Pitfalls Part One

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the sheer volume of practitioners these days would be having more of an impact on the social dialogue. You’d think with all of these OMs that the larger fabric of politics, legislation and commerce would be more explicitly conscious of history and future aims. This series of posts is my observation of where our golden hearts and brilliant ideas go to stagnate and eventually die. There are a couple of notes on what I perceive to be the “poison pills” of spiritual rhetoric.

Also note that for some reason comments, while I can see them from within WP, are not posting publicly. You aren’t being censored, at least not on purpose, winky face.

Beware of falling standards

Beware of falling standards

“The Burning Man Paradox”

[N.B. I’m picking on Burning Man even though I like it and believe in it, and love so many people that love it. Bear with me, here]

Most visionaries have a utopia in mind, either in the past or in their visions, or as in the Burning Man festival, a specific temporary time period. If only things were that way, the argument goes, our grief would be less and our consciousness more elevated.

I’ve never had the pleasure of attending the festival, primarily due to a creeping horror of dry skin. But I’ve watched many friends come and go over the years. Usually there is a community frisson immediately after their return, especially in the case of my yoga teaching colleagues. It’s very much like when people return from retreat or from study. You can feel the magical charge coming off of them. Sometimes the ideas are more compelling, better articulated; it’s a groovy transmission of feeling, and it’s always temporary.

While I know that fits and starts of charitable projects, microloans, creative collaboration have indeed been born out of crucibles like BM, the primary yearning in the participants appears to be to get back to Burning Man the following year. It’s not as explicit as the individuated journey undertaken by the meditator or yogi [cf Remski, “the internalizing arts”] but it’s still so segregated and rarefied [and literally privileged] that IME it disconnects more than it connects. Any concepts of any worth are so hothoused by utopian thinking that implementing them almost always requires some sort of fantastic or violent shift: destroying current government, forced liquid acid consumption u.s.w. [they get weirder, but you get the idea]. I can totally get why you’d feel like those measures are what would be required given the intensity of preparation and experience required to undertake these deep “retreat” or “festival” experiences. I’ve been the person coming back from Maui all high on lilikoi and Ram Dass and thinking that I was making sense and just headed further down the rabbit hole.

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Government as practice

How to leap into the thorny nest of brain static I’ve been accreting through the blog posting drought?  Why, go stomping right into the heart of darkness, of course.  The heart of darkness being the recent ad for the BC Jobs Plan, an expensive and instantaneously self-refuting piece of nonsense that makes all the hair on my arms stand up every time its stupid iphone dominoes come rolling into the living room.

Premise: that you, Joe or Josephine Labourer, should check out this program regarding your future employment

there’s my guy!

Corollary:  that this is a government program

How the program is marketed:  that British Columbia, through the miracle of Low Taxes and Reduced Government Spending, is so wicked awesome that our white iphone domino will stop all of these threateningly dusky black iphone dominos spilling over from the wretched East

My take away:  So I, Josephine Labourer, should check out this program that you’ve created that BY YOUR OWN PROMOTIONAL ADMISSION you have underfunded and likely understaffed and have no intention of generating revenue for?  And that you spent millions of dollars to promote?  It doesn’t seem like you can organize a ham sandwich, much less a jobs program.

My second take away:  But of course that’s what they WANT me to think because as long as I don’t think the government can do anything right, the more my voting apathy will increase and the more I will turn to the even less effective and even more corrupt corporate system [or libertarianism which is just corporatism in fancy clothes] as my only alternative.   Fie, I say.

It’s really, really hard for me to live in this province and still continue to advocate paying taxes and supporting structural change through government, because there is an extremely high douchebag content as one winds through the warrens of power; they’re hidden in there, entrenched, and the paranoia and resentment is not entirely unfounded.  Trouble is, right now our alternative is the even less accountable and even more morbidly corrupt corporations.  It’s annoying to have to compromise shiny romantic virtues for the grubby, repeated whittling away at the status quo that constitutes politics.  I can definitely see why people don’t bother, especially young people, especially hippies.

