and found me last month for the first time in 20 years. She said maybe we all have a particular imprint deep in the mind, and only a few of us find the corresponding personal practice that holds us and fascinates us and opens us in this life. She said she could see I’d found mine just after we parted in 1999.

That’s true. I grew up with spiritual people but didn’t entirely believe I had a soul until the imprints lined up, and something luminous started to shine out through that inner-outer correspondence. The year 2009 felt like a second life of my practice began in Mysore, in a way that shored up the western minded filter on my first decade with my spiritual match. Same practice, other side of world. So much happened in Mysore 2009. Some of it is documented in these archives.

One thing that happened, was that Patthabi Jois died. I witnessed the end times. I’d watch him up on his balcony, me in the street drinking coconuts after practice. One of last mornings, this set the stage for a dramatic, permanent change in my awareness. I don’t question the woo-woo around him; something was there. But something is there in everyone. It doesn’t make us gods. I read Memoirs of Hadrian that trip, in addition to lots of other things. A dying emperor was just one part of the massive epic backstory of this beautiful practice.

Backstory is important. Backstory is complicated. Hidden backstory must be known. If it is not, it will repeat and repeat and repeat. Adored men in power touching vulnerable women wrong, and those women’s own teachers not protecting them? This part of the backstory will force itself back into the unconscious and play out over and over again. Until it is accepted and known and put to rest. We have to do this. Vulnerable women need us to do this, for them. We cannot continue letting the vulnerable be our last priority. It’s just like this:

Oh thank heaven, we can really stop and listen and accept this now. Some people were demeaned and hurt and some lost their practice. It happened. We are so sorry. We will not let this happen again. We will not do this again.

Riding the derivative last wave of guru culture is a way of not saying this. Social media itself is largely derivative, so it’s not going to help. The internet will go on reproducing the deep structure of authority. It’s blind like that. We thought it was here to undermine authoritarism and opaque power hoarding, but no. The internet perfectly reproduces and amplifies opaque hierarchies of power. For now….

The men who were the women’s teachers needed to lead and they did not. Their silence is serious. And I’m done holding silence for them. They didn’t say what the time needed.

There will remain corners of the practice where any word in support of vulnerable women is taken as a threat. Where there is still power in the incantation that a woman should know her place. Where the past reproduces itself in sepia, all the undertones washed into rose.

I was angry when I first fell in love with Mysore, regretting the decade I’d been told not to go. But since then, circumstances unfolded in such a way to show me that I could have lost my practice. I seem to sense out there a group of women who really did lose their practices. Not ghosts. Whole women who moved on to something better for themselves. Ashtanga lost their names while busy incanting others. With Jubilee, one who left, I asked what she’d like to see from this community. She did not care, other than to say she hoped we can heal. Lady has a life of her own.

*This is me not citing Marx, because when he wrote that he forgot to include the generative power of his wife Jenny von Westphalen.

Celebrity is the Opposite of Relationship • 10 July 2018

Written early July, but the internet felt demented this month. So this is set to publish on the 31st.

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1. Relationship’s not easy. Celebrity is the empty status of being above relationship.

It’s a weird time to be in a dunbar-number of committed relationships. Among those I love, there have been major life changes, new stresses, shocking news that takes weeks to integrate, challenges in the body, plus occasional mind-tornadoes. Not for everyone, but enough for to bring uncanny shudders to the stop-motion reality circus that is July 2018.

Twitter thinks July represents a new episteme, a down-leveling into the increasingly demented nature of our times. I’m going with the idea that it’s just a blip. If this idea of our zeitgeist doesn’t resonate with you, talk to a health care or emergency services worker, or some grandparents: they may say that these are the looniest times any of us has lived through.

The cosmic play is just as epic. True metaphor: the planet of war is moving very close to the earth, backtracking and circling us with nostrils flared and heaving. This stalking goes down in the light of an equally constipated Neptune, old mythic marker of delusion and confusion. And the longest eclipse of the century is on Guru Purnima. Hey by the way, yoga’s cosmic; ashtanga particularly so. The lore and location of the planets is background for teaching this yoga.

Anyway, a few dust devils are touching down on reality around me. In these times the most meaningful thing in my experience is showing up for the long-term relationships. Many of them. It’s not been an easy time. There has been far more anger, irrationality and body pain than usual.

This is not a problem; if anything, the steadiness of practice this month makes me think the yoga is working. If a practice can be steady under great weight, in the presence of great distraction, or when there is pain, then it can be steady for anything. When stuff comes up and we stay the course, I take it to mean yoga is working.

When I started meditating, I contracted this particular fantasy. I say contracted because spiritual bypassing is a communicative disease, passing from person to person in the form of ideas, clichéd motivational sayings, and coping mechanisms. Bypassing got in to me in the form of the following lie: I can meditate my way out of relationship pain. So, when there was any sort of difficulty in relationship, it upped the urgency to get my fantasy-idea of enlightened. Poof. Human suffering got you down? Too much uncanny self-awareness? Not a problem if you don’t have a self! Get enlightened today!

Meta-delusions here: Relationship wouldn’t be hard if I just didn’t care. Relationship wouldn’t be hard if I just didn’t have a self. It took a long time to see the way this lie operated inside of me, and then slowly to see through it and the fear that drove it.

This idea that not having a self makes relationship easy isn’t just avoidant and delusional. It’s the cover for the self-rejection that shows up in a lot of spiritual communities. If I could just not be a person, nothing would hurt.

But there’s a snag. Any true practice clarifies the personality. Leaves you less in the dark about the subconscious. Therefore MORE yourself. Just with increasing timespace between the stories.

Yoga mostly does this through relationship. In person, long term, real relationship. Breathing together, being together in space, over time. Learning to just be present. Yoga transforms through relationship.

This is a real principle in yoga. Did you know?

Relationship is your actual food. If you have a practice that happens on the subtle level.

For the meat-body practice, meals are the food. For the mind, sensory experience is the food. And again, relationship is nourishment. The spirit starves without it.

Relationship what we mean when we say transmission, if we don’t mean brand. Being together in present time, over a long time. Yoga, Eliade claimed, is the art of making peace with the fact that we live in time.

There is this fantasy now that you can substitute online for relationship. This is a two-dimensional version of the meditator’s stop-having-a-self fantasy. The idea here is that if you just keep things from being present and real by inhabiting internet personae, you won’t have to experience pain. In both the meditator escape and the social media escape, you don’t have to offer another person your three-dimensional presence. No breathing together. And no shared bodily experience in present time.

The alienation that I am describing lays the groundwork for fake relationship to colonize our minds. Because we get lonely.

By fake relationship, I mean celebrity. We settle for celebrity. We numb our critical minds and our senses to celebrity. We give our power to celebrity.

And then, maybe, some of us start to hope that we too could erase our small-selves so completely that we could become celebrity. The fantasy is that celebrity is the ultimate empty self, who has no relationship pain. Because celebrity is the status of being above relationship.

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2. I love my friends who teach. Their show-up is strong.

Celebrity might destroy most of yoga. Is it time for such yoga to die anyway? I don’t know, but before it does, my teacher-friends and I have questions for the machine.

I’ll teach yoga in five countries this year, learning from devoted teacher-colleagues in different contexts. They are helping me articulate new questions, about how we as teachers use our personae, and how to resist the temptation to run away from relationship. I have learned a lot on the ground about what’s broken in yoga. That’s another post.

But first, what’s not broken is hundreds of my beloved friends-colleagues around the world, the ones showing me every day how yoga teaching is done. These people just show up, when the earthly weather, and space weather, and emotional weather, are all on fire. When relationship is really hard. When students are not kind. I learn from my friends how yoga teaching is done, because I watch them showing up for their many relationships anyway.

Celebrites may tell you that their specialness is a form of relationship. They love you sooooo much. You in particular. Like a god loves you.

