Filed for an extension on the March blog deadline. Bringing the shala back up to speed administratively took the first half of April. Each new student represents an energetic investment. I find that it is so worth my effort, and theirs, to set up a strong foundation for practice at the begining. Slowly, slowly, one by one. This is the teaching practice.
Anyway, about what happens at the end of the season in Mysore…
Do you ever play the game where you pretend another’s consciousness is living through your body? As those last two weeks of March melted everything down, I imagined a series of friendly minds stepping in for the beautiful parts, buddy-breathing off my subjectivity. What if Danielle’s ears could hear the alarm at 3:00, stirring movement in legs that had rested for hours but not really slept? Joy, is that you seeing the mosquitos swoop in the dark kitchen, smelling the ginger-cinnamon elixir I substitute for coffee, and feeling the soft chemical rush of a dropper-full as it brings up the energy for practice?
At 3:30, I imagine Anthony’s laughter at the first bars of Sloop John B on the headphones, as the bike engine revs. Maria’s knowing nod as we coast down shala road in the dark, trying to feel something like a breeze before the sweltering day sets in.
Every year, there’s a night toward the end of this month when the jasmine and the jacaranda trees throw down all their flowers into the street. You make your way to practice in the dark, depositing white buds and yellow blossoms on the shala steps along with your Havaianas. For a few days, this ambient aromatherapy softens everyone up. Wifi stops working and without Facebook, the local social network shifts from mutual surveillance to just hanging out. Planned electricity shut-downs take out lights and fans. This is when half the shala has the good sense to return home to the green places, where you can breathe, and sleep, and think.
Then the remaining yoga-visitors go to mush. Not in a bad way. This year, the words March narcosis would repeat at random in my mind’s ear. March narcosis. March narcosis. A joke of a mantra that set itself up on repeat in place real cognitive stability.
Temperatures always jump that last week or two of the month – some nights the low is in the 80s. One morning a few years back, the thermometer on my clock read 100 when the alarm sounded at 3am – I don’t know whether that was an accurate read, or a temperature induced malfunction. I also don’t know how to sleep under such conditions; and nor do most of the other yoga-visitors. So our consciousness melts together. We start getting summer-camp-level sentimental. Our true colors saturate our personalities and friendship bonds of a lifetime solidify. The collective hip flexors lengthen, never to be the same again.
It’s not enough to give a GoPro to the dozen ashtangis left in town who have an amazing life – the people weaving their motorbikes around cows and making eye contact with old women on their stoops, maybe doing backflips in the shala at four in the morning, eating succulent secret breakfasts and drinking coconuts bigger than your head… people who on the inside are weeks out from REM sleep, fueled by vata foods, and yet in certain ways more conscious than ever. (Mystics from the Kentucky Christians to the Burmese Buddhists use sleep deprivation to push past the veil of unconsciousness… ). The moving pictures of this visual world are stunning, but they communicate nothing of our collective altered state. The less we sleep, the more we wilt, the more fully we see what we are made of. If anybody’s going to have a Mysore meltdown, this will be the time.
The game is my way of melting down – the imagining of other selves within my body picking up these sense data, experiencing this experience. Since I can’t even manage a to-do list during the March narcosis, may as well sign the data-stream over to an avatar. On the rare occasions I can get out of the experience-collecting business, the day-to-day doesn’t feel so personal.
We all have a tribal side, and it’s easy to wish we didn’t. If you have sworn off competitive sports drama, stadium rock, or charismatic religion, probably it was to get away from tribal mind. Good call. That primitive side of us has sharp teeth and big shadows. But it also has an ecstatic love energy – a sort of mutual, sensory understanding that is shared through myth and a certain sort of breath. Even if you have the good sense to stay out of Mysore in March, maybe some part of your nervous system still picks up remotely on its healing lunacy. Insofar as the method is alive, we are all in this together.
There was moment a couple of weeks ago on the evening drive to the cathedral, coasting downhill in Muslim town past running chickens + neighborhood dance party in the street, when the memory of my first real mentor came through. Lyle M. Nelson. I was over the moon just then, and that’s where I found him.
What if Lyle could be here for this? Did the empath-funnyman from smalltown Oregon ever ride a motorbike? He was fascinated by India, but did he ever get here? Would he agree with the choices I have made? What if I were his avatar?
I played the consciousness game with Lyle for days, and when the internet fuzzed in for a few hours, went and read his obituaries from 1997. He never told me (when he was writing the first email letters I’d ever received, or taking me out for expensive lunches at the restaurant where I waited tables on weekends) that he carried on a life-long correspondence with Groucho Marx. He also didn’t tell me about the third location (besides Oregon and California) where his life had played out: Ann Arbor. I learned from the obits that he came to Michigan to be (among other things) the first ever employee of Public Television, and that he was VP of the University by the time he departed again for California. It wasn’t important to know these things until now, so that I can guess he also walked alone in the arboretum in the spring. So I can imagine him as one of the forgotten occupants of this 116-year-old house.
Lyle and I wrote each other long letters for the last two years of his life. He hounded me to get out of the dying journalism field (of which he was a master), and told me to write as much as I could. With the writing, I should discipline myself to do it, but not be perfectionistic about the product. In those two years, I burned through the identities of post-Christian hipsterism, Existentialism, and Derridean post-modernism. My sense of reality and how we know things morphed rapidly as I mainlined on popular culture, and read every big-idea-book I could find. He liked it when I added a second major in Philosophy.
I thought I needed someone who could “get it” – someone whose interiority mapped well enough onto mine that he would understand why nobody else understood. Lyle was that person. He let me go right ahead and experience my 18-year-old consciousness as the center of the universe. He held space for me to dismantle my belief system down to the level of perception. The way I explained everything – it was to him. For him. Without that, I probably would have used alcohol to tolerate my mind; the grades and job would have felt it. As it turned out, he used that correspondence to hide some of his ideas in the back of my mind before he left. Probably more than I know.
I bet Lyle wrote letters all morning in his final years, to me and Groucho and the journalists who he mentored around the world. In the first one he ever sent to me (it was a response to a very long and emotional thank you letter I sent after the first week of college), he said that he wrote a thank you note, or a welcome note, every day. He said this was a good habit for life.
It has been good habit.
I don’t think about metaphysics now; I think about action. This has been the case for about a year, long enough to put it in words. What I am studying is action.
Where does action come from? Where does it go? What traces does it leave? What is the relationship of some action and ego? Or of another action and grace? What is the active consequence of failing to act?
This is kind of anti-abstract (really: the doctrine of codependent arising just doesn’t help that much). It’s an inquiry that happens in 3-dimensional space. It’s in the practice of watching my mind and watching the world.
What is the source, the character, the half-life, of this specific action?
The past few weeks, what’s come up with this is new sensitivity to the story of how I am special. Furthermore, we are special. Our generation is special. The group is special. This family is special. Our species is special.
How deep into the tissues does this story go? How much of the electricity in each nervous system is allocated to keeping the specialness trip running? How much of our total cognitive function is spent in the work of scraping out some sentimental story to make sense of our individual will to live?
Specialness is real, everywhere. But what depth of life force would flow through us if we just didn’t need to devote large quantities of our energy to feeling special?