Hey, things being grubby and repeated reminds me:  The twins are twenty months.  Today I wanted to spot clean the poor blue Ikea cloth sofa that has been saturated with juice and various other more compromising fluids, also vacuum the cat’s room.  Robert refers to all vacuum- or extraction-type devices as Robots and demands to be involved in their processes, up to and including turning them on and off and unplugging them from the wall.  I have an involved wall socket strategy but today’s needs were very specific and over the course of the cleaning R unplugged the vacuum four [4] times, necessitating much baby-gate vaulting, and then between the two of them they turned the upholstery cleaner off seven [7] times.  After the third or fourth turn-off turn-on episode a deep weariness set in on my part [I can’t speak for any weariness on their part although they are now napping so maybe they got it too] and I was all like, I can’t believe how boring and tedious this is, why can’t they just leave it alone for two seconds and let me finish cleaning this poor couch?

Hey, things being boring and tedious reminds me:  During one of my recent classes, in Savasana, the neighbouring room’s students were preparing to go in for their practice.  In full voice in the hallway I can hear two students discussing their recent experiences, and one asked the other if they had ever taken my class.  Student 1 said something about really liking what I had to say, etc., quite complimentary in a neutral sort of way.  Student 2 said, “Yeah, I took her class once.  It was so boring”.

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Meet the new boss

Oh yogis, seekers, miscellaneous hippies, readers and internet dilettantes:  please please please don’t let Them convince you that your only active role in this society is as consumer.

Kind of Matrixey

 A dollar is not a vote, nor should it be.  Yes, your purchasing power sends a message and can generate a sort of low-grade change like greenwashing where various focus groups and boardroom tables learn to pay lip service to your meagre dollars.  Yes, your decisions matter and should not be overwhelmed in feeling like you can’t make a difference, because you can and you will.  But the fallout from this kind of rhetoric gives us mayhem like Citizens United, it makes people feel profoundly cheated by Silk and Kashi [who after all are just companies like every other company, and I really shouldn’t have to say this but *companies are not bad*, they just are what they are], and most importantly takes energy that we really should be using to influence the political process and gives it to STUFF.  I love stuff, btw.   I love buying stuff.  I know first hand the pitfalls of trying to create an Edenic purity of purchasing in a household while the needed compromises of existing in society are forsaken.   You are more than a dollar.  You’re more than a vote, too, but don’t get it twisted:   if a company grew fat off of your money they’d just be the new boss, and all you’ve done is make them feel like they have a financial mandate to make ethically and environmentally questionable decisions.  Regulate and tax the big ‘uns; shift the burden of responsibility to those who have the power to make broad change:  the companies themselves.  That is all.

L.O.S. Weeks 20 through 25 Which Is More Than One Sequence But I Am Behind In Posting

So far in this blog feature I’ve focussed on the physical effects of the Iyengar program work, primarily because that was where I felt that I needed the most diligent effort and the most subtle attention. Since the recent weeks have gone even heavier on Headstands and Shoulderstands I suppose it’s no surprise that my brain should be feeling the effects.

I’ve been having more insights, both of the spontaneous “received” sort and also a lot of lumbering awkward contemplation. It’s like doing pushups for your brain. Def. helps with kid-related and sleep-deprivation folly, although the twins are now sleeping more or less through the night. And frankly after the emphasis of the last few years on the “heart” [insert question marks and tone quotes and funny, querulous faces here] I am taking solace in the body and yes, in the mind. Hell, maybe a lack of logical inquiry on these subjects is how my whole Anusara Certification experience went off the rails in the first place.

It’s actually THESE guys’ fault.