It’s not true. It’s that normals feed celebrity. Adulation is a strange sort of denial. Worship turns humans into gods. But respect is copresent. Respect : relationship :: worship : celebrity. Both are glue.

I spent the first 9 years of my yoga practice among the elites of Santa Monica. I learned a lot among the ‘lebrities, primarily compassion. Never glittering praise, never the pedestal, never the many varieties of worshipful anti-relationship. Objectification is not nice, even if it’s what a person learns to crave when co-presence and accountability drop away.

Why compassion for the ‘lebrity? Because the hardest world to learn human lessons in is the one where everyone tells you that you’re special.

You know this if you’ve been close with someone who crossed over to the godrealm. If (big if) the dopamine-narcissism wears off, there is a special poverty of spirit one has to fight in order to stay a whole person in the face of a world that sees celebrity. Celebrity isn’t a person; it’s the way a group defines its objects.

Weekday afternoons, the yoga industry barfs in my in-box. Has this happened to you? It’s an experience common to my friends who teach. One has to laugh. The barf is beautifully designed.

And the barf is funny, because of the context in which it lands. I’ll explain. What follows is the work day of me, to suggest what it’s like for hundreds of fellow teachers around the world. If your teacher is primary caregiver to children or elders, or if they live in a place with rent so high that they have to touch people for more than three hours per day OR have a second job, their work is incalculably harder than mine. I cannot imagine. For these people, it is such a kindness to recognize what they are doing to create healing spaces and pass on real knowledge in the face of absurdity.

Please, be good to these ones who work the hardest. Recognize how much value they are creating for students when they could so easily sell out as I describe below.

Me, having fewer outside responsibilities than my friends, I get up between 3 – 3:30. Roll in to shala around 4. Clean. Practice yoga for about 2 hours. The energy economy of my breath, concentration and movement is always determined by the imperative to create a huge amount of energy to offer later when I’m working with others. If my students need more – like they did today, because it was a rare day to give new postures – I cultivate my awareness and reserves accordingly. My daily practice is there to sharpen my perception and stabilize my mind, to build up the subtle energy within the space, to demonstrate communicate that the job of teaching begins with meditation and self-care.

The most excited students start rolling around 5, so the last hour of my practice is in their company. Then from 6:15 – 8:30 or 9:30 I interact via touch and breath with people in deep states of concentration and very tender learning experiences. That’s prime time. Everything about my life is set up to sharpen my intuition and love and care for those 2-3 hours on the dance floor.

The shala is a cell phone free space except for emergencies and such. I mean come on. Would you meditate in a place with cell phones? There are no phones at yoga. We are just learning presence.

Holding a Mysore room is heaven if you ask me. So much happens. My mind perceives and generates so much. The heart is soft, mind is sharp, body in between. Imagine what that would be, beginning every day with a 5 hour semi-autonomous silent rave, for years, and years, and years? Yet for its wonders, this is an extremely hard undertaking mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. 4-9 is a hard five-hour work day, something which required prior training of more than a decade of strengthening my nervous system and stabilizing my mind. No way could I have taught Mysore in a consistent way during the first ten years of my practice. In the old days, yes, I could practice advanced series and then run around the room a few days a week assisting a senior teacher. But that’s just a taste of teaching actual Mysore, with the same people, in the same place, for years.

If you’re thinking why would a person do something so mundane and hard, ok. True. That’s how celebrity thinks.

I am like my teacher: I love to work alone. The energy is so nice. Quiet and clear. But there is one reason to have assistants: they are future carriers of the method and they can’t learn this method on an essential level – with the soul nourishment included – outside of relationship. An assistant is someone receiving a transmission, not someone there to do mechanical tasks. It’s their relationship, not their labor, that is of interest. Again, when relationship with students is the focus, it is best to teach alone. Yoga is relationship.

Back to my work day, there are two people here who assist me about half the time. We’ve worked together for 5-8 years, and I’d do anything for them because they’re carrying knowledge I personally consider sacred. Sometimes a teacher with their own shala elsewhere visits and observes/assists for a couple of months, to pick up what I’ve picked up from my predecessors. There is a thick seam of non-conceptual knowledge I can only pass on when we are both inside the states of consciousness that produce yoga’s knowledge-rhythm. Yoga is relationship.

It doesn’t matter if everyone gets put in their Marichyasana; in fact it’s important that some days I don’t help. Impressive adjustment is not what ashtanga yoga is. My teacher is emphatic that students don’t need confirmation of how good I am at putting their bodies in shapes – and in fact teaching them to rely on my skills is dangerous.

You might not hear this in internet-yoga land but: as traditional teachers, my colleague-friends and I never, ever want students to look to us to give them special experiences. The way people look to celebrities for special experiences. As a teacher, you never want students to depend on you for the excitement of practice and learning to move their own energy. You don’t want them to get addicted to you, to follow you around for years on end, to practice only when you’re there do to their work for them.

As a teacher, you are not there harvesting the students’ attention. You’re not collecting followers. That would be the logic of celebrity. The technology of freedom is contrary: you teach them to practice as much without you, and beyond you, as with you.

Well experienced teachers are good candidates for celebrity because they can manifest a lot of charisma, flow into and out of different emotional states easily. Nothing special; these stage skills are accidental by-products of understanding how to practice. And unlike whatever is happening in yoga videos, of course someone with a couple decades of daily practice, a highly trained mind, a teacher who has invested in them, and many years of teaching, can move a student’s energy. Energy is not secret, and not more spiritual than anything else. It’s just the kosha nestled between food body and the thinking body. But in relationship, in any true energetic or martial art, a teacher gives students cues for energy awareness and teaches them to move their own energy. So they don’t celebritize the teacher.

Freedom is the project. The student learns independence.

Relationship matters anyway.

So the teacher’s not at the center, the way my dear friend-colleagues do it.

Maybe there will be no more yoga in a hundred years. My teacher said that, equanimously, last year. I could see it. If it’s true, it’ll happen when the society of the spectacle finally takes control. And it will do that by making yoga not just about the body beautiful, but especially about celebrity.

Back to the non-glamorous life of the yoga teacher. Today I got home from the shala early, just after 9. I drank juice and showered, conversed with the cats, started soaking the kitchari for breakfast. Then the basic admin: go down the list of the students in my care, ask in my heart how each one is doing, and wish each one well. Then mentally, meditatively cut the cords of connection with what is going on with them, so their process is theirs.

Ritually cutting off the connection with the students means my own thoughts and energy are free to rest elsewhere for the hours to come. It would be extremely easy to spend the day processing the emotions of the many people one touched in an ecstatic altered state before dawn. That would also kill me. Cutting the cords means I can be really present with the new person they are tomorrow, rather than be present tomorrow to who they were today or yesterday.

Then around 10, I look at email.

I attend first to the matters regarding people immediately in my care. You think yoga teachers don’t have to read email from students? I have heard this from a couple yogalebrities. Exactly: they are above relationship. Being in long-term relationships means walking alongside people while they live. Being the one responsible, and accountable, for taking a person through the paces of an extremely transformative practice means also being receptive when they check in to tell you someone has died or been born, someone’s out of town for two weeks, someone has a financial emergency and needs to use the scholarship fund or the pay-it-forward program.

Teaching is not just being present for people in a silent room. Grounded teaching practice is not alienated from the life. Teaching is being present across time. The room is silent, but peoples’ lives churn on. In the Mysore room, I primarily hold the space. And the rest of the time, I am gently sensing the field in which my students and I live.

After I look at student email, I eat breakfast and maybe have a meeting. After, I see who else is trying to communicate with me in professional ways. Not by social media – that’s not even relevant for my week-day work. It’s that just looking at professional emails in the early afternoon is an experience of pure yoga insanity. Luckily I’m tired by this time, and have a happy belly full of sattvic food. So the insanity is cute.

This afternoon was a little extreme though, maybe because it’s the first of the week. I got two requests to contribute to teacher trainings, one of them a repeat-ask. And I ignored one offer to improve our shala’s website, because as the emailer pointed out, it has no social media opt-ins and is not optimized for premium search results. In another state of mind, that message would have gotten some snark in return because I’m tired of capitalism trying to eat the internet.

