Somewhere in the suryas, I heard a sparrow trapped in our rafters. No…on second chirp I located the little guy in the eves outside, just opposite a old white cube of a speaker mounted in a corner. My teacher caught me grinning, later, on an even bolder little birdsong, as I moved in to some form or another.
Half a practice later I noticed a vendor calling out her wares down in the street. Just like Nicaraguan Sunday morning—the bread lady with her fly-covered pico pastries; the anciana with head-balanced basket of market fruit bellowing out peaches—meloooocotoooon— so clearly you hear her 10 minutes away; guy with the sausages bringing up the percussion section with his salchichichichicha.
No street vendors on the richest corner in Los Angeles.
And what happened to the gayatri mantra, usually coursing so softly under the sound of the others’ breath?
By the time I found savasana there was a freaking din going on, a bunch of put-put motors that could have been mo-peds and a gravelly roar as if the garbage truck lost its muffler or some very large tractor lost its way en route to a local mansion-demolition.
Real time sounds of a Laksmipuram morning, it turns out, recorded some years ago when my teacher set a microphone below a shala window during practice.
This kind of thing could go wrong very easily. But this teacher has good taste. He fades to the background except for when he doesn’t. Can get away with dropping a rose petal on my forehead in Savasana—gutsy and easy to do very badly—because it’s actually my favorite scent and I don’t even notice the source until the petal falls into my lap when I roll up to sitting. He never intrudes on my practice except for, say, on a day he sees from my passing Vira 1 (of all things) that my psoas (of all things) is a tiny bit tense (how could you see such a thing?) and could use some unexpected but unobtrusive, suddenly-invented adjustment to trick it into release.
Good taste is bold, but not gratuitous. Direct and open, sure of itself. How many artists can hold back from over-adornment, from dominating physical or sonic space, but also will take conceptual and aesthetic risks?
In their own context, the hollers of street vendors or growls of auto-rickshaws may not always be so beautiful. But I suppose that in some peoples’ memories they are so. For me, the intimate association with others’ associations was sublime. And the India-related sublimity was only possible because primed by years of appreciating ambient music. Stacking two contexts aurally within one space, with half the ambience being self-consciously artificial… I actually don’t have words for the aesthetic perfection, the transcendent this-ness, of the experience.
A lot of students missed it altogether, letting the foreign sounds mix with those of two Oaxacan men lugging a planter across the slate patio and Mercedes SUVs honking at one another on the quasi-country highway below. For those who did notice the auto-rickshaws and street vendors and mufflerless trucks, the reaction was dramatic—from irritated to ready to catch a flight to Bangalore tomorrow.
For me, I can only understand it as art, because otherwise the delight I took in the creativity… and the music I found in the ambience… well, it’s stupid if it isn’t art.
If there is a place for sublimity in the space of practice, I’m not sure what aesthetics illuminates it—I suppose some metaphysic of quality or dialogic merging of the experiencer and the experienced. I usually shy from the idea that the thisness of physical practice can enter the realm of pure art, but shit. I dunno. Experience that just is, that plays catch-and-release with transcendence instead of grasping for it; play that sees this moment radically another way on the basis of otherwise worn out forms. I guess if moments of practice can be aesthetic experiences—with a sublimity that’s so far beyond scrivenerly formalism… well, I guess I’m finally getting comfortable with the idea that practice might be sometimes art. I’m shocked to find myself here.
Line drawing by Rita Taraborelli. She works mostly in other media and says her drawings are just for fun, but I love them. She’s new to ashtanga, so I’m wondering how the practice will relate with her muse. Rita’s photos and her website.