Here’s what I’m thinking now, after observing all the behaviour around me: John’s choices, the yoga community at large, the Anusara community specifically, this city, my family, you name it: it is the rhetoric* behind the practice of yoga, its argument, that I conflict with when I conflict at all. I have realized I have no beef with any one technique but I often object to the whys and wherefores. For example, I enjoy the METHOD of Vipassana. I object to being told that the purpose of practicing Vipassana meditation is to eliminate constant sowing of karmic, desirous seeds. I enjoy the METHOD of Anusara. I object to being told that firming my leg muscles is explicitly connected to my commitment as a student. Und so weiter.  [Buddhism vs. life is suffering, the Yoga Sutras vs. the extraction of pure consciousness from matter, &c.] Since I have low self-esteem and a lot of guilt, fear and shame, any technique that uses the eradication of the self as its rhetorical thrust is going to diminish me further and break my heart. Not everybody has that psychological context for their practice and so different rhetoric of different methods will resonate in a shifting kontextual kaleidoscope of ways. Perhaps this is more coherent way of framing my objection to the teaching technique of theming that I brusquely threw aside in the post below.

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Okay, fine.

I think I’m giving myself a sore throat from not writing or speaking about this stuff, so here it is.

– I was not at all surprised to hear/read about John’s behaviour, although I had not experienced any of it first hand.

– It’s bad logic to conflate a person, a hatha yoga method, a company, a brand, another teacher, and your experience of the class or workshop.  Admittedly, it’s hard to parse out the different bits, but it’s just bad logic is all.  I apologize if I have done this, I’m pretty sure I have, but I tried not to.

– It’s also bad logic to theme*[see update below], and maybe this is where the trouble started:  Qualities of heart may be demonstrated in the physical body but they may not be.  Similarly, dedication to community or love should not be used as sticks to beat business decisions and legal trademarking decisions into otherwise good-faith teachers.  I apologize for doing this, on any level.

yes, this is an old picture

– I am a fully dues-paid Anusara Inspired™©® teacher right now, although I plan to let my license expire at the end of this year, because as anybody who knows me or reads this blog knows I have been over the Anusara Yoga organization for a while now, after having been so disenchanted by way of the certification process that I knew I did not have a home there.  I’m actually sort of surprised that this should need restating.  But I also do not see the urgency in resignation, as my Inspired license does not demand anything from me that I find compromising, and I am endeavouring to not fuel the bad logic mentioned above in conflating the tools and training with The Man.  Maybe if I was certified it would be different, I can’t speak to that.

– I’m not sure you will notice that many differences between my teaching before the Anusaga and now.  I don’t chant the Invocation right now because it puts memories of training with John in my body and I don’t want that.  But there’s nothing wrong with the Invocation.  It’s a modern Western melody for a solid old mantra.  I choose the way I teach because I am watching to see what works, for me and for you.  Anything that doesn’t work will be discarded.  Anything that works will be retained.  Brands are irrelevant.  Legalese is irrelevant.  People think I’m upset about John and I’m not [see above].

– I chose to study this method for a reason and many of those reasons still stand, even though I am leaving the *organization*.  As M said, “Anusara was the closest thing to what you do” and so maybe it’s just time to do what I do.  It spoke to very essential and deep places in me that I still believe and have felt since I was a child, and therefore I remain basically bemused at the drama that surrounds it.  Mind you, I have had time to cultivate the emotional space away from the organization, see above.

Any questions?

UPDATE:  This was unclear.  An idea, concept, unifying vision or focus for class is great.  I mean explicitly linking the physical body and its capacity for action to the most grand purposes of practicing yoga.  I think we all know when theming is good it’s great; but when it’s faulty it is tedious at best and abusive at worst.

UPDATE II:  I resigned my Anusara Inspired status on May 30, 2012.

