Saturday, May 31, 2008

words in passing

Last week's episode of Canadia 2056 was incredibly dull. I think the writers are running out of ideas (and honestly, the premise was pretty weak from the start). Good episode of Battlestar Galactica (aka Battlenerd Galactigeek) on Friday, though. The religious and heady (yet vital) philosophical themes in well written science fiction make me think that sci-fi is really coming of age. But then I see a few minutes of the impossibly bad programme Doctor Who, and I'm back to thinking that sci-fi is still largely the domain of rubbery monsters, bad acting, explosions, and unnecessarily dramatic music. Honestly, I'm embarrassed to call myself a geek sometimes. Sometimes.

Anyway... for the past few months, Friday nights have found me at a friend's house watching BSG. Usually, I arrive early, and we spend some time talking about yoga, mindfulness, being present, &c. We draw from a common vocabulary about such things that is largely lifted from Buddhism and Tantra, but these are not academic discussions. They are grounded in a desire to make sense of our experiences. Saturday mornings, on the other hand, I usually spend in a coffee shop, working on yoga homework. Rather, trying to work on yoga homework. Mostly I seem to get distracted by snippets of the most inane conversations imaginable. A few months ago, I listened to two "men" talk for over an hour about fights they had been in. Street fights. Bar room brawls. They were comparing notes. WTF?

Recap. Friday night: meaning of life, spirituality, what does it mean to be human, blah blah blah. Saturday morning: Dumb and Dumber shooting the bull about people they've beat up. Am I being overly snobbish about the stupidity of other people's conversations? I would probably have found this conversation absolutely hilarious/ridiculous/fascinating if it hadn't distracted me from what I was working on.

It makes me wonder what people say about the conversations that they overhear me having... maybe I'm just as bad in my own way. I'm sure there's someone in New Paltz who thinks of me as that obnoxious prick who's always going on about secular humanism.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guilty pleasure

So there's this radio drama that airs on the CBC every Friday morning at 11:30, and I simply cannot stop listening. It's called Canadia 2056; it features science fiction, American-Canadian relations, intergalactic toilet plunging, amorous computers, a brain in a jar, romance, action, comedy. It really has it all. It's like a mash up of Futurama, the Hitchhiker's Guide, and this stupid audio production of the story of King Midas that I did in grade 5.

What is it that's so compelling about radio dramas? And why aren't there any in this country? (Or if there are, where are they?) Why do I have to outsource for my auditory amusement? Afghanada (when it was on the air, and I hope it's coming back for a third season) also held me totally in thrall.

Friday, May 23, 2008


As my training winds up, there's all manner of thoughts running through my mind, and I think this blog is going to be a clearing house for them over the next few weeks. I'm going to start with my translations/commentaries on the first three yoga sutras of Patanjali (I'll list these in the format Sanskrit... English translation... Squirrel translation).

Atha yoganusasanam
Now the exposition of yoga is being made.
When is the best time to practice yoga? Right fucking now!

Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.
Yoga is when your mind shuts up.

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
Then the Seer abides in His own nature.
Then you can stop frontin', and start dealing with what's real.

I somehow doubt my own vulgar and dumbed-down translations are going to catch on, but they're helpful for me.

I did my third and final assistant teaching last night, for a Basics class. I ploughed through it, but I was definitely not on my A-game. I kept stumbling over words and directions. It sucks that I ended my assistant teachings on a down note. My second assisting (which I did on Sunday) had gone much better; I think the difference may have been that Sunday's class was first thing in the morning, so I was fresh and vibrant, and yesterday's was in the evening after I'd spent all day staring at a computer screen writing code, and my head was still stuck in zeroes-and-ones mode. I'm concerned about what this may mean for my future as a teacher. Does this mean I'll only be able to teach competently on days on which I wasn't thoroughly immersed in computer code? I hope not. I never planned to give up my programming career in order to teach yoga; I want to be able to strike a balance between these two disparate worlds in which I live. I don't want to have to choose.

My mind is very much drawn to contemplations of effort and surrender today, so here's another excerpt from one of my recent yoga essays:

Effort and surrender. "Ay, there's the rub," to borrow a phrase from Hamlet. We do our practice, whatever that means for each of us; we are compelled to interact honestly with the world and treat each other as well as we can, but we don't control the outcomes of our actions. Effort is trying to do whatever is right in the moment; surrender is hoping like hell that our actions are beneficial to others (and to ourselves), and realizing that the effects of our actions are beyond our ability to control. Sometimes, everything turns out the way we think it should. Sometimes, well, not so much. Effort and surrender is intense practice, so a lot of the time we try to avoid it. Donna Farhi enumerates some common avoidance techniques: neurosis (throwing our hands up and saying, "I can't control anything; it's all someone else's fault; I give up."), half hearted effort (self-explanatory), conditional perfectionism (diligent effort coupled with a refusal to accept any outcome but the one we desire), and impossible perfectionism (in which we keep moving the goal state so that it can never be achieved, because achieving some desired outcome would require relinquishing control). Diligent, honest effort followed by genuine surrender opens the doors to possibilities that just can't present themselves otherwise.