This is even crazier though: the first TT conversation emphasized how many people I could reach. As if the QUANTITY of people who say they’ve studied with me is a measure of my “impact.” Godhelpus. I said that traditional teachers focus on quality of instruction.

The other request, from out of the blue, suggested that I could teach how to do adjustments and count led class but call this a “clinic,” rather than a teacher training. This was supposed to be plausible deniability cover for the fact that I have promised my teacher not to do paid, group teacher trainings. Why did I promise this? Again because training someone is a personal investment in their transmission and I am committed to teaching the value of yoga as relationship. But you know, one could just change the name of this enterprise from training to clinic. In this case, I stopped short of explaining that teaching adjustments to any stranger who pays money for it is an especially dangerous way to make money, with no accountability for the harm done with the partial knowledge the paying customers receive. I did not say that being able to pay for training is not an indication that one merits this kind of power to potentially harm others and definitely harm the method. I didn’t clarify that Ashtanga yoga is so intense that adjustments make no sense outside a Mysore room. To keep my life simple, today, I just ignored the second round of that conversation. I digested my kitchari instead. They will find someone else to be their headliner.

But maybe first, they ask someone else who sees that celebrity is not yoga. And that person, too, will say no to being their yoga show headliner. This hypothetical person will have even less energy to explain their no. Think of the responsibilities they have already, and how impossible it would be for them to elaborate their devotional lives and values to a salesperson. No time for it. They’ll just keep their eyes on their path.

Listen. There are hundreds of people who work like this, carrying on long-term relationships with students, overseeing low profile yet extremely high energy grassroots organizations, being sought after in this way. Saying no because although the commercial yoga industry has no clue, they still understand.

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3. The yoga industry is thirsty. Desperate. For celebrity.

Why is this happening? Why are serious teachers being targeted like this?

The reason is that the yoga industry is thirsty. It has a certain number of empty spaces it has created for celebrity types.

There is not only a constant need for surplus labor at the teaching level; and not only a constant mechanical search for new consumers to buy the teacher trainings that make yoga one of the most high profile industries in world history.

There is also an industrial need for surplus celebrity.

There are holes that can only be filled with people who speak with a certain level of certainty. There needs to be constantly novelty and charisma in those spots to keep the machine running. The workshop circuit never sleeps.

Listen: a celebrity is not a special human. Celebrity is an empty space in the industry that must be filled to keep everyone else in their place.

It’s not just in yoga. This is just the machinery of the society of the spectacle. It gives us celebrity the way industrialism gave its workers religion. To alienate us from each other. To make us weak.

Yoga celebrity is not bad by necessity. It’s just a device that holds a certain system in place, keeps the consumers consuming and the followers following, and doesn’t put the liberation technology in your hands. When I say yoga might disappear, I mean that the liberation technology might be forgotten.

Celebrity and relationship are direct contraries. It is precisely the fact that the celebrity is an object that makes them fun to objectify and follow, and impossible to breathe with.

Even for non-narcissists, it’s tempting to step into that space specifically because that’s where you don’t have to experience the challenges of inter-subjective relationships. Nobody can touch you there. You just get to be the cipher.

And, we resist the machine. Hundreds of my colleague-friends. Passing on the technology for freedom. Choosing relationship with some humility. Quietly, with devotion and clarity and strength. A couple of quiet hundreds out there and me, who is less quiet than the best.

Tinyletter.

Quitting My Yoga Practice • 13 June 2018

A post shared by Angela Jamison (@angelazjamison) on

This blog is an eleven year letter about finding purpose. Through the combination of (1) an inside path, with (2) systematically meaningful action. I’ve been scrutinizing my life purpose for two weeks and therefore not posting.

Today ends a wild waning moon cycle. Before that, May was about floating in space. That month was the first unstructured time I’ve had since 1999. I gave myself so much entertainment, excitement and worldly life that it was a set-up to forget about yoga. The question was: will my sadhana become expendable? Is it time to graduate from formal practice to life-as-practice?

It was time to look at the highly structured nature of my life, and at how much care I am giving to others all of the time. I relax within ritual. I believe that the most meaningful activity, even more than creativity and spiritual peak experiences (which I also pursue), is being a good friend-family-teacher-earthling. I’ve found/decided my life purpose, and operate in the “now what?” that follows that. This found-a-life-purpose world is an easy one in which to get lazy and fall off the razor’s edge. But, there are ways to remain sharp.

People think it’s constitutional, my ease in ritual and rhythm and role. Who returns and returns and returns to the same people and places not by nostalgia, but because that’s what excites her? They see how strong emotions self-generate every time I land in Mysore, or every time the tree in my front yard blooms; how I do insane devotional things for Seattle, the city I fell in love with at age ten. I’m told this patterning of action and emotion looks weird in someone who seems to be committed to novelty. From the inside I’d say that spiritual restlessness is fundamental in me. Specific patterns, practice, places and people are chosen as grounding in the chaos. I knew when I was shorter than the Montana wheatfields that I would get out of that place, would study history to make the world bigger, and never ever stay put. That’s still true. The restlessness isn’t a problem now though, because it’s got purpose around it. I am still a quiet disaster in ways that are just for me. My office, closets, sense of time and space: little churning cyclones. Very important, the entropy zones.

How ever. It is rhythm that makes me manifest. Like some sort of spin cycle. Service, friendship, beauty, whatever. What I’ve figured out is that to have some sense of inner path and outer purpose—one that’s not just some dogma or idea—this woman must have rhythm.

Yoga for me is the source of steadiness of mind; and that comes not so much through stillness but syncopation. The beat actually needs to be beautiful, not stupid or random, for my consciousness to stream in sattvic ways. Beautiful is rhythms within rhythms, a life of finely tuned cycles. The inner teacher in me isn’t so much some sort of knower who gets insights. She’s just, finally, a damn fine choreographer. My inner teacher knows how to DJ a life.

Time came in May to drop the rhythms completely for the first time since 1999. The last unstructured time in my life was that year, on a Fulbright in Managua. Landing in a city with no street names, with no friends, no maps, no phones, no responsibilities… just the names of the Revolutionary archives and an ongoing drive to study history of Empire.

I kept it secret, that I was a wreck. What I did with that unstructured time was relentless advnenture-intrigue: flattering a large retinue of revolutionaries with my scholarly fascination (read Omar Cabezas), sleeping on volcanoes reachable only by banana boats (image search “Ometepe”; banana boat here means barge that transports actual bananas), mantrafying my mind with epic poetry you would not even believe (Jesus God Leonel Rugama), running the hash on Saturdays and then getting wasted with the ambassadors before refinding my religion every Sunday by mainlining liberation theology at the Misa Campesina. This was all more life and excitement than I previously knew possible; I was dying inside again with every moment. Like an acute unhappiness that I had to look at every minute. My mind was lonely and hopeless. Pleasure (rum, reading) did not help. Even studying the American war machine could not ease the inner itchy unbearableness with a drive for truth, or a belief in justice. I wasn’t depressed; I was actively dying inside, drying up and crackling away from the edges of my inner self like a caterpillar whose dead pulp of possibility is desiccating inside its cocoon. It was like no hell I’d known existed, thought by thought, and it was there for no good reason. Compounded a hundredfold by guilt. Meantime I had no purpose, no path, no responsibility. No damn rhythm.

So. This past month of unstructured time was a chance to summon old existential shadows. Good energy gets trapped in the unexamined places. I intended to stop being so orderly and predictable to see what I couldn’t see when I’m in my rhythms.

I didn’t set out to spend the month living next to an almost theatrical idealization of a cemetery bathed every evening in golden light, and frequented nightly by cloaked occultists. But that is how it happened.