An old draft that I’m defibrillating and posting even though it might no longer be relevant

Previous title: “Gang of three” or “The scale of modern practice”

*insert appropriate pithy epigram here*

Another great Teacher Intensive weekend has come and gone and, as all fruitful studies should, it answered some questions and then asked a whole host of others. One of the portions I found the most powerful was our round-table discussion on when and if political material should ever be included in class. As expected, the responses ran the gamut from “good Lord, no, are you kidding? that’s the most inappopriate soapboxing/proselytizing misuse of your teaching energy, ever” to “I love hearing it in class and it connects me to the higher purposes of practice”. And also as expected, the responses to teaching technique have a great deal to do with the context of the class and studentship. I mean, the C word is the one that just keeps deluging me lately: it’s like an even shorter of that excellent Facebook bit that started showing up and going viral a few years ago: “Everything is changing. Everything is connected. Pay attention”.

Since I seem to have garnered the reputation for being so political, even though my own political studies are ham-handed and infantile at best, I thought I’d use this post as a way of explaining why I’ve been drawn to political concepts in recent years and how, if at all, they might harmonize with practice.

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There is SO try

So I sez to Morgan, I sez, it has always bothered me that Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try” in Star Wars Episode V, because it has always seemed to me that there is TOTALLY SO try.  I mean, the Bhagavad Gita says that one should work without anticipation of reward, not for the fruits but for the actions themselves, which would actually seem to me that try is the most important bit, and that no effort is wasted, which I interpret to mean that “try” is some sort of accruing currency that actually increases every time one tries.

w00t w0000t

I also have this bit that I teach, especially to beginners, where I point out that they are just at the start of their journey and there’s no point getting all het up about not executing e.g. Bakasana to their satisfaction on the first attempt because life is long and keep coming to class &c, and Yoda sort of undermines that whole spiel, because if their options are at the point just “do not” i.e. there is no try, then they won’t come back to class again because “do not” is sort of a bummer [unnecessarily harsh and discouraging] and inaccurate besides, because the preparatory actions of a pose are very helpful and therapeutic even if you don’t get your feet off the ground in Bakasana as above, or whatever pose you’re sharpening yourself against…[ellipsis…]

And you know it’s kind of a bummer to try to do something and then not actually be able to do it, viz. certification [see below] because you’re all like, dude, if there’s no “try” then what in the world have I spent the last however-long doing?  I seem to remember some trying.  And some doing not, I suppose.  But mostly TRYING!  And the complex intersecting layers of how much one wants to try vs. how much benefit one might obtain from doing, or not doing, or trying…it’s all a rich tapestry…I explained about the nexus of tattvas, that is, experiential layers of the universe, where concept,will and execution intersect on an absolute level, and that this in fact is the generative power of the universe [icca, jnana and kriya], which appears to effectively demonstrate the UNIVERSE IS MADE OF TRY:  that every cell of your body is pure try:  that without “trying” there is no BEING, much less doing or not doing, and that the synthesis of spiritual endeavour consisted primarily of the essence of Try, in that no result was expected, demanded or desired and yet the path presents itself, over and tedious over again, pursuing Light in the most occluded and cystlike environments, attempting the impossible triple-axel Sight of Light in spaces where no light should by all rights be and simply by virtue of the pure-hearted attempt GENERATING light in this sclerotic places…By gum, trying makes the world go round, three cheers for try, how can this geriatric little Muppet even dare to sully the good name of Try with his tortured syntax and burlap robes, and I became quite aerated about the whole prospect; I even cultivated a slight bloom of rhetorical sweat on my upper lip.  I may also have been changing Hannah at the time, I can’t quite remember.

M said, “He’s referring to telekinesis”.

I thought for a second.

I said, “Oh, well, that’s true then.”


