The rhythm of 2016: study for two months, teach for four, study for two months, teach for four. Mysore, Michigan, Mysore, Michigan. Wax On, Wax Off, and so on. (If this sounds insane, there’s an * in the comments.)
The social science experiment I’ve been running here since 2009 – cross breeding Mysore and Michigan – is starting to kick up some findings. In Mysore, I study the Ashtanga mothership. On the surface this organization appears to be an irrational family business. This false impression is part of genius. Really, it is an entity with a profound consciousness and beautiful heart. Its skills, values and organizational ethos can be translated to other places, if only in limited ways.
In Michigan, I foment a yoga school based on the above but also on what I see right here. This is the land of “deep local” (microeconomies of care and trade actually function here), of dramatic seasons and the cyclical depression/brilliance that haunts intellectuals, of America’s first dead metropolis and the Flint water crisis, of people who walk to work and spend weekends tending their farm shares, of mental clarity and hyper-sincerity, of respect for expertise and willful self-reliance.
For what it’s worth, the mind that perceives these two poles is that of a long term daily practitioner and economic sociologist; who reads Alfred North Whitehead and Niklas Luhmann at bedtime; and who sympathizes with punks, artists, ecological activists and (despite being a logic monger) anyone with a psychedelic, cosmic or Gaian world view.
The first couple years here, nothing happened on the surface. One practitioner is a starter (like sourdough, like kombucha); four are a culture. Day in day out the foundation built itself in the form of a core group of people who showed up every day and slowly cultivated the breath-mind of the practice. The practice doesn’t emerge from things (a lease and a website and a new student special). Not at all. It takes a starter, and a tiny culture, and years of undisturbed fomentation. Soak the first seeds.
During this time, the strength to teach came from three sources: practice, devoted teacher support, and (this is actually weird) a relationship with Mysore the place. Every morning at Patanjali o’clock I’d see not only a hydra-headed shaman in the stars but also roots running through my body through the Earth to south India. This spring, I’ve felt the emergence of a fourth source. I sense it through the Huron River groundwater in the hill I live on, and in the woods above the house. Being alone in the forest on teaching days is intensely nourishing; the next morning I feel it even on a physical level. There is also a semisecret lake in driving distance, a deep spring bubbling up out in the middle of corn country. The people who know it are few enough; they say it’s the best swimming they’ve found in the world. All I know is the spring water has the same effect as the woods and it’s a little freaky. Understanding what connects me with the life force—and what depletes it, oh electronic devices—is becoming central to this work.
So, it feels like the teaching work is turning in to play at the same rate that it is becoming harder. It also feels like my deep mind wants to make a leap into experiencing this life as pure play; but that’s still half a paradigm shift away. For now, there is still some scientific method working its way through my system.
Non-teaching days, I’ve been walking in the 142 square mile memory that is Detroit. Midday freeways move fast, putting me on the edge of the city in 35 minutes. Listening to Motown on the way in, Mendelssohn on the way home. No surprise the stories white visitors tell about Detroit are all ruin-porn – here like in India, this is what the middle class mind aestheticizes. Great gothic churches with cardboard homes on their front steps, the giant fluffy white dogs of the gentrifiers, Mies Van der Rohe’s minimalist micro-utopia casting shadows over Greektown’s half-built jail. I try to experience this less with my spectacle-mind, and more with intuition, because the reason to walk this place is to feel the context and limits of my organizational experiments.
My statistics teacher taught us to relate to data like we were steeping in it. Eat sleep and breathe it. Don’t just muck around looking for a good story, enter the grid. So, what is the scope of this shala science experiment? What is the reality of our world? I don’t know, but it is happening in conjunction with the decay of western democracy, capitalism caving to kleptocracy, climate chaos, and the death of half what lives on this planet. Aspects of our world are ending. Financially and ecologically, we are toast. This is not a time to be comfortable.
That’s why I articulate a third paradigm below. It’s not fully practical, but in the future some may be able to nurture organizations closer to that model without compromising on technique. There is nothing revolutionary about yoga if it is not healing in the world.