Not that I'm any sort of an expert on surrendering control. I understand it in theory well enough, but theory isn't worth a damn when the rubber hits the pavement.

On an up note, here's another snippet from an earlier essay:

Farhi writes a lot about the importance of slowing down, and how frantic the pace of modern life can be. This reminds me, of all things, of the introductions to several cookbooks that I own. It seems that every time I page through a cookbook, the author's first priority is to bemoan the rapid pace of modern life and lament the fact that no one makes time to cook anymore, despite what a calming, soothing, centring thing it can be to make a daily routine of preparing a meal. The same, of course, can be said of yoga. (When you start looking for it, you discover that there's dharma everywhere, even between the recipes for shish kabobs and pork tenderloin.)

Friday, May 16, 2008


The last time I visited my father was in 2002. The last time I spoke to him was probably 2004 (I ran into him on the rail trail), and the last time I saw him was last summer (I took off before he saw me, so we didn't have any interaction). I've been avoiding him for a long time, and eventually he acceded to my requests to stop trying to contact me. So the letter I received from him a few weeks ago informing me of his diagnosis with prostate cancer came as a bit of a surprise. The letter was pretty short on details; no mention of his course of treatment, his prognosis, or whether the cancer was caught early. When I first read the letter, I didn't feel much emotional response to its contents. Mostly what I noticed was the fact that he'd spelled prostate wrong, and that his grammar and sentence structure were atrocious. Distractions from the real matter at hand, I guess. I harbour at lot of anger towards him, some of which is well placed, some of which probably is not, but the whole mess of it has long since grown stale, and I have other emotions and memories competing for supremacy. Nothing with family is ever linear or cut and dry. My siblings (who have also shut him out of their lives) and I seem to be of a common mind that we should at least send him a card to thank him for letting us know and wish him well with his treatment.

Unrelated to the above, I've been favoured with dreams of wish fulfillment for the past two nights. Wednesday night was rated PG. Last night: G. I'm keeping the details to myself. Dreams are a good road map to where my mind is, but they are ultimately just a map; they are not the territory itself, as I have to keep reminding myself.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Because I'm too lazy to write anything fresh, here are some excerpts from recent writings. First, from this morning's journal entry:

Yesterday, I told [my therapist] about quinuituq, deep patience - sitting by a seal hole, motionless, for hours, waiting for a seal to surface. There's absolutely no sign of anything happening until the very last instant. One simply waits. I've lately been wondering at what point the hunter abandons the hole and walks away, giving up the hope of catching a seal at that hole. How does he know when to call it quits? When he is in that calm mindset, quinuituq, does he simply know when it's time? Does he come bck to the same hole the next day and try again? How does he feel walking away, knowing he may have missed the seal by a few minutes?

My guess - and it's only a guess - is that when he's in that mindset of deep patience, he knows when it's time to walk away, and he probably doesn't second guess his decision when he does. But only if he's in that mindset; only if he is calm, and deeply patient.

And from a yoga homework assignment I handed in last month, and just received back (a summary of the excellent book Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi):

The box of monsters that Donna Farhi writes about, the uncomfortable parts of our psyche, may be likened to weeds stabilizing the soil of a steep slope. They are unsightly, perhaps, but they are performing a vital function, and it's important to tread lightly around them as we uncover what that function is. We are more than our box of monsters, though this is impossible to remember at times. "I am always a bit suspicious of people who walk around spouting angelic proclamations about how wonderful and beautiful and full of light everything is. When I meet people like this I have an overwhelming desire to go out and buy a handgun." Wow. I mean, wow! In years to come when I reflect on this book, I suspect that this will be one of the chief passages to which I return. Not that I advocate yogicide, of course, or any sort of violence for that matter, but I think I know exactly what Donna Farhi is talking about. Life isn't all kittens and rainbows, and it's very hard to deal with people who pretend that it is. Keep it real. (Of course, sometimes it is all kittens and rainbows, so the other half of keeping it real is recognizing those times as well.)

A lot (all?) of what Donna Farhi wrote about the descent into the pit of despair rang true for me. There is no bottom to the pit; there is always lower to go. Sometimes a breakdown, or a "dark night of the soul" (p. 206) occurs with no apparent reason. Not everyone experiences this, but many people do. This isn't necessarily a one-shot deal; we can find ourselves in the pit more than once. To call these sorts of experiences humbling robs them of some of their rawness. "Flattening" is a better word. One is pummeled by travels in the pit of despair that Donna Farhi writes about. Yet there is perhaps no other way to discover that the small self doesn't get the final word. If the small self is annihilated and we still find a way to keep on truckin', then there must be something more to life than a shopping list of "I am"'s, "I want"'s, "I don't want"'s, and "I fear"'s.

There's more to say, but I think I'll stop here. I'd like to end on an up note for a change.

My yoga teacher made some lovely comments about this paper; she called my writing lively, funny, and insightful. That felt really good.