Since I had such a sweet pregnancy and practiced throughout with very little pain or discomfort it’s been a real ass-kicker not to be able to move as freely as I once was able now that the twins are born.  I know, I know:  what a surprise:  and of course intellectually and empathetically I had heard tales from the post-partum crypt more than I can count.  It’s challenging to operate on levels like, here’s my spirit and here’s my brain and my brain wants to serve spirit and here’s how I do it, I get up at this time and I move my body in this way and that feels good, does it feel good to you too?  It does?  Great, let’s keep doing that and O SNAPS WAIT UP SOME PEOPLE CAME OUT OF ME.  Body totally different=fried.  Brain still wanting to serve, heart still wanting to serve.  Students and community constantly distracted, chatting about diet and buying habits and Ayurveda and raw macaroons and The Core™ and assorted other miscellany that seem to have about as much to do with the twin-raising project as, say, a doodled outline of your own thumb on a message pad has to do with a lunar probe.  Me: not coming up with any even halfway decent answers, mostly cause I’m a bit ashamed of having been SO SURE about yoga asana and Anusara and now I’m not just unsure, I think I’m kind of over it.  So is my spiritual practice consistent?  Yes.  Here’s why.

You can't balance what you can't see

My body is already being used in intense devotional service every single moment of every day.  The very cells I occupy are redolent with life’s purpose by way of estrogen, fat and sleep deprivation.  I am making food with my body instead of poses and directly serving those who cannot serve themselves.  I am remembering God as I do so.  So while I can appreciate that you are finding deep significance in e.g. Tibetan throat singing or Scorpion pose, it all seems PROFOUNDLY beside the point at this stage in my development.  *warning – gender essentialism ahead* Sometimes I think dudes came up with yoga cause they were all jealous of how much women’s bodies are in service by nature.  Regardless of their sexuality or procreative decisions, there is still a pulse that is always serving life.  Maybe dudes just wanted to keep themselves busy playing the sacred flute or some such s**t.  So just as the Vipassana gong rang at 4 am and I got up to sit whether I wanted to or not, so Robert’s fussing keeps me in touch with the relentless divine whether I want to or not.  That’s where my discipline is channelled.

Therefore I have run out of steam pursuing the Holy Grail of Certification, and not only steam, money.  The longer this process takes the more expensive it is and therefore only the comfortable or the very ascetic will attain the position without severe debt and stress.  I am fairly comfortable but not enough for additional $500 mentoring programs after already shelling out (mumble) benjamins at this late stage of the game, and I’m not ascetic at all.  Also, my whole thing with Certification was “I wasn’t doing anything more important” and now I am.  So I’m in the penalty box after my last video [submitted 2 weeks before giving birth btw] didn’t pass, and as my year in the dunce corner whiles away the whole thing is becoming ever more baroque and complicated, and costly, and frankly it’s all I can do to make sure everybody’s set up with some stewed pears and organic milled brown rice cereal if ya feels me.

Okay, so.  Anusara may fall away.  Asana may fall away.  Formal seated practice has been wobbly right out of the gate.  I don’t tend towards formal devotional practices, although I admire those who hold them down, as I’ve always associated the representative forms of God to be just that, tokens, the same way Monopoly money is associated with real money and then the way real money is associated with value and worth.  But I still feel God every day, and I actually kind of dig this new iconoclastic by-any-means-necessary practice, where spirit *has to* be tethered to every action.  The only real suffering I have in this new space is that of loneliness; I was craving companionship both through Anusara and through yoga in general and ironically my commitment to the former seems to have further disconnected and splintered me away from the latter.  It’s lonely to have failed, and it’s lonely to be the gelatinous pie-eyed chronic pain sufferer in the back of the room, but hell, at least it’s real.   Also, my babies are cute, which helps a lot.

Heavy Metta Review – Friday Night Lights

If you are using Heavy Metta as a new media review outlet you, good sir or madam, will always be sorely disappointed, cause I’m generally crap at getting on top of good shows or viral links or hot new albums until well after they have risen, peaked and faded. The reason for this is simply that when somebody says “Check out this show/book/site/band/teacher, you’ll love them”‘ I BELIEVE THEM: as somebody who obsessively listens to one song for weeks and generates an entire worldview and lexicon around the lyrics and becomes firmly convinced of said songs’ portentious message for me in the coming years, an almost oracular faith in this song…I cannot afford, do you hear me, cannot afford to click on that link or check out your downloaded .flac album…if it’s as good as you say it is I will go deep into the rabbit hole and spend mammoth amounts of time and energy loving and processing and ruminating on this art. And so it is with Friday Night Lights.

