This morning, 4am. So hot, but unlike summer, no sign of dawn. The Huron River had particulated up over the shore, into the witching-hour mist that the drunks and I get to enjoy. Like a steam bath, but infused with mulch and possum dander instead of eucalyptus. When I turned the key in the Honda, the radio blasted aa-oooOOOOo, werewolves of London. Hello, mulabandha. Hello, fall.
It’s the biggest university in the country, and our town’s population just doubled. Today begins new academic careers (including the Editor, uh, Junior Professor’s), new research projects, new cohorts, new departments, new dorms… a new constitution. It is intoxicating.
For Mysore practice, the moons fall on the calendar’s Saturday free spaces all the way until mid-October. The Gregorian rhythm (Saturday rests) and the Hindu ritual rhythm (moon day rests) are moving in their biannual phase of alignment. Click. I love it when this happens.
<From Friday 9/31, between Edinburgh and Paris>
Two matrices stacked under the sun on Normandy – earth level, cloud level. We just flew over France’s turquoise and white coastline, on a zigzag route from Edinburgh to Det-waugh via Chas de Gaulle. The bottom layer is the land, checkerboarded in evergreen patches and yellow fields – equal amounts and even distribution of each. How French of them. Above that, a layer of bright, boxy clouds imitate the land pattern. There is empty sky for each patch of trees, and a swelling little cumulus for each planted field.
Two hours ago: driving east through a full moon sunrise on Edinburgh. Cold and golden. The whole old city is crusty black stalagmite spires as potent and spiritually penetrating as any Mysore shivalingam.
Routed in circles by construction on 6am empty streets, we were stopped at a T in front of the Scottish Episcopal Cathedral. The sun was coming up. Fast, the 8 or 10-story face of the church turned from black to gold. We stared up at it from a robin’s egg blue Suzuki, and then got moving again; and then I was on this plane.
It has been one moon cycle in Edinburgh, flying in at the nadir of consciousness and the mid-August heyday of the dark side. New moon + the Fringe festival. I tossed in ashtanga and pratyhara and let that whole ball wax for two weeks.
I come here because it darkens my dreams. Six or seven years ago, my nightly dreamscape got cute. We’re talking candy canes and gummy bears that float like clouds, and beautiful (frequently edible) lakes and waterfalls against a backdrop of lush green. This year, a flock of floating possum-elephants—exactly 17 of them, every night—migrated to this dreamscape. They have zebra-striped stomachs and fly in the method of Bunjee, the cartoon character from a 1984 ABC Weekend Special. Owl Whisperer (O.W. is my shrink – all Mysore teachers should have one) calls it my happy place. But I don’t know. It’s borderline intolerable.
Last night in my cold bed in Marchmont, I dreamed I walked in on a root canal op that the patient wanted to escape, because the doctor’s hands were morphing in to those of a monkey. As we left, a sign in the air said ZEN DENTIST. Later, there was a cluster of drunks in the doorway of a church made out of the rocks from Stonehenge – I saw the tissues of the drunks’ livers pulsing dark red and green under their ribs. Like E.T., but (thank Shiva) without a trace of cute. Wednesday night, a hairy film professor in a corset and floppy RenFair hat was afraid that a skating rink’s concession stand was selling poisoned currant pudding. Everyone was eating that pudding. He/she pulled me aside and told me to help track the suspect, Geoffrey Chaucer. Then we were desperately chasing Chaucer. On roller skates. And we were pissed.
Who knows why this happens in my mind here. But I appreciate that the Scots are relaxed about their darksides. And that the ashtangis here are the most honest practitioners I have ever met. They have grit, and modesty that smells like history. And milk; when I finish teaching I smell of milk. Sometimes their honesty highlights my Americanness– the ways this culture makes us our personalities a bit like fast food, with some aspects supersized, and plastic fluff mixed in with the shakes.
Other times, Scotland gives me a break from Americanness – there’s a sort of droll, dirt-under-the-fingernails refinement that begins to make sense. Royal decrepitude: the result of walking around all day on stone and bone, instead of concrete and carpet. Last week I dreamed about lizard people scratching homes and runes out of mulch-dirt; and later imagined those were my ancestors. It feels like the bones of those people are ground into the land and sucked back up from there into the milk; so, although all milk that’s not Indian chai is a little gross, here I take a spot of it with my tea.
Now “here” is an airport. We’ve begun the descent. All this verbalizing – I feel like I’m clearing the cobwebs from manomaya kosha. (Manomawhat? The verbal-analytical layer of a human. Know your koshas, yo.)
In my being, mental talk follows from emotions, body memories, and intuitive tremors in the solar plexus and the lining of the lungs. Or the talk starts from a feeling of coming unhinged at the back of my skull, after a snap of the sacrum through the fifth lumbar (which, incidentally—after 17 months of ida nadi shitstorms—has healed). Yoga philosophy says the talk actually bubbles up from the void. I don’t know, but I’ve missed you, manomaya.
After Scotland last August, I mostly stopped reading and writing. Something had to go. But now the Mysore room is giving more energy than it takes, like the coveted technologies at the heart of both this summer’s superhero movies. (Horribly, yes, Batman and The Avengers were the only films I attended this year.) So maybe writing will happen.
Either way, here’s a secret. Even if you experience torrents of compulsive internal talk, your verbal-analytical stream really can grow quiet. Why do you think the ancients bothered with this stuff? Practice can give you a fully functional off-button for the sound of the voices in your head. And not just by accident. There are purifications and techniques that summon stillness.
I’m not sure how many yoga practitioners actually know this. It takes strong concentration, a long attention span, and people who can tell you what to do because they’ve been there. There is not intermediate series. Oh sorry, advanced series. Come on, dear hunters of pidgeon, duck and that mythic pair of one-footed-crows. EXCITE ME. Is it not time to get some pose santosha and kick the mainline practice up to the next kosha?