Institutions are entities. Every one has a specific personality and world view, conscious or not. Clear paradigms, held consciously, are nothing more than tools. You can sharpen them, switch them, grow out of one and into another.
Every organization has a logic. It may be received without question, may be unconsciously copied from others, may be diffuse or unstable or full of contradictions. It doesn’t matter. A paradigm is what makes an organization hang together. If you’re running an organization, you are propagating an ethos. If you’re supporting an organization, you are giving your energy to its agenda.
Here are three models. They’re just thought forms and inherently fuzzy. But I’ll sharpen them up so it’s easier to see the deathly nature of the resource extraction world view, and a natural pathway beyond it.
RESOURCE EXTRATION is the default paradigm for entities propagating yoga in the west. In this paradigm, the “free market” is really free. Anyone can do well in life if they are smart about identifying and exploiting possibilities. The rich deserve what they have because they are smarter, and are to be compensated for taking bigger “risks” than the rest.
The most important thing here is the raw material: it is consumers. Consumers’ energy/money provides the raw material of resource extractors. For the yoga organization in this paradigm, accumulating consumers (“students”) is the goal. This will be euphemized as “education” and “service” (the true goals of the next two paradigms) because Resource Extraction is a world view that plans ahead and deftly pre-empts competition. Resource Extraction mavens are really good at public relations. They have to be.
Celebrity, popularity and luxury are the means of establishing consumer loyalty. Resources are extracted from “students” in the form of energy, money, and media reputation building. To maintain and enlarge this extraction program (capitalism requires constantly increasing financial returns), the organization offers an increasing variety of things and experiences to hype, to buy, and to identify with.
The reason to work within this paradigm is to secure a decent future and material things. The payback for working lies in a different place and a different time than the work itself. Yoga teachers who work for resource extractive entities are ALIENATED.
This paradigm begins to break down any time the soul-sucking side of capitalism shines through. As a student, you take a teacher training and the 200 hours you paid for education includes “seva” where you work the studio’s front desk (a true story of capitalism’s PR brilliance in action). Or you interact with a self-made celebrity teacher and, instead of a moment of deep human recognition, you realize that what you represent in her eyes is social media capital.
Or, as a teacher, you realize you’re disconnected from your work – daily what you’re working for is “to get away from it all.” Or you recognize that while you profess to “love your job,” your students’ money is going to shareholders, passively milking you and your students for energy because you are trapped in the game.
Or, as a manager, you realize your students aren’t benefitting all that much from all the extra consuming. As you get serious about what’s truly best for them, the distractions begin to fall away.
Or, wherever you sit, the paradigm cracks when the senses and the soul surge forth to show it up. You have a mystical experience. (Which should be happening – unity consciousness is real and you don’t have eat mushrooms for it to find you.) Or you say the mangala mantra and accidentally feel the meaning of it in your cells and suddenly the whole world saturates in serotonin/DMT and it’s like you’re living in the best possible movie of your life. Or, best yet, you get serious about the practice of contentment and gradually it stops feeling so good to consume things.
The energetic loop for Resource Extraction is wide open. Students feed the organization, drawing deep from other sources to be able to do so. Think of an oil pump plunged into the Earth that can never, ever get enough.
STUDENT DEVELOPMENT both precedes and follows resource extraction. In the beginning, were a teacher and a student in a cave. After capitalism, are a teacher and a student (and a few more students) in a room.
This worldview benefits from the long-run failure of Resource Extraction, because the pain and alienation it creates inspire bold changes. Resource Extraction leaves wounds, and yoga has tools to heal them.
Relationship heals, and it is central here. Despite the sales pitch of the Resource Extraction era, direct transmission does not scale, and it cannot be commodified. On the teacher level, you cannot use the internet or teacher trainings to reproduce the level of present moment witnessing or expertise that the student requires for optimal development.
On the group level, you cannot use the internet for the embodied transmission of breath, bandha and energy through a vibratory field of intelligence. And this – direct transmission – is the central potent activity of an organization born to give instead of to take.
