Metaphysical Car Wreck • 5 June 2007

Online community: live and lurk. I’ve lurked in the astanga online forum throughout the three years of my practice. It’s rich with information on how the practice of astanga yoga hashes and heals a person, and how these highly (but sometimes partially) processed people relate. Tracing back the impulses, I tend to click over when one of the following questions comes to mind.


O god! This practice creates me destroys me. Owns me frees me. And makes me an alien for sure. Who can understand this?


Who are these aliens?

Some people go to the forum because they’re fascinated by the body as a geometrical thing, and want to discuss it like a house under retrofitting. Or they go for directions to RL islands of astanga. Or for philosophical banter. But whatever gets us there, participants both learn about and forge astanga culture. But oddly: most of us just watch, and let a small brave few do the making.

It’s an explicit zone in a practice that is mostly wordless— unspeakable even— and in the limit, ineffable. By contrast, communication in a Mysore room is made up of: intuition (the boundaries of the subtle body, once you find it, aren’t solid); and of history-revealing sweat smells (watch out: we become sommeliers of sweat); and of the not-so-subtle self-expression/ self-betrayal that emerges within the outlines of the choreography. A Mysore room is a huge store of community information, especially as the habit refines practitioners to transparency; but all that is offstage to your experience, peripheral to your driste—and it leaves out any information about how astangis behave when we’re not in, well, church.

So the online forum is a back porch walled in silent flies. Last week, responding to a troublemaker, I flew into the zapper. Something between stupidly taking his bait and sincerely trying to put something suggestive, oblique and understated—and thereby less directly reactive—into the stew.

On a single 337-post-long thread that lasted half a year, a non-astangi troll looked for something like love (attention) through a craven bid for community punishment (strict parents, eh?), and did a brilliant job of getting it. In drawing astangi ire, he gave us the perfect chance to see ourselves if we wanted. The last thing an astangi desires to be is angry and ignorant, and because he was every shade of both angry (bitter, fearful, raw, hurt, passive) and ignorant (willful, accidental, bigoted), he offered the full set of goods to mirror any one of us. And he was a hard worker: carefully responsive to each comment, never letting the thread go cold, consistent/believable in his tone.

Much of the conversation I saw (which was only a fraction of that insane number of posts) was just boxing around the ears, but at times it got good and raw. A few participated, but amazingly, dozens or maybe even hundreds watched. And questioned themselves for it. “It’s like a metaphysical car wreck,” one interjected. “I just can’t look away.”

Many said that the discussion was litter—community garbage that should just be deleted. Ultimately, yesterday, contributors decided to preserve the thread in a marginal location where it won’t generate any more heat. In the meantime, some said things they finally regretted—things that compromised their self-images in some way—and as the conversation died, they asked the moderator to erase those old comments or went back themselves to sanitize/edit them.

Yes; a lot of words and energy were wasted in this drawn-out altercation, but more than any other on the board it answers my question of who, as a community, we are. Insofar as you know a country by the way it treats its weakest members (o “illegal” residents), these 17 pages of acrimony are a rare arrow pointing to our dark side.

How could a virtual Diogenes generate so much heat among us? What was he doing right? And are we going to pretend that wasn’t really us getting worked up?

The claims that this conversation was meaningless noise, repeated calls to banish the troll for not being one of us, and especially the post-hoc editing call to mind the perennial problem of introspective practice and the repressed sides of the personality: you can’t reflect on the parts of yourself that you refuse to admit are in you.

Lots of meditation teachers warn that it is easy to hide inside your mindfulness or contemplative practice; and the same is true for asana. Many of us feel this practice to be a refuge—a beautiful, true stroke of luck in our tragicomic lives. Even at our most sincere— when we’re not using the practice to construct a self-image that’s worked-out, insightful, balanced—we’re capable of practicing without looking at whatever it is we don’t want to see. So if it’s a refuge, is it from the world or from the parts of ourselves that we’ve disowned the same way we disown the troll?

I don’t think any amount of meditation can answer that. But for now, sleep. Part II tomorrow.