April full moon, I wake up to shapes. Phosphene geometry traced into the backs of my eyelids in hypnopompia, making the jump into the waking state of consciousness. Same as last year at this time, I go in the 5am dark to my desk, sketching out the dream-image on scrap paper.
It’s a faint chain of octagons, each one separated by quadruple morse code, dots in rows of 8.
Back in the dream, we’re in a sweaty Mysore room and the shapes are a language my assistants are using to communicate with each other while they silently teach. The shapes are their animal language, transmited mind to mind. Extra-sensory asanas. I don’t know what they mean. I’m just watching them teach –their bodies fully express the spirit of the practice. They communicate it through touch and movement to the others, and then hold the space for it to mature.
I stop by imaginary Mysore rooms most nights. Usually the practitioners of dream-body ashtanga are sea mammals. It’s adorable, yoga as a porpoise. Nobody has to fuss with foot-behind-the-head. The social nervous system is ultra-conscious, drawn together in self-intelligent pods and schools. We are fluid. And, being sea mammals, we are more evolved versions of ourselves. We communicate through song, and through pictures traced in the collective mind’s eye.
(The dream knowledge thing works like this. But if you want, here’s a quick & crude way in. When you fall asleep, think I remember my dreams. Set three alarms, one for X:00, one 3 minutes later, one 2 minutes after that. When the first alarm goes, shut it off, return to your last sleeping position, and carefully collect images in the butterfly net of your waking mind as it weaves itself together. This may be hard at first. It’s a skill.When the second alarm goes, note the images in a physical notebook. Go fast. Deveolop a shorthand and reconstruct the details if you want later, after you get the first catch down on the page. At the second alarm, it’s time to get on with real life. Note with awe, or humility, or some other edifying emotion, the mystery that is consciousness. This whole process takes 5 minutes and leaves your mind extremely clear. It’s not about analyzing dream content, but about developing the kind of mind that (1) can look at itself with curiosity, and (2) can jump easily between states of consciousness. I find this efficient and mystical, and an intriguing way to wake up.)
When the chair of the Sociology Department was trying to lure me to Ann Arbor from LA, he told a story of the dream springs of the Midwest. This town has been frozen and dark for five months, then one day there’s a break in the cloud-blanket that’s been stretched between Lakes Michigan and Huron all this time. Thousands of over-productive depressed people see the sun. Farmer’s markets exuberate. Life explodes, he said, from the earth with the force of five months of repression. It’s true.
The first full moon every April, there’s a night-time luminary festival downtown. Main Street outside the shala fills up with dancers and drummers and people carrying glowing sea creatures on sticks. Angel fish, octopus, shrimp. Jellyfish make great light sculptures. The ocean theme is a natural, I guess; LEDs + vellum looks pretty well bioluminescent.
The luminary party this year was adorable, but not innocent. The dream world here remains beautiful in darkening times, and there is a kind of activist commitment to bringing it forth.
Once we get to April, Sunday mornings become a little wondrous. I don’t teach until 8, so sleep late and go to the shala at 6. It’s still as I walk in with flowers from the farmers market. There will be led class in a couple hours in the big back room, so I start practice alone in the small front room facing Main Street, facing east. I sing and chant and burn things, then take samastithi.
Directly beyond my thumbs are the superhero sigils at the comic book store across the street. They’ve had the batsignal lit for months. Vande gurunam. Two buildings to the north, our state’s insane governor – the one who let Flint’s water be poisoned and yet somehow remains in office –apparently sleeps in his penthouse. Samsara halahala. It’s around freezing on the other side of our leaky Civil War era windows, so I dress for spring skiing. The silk baselayer I wore on the slopes in 90s is perfect for gentle Indermediate Series at 55 degrees. Pranamami Patanjalim.
There’s sunlight in the east by the end of the surya namaskara, and by kapo I have company. It doesn’t work to ask someone in the fourth ashram of life to wait until 8am to practice. Ashtangis in the 60-80 age range are wired well before sunrise, so on Sunday mornings a little crew assembles. Me plus the sweetest hearts in the shala.
My experience with these folks is that they are extremely grateful about having a body, and extremely interested in the present moment. These are sanctuary-type emotions powerful enough to pack our small room with awe and wonderment.
So that’s how the weeks start now on Main Street – superheroes, Jedi septugenarians and the sleeping demon governor. Practicing like that during Sunday sunrise is doing this weird thing where it takes my relationships to time and to the body and pervades them with peace.
About dreams, there’s one that keeps coming through, since January when a dear friend first took me to the Gosai Ghats, on Karnataka’s River Cauvery.
This is real: I was born in a 100-year-old ranch house on the edge of a creek in Montana. In a grove of cottonwood trees so large that by now half of them have cracked and fallen in the changed climate’s wet snow. The house is a low stucco cube with terra cotta roof tiles, and a root cellar out back from before there was electricity. What was my little bedroom fills the southwest corner, and has window seat overlooking over a steep green slope down to the creek. That seat, barely heated by a fireplace in the next room, is where I learned to read, and to build pillow forts.
