There are different kinds of trees • 10 August 2008

A client is learning to trust himself—literally, he’s putting himself in situations that show him that he is already rooted and stable. Yesterday we began and ended a session with tree, using the shape of it as a measure of the body before and then after practice. He keeps having these moments of recognition in practice, and I realize that as much as I’m there for it I don’t exactly understand.

This morning I skipped dance because I wanted to keep my wits about me. In dance, I let my wits spin out at great distances, give all my energy away, play with boundaries of self until I’m exhausted. It takes an hour afterwards to click back over into writing mind and writing body. So today I rolled out the kitchen practice mat but brought my dance mind rather than ashtanga mind to the moment.

Oh my god. Ok. That was easy and hearteningly good; and shifting in to the mental-bodily state for some kind of ‘practice’ was shockingly automatic—maybe because it’s just what my organism expects to do when Saturday morning rolls around.

I don’t even remember what kitchen practice consisted of this morning, but at one point I decided to hang out on one leg and find out everything that is possible when that one variable is held constant. I thought of the student who had his tree realizations yesterday, and experimented with what it would take to find the limits of my own one-legged stability. Suprising how much is possible, how much stability is here.

And you know what? It’s all in the backbend principles. Grounding down through four corners of the feet, sucking the arches up a whole line of energy into the pelvic floor, slight inner rotation, microbend the knees, work the quadriceps and even the hamstrings strongly, steer the hips toward even. Do the backbends from the ground up and strongly, and crazy standing stability is coming. Treelike stability, even if you’re doing all manner of spontaneous branching with the other limbs.

It is good to set aside the container of fixed practice and play. The consciousness of this morning, in my challenging kitchen space where I am so used to the deepest requirements of focus, was so much in the body. Usually I’m focused on cultivating the deepest possible mental state, so the stipulated practice sequence is nothing more than a regular mantra for supporting that. Today was not in the mind but out of the mind. Ec-static. Expressive, moreso than contemplative. Really happy and satisfying, but absolutely not the same as a practiced mental state whose intention is one-pointedness. And I can only say that vis-à-vis experience of regular meditation practice and ashtanga.

So this morning also made me a little sad, considering what’s missing from the “wild art” practices that are primarily ecstatic and expressive (and also sad about the outright poverty of concocted American yogas that grasp for "happiness" and self-congratulation as a way to simulate ecstasy or run from pain). I move in order to make myself happy, it’s true. The energetic outcome is guaranteed. But with ashtanga I move in order to find out what I really feel—to observe rather than to create or express.

The common complaint that ashtanga is not fun is about this. It’s because the style is built for contemplation rather than for gratification. For me it incidentally delivers sort of indecent joy on a daily basis (sorry, it always happens to me–the trees do clap their hands even if they're made in contemplation), but the texture of that is interestingly different from the joy of dance.

I don’t know. There is much more to find here. The neurologists can hook electrodes up to my head and find out that the brain is doing totally different things in ashtanga and dance, but is that even interesting? The real researcher here is me, finding out how all these different mind-body states operate, how you get into them, how deep you can go, and what kind of consequences they have. My two practices are such a great contrast— two extremes on the control/spontaneity or contemplation/expression spectra. I’m so grateful that I can investigate both practices better through the contrast.

There we go with comparative logic again. Funny that comparative logic itself doesn’t operate in either ashtanga mind or dance mind, but here, in front of my computer, in discursive mind. Which is good for something too. Good for a lot, actually.

And for now that’s an additional question. Which mind-body practices and state-cultivations add depth, intensity, intelligence, cleanliness, speed and integrity to my everyday discursive mind?