To have and to hold • 7 August 2007

This will be the last post in the sacrum cycle. Things are getting dangerous around here and I’m putting the lid on it before the enlightenment police and their awakening-is-for-hippies sidekicks find us out.

Meantime… I’m toying with the idea of a small interview project with very long-term practitioners. I’d like to ask them to talk about the specific injuries or other pain they’ve experienced as advanced practitoners, the healing or change this brought, and the way such experiences over time have shaped their relationships with the practice.

It would be asking a lot. These can be seen as intimate questions. Writing this out, I realized that I had more to say than expected… and yet that the topic in my case is not terribly complex or elusive. Injury is worth de-mystifying, and de-mythifying, even if ultimately it’s beneficial to treat it philosophically as well.

Sometimes it’s easier not to put these things into words, and to let them go when they conclude as if they happened to another body. But insofar as the practice is the teacher, pain and injury are one mechanism of learning. So, asking a few insightful old-timers to mark off some of their experience in words might help others, and add to an understanding of how this system can work. *If anyone reading would benefit from a project like this, your feedback is very welcome.

I imagine that the way pain and injury shape your relationship to practice depends heavily on your personality and the nature of the injury, so not every old-timer’s experience would resonate with every student.

I don’t know. With my modest experience, I can say that astanga practice has been often different in the presence of pain. For the past months, it’s been about inner “research” both physical and psycho-emotional, rather than the ecstatic, touching-the-infinite experiences that made me an addict. Pain has a way of taking up my attention, and I think that it’s a good idea to allow it do just that when it’s here.

Over time, this has changed my relationship to the practice more than I can say. I don’t think it’s made me more committed, but revealed that the habit was already set at the level of taken- for- grantedness and I’m as likely to quit this morning ritual as I am to give up brushing my teeth.

That said, when the tapas are low, practice puts me less “in touch with how I’ve been treating myself” lately (in Joel Kramer’s words). Practice becomes more a refuge than an inspiration to live the rest of the day at the ashtanga standard of clarity and openness.

I’m fine with it being a refuge for a while. For months, even doing third series, I’ve experienced this as a restorative practice. I’m not sure how to explain this, but here is a comparison. My partner has done some uncharacteristic “looking out for me” this summer: learning to receive a bit of nurturing from both sources has been interesting and good. And not easy.

Most of the time, practice teaches me that life is easy. This is what I love in the astanga disposition—lightness without flightiness, quietude without clenching, sincerity without seriousness—and I’ve been lucky to find teachers who don’t need to be either disciplinarians or care-takers. Thank god. But lately practice has shown me that life is difficult sometimes, and this doesn’t make me want to break up with astanga.

Struggle was here. It tapers off. The relationship goes on.

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