Lizard brain, world soul • 13 June 2009

Dance this morning was up in Hollywood, an intimate den of a place with a soft, forgiving floor and blue-grey light filtering in through the wall of windows. June gloom. The only time you really feel the ocean in the air here, the only season with the ambient drama people in the rest of the world know as weather. The air is wet and salty, and you feel it cool on your face. I love the contrast of this season, the way everyone is a little socked in, like the sky.

In Hollywood, you enter the den-space from a hidden back door, and once inside it feels like an urban fortress—like the Hollyhock House up near Griffith Park, or the Getty, or the highrise apartments in the Westwood financial district. Yet in this studio, the windows look right down on one of the seediest stretches of Pico Blvd. Today the rain was coming in sparse glops, knocking the purple jacaranda blossoms in to the street. I had the feeling of cozy mischief, like I was a child building pillow-forts up on the top of a bunkbed, looking down and out, snuggling together with other little wild ones.

What is the distance between lizard brain and the world soul? About two inches from cerebellum to pineal gland, I guess: from primate wildness to knowing, mass intersubjectivity. Does it make a difference that we come to this with the intent for exploration and play, rather than for orgiastic escape?

Usually it only makes sense to dance in other people’s sacred spaces, not in random performance studios like we did today. We meet at the Masonic lodge or at a de-sanctified church in Venice. It’s not like every other religious transition in recent millennia, in which the new faith comes in and builds its temples right on top of the previous holy site. A lot of these dancers are explict about being “the next spirituality”—the integral cutting edge of ecstasy or whatever—but in one way this innovation is different from every other religious succession. Rather than new colonizers building atop the old, they are just renters—of both meeting spaces and symbols. Building some transcendence out of what they’ve got, and leaving it behind a few hours later.

I am learning from this. That it is possible to take the ecstasy on the road. I’ve been realizing how strongly the taste for transcendence stays with me—everything hangs together better, and knows how to move, when there are regular altered states. Preferably every day. Church used to do that, then it was travel and danger, then it was practice. And now I realize why I'm less understanding of people who don't engage practice in that way… people who use it to check in with a stream of frustration or lack or trauma or play or performance or healthy competition instead of the churchy stuff. I’m not sure this is a problem for anyone—some addictions or habits-of-being are good or at least kind of necessary for a time.

But the variations between my subjective experience of dance, yoga, sitting are no longer confusing–a lot of the same stuff is going on in each because the underlying experiencer (whatever she is) is sort of constant. I'm slowly learning to hold the ecstasy more lightly, allowing that sitting or dancing or yoga not just be self-service entrancement. This has been a hard letting-go, something a teacher might have instructed years ago if I had been open then to that sort of teaching. But then, ashtanga wasn't that kind of practice. We are still stuck studiously pretending that it's not about the mind or spirit or whatever, that the only relevant instruction is about how to get beautiful and (most importantly) correct vinyasas. 

Saturday links-

Great article ( on the excuses we make for people who seem spiritually insightful but are ethical wack-jobs. Raising the question: if your root relationships are a joke, what kind of practice is that? The argument is that teachers who don’t “do” everyday morality and only play with transcendence are dualist tools. Seems like, given the cop-out discourse of “that’s her projection, not my mistake,” and (more often heard in women) “oh, nothing is really wrong, the situation just triggered my own issues,” it's good to have tools for taking responsibility, and for holding so-called authorities accountable.

– A practice ( that merges Wittgenstein and Heidegger with the contemplative side of Christianity to produce a series of habits of just looking in to the body to find what's going on. This is what others would call centering prayer, or still others mindfulness, or I would call getting in to the central channel. I can’t believe these people exist and are doing sort of the same thing I do but with a discourse that merges my professional worldview (phenomenology) and good old Judeo-Christian ways of talking. Who should I colonize with it first—the Chirstians or the academics? Oh yeah, neither. It doesn’t work like that now.