The high holidays begin tonight, when the snow arrives. This afternoon I will teach at the University, then go to the shala, then come home for mulled cider with friends and a stream of child unicorns and superheroes, and afterwards a Ryoki Ikeda show. My lawn is covered in yellow leaves now, and already there are fairy children jumping in the hop-scotch squares cemented into the sidewalk.
I imagine these three Dias de los Muertos are when the portal opens all the way: three days of the dead, three days of the glistening darkside. And then my birthday – the day oneness is natural because it’s so exciting to have been born in to this world in this time, in the same form and time you have also come in. Personal because not personal.
But anyway, it’s been more like a full month of the darkside already. I expected a couple weeks of easy time for my own practice and vacation, in advance of intensifying the teaching work for the fall. What I got was that my father had a heart attack, and my back hurt for weeks, and then my not-so-secret love (Mysore, India) told me not to come in January. Paaaaaaaain. I had under the impression that my father was immortal, and that his ecstatic, unconditional love for all people at all times forever was a background condition of the universe. So experiencing him as human is fundamentally not ok. I felt like my subtle body was passing a sharp heavy stone from tip to tail – taking its own sweet time meandering through my kidney region and through the annoying backwaters of Murphy’s Law.
Without some sort of sadhana, I know that what I would have done with this difficulty is (1) be awesome or (2) try to disappear. Regarding the first strategy, the weird thing is that resilience comes extremely easy in this system, in part because concentration is not a problem, and maybe also because as a small child I was conditioned to overcome streams of human (specifically, other humans’) trauma. Point and shoot. Poof. All better. Sometimes it’s a bit too easy to cultivate positivity in equal and opposite measure to the forces of the big three: fear, anger, sadness. But these energies are part of being human.
So there’s this curiosity about my human experience. That aspect of curiosity, combined with the non-negotiable fact of having a sadhana, combined to make it possible to do self-practice this month – especially while on vacation in a farmhouse on a Lake Michigan peninsula. Otherwise I would have stayed in bed, or just lay on my mat, with my heart-mind covered in dust. Or maybe just ate junk health food and hung out on the internet. The try to disappear strategy.
There was one morning when moving and breathing at the same time required more of me than I knew that I had. The mindbody knew the way, but it is still impossible for me to do this practice without showing up with my whole self. A level of presence was necessary of me that smaller aspects of myself did not want to bring.
When the curiosity combined with the devotion to move the mind into the field of my actual, painful, experience, what I got was this stream of gratitude. A little surrender that was enough for the iceberg in my chest to break up into an ice floe that I could actually move with and perceive. Which was much more painful than disappearing, but the gratitude took the edge off.
The yoga industrial complex relies on one tool to build up its power (over others’ minds and actions), and to fortify its material and energetic bank accounts.
That tool is vritti. Content-provision. Click-bait. Anything to get in your head and create a pattern of thought-control if not compulsion in you by sheer force of repetition. Blip, blip, blip, blipblipblipblip.
Keep up with the news. Stay connected (but not really). This is the trained desire in us that allows the complex to cash in. And I don’t really mean on money so much as subtle energy. Every blip for the consumer is a ka-ching for the producer.
Huge amounts of power are being given away just because we humans are ready to pay in subtle energy for the relief of something to do with our wandering minds.
Headlines, head-lines, h e a d l i n e s. Lines inside the head.
The tool is inside us. It is the bored and seeking mind that needs content.
The yoga industrial complex cannot exist without your energy. It is parasitic on human attention.
The strongest, sweetest thing a young Jedi can do is decide. Where exactly am I going to put my moment-to-moment energy? What exactly is worth my priceless attention? Where in the world is my heart?
Deciding is the foundation of concentration. The awareness and the heart can have a fighting chance to open up. Different. Scary. Awesome.
Concentration is deliberate coalescence of our own spiritual power. It’s badass. But that’s another topic.
Asana Improvement Tips.
I seriously have no idea. But here are some first thoughts.
1. Figure out what you want to cultivate.
For me lately that is receptivity, and the capacity to perceive extremely clearly (if not to direct) the shape-shifting nature of matter. What I intend to understand is not postures as things, though postures are an ideal back-ground for this practice.
2. Meditate on where you would like healing. The whole asana thing is about healing. That’s why to do it.
Is the healing mental, emotional? Spiritual, physical? I have found that understanding where I’m truly at takes time and silence.
For me lately, the healing is largely spiritual. Mending the rends in the one. Really.
If someone relatively new to the practice is completely obsessed with asana, there might be push factor in play. Some impulse away from another level of self that’s in pain. The asanas themselves will improve if those push factors are dis-covered. They’ll be inwardly deeper.
3. Take the mind that wants a shortcut as the object of practice, instead of doing what it says.
Asana is so important! If it is ritually, mundanely sacred, do you want to study it haphazardly? Without strong internal intention and concentration? From someone whose background and motives aren’t crystal clear? Does you not deserve a clear, concentrated transmission?
Don’t let the hungry asana ghost run the show. The people with the “best” asana practice have taken a tiny bit of technical advice they trust, advice that forces them to work against samskaras that don’t serve, and have gone inside with that instruction until they understood it on many levels.
4. Cultivate sattva.
Developed asana is relaxed and it has nothing to prove. It might start out very rajasic, and that’s good if it balances a tendency toward disease and dullness. But over time it becomes luminous and relaxed. Sattvic.
One way to approach this is to choose high quality fuel. (Alimentary, informational, relational.) Later you’ll be able to turn anything in to fuel, but at the beginning some discrimination is useful.
It may be that many of us come to a strong asana practice because we are addicts. Really. There is an energy signature, and a scent, to the adrenaline junkie and that’s not the same as a clarified stream of life force. Again, some adrenaline is great if it gets us off the sofa, but with strong intention it is possible from early on to build a fire that burns clean.
There is a lot of energy available in a courageous heart that wants to learn to put smaller aspects of ego in check. Asana can be such a good tool for doing just that.