The agenda: if a student is ready and seeks it out, she gets infused with as much support and knowledge as she can integrate. The point is to support her to develop to her highest potential, if that’s what she wants. This paradigm works on the level of the individual, and measures its success by the understanding of its students.
Naturally, the way that trust is established here is relational. Face to face, present moment. Students are encouraged to develop their own assessment of the organization, NOT relying on consumer cues but rather on what their bodies tell them. Do not follow the crowd. Do not reproduce the values of the resource extractors. Think for yourself.
For teachers, the nature of developmental work is that you always do it. It is just a life path. You don’t do it for ever-increasing notoriety or money: you do it because that is it wonderful to have some purpose in life! It’s your expression of self and means of adding value to others. There is no “getting away from it all,” no retirement plan, and no special present at the end. The present moment is the reward. A teacher who can’t wait for class to end is not inhabiting this paradigm.
The healing here has a lot to do with cleansing of the emotional body (which happens to be a third of the Ashtanga method, together with tristhana and vinyasa). The fears and triggers left over from growing up inside the mind of resource extraction are gradually called forth and de-fused in an environment of trust and respect. Fearlessness, confidence and grounding results. The many twisted roots of scarcity mentality are dis-covered and composted, leaving people with everything to give.
Our shala mostly propagates the Student Development paradigm, as do the few punk rock yoga teachers and true yoga schools that excite me. I don’t WANT our organization to move out of this world view. I feel comfortable stewarding an organization that looks inward. Student and student-body development is our shala’s one-track mind. That’s good organizational-level yoga.
But I also sense that my world-view will not last forever, because the world on view is changing. Fast, and badly.
Anyway, the energy loop for Student Development organizations is closed and clean. These entities are tight ships. Students are given a priceless gift in the form of knowledge and energy. To the degree they understand this, they return energy. To the degree they don’t understand, they support the organization in material ways.
DEEP LOCAL is something different. It’s a regenerative ethos that is already a little bit alive in the world. It is Liberation Theology meets Big Data. I’m not yet comfortable articulating this, but it is too late. Deep Local is a thing.
There IS no view from nowhere. Each world-view emerges from something before it. And each world-view ends. The empathetic/transcendent states of consciousness that trigger the move out of Resource Extraction aren’t just passing experiences here. They are mundane. Mystical experience isn’t para-normal; it is normal. What the previous paradigm deems “extra-sensory” isn’t beyond the senses, because the nervous system extends beyond the individual body. This isn’t some narcissistic festival mindset though; it is grounded in the broken world because economic and ecological crisis forced it out of hiding.
Healing happens on the spot and it’s done with whatever is at hand. Love. Will. Plants. There is an awareness of what is harmful (i.e. the leftovers of Resource Extraction) and it is not propagated. Work is not work – it is Marx’s “sensuous human activity.” Not just “service,” but something more erotic. Stewardship and fomenting abundance are the agenda. There is an investment in future time, but that’s not far away… things in this world happen fast.
Here’s where things get freaky, though I want to absorb what’s new in the literatures on Complex Systems, Big Data, and Regenerative Culture before saying much. Briefly: what happens is that individuals who learn to see the harm in Resource Extraction agendas come together. They learn and get smart and strong. Their activity creates a field of awareness, and within such fields super-conscious small groups gel. Abundance mentality becomes a thing. Local digestive systems convert trash and collective memories into fuel. Local nervous systems turn to clean, intuitive light circuits.
I suspect we are made for this. That it’s what we ache for – to be a part of a freakishly intuitive little pod that learns new skills lightning fast and makes shit happen. It’s a little mortifying, but our nervous systems want to extend beyond our bodies. Our minds want to meld. I’m only fully comfortable as a recluse, but still… in the most silent isolation I detect this deeper drive.
Deep Local’s energy loops are open. Work doesn’t just revel in the present moment and express a balanced give and take: it extends care forward in time and outward in space. May all beings in all worlds be blessed.