Over and Out • 5 July 2009

Back from Encinitas with a head full of this and that, just now realizing I have a hundred pages to read tonight and at least an hour of memorization before settling in tomorrow morning for retreat. The readings are hilarious—exhaustive categorizations of all possible experiences that will arise on the cushion, and all possible ways of relating with it. Aristotle meets Vipassana by way of a Shingon (Japanese Vajrayana) teacher with—evidently—more than a casual connection to Zen. At the beginning of the readings, it says that on some level, you don’t know experience until you can apprehend it precisely. I love that. It’s like what my Marx teacher used to say to students who claimed they could understand the work but just couldn’t put that understanding in clear and distinct writing: you don’t know it until you can describe it. Types, kinds, classes… Aristotle all the way. At least Shinzen’s idea is that you classify and classify until—poof—everything goes up in smoke. I don’t have to take the classifications as real, just inhabit them.

Speaking of which, I’ve been reminded of all the scholars in my life who are so busy hating the society around them that they cannot participate in it. It takes a special fundamentalism to believe that The Fourth of July means one thing and one thing only, and that only fellow PhDs understand that true meaning, and that all others are ignorant, nationalist louts. If my friends understood their own concepts, they would realize they have all the flexibility in the world to use the day of festivities to mean whatever they choose (for example, to celebrate their own unique lives), that the historical content is not the only content.

This is a big puzzle for me: that often, education is not freedom but a set of new taboos, enslavement to old ideas, over-investments in the past. Being educated, in a lineage or in a discipline, becomes such a selfhood project one feels driven to pay constant homage to her pedigree. So that she knows who she is. To the point of driving out experience.

Anyway, may I recommend Fourth of July at La Jolla Cove? Surprisingly, the most ethnically diverse group I’ve been a part of this night in years. A navy brass band playing Dixieland jazz, old people holding hands on the bluffs, waves crashing in to land as hundreds of people snap cameraphone images of loved ones mashed together with the big sun sinking in to the ocean behind them. This morning I practiced in the great mini-mall shala that is the sentimental home of so many ashtangis. Ran in to several people I’ve known in other cities, other countries and online… it's always surprising who is there. I felt presumptuous to drop in for an advanced class—led 2s—but a comeuppance about my dyslexic dwi pada was a good welcome. Tim not only led practice but did it alongside us, which I loved. And there were some extra things that made both kapotasana and the padas much more… natural. I’m writing this post because I thought some people out there would find this helpful. Here’s what I remember (you can figure out where we put them): eka pada bhekasana, supta virasana, viparita dandasana, vrksasana (handstand ver.), single pidgeon, wonky parsvokonasana (head coming to ankle, maybe behind foot)-to-vasisthasana (the one with one leg on the arm) [this is great], supta raja kapotasana (single pidgeon on your back), kashyapasana, forearm vrksasana.

There’s a new email in my in-box about how we might not be able to get to the retreat center tomorrow. It’s up in the mountains to the north, in Encino, on Hayvenhurst Drive. Friday the radio was going on about how Hayvenhurst has been a mess all week, because Michael Jackson’s mom lives there and fans won’t stop building shrines and doing vigils there. Now it turns out that our retreat center is the property adjacent to the Jackson residence and retreat organizers are concerned we may not be able to get past the police barricades and crazy fans! I wonder, are they blasting Thriller out of ghetto blasters, as they were down at UCLA Medical Center the day of Michael’s death? Will I have the opportunity tomorrow morning to do some mindful vulture driving, or mindful giving of the finger? I bet if the cops just told the mourners that we were trying to meditate next door, they would chill out and join us in silence. Ommmmmmm over and out.