Vibration I • 23 July 2010

It’s a tiny bandwidth, the culture represented here at the largest fair in North America. The parameters: midwest-middlebrow home and body adornment, made from clay, wood, wire or glass, early twenty-first century period, with a touch of what the natives call panache. But this narrowly specific style has concentrated here and reproduced, booth after booth booth. All all the same mood, the same message, copied in another material in slightly different size, sometimes better quality, sometimes cheaper, maybe in different shapes, but usually in the colors aqua, lavender and forest green. It feels relentless and driven, like reproduction of a species, block after block after block on my walk in to campus.

I don’t understand that there should be so many producers of so few ideas. But the same happened to indie rock and the great American novel – certain corners of culture generate as many producers as consumers. Mimetics, an idea well hated by all other ideas, says that pieces of culture act like genes: inexorably reproducing and fighting each other to survive. In other words, objects and ideas have their own sex drive.

Well, for what it’s worth, there is one mutation in this generation of Art Fair. Out behind the Sociology building, there’s a less-traveled corner of random ideas: one booth of wax people (a security guard, a maid, and a bunch of nudes), a bunch of huge, colorful mobiles to put out in your yard, and underneath those, two men selling didgeridoos. (I know, didgeridoos are really sexual. No wonder they got stuck in the back corner of Art Fair with the nude sculptures. But nevermind. I’m not trying to talk about sex here. I’m actually talking about didgeridoos.)

One craftsman’s didgeridoos are much more beautiful than the other’s across the way, and his booth is beautifully decorated and inviting. I was so interested by the idiosyncratic swoop and the smooth, dark wood if his instruments that for once on my desultory way to work I stopped. He had an incredibly strong, refined rechaka, letting the breath go slowly, and rarely sneaking it back in with swift, soundless inhalations through the nose.

The other guy was just scrappy, sitting out in the sun smelling of body odor, with his instruments dangling sloppily from the booth’s upper scaffolding. But he had a crowd, so I stopped again to watch them watch him. After I’d been standing there three times the duration of the other guy’s exhalation, my solar plexus began to hum.

Woah. He was doing something right. Maybe chakras require a vibration that’s steady, if they’re really going to respond to sound.

The craftsman just kept playing on a circular breath. The Editor and I sat down nearby, and eventually me second and fourth chakra-ganglia got the message as well. I wondered how many of his crowd noticed the fascination in their bodies, and how many were just puzzled by trance. And how many were merely drawn in (as I first was) by the crowd itself—just copying the other visitors' attentiveness. In any case, no wonder the second craftsman doesn’t care for matters of form. His creativity is on the level of the subtle body.

I suggested to the Editor that this skill of circular breathing made the second vendor an expert, whereas the first was still stuck in form and mimcry. I added that maybe circular breathing is just as subtle and difficult as learning to climax without ejaculating. But I think I was supposed to edit that part out.


  • Posted 23 July 2010 at 12:34 am | #

    Susan Blackmore at home and at TED

    Heavy rotation…

  • Posted 23 July 2010 at 7:02 pm | #
  • Posted 23 July 2010 at 11:54 pm | #

    A friend of mine could and would (and has, actually) advise(d) on both the term “sex drive” and the skill mentioned in your last line.

    That aside, yes, “actually…didgeridoos.” Damn you, Freud, eh? I’ve thought on numerous occasions that if we treated, say, fingers, with the same public mystery with which we treat genitalia and all that they do, then watching a symphony play would be downright indecent.

    It’s all more interesting in terms of energy. Right on.

  • Posted 24 July 2010 at 1:05 am | #

    Circular breathing is REALLY hard.

  • Posted 24 July 2010 at 1:30 pm | #

    Wait… you have tried? Is it a part of going to music school in woodwinds?

    I’m pretty in to the pranayama and all that, but the CB seems completely impossible!

  • LIAshtangini
    Posted 24 July 2010 at 7:28 pm | #

    I have tried. Apparently its easier with brass instruments or the flute because there’s nothin IN your mouth? But I knew several sax players who could do it so maybe that’s not true.

  • Posted 26 July 2010 at 11:05 pm | #

    I can sort of imagine the physiology… perhaps bouncing the inhalation off the back of the sinuses in to the top of the lungs… but this would make the entire process somewhat shallow in the lungs. These didgeridoo guys have a lot of power and resonance that seems to come from deep in the belly. Swallowing swords would be less impressive.

    Here is a synopsis of that huge article about Anusara the other day. Mr Friend and I had an interesting email go-around last year after he posted a scandalous photo of SKPJ (who had just died) to his personal blog. Our extensive conversation covered his motives, and he got sufficiently involved that he took time out from teaching some retreat in Hawai’i to keep up our correspondence. I appreciated that. In the meantime, amid another interesting discussion of the nature of manufactured community, I inquired how his teachings about the evils of ashtanga harmonized with Anusara’s book-length “code of ethics” (signed and sworn to by all his teachers), in which criticism of other styles of yoga is prohibited.