I sank into the flowerbeds by that cemetery and read L’Etranger, this time in the original and only half comprehending. Wandered alongside the wall where they shot the last resisters of the Paris commune. Sat in a seventh-floor bathtub every night watching the sun set over the monster on Montmartre’s hill, Sacre Coeur. (Other cathedrals in Paris thrilled me with their brazen occult magick, but I sense that edifice belongs entirely to a different team.) As with every bit of the city, there is a whole long story of Montmartre, about one of the first grassroots uprisings against empire, resistance in the streets, redoubt to the butte later made famous as an artists’ commune, and the massive stone sanctuary the winners built there with a Jesus who I swear looks like he’s giving you the finger. In my 20s, traveling the officially illegal countries on a shoestring (Vietnam, Cuba, Laos…), I stayed out of Europe because I claimed the whole continent would be dull and rich and stuffy. Oh what I did not know.

This May I ate whatever, slept whenever, planned nothing, put the phone in airplane mode, left my laptop closed. I spent lots of time in shops, because a good number of Parisian people think little, delighted, super-attentive women in non-tourist neighborhoods are fun to dress, feed and teach new words. One day I slept 14 hours, got on the mat well after noon just because I felt like it, rolled out of savasana and immediately ate the croissant I’d left sitting on the side table to tease myself during rest. A few admired friends from grad school came to town; ever epic, now that they’re notorious writers what they do is chill in Europe in summer. To them I’m the washed up ex-ex-ex-intellectual who becaume a (cough) yoga teacher and is still too fit and too happy and lacking in scholarly achievements. We had everything talk about, which was done best in bars carousing. Something they’d never seen me do.

None of this sucked. The mind of suffering from 1999 did show up as an echo, interestingly. Everything was intriguing, diverting and delicious. But on an energetic level, I got scrambled. Rest-adventure may be good for the soul, but with my mind in one place, my emotions in another and my G-I tract washed daily in white flour, I landed back home feeling like a cubist painting of myself.

At every sharp edge of me, there was and is the echo of the question that has always organized this journal. What am I doing with my life?

Doing nothing is one way to push on that question. This time around, renunciation of structure didn’t kill me inside or force me up against the wall of existential crisis.

At least, it didn’t force the existential question any more than I always am wanting it to face me down:

What is this life. What is the consciousness of this moment. What is the purpose of this action.

Life and death stuff, really.

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Back home again I am re-embedded in the action circuits. Hundreds of human interactions every day. Directing a program, iterative presencing with the same places-people who are also always different. Getting myself out in the door, into and out of the forest, into and out of the shala, into and out of different states of consciousness. Regulating my nervous system to be a still center amid huge amounts of information and activity. That’s what it is to run a Mysore program. Regular time in India is its own version of that.

But first, before this and after that, the last days of May happened alone on the coast Montenegro. What a place to get completely receptive after so much entertainment, the action circuits all buffed out in perception mode. My phone didn’t work. The light was this steady Adriatic soft-white, with air that temperature where you can’t feel the boundary of your skin. My physical body opened up to the whole environment as a diffuse sort of homeostasis.

It’s a place where it rains in sunshine. I’d thought that was just bad lyrics, but it’s also good magic. People would interrupt me over Greek salads on stone walkways along pink shell-dust beaches. I’d be eating extremely local olives, tomatoes sweet as strawberries, cucumbers bitter as grainy south-European espresso. Before we’d talk in English fragments about the wars, and NATO and the old embargo, they’d ask if I was from Moscow. How kind but no. I’d say Detroit, mispronounced the American way with an “oy” and a hard final T.

Oh! Hands on an imaginary wheel, steering, steadying. Shifting their eyes away from my face to the horizon to imitate the contemplative trance of the road.

Yes, something like that. That is where I’m from.

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There was no reason to undertake spiritual practice in May, but that is what happened. Formally, methodically, superduper gently. It didn’t save my soul, or make my day, or whatever. I didn’t alter any adventure schedules for it.

Just the formal zero-time, in its own way, every day. Meditating on the breath, gently true to the method that I teach the mindbody of that time.

Practice is just practice. The new people on this adventure were not “my teachers.” My teacher is my teacher. People’s only role is to be completely ourselves, not tools for some narrative telos. Life is for living, people for loving. The whole yoga-context disappeared and there was no new one inside or outside of me to make sense of practice.

Still practice was there.

Coming back to baseline, my body’s been disorganized; practice is slow and nurturing in a way that eases the pelvis out of torsion. It seems 20,000+ steps a day on cobblestones will do that. The first days back, there was sharp asymmetry between my energy for teaching (full power) and practice (two extremely internal and quiet hours). There’s a lot of information for me in that breach. A lot. For example, for me personally, I see the honesty that arises out taking practice before I teach. I see how the intimacy and information-density of this week’s slow practices make me the kind of teacher I want to continue becoming. The sensitivity I have in the long relationships in the Mysore room is potentiated by hours alone daily inside my own energy-body. Again, this is just my experience.

By contrast, I see now a shadow: if I just dropped into my Mysore room without a daily practice, I personally could get big ideas about teaching. In a raw human way, I think that I could get caught up in compensation, supporting others to do what I’d not be making time to do myself. I describe this as human because one sees various body-therapists get off on such things – any caregiver with a “fix it” approach is broken, and we know it. “My body or mind is in pain, so let me not observe that and fix myself through you.” This is a deeply human tender, predictable thing that happens when a caregiver has no container for their work.

What I see now is that for me personally as a teacher, practice creates an raw and constantly self-updating kind of accountability. Qualitatively different from the accountability in student-teacher relationship. Counter-transference is evergreen; self-study keeps it clean.

I have a history of blowing off practice sometimes. The last time was 15 years ago April. So I don’t know what it would be like to teach without also practicing. The only thing that makes that sustainable is an understanding of practice as mental, emotional and spiritual care. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, at all, but a daily, technically clear, body-based breath meditation has been the program so far during my experience as a teacher.

I emphatically do not recommend this for anyone else. But I share this to note that it is my experience. I’m not the only one.

Sadhana is not an achievement or a hardline commitment and there is no prize. It’s just a wellspring of meaningful work and a good life, maybe even when sense and structure fall away.

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While floating in space I asked the Austrians and the Montenegrians and the Netherlanders: do you have words to put light on this very specific idea called dharma?

Yes and no. People are brilliant. And their different languages come up out of deep wells of history that have their own meanings to carry forth. We laugh and dive into layers of connotation as I try to learn a little of their living history. Dharma per se, we repeatedly see, is intrinsic to a culture that is not easy to understand. But there is a nous-ne-savons-quoi around purpose that bears a deep existential look-see.

Purpose is values that are deeper than story. It’s a drive that needs no outcome or movement to mean anything at all. Purpose, in different languages, is a sense that has no actual attainable visible sense in it. It is a form of meaning too cellular to be expressed through achievement, yet must always be acted out.

I don’t know. Different language-groups have distinctly insights on what life-purpose might be. But while most of my writing stays unshared, this blog-space holds the line of the question of what is my path and purpose. The writing itself gives me space to see that there’s creative energy in jumping outside the question.

So now I see where the sadhana began, in my mind. It was science. The first year of grad school in LA, I did math. My main professor was one of the most committed and exacting teachers I’ve ever had. We did stats, probability, survey research design. I learned the value of a clean data vector. A clean unbroken data sequence contributes to Knowledge. A true scientist doesn’t seek fame; she gives herself over to the method required to advance human understanding of reality itself. Statistics done honestly is surrender, and you come to admire those who love the data more than the sex appeal of a massaged trend line. Most science is a little fake; I was taught how to sound out the cheats and love the quiet devotees.

And in that era, Los Angeles just after 9/11, I gave my body to yoga science. This was as genuine a surrender as my sincere quixotic commitment to honesty in data analysis. You know pure science is a myth, but that devotion to an honest truth search is the only hope in the void. You don’t ask about the soul in science. Non-lying is just a way of life. Its fire is so clean.