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You know when you’re on holiday somewhere beautiful and you find every vista and spectacle so irresistibly stunning that you take brazillions of pictures and upload and categorize them all, perhaps with some cunning file naming convention so that you can readily access each splendid panorama (depending on your nerdlitude), checking in on Facebook constantly, charting your trip on GPS, creating clever prose poems about the magnificence you’ve witnessed…

…and when you get home you realize you have no *actual memory* of your holiday apart from camera cabling and digital fluff? My love of the Internet is legendary, and I generally avoid taking neo-Luddite pot shots at people actually using their phones or being really proud of not having a TV. However, I’ve been keeping a really low electronic profile since the twins were born, partly because I’m way too busy feeding them and/or cleaning up after them, and partly because most baby-related material is not exactly riveting journalism to me, and partly because I felt like once I started diving into the avalanche of needed e-communication I’d never dig myself out again. But mostly, just because I don’t want to miss any moment of this, no matter how hallucinatory or hormonally amplified. However, the longer I wait to surface the more it seems like I’m potentially unwell or something disastrous has happened, and I want to be clear that both they and I are in good health and the delivery was a success, if by no other metric than they used to be inside me and now they’re not 😉

Hannah (back) and Robert (front) were born on April 19 at 2:38 and 2:48 pm respectively. Hannah had the cord wrapped around her neck, which if local anecdata can be trusted is true of pretty much half the people I know, and was therefore delivered by forceps (as was I); Robert was helped down the road via vacuum, which gave him a little yarmulke of bruise that we used to differentiate him from his sister while they were still so wrinkly and generic newborns that we had trouble remembering which was which. They don’t actually look anything like each other, but let’s face it: we weren’t the brightest logs on the Yuletide fire in that little postpartum room.

I kept thinking to myself during labour: I haven’t ruled anything out, I am not attached to any one method of getting these guys out, I am “ready” at least on the conceptual level for different levels of pain and different interventions. I did, however, realize that whatever it took to get the first one out I was then going to have to duplicate or intensify to get the second out, and so I elected to have an epidural, which ended up being a great mercy once we knew that Hannah was having trouble. I am about 15-25% guilty that I could not deliver them without intervention, mostly due to some bullshit-fueled narrative about Womyn Goddess Power or some such crap, but I’m pretty much over it (amazing how pernicious that meme is).


Hannah (back), Robert (front)

They are as well-put together as we can ascertain with the battery of tests that they launch at neonates these days, like they’re studying for the LSATS or something. I’m recovering well although understandably still pudgy and slow. So! Healthy babies, healthy mom, and a healthy (if stubbly) dad.

Weirdly, the experience of raising these guys so far is more like a meditation retreat than any other experience of mine, but not for any of the poetic fluffy reasons you might expect. Ways In Which Newborn Twins Are Like A Meditation Retreat:

1. Your existence is ruled by time: gongs, beeps, arbitrary chunks of time by which you measure the repeated menial tasks which are your due.

2. Mealtimes and excretions are the most exciting parts of your day.

3. You wear pajamas 24/7. (to be fair, I pretty much did this anyway)

4. Even if you could somehow access an adult to whom you might express some insight arising from the experience, through fatigue and energetic confusion you couldn’t form accurate words anyway.

5. There’s no way to record your insights, either because journals are prohibited or because you don’t have any time and even if you did you don’t make any sense (see #4)

6.  At least for as long as they are 12 days old [yesterday], both experiences last for 12 days.

My love for them, and everything else that I really feel, is too sacred and quiet to write about.