    Perhaps the reason other teachers aren’t even talking about Friend’s humiliation here is that they can do with one or two yamas what he can’t with a book-length legal document.

    Moving on.

  • Liz
    Posted 27 July 2010 at 5:31 am | #

    uh… thanks (??) for directing us to the article.

    Pathetic. If one has to rise by pushing others down, there was never any substance to begin with.

  • V
    Posted 27 July 2010 at 7:38 am | #

    Mr Friend demonstrated a really mean streak that day.

  • Posted 27 July 2010 at 1:01 pm | #

    That is the thing. I got the sense that he is incredibly repressed. When I first wrote to him, he immediately deleted his blog post and said that he only feels love for other styles and people everywhere.

    The “fake it til you make it” method of love and light. Ok, could be worse. He’s doing his best. But: boooooring. Isn’t that kind of inner division and outer behavioral swings a bit more suited to people in the early years of their practice?

    I dunno. Maybe we see this clearly because ashtanga had repressed stuff around SKPJ that we really didn’t have the space to process until last summer. That was a really good part of the grieving process… which I personally experienced through being fired up by and then coming to some kind of a truce with the most symbolically repressed and phony figurehead in yoga.

    BTW, to questions about comment moderation – I don’t moderate or delete comments, although there are two people in the world whose IPs are banned from commenting here. Otherwise, if comments don’t post, maybe try again? Sorry about that.

  • Posted 27 July 2010 at 2:23 pm | #

    Blow, winds, blow, and crack your cheeks!

    perhaps what he would have said to JF’s love n’ affection pentupameter. perhaps what he would have done on the didgerigoo(s).

  • LI Ashtangini
    Posted 27 July 2010 at 3:26 pm | #

    John Friend….YAAAAAAWN.

    The circular breathing has zero power when you first start doing it, and usually you sound completely different on your instrument….and not in a good way. But with time people who really work at it can make it sound pretty normal and fairly powerful. In instrumental playing terms it’s more like ‘breath from the head’ vs. ‘breath from the diaphragm’. If that makes any sense at all…..

  • charusheela
    Posted 27 July 2010 at 8:59 pm | #

    craftsmanship riding the wave of bliss to absolute freedom. yoga without a mat. what matters rock n roll when prana merges in the sushumna. were that someone would tell this to the new world order of half baked moralities and cult of the fully enlightened. spawning rocky mountain high into the trunk of an oblivious messiah. while the sheeple are led to pasture.

  • Posted 28 July 2010 at 8:03 pm | #

    Yes, S, that does make sense. I had thought it was from the belly, but I guess the actual sound of the dig is usually thin, almost thready.

  • Posted 28 July 2010 at 10:02 pm | #

    Some really crafty scots (my teacher taught me 10 years ago) have used this technique practicing the chanter (bagpipe practice instrument – no air bag). As Li says, its a head exhale, essentially your mouth pushes the air while closing the upper throat, allowing the nose to inhale into the lungs. It is incredibly difficult to learn, but not really, like non-ejac climax. it is overcoming the idea of it. No pun there. really.

  • Posted 29 July 2010 at 11:37 am | #

    Wow. What an amazing description. And such an ingenious a manipulation of our limited human architecture! I am very impressed, GB. This is another level beyond jumping out of airplanes!

  • Posted 29 July 2010 at 11:41 am | #


    I just read the comment I’ve been ignoring.

    Tristan, your very particular anger-scorn signature follows you everywhere.

    Even with a new name, and two or three years absence from my comment thread, and a completely new—brilliantly new—ESL writing style. You’ve got it bad, man. Do you really want to carry that shit around yet another year?

    See ya.

  • LI Ashtangini
    Posted 29 July 2010 at 6:07 pm | #

    Gregor, yes, exactly.

  • Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:20 pm | #

    Shucks, though I do aim high, its what Michelangelo did. 🙂 and I was in Portland, it helped clear my head! .

  • Posted 31 July 2010 at 11:38 am | #

    John Friend’s response. This is gossip blog level reading, so please don’t go there unless you are extremely bored.

    My response, which is awaiting moderation:


    John, how disappointing. If you will remember, you and I had a long exchange last year after trashed Pattabhi Jois soon after his death. I am sure you had your reasons for doing this, but it was in especially poor taste given that Jois had just died and ashtanga practitioners the world over were grieving. As Pema Chodron has said, some people—in their delusion—yearn for a sanitized guru. But why would you try so hard to sanitize yourself?

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