Science gave me a decade and more of superfocused, systematic action with an extremely sensitive bullshit filter. Concentrate the mind; do not invite complication; do not under any circumstances astheticize the search for wisdom. Find a line of true knowledge and know your discipline stone cold. Move the collective understanding forward. Know also that you don’t know. What you know as a scientist is your method. You understand that the temptation is to cheat truth to get famous, and that there will always be careerists who stop putting science first and put publications first instead. The early training was never to take that bait. And to remember what you don’t know as a scientist – no matter how stone cold clear your analysis – is how your limited method articulates with reality. So you have to stay curious and open as much as you stay committed.

This was a world view with integrity and purpose. It wasn’t rigid like you might be imagining. It gave great data. It turned me into a massively more healthy, happy person who could look at herself and could show up for others. It mainlined me straight into persistent non-symbolic states of consciousness, as they say.

But I see now that when I started to learn other bodies, other minds, another world view began to mix in with my science. It was the unknown again. It crept in where the science couldn’t serve me.

A complementary and parallel way begin in me then, eight years ago now, as the radical indeterminancy of each human bodymind exploded into my world. The uniqueness of every self. The not-going-somewhereness of many experiences of practice. This understanding came as strong emotions is best not to express: adoration mostly, plus a kind of devotion that aches for epic action at times, and a sense of mystery that science conflates disapprovingly with mysticism.

Yoga’s not science for me now, not like it was. These elements of emotion and meaning are bad for that kind of knowledge-building. But I’m moved forward, and backwards, and into stillness by action that is no longer so vector-like.

It’s adoration without an object, devotion without a deity. It’s hard to say so, but the parallel complementary path is art.

That’s what I see now. Science got me across the foundational years. Then teaching began. And slowly my mental-emotional nourishment shifted from science to art. Art is much easier to bullshit, and much harder to assimilate into my learning process. I don’t recommend it at all. I don’t identify with voices talking about how their “practice” is their cooking/cleaning/walking/gardening and their “study” takes place with random people who contradict each other, and their “teachers” are the flowers and the sun. Art practice is still practice. It’s still clear.

So that is what this is now, for me. It’s a habit that started rigorous, but now feels non-replicable. The difficulty in it is humbling, and funny in ways that nobody outside the art itself could understand. Often practice is just there and beautiful for its own sake.

If this practice that some of us do is art, no wonder it gets a few vicious critics, ones who want to fix others because they are broken, who wring their hands and instruct strangers to be normal and socially acceptable.

Art can be froufrou, sure. Just objects. And then also there is the sort of art practice that’s committed and doesn’t ever apologize for itself and doesn’t expect to be understood. Yet sometimes amid all the misunderstood-ness, there’s connection. And those moments of shared meaning so massive that they are worth everything but everything, every sacrifice and all the years of anonymous creation, and every systematic invisible step of the path.

What I’m experiencing now, if it’s an art of yoga, is the kind of difficult that is easy, and yet extremely hard to break.

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P.S. I’ve edged out of corporate social media, but am still very much online. There are a newsletter + email contact here.

The female body reloved • 1 May 2018

A post shared by Angela Jamison (@angelazjamison) on

Previously

What is consciousness like on the alien worlds with five suns or twelve moons? Unthinkable to us. Language, duality, polarity, metaphor, consciousness, light, night, season, cycle: on Earth all this rises in bodyminds formed by just one sun and just one moon. Culture and religion feel secondary: I suspect consciousness takes its shape from the lights in the sky. And goes from there, to the tides in our spines.

The species made up some solar religions, and also some lunar ones. And they also made body-earth traditions in which you get to worship both. I like the latter. Over time I forged a fulcrum on the inner and outer cosmos, in the form of a bodymind ritual that happens at the same time, and same place, and same points, in every cosmic cycle. Yoga for stability of the mind. This sameness is just a useful illusion, leverage for a body floating in space. But is it any wonder that testosterone peaks (yes) with the sunrise, and estrogen undulates as a 28-day tide within the tide? Nuh uh. We are little planets, made of planets, orbiting with other planets.

The tide inside is the fluid in the spine. Liteally! It’s called the cerebro-spinal rhythm or primary respiration. It’s a pulse that travels as a wave from the cranium to the sacrum and back, a couple times per minute. The first respiration begins when you live in a uterus, continuing all your life in fluid, not air. By my lights, “inhale up exhale down” is a mantra that very very slowly makes the inner tide conscious. God yes; give me a faith that moves up and down and surely as it moves left and right. “Oh yogi do not do asana without vinyasa.” Why? To genuflect with the body. Because there’s a sun and a moon.

Because tidal waves do show up in different fields of the self. For example, at menses estrogen drops as surely as the ocean sucks out to sea before a wave crashes. Over and over, year after year this goes on; and then the macrorhythm of this microrythm draws back and comes in like a tsunami. Estrogen retreats, menopause begins, and the newly- hypersensitive nervous system is naked ground. You can stand there and get smashed. Or get to elevation, higher mind, and witness what comes next in awe.

There is a specific, violent reason we don’t believe menopause is about beauty and power. But it is both. I’ve been there for it many times now. I’ve learned just a very, very little about the Change from teaching me through their experience.

The Change is taboo. There is a curtain of dread and shame that separates most of us from cultural knowledge of menopause.

Here’s a hint. PMS can be like a homeopathic dose of the Change. The small estrogen drawback that teaches about the bigger one to come. Shows you how to balance your system, cycle by cycle. So what is PMS? The little dread, the little disavowal, the little crazy?

Please.

I speak for myself here, but when I say this in person the women in my life nod. I live low impact, practice most every day, chart life by the moon, have been sattvic for 20 years. My take is that the estrogen shift of PMS makes one see all the true things. It’s huge bolts of intuitive knowledge a mind can’t even hold. It’s when you’re right; but if there’s been much undigested emotion the past month, the leftover feelings get uncorked. Fear, anger, and sadness surface in concentrated form. So if it’s been a hard month, the mental and intuitive clarity comes with some sort of cleansing, maybe in the skin or emotions or bowels. Real yoga, being folk medicine, changes that gradually. (No really, a lot of things called yoga won’t help here.) PMS is a report on how the previous month is still affecting you. Sorting this out over time conditions the hormonal system to move towards homeostasis when menopause comes. I’ve witnessed that this last part does not have to be hell. Not at all.

Smart men, too, learn these things. Through their beautiful reverent perceptiveness. The ones in my family envy my clarity shots. For me it is just one day in 28, when I get to see so much more. “You are always right; it just takes me much longer to figure it out.” For many, PMS is when you uniquely don’t care about being liked or making everyone comfortable; things people report not caring about much at all after the Change. PMS can be a hormonal cocktail of intuition and precision that gives knowledge of what it may feel like to be queen, crone, goodwitch or prophetess. Take your pick. There are others. The mature feminine’s a full deck.

The lunar traditions have methods to regulate the power surge when the hormones change. You practice renunciation. You hold the truth in your throat until you can unmix it from the emotion. Maybe you start the walk out to the red tent. With the yoga, you do not react to the emotion. Rather, sift it out from the intuition; and come through all this one cycle to the wiser.

So, menopause. Dread and disavowal hold us in ignorance. Another yoga tool is a Get Out of Jail Free card I don’t often use because it can turn into a spiritual bypass. But this situation is sufficiently dire for it. It’s “cultivate the opposite.” So if there is disdain, the countermove is compassion. For dread, I use curiosity where others go to welcome or playfulness or gravitas. And where one has projected insanity onto another, the move is consider their direct knowledge of hidden things.

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It’s not like transformation’s easy.

Do you think you come back from your rebirth in the wilderness like you walked out of a yoga spa? Not if you faced death, and made your life again out of what you saw. Not if you converted your system to different fuel. Lost a self and gained a new one. Menopause can entail all this.

Change is never really easy in seasons of the self. But typically we ritualize and glamorize transitions. Finishing school, having a child, taking a partner. Even death we can pack with meaning and beauty. So what is the deal with the disowning of this initiation?

