Thought-rut Rotgut and the Problem of Evil • 14 February 2007

In the beginning was the word.

No wonder it’s so easy to be superstitious about words! Language is the way we reify: humans’ method for making things things.

There’s one moment of my yoga practice I strictly do not discuss for fear of reifying fear itself. Today, because I can see the other side and because it’s a day for laughing at fear, I’m going to go there.

This is because the past three days have been much about the problem of evil, or rather: the problem of shit happens. (Shit happens to one you love beyond words, in this case.) Or again, by the subjective turn: (the “problem” of) the first noble truth.

That topic is still raw. So for now I’ll bracket my interrogations of the idea that shit happening is good for you (see for example, the Apostle Paul, the Pali Canon). Are these rationalizations of the random nature of the universe? Legitimate narratives of liberation? In any case when the shit is on top of you, you either have the grace and grit to deal, as it is, or you crack up in storytelling or hysterics. The only reason I’m not doing the latter is that a younger and wiser person is my guide: stop explaining and do what you do. Sleep. Hugs. Vitamin Water. Ambient Eno. Gratitude. Backflips.

So yeah. Beginning last summer, I had a mental block at Viparita Chakrasana. I said it. Did I just screw myself over? Give substance to a passing whisper?

VC is this: having brought yourself from downward facing dog to a handstand and then dropped over into a backbend, one merely does the thing in reverse. Breathe in and arch the back deeply, kick hard in the legs, and bring the feet neatly back oven the head to some kind of standing forward fold.

It was interesting to be mentally disabled. The relevant anatomy was the brain, which, having shut up for the first half of the maneuv., struck hard into soma each time I asked the feet to come back up. This requires the feet to precede the head, in a sense. And the body has the thing in the bag.

But for months the head wanted to decide: wanted to lead, not follow the feet. Cro-magnon tendency, again. In the moment of truth the false conviction would arise: the hands aren’t ready to take on footlike responsibilities! Flinging the feet off the floor means the hands must support the world (or merely the body…), but what if the hands fly away? What if the palms become light, stop holding me down, and then I’m stranded in air? The palms would then tremble and wilt. The feet would root to the earth, frozen in slapstick-comedy concrete.

Months ago, Rolf N let me initiate the movement and wordlessly drove an index finger right behind my heart. The feet got it. This was before I learned to make a controversy over it all, turning it into foot and head competition. And then for months I coaxed, condescended a little. Took the body to the top of the doublediamond to gaze down it most mornings, made that moment playful instead of some routine little spat, and waited to see if she would give it up. She wouldn’t.

These days my teacher tends to come over and cut any bullshit out of the equation. Everyone but a few renegade neurons knows this isn’t a big deal, so we collaborate on patching VC together without them. With practice, this is having the effect of gradually reconstructing the world, taking for granted the doability of asana in the way this teacher tends to do.

There’s nothing exhilarating about it, because this is not achievement-oriented action. It’s just doing what you do, in a way that isn’t even worth remarking on except for to concede that for months I manufactured its ridiculuous, trembling remarkability into a big blind taboo.

I guess sometimes a thought-rut can be as real as words.