I’ve been on the quiet side this week, and getting nudges to open up and write. Of course that’s the idea of this project—to let it discipline me a bit, and to see if it brings about a voice that’s closer to my 90s-era, sensual epistles and further from the dense, withholding prose on which I’ve closed in as an academic.
The quietness of the past days has made space for me to be receptive, so I’ve been taking up on my teachers’ reveal codes. Looking at their meta-methods.
This came in a day with N, who is so close to her work—she writes books on globalization—that she gauges her wellbeing by her relationship with it. This is what it takes to be a good intellectual now. Forget generalism and professionalism: it’s about passionately being your work. Take this or leave it, but it’s the code for doing academia well.
Monday and again yesterday it was a self-indulgent, unorganized, wonderful documentary on the insanely inspiring Cassavetes. We assume that genius cannot explain itself—does not even know its own codes. But in A Constant Forge Cassavetes narrates from the grave. “I have a one track mind,” he says. “I’m only interested in one thing. Love. And the lack of it.” That’s just an artists’ statement, but C can also articulate the meta nature of his project. Most film is so conventional—in its ideas of what people are and what they do—that it cannot even see its own conventions. But his work lays bare the falseness of most film by being more true. “Films today show only a dream world and have lost touch with the way people really are… In this country, people die… emotionally at 21… My responsibility as an artist is to help people get past 21.”
Thursday, after my astanga teacher told me casually that he’d like me to find vrischikasana on my own, he caught me in overthought. Brow-furrowed, I puzzled over what to with the head and the gaze as I bring the feet over to rest on the crown. He stopped, told me to let the focus soften: take in more—not less—of the surroundings as I settle in. The code, as he said it: It gets real kinesthetic. And it’s true.
This—opening your focus, perceiving with the subtler body—is how you function on too much information in yoga practice. Yesterday as I stood beside the greatest flow diva in town, overwhelmed by her roomful of students in down-dog. She caught my discombobulation and whispered: “It’s amazing how different bodies are, isn’t it?” Which is exactly what I was thinking. Each individual scapula and sacrum pressed in and rendered me helpless.
And then I remembered something she told me weeks ago: one way you know how to teach a big room is to let your focus go soft. This helps you pick up the energy, the aptitude and the needs of the group in the moment. You cannot be undivided for every individual at once, but this doesn’t mean you have to divide yourself up and distribute equally. Like in a seminar where you want to bring the text-messagers out of their distraction without distracting the rest, the method is less about doing many things at once and more about finding poise directing on a larger scale.