This might explain it. If menopause is the last maturation, it is what the uterus-bearer must face to stand beside the time-tested patriarch. Think about it.

The dread-shame is a durable emotional structure in public life. It keeps us from recognizing the power of the Change, and the knowledge and intuition of the matriarch that equals or exceeds that of her counterpart.

There is something insane here, and it’s not the post-menopausal woman.

Culture is cruel to her. If there’s ritual-cultural reverence for any identity-change along the lifespan, then a person integrates the past with the future. If not, loss of an old self is a lessening. We know it’s wrong to shun a person as they step across a life threshold. We see the marks that shame leaves, especially when it lands at crucial junctures. There are pockets of high skill in supporting a woman’s crossing over. But so far I’ve only found a few in the field of the taboo. So where does one go? I don’t know, but it’s not the medical establishment and it’s not western yoga.

We don’t have great stats on the female body. From the medical standpoint, there is no evidence that women even cycle together (1). Small wonder: this is the same system that holds the male body as the “normal” research subject because uteruses are too complicated. This system gave us HRT – a history worth knowing (2). Western medicine is great, but Claudia Welch (whose teaching counterpart is often Robert Svoboda; neither of them holds out their expertise alone) reminds us again and again that it does not help to expect your MD to understand menopause (3). It’s just too complex. I don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far is that in addition to an Ayurvedic, consistent, adaptable yoga practice that sensitizes us to the many energies within the body, the best practical tools come from shameless women on the other side who are in one’s family or community. What they experienced before you is relevant because they’re close in genes and geography. Fewer variables. There is some great reading in this domain, but so far I don’t see expert information being exclusively reliable. The happiest ones in the Change-space are those who become their own curious physicians. Different kind of science. Subjective science.

For now, western yoga does a disservice by taking little interest in the inner female body. I wonder, what great percentage of the yoga world is in the Change-window, which can last for one year… or fifteen? How many teaches don’t know they’ve appropriated a folk healing tradition designed to facilitate extraordinary liminal states, including birthing, dying, and the Change?

Please, do not let anyone jack the heat and close the windows and tell you to practice harder. Notice if they don’t notice your exhaustion, heart racing, or newly hair-trigger fight-or-flight response. Discern if a teacher can’t distinguish folk medicine from a photo op.

The work of a teacher is to be a book of technique they can adapt to the individual, in support of their whole life. Ignorance of the Change means we will not perceive and revere it. So many times in my twenties in the LA yoga scene, I heard teachers respond to women in their 50s who had instability of the pelvis (including incontinence and air release) by publicly telling them to improve their bandhas. I had no idea that the psyche and tissue of the pelvis (what bandhas are made of) experiences its own full revolution. None. It is just that crazy to live in a world not really guided by the knowledge of women on the other side.

Now I have some tiny idea. We can stop, go back, rehonor the female body. Relove. Rewonder. As she reanimates, regenerates, rewins, rewakes, respeaks, regains, regrounds.
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For some short time, thousands of years, not everywhere and not forever, men ruled without women. Super weird move there, Earthlings. Your species did harm. Now there’s not much time to reverse the wars and the climate change.

Meantime there is fighting around sex and gender. This will continue until we discover the secret fulcrums that hold the battlefield in place.

If these two deep structures disintegrated, so much would open up. There’s more I don’t see, but these two are crystal clear. A matched set of taboos.

1. Men shall not try to understand the uterus. This is others’ business.

2. Menopause is to be dreaded. Is crazy and shameful and the end of you.

It makes sense that in the past those with a uterus did not trust those without to care about birth control. When women are responsible for birth control, a wall goes up in the form of disgust. Periods are ick; PMS is crazy. It seems like menstruation happens only for individuals, not also for pairs and for cultures. (No surpise, even medical science still doesn’t get that hormonal rhythms are intimately linked to every other process in the bodymind, and to a woman’s social world).

Not giving hetero partners at least equal responsibility birth control has consequences for their discernment around matters of life. Birth control that’s not a hormone intervention in a female body is a whole big experience of care, sensitivity, trust and responsibility through intimacy. (Thank God for hormonal birth control, by the way; it’s just that so many of us have gone through that experience, and deeper into our bodies, studied those drugs, and after years of worry and research eventually, ultra- carefully opted out.) How many agribusiness, and arms trade, nation-state, and social media CEOs are investing energy planning or preempting pregnancies with their partners? Hm. If they did they might know what life is. The ground floor of human reproduction, the main thing that we do, is not clear on their radar. Not yet.

But then this thing happens for those with a uterus. Concern about pregnancy goes away on a biological level. The energy economy of a woman’s body changes. In yoga, the life focus shifts to stabilizing her wisdom. Wow that is interesting. That potential.

How to fight this? Change the Change into a diminishment. Throw up a wall of ick at menarche, and double it down at menopause. Hm.

We know it makes no sense teach yoga without studying the history of colonialism in India – particularly what colonizers did to Ayurvedic doctors who had knowledge of yoga. Similarly, I submit that to understand the role of the mature woman in public life, it helps our hearts move forward to go back and study the burnings. Sorry. It’s sad. Earthlings: we burned the wise women at the stake for a long time, not so long ago. I have a weird feeling that menopause-dread is strengthened by a deep and rational terror of being publicly shamed or burned at the stake. We’re not so far out from that history. The last echoes may be in us.

This yoga is the cultivation of stability through rhythmic balance. Clarity comes from there. It’s understanding the elements of nature inside the body, threaded through the seasons on a planet that is never still. Collectively we have been out of balance for several cosmic minutes when it comes to integrating the experience of the female body. What would an resolution to strife around sex, gender and body identity look like? We have no idea yet. But it feels possible, and good, and sometimes very close.

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Losing Our Religion • 2 April 2018

Been watching my worlds in paradigm shift.

Since October I’ve been journaling on gender and sex. There’s techtonic movement in every social world I inhabit: yoga, academia, art friends, professor friends, Montana/family/church, the internet. Reality is breaking open, or breaking down, for a lot of people.

It’s ok. Reality had it coming.

Most of what I’ve written is unsafe for the internet. Unsafe. Not because I care what you think about me. The part that cares about that has to die for writing to happen—part of why writing is heaven). Not that being liked matters either, but I feel insulated by this paradox: the more dangerous I am with my voice, the more genuine friendship deepens in my life. It’s mysterious. I voice the scary things, and by accident the kindred spirits show up. So: not being liked isn’t what’s scary in writing about gender. What’s scary is that my view could make someone counter-react in a regressive way. There is bolt of hatred running through the world-mind right now. If I put anyone on the defensive, that’s contributing to it. That does scare me.

But we’re nearly all in flux right now around sex and gender. Expansively, or reactively. For me it’s showing up as a heightened sensitivity to suffering around identity, role, and vicitimization. I value freedom – including freedom from history (by knowing it inside and out), and freedom from futures shoehorned into tight roles. So I’m interpreting the current gender trouble through those values even as my world view has been moving to accommodate the moment. I have always been hypersensitive to the gender hatreds: misogyny, misandry, transphobia, homophobia and so on. I can make analytical arguments to “prove” a hidden violence is in play, but mine is not an analytical experience. It’s nausea.

Paradigm shifts happen in culture and carry people away with them, but what really interests me is the internally chosen shifts. We’ve been talking about this here for a year – those luminous moments and people who decide to recondition their minds. Some of you have shared amazing personal histories and hacks for self-creation, and I been thinking a lot about what you’ve said. What is that like, to be a person who has deliberately changed a received belief system that felt too small?

And, have you done it more than once? Stopped and responsively, deliberately remade some part of your mind? I think that the first time that happens, it’s tempting to take the new worldview as The Real Truth. Like the mystical-religious kids who morph into either market fundamentalists or Marxists (check). Like the vinyasa students reborn as ashtangis (check). Revolutions are often domain specific – a rebirth in the conscious aspects of the belief system around gender, for example, does not mean reorganization of the personality.

