If SKPJ were a blogger, he’d wave off all the Mysore chronicles and tell the story of your first trip on the south Indian mother ship in this sentence:
First month paining, second month tired, third month flying.
Encinitas this week felt like mobile Mysore – the jostling into and out of class, the two hour breakfasts, the living room floor laugh festivals every evening with my fictive ashtangi kin. One morning in conference, Sharath stopped while the Amtrak roared just behind the shala, setting off a car alarm. Then he dead panned: I feeel like I am in Innn-d-ia.
It is so odd to enter Mysore-style collective headspace while still on US soil.
But… there is something inimitably So-Cal about afternoon trips to the shot bar (like, they sell shots, for your bum, from a cocktail menu of vitamins and amino acids and sundry hangover cures), and about the quantity of kombucha and kale accumulating in my tissues.
I got wondering if a condensed version of SKPJ’s story applies when Sharath’s on tour: first day paining, second day tired, third day flying. This is because I was floored. Everything felt shockingly, stupidly hard. I’ve never had led intermediate be anything but fun, but I’ve also never jumped right into a week of it after a goddam dirga kala winter of teaching Mysore.
In a sense, it’s thrilling to see the tough side of intermediate series for the first time since the postures were new. It’s like the moment when a soft spoken friend grits his teeth and shows his backbone, because for once he’s encountered a battle that he’s gonna bother to fight. Complexity is intriguing. I like it that lovely, lilting mayurasana and his peacock feather friend do have one hell of an edge. Everything ached for 48 hours.
Then on Sunday, my grandfather died in Colorado. Ninety three and lucid enough to remember everyone’s birthdays and do his own taxes, thankyouverymuch, he told us he had no regrets and opted out early from a horrific six week prognosis. So intense, and peaceful. Emotion without drama. We should not have been surprised. I felt my father, in Montana, deflate into grief.
Sunday and Monday, my lungs, sinuses, eyes and center of the head went raw, hypersensitive to every thought and emotion… and also to direct transmission. My father, my father’s father, my teacher, my teacher’s teacher… the whole patriline got dissolved into one channel of constant awareness as I ached everywhere, and felt all chafed and bothered by existence, and kept the hell moving.
First day paining, second day paining.
Third day paining.
Fourth day flying.
Ashtanga is designed to turn us from talkers to doers. Talking about asana is for kids.
And really, talking about practice and about relationships with teachers is a dumb idea. It freezes habit patterns and moments of intimacy. Solidifies the ego’s perceptions. Mucks up the transmission. Makes everything about practice harder, and lonelier, than it oughta be.
But I relaxed the taboo on these things two years ago, because my practice is no longer just mine. It belongs to my students, albeit not to you. Speaking about practice activates my bullshit filter, because I feel the natural temptation to manufacture coherence, sharpen fuzziness, backslide into narrative, and otherwise lie my head off.
Interesting experience is bigger than words… so the move from practice to text is a reduction. The “smart yoga” movement tells me otherwise. Someone recently tossed out the Derrida canard, “there is nothing outside of the text.” Oh man. Honestly. Get a life. There is joy outside of the text.
I’d love to have words to talk about the flying, or about the series of patrilineal gut shudders as my grandfather faded out. But it is useless. Same for what it is like to sit, kumbhaka (not kombucha) buzzed, in a little circle with Sharath beneath a me-sized sepia photo of young SKPJ in mayurasana, chanting the names of the sages in the Shankaracharya line. There were also pre-practice walks on the beach below the gaudy gold lotus of the Self Realization Fellowship, the seedbud of Indian yoga in the west. And a constant feeling of being broken open from inside the center of the chest, to everything. Everything.
I will say that this whole Jois shala situation is as nice as it can be. Benign. Pretty. A little bit young and naive. And love is there. This scene is no threat to you, dear grassroots practitioner with your concerns about “commodification” and “elitism.” Relaaax. In case you didn’t get the memo, we are all in this together.
Eventually, everybody who keeps on practicing with real concentration gets a line on the awesome reality of pratyhara. And then on the surrender thing. And, from there, the ones who keep practicing get it through our thick skulls that we are all the same even though nothing stays the same. Billionaries and gurus and hippies are all just nobodies. Talk doesn’t help heal us when a patriarch dies; it is practice that works everything out.