More PDA • 28 April 2008

So ok. I took the little animals to play at the store I have often ridiculed (more because of bad labor practices than cultural iconography, but see the footnote I'll post later I posted in the comments***). Did they get dirty? I don’t think they really did, even got as they rolled around on the floor of the yoga lifestyle mecca, temporarily seared with the post-OM loopdy-loop of the brand. If only chattel could remove their burned-in brands so easily as I did later, wriggling out of a corsetlike top that created the illusion of cleavage with my A-cups and left a line around my ribs where the elastic reinforcements had been.

The animals will probably get more dirty right here, as I confess I am mildly amused to have done this thing, and that it was pretty good practice.

So, this is the only remarkable thing: I had a deep practice, on a Saturday, on the floor of the Lulu store. I was expecting some kind of pre-performance jitters, but their edge was well removed by the experiences of earlier that morning, which left a kind of buzz that transcended even the apropos LCD Soundsystem record that accompanied my drive to the venue. I was expecting constant distraction and performance-awareness, but my experiences of practicing as a visitor in certain shalas has been far more outward-focused and performative than this.

When you visit a shala, you’re taking your goods in to a new house within your own community. The natives know the species of animal you’re offering up, and they know just how to evaluate it! Are the flanks in the right place, are the muscles of the belly indicating the right awareness, how straight are the legs here and do the hands reach the floor there? Edges edges edges.

In the land of pussy yoga (can I say that? No, really can’t say that), you have them from the transition to the first chatwari. Nobody has a vision of a Marichyasana D and there is no edge you can push there to impress make some mark on them. The animals themselves—sages, boats, turtles—probably don’t even count on that stage. Just the fact that you are moving on the breath is arresting, informative, interesting, maybe even educating… and least to the people who might notice in the first place.

I could write my best ethnographic fieldnotes here and fill you in on the most amusing details (which have to do with reinforced fabrics and a fussy assistant manager), but the details weren’t so important to the actual experience I underwent.

I lug my laptop to cafes all the time, because I focus better with a little ambient sound and commotion. I’ve always thought this is because movement around me reminds me of the passage of time—which gets lost behind the double doors of my office—and creates an urgency that makes me work better. Time is a shared category of the understanding, and the social nature of the now (the productive now, at least, is social) is unavoidable among others.

But after practicing deeply under a Justin Timberlake soundtrack and under the eyes of god knows how many passersby, surrounded by so much intensely overpriced lycra, I see that the social aspect of my focus in chaotic environments might be a bit more sinister. It’s that movement around me reminds me that the other is out there, and drives me to set the boundaries of my own attention very close. One-pointed, but in an almost protective—if not defensive—way.

Again, I come back to the mantra parable of the seven ten virgins who keep their lamps trimmed and burning.**** This is from the book of Matthew, which is why I resonate with the story so easily, but Tolle uses the story to talk about the ways you guard your awareness. Awareness is often depicted as a little candleflame in yoga and Buddhist commentaries, too. The preciousness of a focused presence, the cultivation it requires. But when there’s an external “threat,” at least in this case, it’s no trouble at all. Far more focused than most kitchen practices, in fact.

This disturbs me a little, but opens up some paradoxes about the social aspects of consciousness, the interaction of society and deeper layers self-awareness (below mere self-consciousness), and well, a certain—ok, limited—potential for doing contemplation in the marketplace.