Here’s an insight many have found. If a person makes more than one big, coherent paradigms shift in their life, they realize: a paradigm is skin, not spine. You must have skin to function. It doesn’t work to take it off. But, if you’re exfoliating properly, it’s going to replace itself every seven years. (Otherwise you get crusty.) If you mature you worldview BUT stay friends with the past selves, then you learn to flex your metaphysics. Beneath the worldview are a person’s real values and character, which I suspect are pretty stable. (The kindest tender-loving kid from first grade is doing tough guy now, but I’ll always trust the soul in there.)

The thing about staying friends with the past selves (even delusional or toxic selves) is that it lets you remember how that corner of consciousness operates. Minds are not so private. Your old paradigm is still live in lots of other people, so the more you hold, the greater the range of your empathy. For me, flexing my metaphysics was Lesson One in meeting people where they’re at.

It becomes safer and safer to set aside an absolutist belief. Gently. There’s an underlying dynamic here. The subject of the current phase becomes the object (of the subject) of the next phase. You look at the past self from outside its skin (1)(2).

It’s hard to even know what your world-view is when your whole mind’s inside it. One of the discovery methods is to follow the emotional hotspots. So, in this situation, what experiences around gender and sex are supercharged…? Ok, great that there’s passion. One might open those doors, slowly and safely. The heat is there for a reason.

But I think it is the cold spots are the key for growth in consciousness. Anything that elicits “I won’t go there,” or “I won’t hear that,” or the dismissive and anti-curious “you’re making something out of nothing.” Those are the hidden doors currently getting blown open. Some believe systems have lots of triggers, but what about those that push almost everything out?

A lot of my perception this year hinges on being ¾ off social media. I have loved the internet for 20 years. Early social media was an underground full of weird creatives, not this thing you had to participate in to be socially viable. Now I’m more grateful than ever to have this blog space, eleven years going, as a portal for connection and change. There have never been ads here and I don’t keep stats; nothing to game. Seth Godin and Jason Kottke have written recently about the importance of blogs – of course Google discontinued the Reader years back because they want these outposts to die, but for MANY of us still using the internet as a quiet signal, and RSS is still going strong. That’s my feed once again. Meantime I think my ability to take a full, fairly nonreactive view of the present moment is predicated on not reading corporate-curated feeds.

The magical little girl in me knows that we all experience social media in either a childish or a highly evolved sort of magic-mind. Memes are spells. Mantras don’t start now with an inhalation: they start with a hash tag.

Be careful in there, my friends. The Christian magicians, at least, do more spellcasting for protection than they do for communication with spirits (don’t ask me how I know this). If you’re just wandering around the dungeon without at least a shield, you’re getting hit with a lot of dark art. I wonder if that makes us much more vulnerable to absorbing reactive, regressive, pre-scripted worldviews.

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Question. If you had an afternoon, could you go back and write the arc of your unfolding belief-value systems from age 10 to now? I began doing this periodically at 22, when my commitment to post-truth postmodernism (which I’d thought was the end of the road) gave way to a stripped-down pragmatism that enabled me to do actual research. Mapping past worldviews makes history conscious! It opens up the horizon. AND I think this process helps safeguard against regressive worldviews, especially when there are so many charismatic haters now, trying to turn us into intellectual children.

Yoga is the cultivation of discernment. We don’t GET to hang out in defensive belief systems (3). Yoga is the play, and sometimes-resolution, of apparent opposites. We don’t get to linger too long in a reactive stance.

Here’s one short version with apologies if my taste in books is too strange. My first religion was a mystical Jesus obsession when I was 3, and some part of me still can go there. Not ashamed of having been 3. Then there was the superstitious kid, who didn’t understand physics but saw that one event follows another, and started trying to hack causality. If this cow lets me touch the whorl on his forehead when I climb up the fence, then the boy I love at school loves me. Everything was magic. Maybe Piaget has a name for that consciousness; for me there’s just a remnant interiority. A few worldviews later there were a libertarian phase, age 16 and learning to read the newspaper through the biases of the people I considered strong. But at 19 I moved to Costa Rica, learned about the CIA’s parallel state, and doubled back in those politics, developing a whole center of gravity to hold my new critique in place. All of that, I still sympathize with now. It’s not that I was delusional; I was right about limited, biased experience. Not stupid; just not as free.

The process got really tight in my 20s, while I read the chronological history of western philosophy from Democritus to Rorty. Men talking to each other. It was a setup. Identify with each view one so well that a little piece of you moves outside it – and when you step forward into that another little piece of you. Plato to Aristotle. Locke to Kant. Russell to Wittgenstein. De Saussure to Derrida.

This is how it works. Identify with the idol; heat-seek for inner contradiction; transcend/include. Study the self to forget the self (4). Get used to the rhythm. It’s not supposed to end. If you are on the active edge of human consciousness, the wave will keep you moving unless you give up and dig in to the sand and decide to be old.

The thing is, we are always always changing (5). We have no choice about this. Every cell, every thought, every experience is dying every second and what comes out of that is something new. The only place we have choice is around the tone and nature of this process of living. Commitment to expansion and growth is a meta-belief that changes change. Without it, entropy and regression are just as likely. Maybe more.

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So. The most insane symbolic thing that could happen, happened. Talking about The Terrible Obvious can facilitate the next internal shift, and help it be responsive rather than defensive.

That insane symbolic thing pulled a base Jenga block out of the western mind’s cognitive structure of normalcy. It was the block called Meritocracy. We sort of knew that there was a lot of invisible rigging to the power tower. But on some level most of us could believe that the most important forms of power (I’m talking the traditional powers of government: monopoly of violence and wealth (6)) accrued by hard work, inborn intelligence, and talent.

Then the Seed of Chucky assumed the symbolic Seat of world power. Regressed. Incompetent. Unqualified. Unwanting. Genuinely racist. Whole-heartedly misogynist. It’s beside the point if previous people in the Seat were just as incompetent or unqualified. They didn’t use their non-merit as part of an overtly traumatizing, symbolic domination style (if you’re not traumatized, I would ask you to resonate with anyone whose symbolic identities do not overlap with the Seed of Chucky: an immigrant, a person of color, a female person, a homosexual person, a trans person). What I feel everyone adapting to is this: someone of no merit, someone who has literally achieved nothing in life, someone who didn’t even try… got The Codes. Meritocracy is broken. Symbolic power (just one kind of power) is embodied in a scornful, bullying, rich, white, misogynist, genuinely fascistic man who lacks curiosity, discipline, concentration, or thinking skills.

If meritocracy was our god, that god is dead.

Ouch. Ok. Good. What is the next generative move? (7) What is the big life-loving, freedom-expanding, move?

Or: extremely not good. In that case, what’s the next easy, available, regressive move? How do I re-establish a self in spite of this, without acknowledging it affects me?

Those are the questions I think my overlapping worlds are all living in. Here are a few random new ideas from out of that churn.

I. We’re all up on toxic masculinity. A lot of it is so sad, because it locks a man in having to know everything (especially being an expert on how others are stupid), having to do everything, having to kick ass to be loved, not getting to know your feelings, never experiencing sympathy and help, and tragic cuddle deprivation. I think toxic feminity is also pretty obvious in my worlds now. It hinges on the outward force of toxic masculinity (and vice-versa), which is the gaze that objectifies and conquers everyone and everything. A feminine mind that has internalized the gaze is always self-objectifying, which is incredibly neurotic and alienating and sad, yet a somewhat personal suffering. It goes toxic when that feminine mind needs everyone, not just her erotic mates, to look at her wantingly.

Relentless, overpowering domination of others’ attention is a major, and toxic, drive in our times. I think it is a power dynamic that grows out of biological truths expanded and twisted around a new kind of hyper-ego. And, I think we all kind of know this.