In the dream, my brother and parents and I move back to the ranch house. It’s a museum of curious objects, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Everything’s a supposed heirloom, the leavings of our lineages within the shared psyche of the family.
Suddenly there is a basement. The house has a whole new underground where my brother and I live. His room opens on to the Cauvery River, with a broad view over a delta filled with waxy green plants. It flows north. Everything glows. Clusters of floating plants approach us and keep flowing out of view, like this.
I find my room. It is the same, but the window seat is a veranda, and the creek is the Cauvery. There is a stairwell going up. The light is golden and so warm. My parents are distant voices upstairs, moving heirlooms around. I call up to say there is not room to bring in more mementos. The house is full. My parents say no, you are mistaken. There is space. There is an increasing amount of space. In the dream, they’re right.
My mind comes out really clear on nights I dream of the house. Whatever else it may be, the house is a restorative pocket in consciousness. When I am roaming around at night and want to find it, I look around for a stream of warm light.
I left the shala a little early a few Thursdays back, to go to New York. My brother had artwork in a show there, so it was a few days in an alternate world I’ve contacted through him for 20 years. Michigan is the deep heart of red America, but you can finish work on Main Street a bit before 9am, fly out of DTW, and be in Manhattan no problem for lunch. I walked up to the 10:01 as they were closing doors. Someone at the desk was trying to get on standby. She had big silver hair and a big Brooklyn accent, and a joke for me about us boarding late.
Ohhh shit. Just me and the chair of my dissertation committee. A thrilling personality, brilliant and productive as hell; a radical historian of the working class, and my devoted advocate. I had not seen her since 2009 in LA. After that, I went another way without a meaningful explanation. In academia, it’s not great when one you’ve championed leaves the scene.
She was stunned to see me, then made a crack about the yoga industry. Touche’. Then we were in our seats, before I had time to say anything. Oh well. It’s not for me to defend my choices. Her view is right in its way, and if she thinks I set aside questions of social justice to buy in to an industry that gets energy from social inequality, in this case it’s not my business. I thought over my relationship with her and the rest of my committee for an hour, noticing what it shows me to see through their eyes. Then we were on the runway at LaGuardia next to the president’s airplane. Duhn-duhn.
And then at the end of the terminal there she is, waiting for me, asking if we can travel into the city together. I’m overjoyed by the gift of 45 minutes in a cab together, but she turns it in to a roving, 2.5-hour, New York party. “Let’s take public transit.” She escorts me to the East Village, on a super-crowded bus, a walk through the snow, and a few links on the subway. So much movement and emotion and eye contact is shared. So much has happened in her life in 7 years. Our views and understandings of each other are remade, now that we are two humans not the least bit entangled in each other’s decisions. We cover so much ground.
I savor the togetherness without trying to push back on that that original comment about the yoga industry. But at the end, there is this gift. She kisses me and says she’s happy to see me happy, and so glad that I am doing good work. Woah. What she taught me, the time we had and the advocacy and the knowledge, they were not for nothing. A massive open loop in my psyche closes, and energy begins to circulate there. Mutual recognition happens, and I experience this as one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I want to get up the nerve to write about conscious relationship. About the different forms of student-teacher relationship I’ve experienced through yoga. About how meditation is when you can stay conscious as you see the personality arising. About the idealization of the others – perfect woman, perfect man, perfect teacher, perfect mate – and how we have to give that up for ultimate prize of friendship. About Husserl and Buber before the War, and how they gave western minds ways to see through projection.
And especially about the relationship to self and other that comes up in the act of being a student. For me, this has the most intensive year of being-a-student, in Mysore and everywhere else. There is so much revealing itself about my personal and human programming. A desire to be recognized. A desire to have something special with a teacher. A desire to have epiphanies with teachers who I want to believe can read souls and orchestrate personalized learning experiences. And what it takes to not be led around by these desires, to let things be spacious. To deconstruct thoughts, instead of try to gratify them. To take responsibility for my own awareness. There’s more here for another time.
For now, just this. There’s a flip I can do to make relationship conscious for my own purposes. It’s to be a student, instead of being right. If I want to get something from another, or get them to see something, then my energy isn’t so much on learning. Any moment someone goes in to obvious projection, I get to flip or not. Do I push back on that, or do I stop and just study what that does to me inside? If the projection is overly positive, I’ll probably push back. If the projection is everyday negative stuff, maybe it’ll sort itself out through relationship that has no agenda. And if the projection is of the really warped kind, it’s best not to engage with it anyway. So that’s two out of three reasons to stop and flip.
When I’m awake enough to just watch an impulse towards being right, instead of acting on it, that is when I get surprised. It’s when experience can un-pattern itself and get weird in a good way.