But what I see now is a particular, capitalist expression of this toxicity in the form of arguments that patriarchy is not a problem as long as “I get mine.” Hey I can work this system to my own advantage, so that’s feminism. Yes. This is a form of feminism. It’s also narcissistic and disconnected. If your idea of freedom is so limited that you’re happy with a violent society so long as you get yours; if you can smell misandry and misogyny on your own breath and are fine so long as you get the spoils of whatever game you’re playing… maybe time for the next turning of the wheel.

The best generative move I know from toxic masc-fem is mystic intersubjectivity. Martin Buber marks the way, and it’s a very sexy one (8).

II. Back to the regressive playbook. In perfect response to an Identity Politician running America, identity politics has hardened into two extreme poles (9). I think this includes a mass denial of the present moment. The right wing of identity politics looks backwards to a way we never were (the good old days when a man was a man and a woman was a woman (10). The left wing looks forward to the way we’ll never be –some utopian world in which Group X gets to have The Power, instead of addressing the unfreedom of our system of Imperial rule (11).

There’s a right wing identity politics? Yes, that’s what’s holding left wing itentitarianism in place, and understandably many in my world are swinging that direction. It’s Milo and Jordan Peterson. They’re enraged, condescending, and driven by a sense of victimhood even as they deny the victimhood of others. JDP exists as the world’s breathless (literally, he doesn’t breathe) defender of meritocracy – he tells you CEOs just work harder, are smarter, are more conscientious; and women get exactly what they want – they choose their subordination, choose older mates, have better things to do than direct society, and can’t be reasoned with because hitting them is frowned on. Also birth control led to a battle of the sexes and liberal divorce laws are a problem; boys should only take seriously girls who want to have children because those who don’t are alienated from their purpose in life – even though he concedes population numbers are just about to fall off a cliff because there are too many humans. Exhale.

Again, the head honcho of the free world is a nightmare clown. On some level I think most of us want to believe again in meritocracy. That’s not a problem, it’s just good hard reality. What breaks my heart most is the hidden ways that right wing identity politics hates men. I’m so sorry. What man wants to have his choices and roles narrowed down into pure suffering? What man wants to be disposable, the same way patriarchy has made you disposable all along as soldiers and workers? The intellectual and emotional challenge, and lack of compassionate support, for young men trying to find their way rips my heart out. You don’t have to be a condescending angry crustacean to survive the challenges ahead. Maybe for six months. But the thing is, crustaceans literally have no brains. A human has a whole mind and a great big fluffy consciousness to float forward on.

III. We go along now with the angry strongmen because we long for a good, strong dad. I do, at least. So deeply. I know because I have one; and I do everything in my power to give him space to be even stronger and more caring every day. But is an angry man with no feminine force within and beside him a good man?

To turn a mindset into an object, we need to be able to name and describe it objectively. THIS is why there is so much fight now around the P word. Patriarchy is not bad, and matriarchy is not bad. These are analytical objects. But if you aren’t allowed to talk about either of them, because supposedly they are not real, then you will remain forever trapped inside them. The strongmen will rage until the end against their form of power being named. That is the beginning of their end. Real men don’t suffer when we name that situation. Just the figureheads.

Once we are allowed to talk about leadership structures objectively, so much opens up. So much. The first previously hidden thing I see is how harmful male rule is for men. Unless you’re the isolated one on top, your very masculinity makes you subordinate. The women next to you, even, are potentially the quarry of the big man. In strongman and guru cultures without a healthy and equal feminine wisdom-decision source, I think what happens is that men’s ability to rise up to corrupt power gets crushed more than anything else. I’m not the first one to see this. But power corrupts, and as those in power become more audacious, the self-esteem of those who can’t stand up to it erodes. There’s little room now for women to speak to men of the pain of man-only rule. What I want to know is how much it hurts men to always be subordinate to a lopsided power that becomes increasingly corrupt. (Healing around what psychoanalysts call the mother wound feels like one very generative next move in this space.)

IV. If you know me, you know I’m my dad’s girl. He’s a conservative Christian preacher, and the last in a long line of first sons, a line that ended the moment I was born. I don’t think that was easy for him. And then suddenly, it was. At the same time, all this went in my mind from being fraught and shameful to being simultaneously adorable, hilarious,and deep well of meaning and archetypical power. A week ago he caught me reading Buddhism after Patriarchy when I visited home. Two if not three of those words would have put him on the defensive pre-2016. But this time he and my mom were just curious. What does Buddhism have to do with you? I took the route of describing it as just another paradigm, like Christianity or Yoga. Huh. And partriarchy? Well in Buddhism there was this weird idea that women couldn’t be wise and couldn’t lead. And then for the most part that idea went away, and this book is about how they’re still adjusting. Huh. Just curiosity in them, whereas two years ago I’d have been ashamed to share.

My dad is the magic guy in their world, and their house is one big altar of sacred and ritual objects. I hated that when I stopped being magical-mystical and went full rational-intellectual for a decade or so. There’s trumpet he fashioned from a cow’s horn that he only blows at three meaning-moments, including a call to prayer, and what he terms the crowing of a new king. This is the first time in his life he hasn’t believed in America’s king. But last weekend, he sounded the horn. I don’t know, but it made me want to try to pray.

V. Gaze as domination-of-all is problematic. But it’s just one of many ways of gazing, while looking on beauty is one of many doors to oneness. Radiance is real. The body in physical and visual experiences is also real, and so good. There is so much in my experience of beauty that falls in the biologically or energetically “feminine” fields. For example: my emotional body (how my feelings shift to mirror what’s happening in my environment) and my hypersensitivity to tiny peripheral-visual cues about others’ states of consciousness makes me a very good kind of being for serving as a connector. People-to-people. Or information-to-people. There’s something in there about leadership that has nothing to do with competition, objectification or domination.

In the meantime, in these present most ugly and painful times I’ve lived through, keeping my eyes wide open I perceive more beauty than anything else. All the time. I think this has to do with seeing chaos as literally and physically beautiful, as long as it contains a spark of commitment to growth. I can’t step out and see or name the paradigm I am in now, but when I seek the strong emotions in it, that one is blazing.

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1. I take this from Phenomenology of Sprit by GWF Hegel. Last part of the book is golden.

2. Same idea, different riff.

3. Anything on the abuse triad of victim/aggressor/savior is a defensive belief system.

4. That’s Dogen 🙂

5. That’s Octavia Butler.

6. Max Weber defines the State as a monopoly of violence. In other words the ultimate means of control and discipline are centralized. Weber is amazing, but I feel like Michael Mann’s Sources of Social Power is more and more relevant for an understanding of the current breakdown of the international system.

7. What is the next generative move? That’s from Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown.

8. Best for this is his I And Thou. Could be called, How To Get Any One You Want.

9. Angela Nagle is so good on this. Her new book is short and kind of essential for people who use the internet to learn about politics.

10-11. A man was never a man and a woman was never a woman. Studying history, it’s clear that regnant system is one that involves marginalization of transpeople who have always been with us, and homosexuality that has always been in is. There’s a transperson in the Tarot. The Greek geniuses were gay. In America, colonial law erased the multiple genders in found in the native Americans, cut these people’s hair, pathologized their beautiful forms of self adornment, made their language illegal, and forced them into Catholic schools. I don’t know what genderways were lost here along with so much else, but the way we were is not Little House on the Prairie.

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

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

II. Autonomy = ruling yourself.

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

I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.

Is that crazy, to live by an honor code?

Do you know anyone who you suspect runs on one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ashtanga Now • 7 February 2018

A post shared by Angela Jamison (@angelazjamison) on

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

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been painful to hear.

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

– Because the truth of others is not a problem.

– Because there is nothing to defend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voice • 7 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………….……………..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know Your Empire • 3 December 2017

Remains of defunct temple. Cauvery river, Karnataka State.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, what?

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

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

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

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

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

……………………………….

The Unlearner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……………………………………….

Yoga in Mysore is amazing right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the moment.

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