Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guatemala, in brief

Well, I´m here. Enjoying sharing bus rides with chickens, clases de yoga en Espanol, and as expected, assaulting the locals with my atrocious Spanish. There is more to write, obviously, but I don´t have a lot of time right now. I´ve been writing copiously in my journal, and when I return to the states this weekend, I´ll post some of my observations and experiences here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One last post before I go

I'm off to Guatemala tomorrow... or anyway, my roundabout journey begins tomorrow. I'm sitting here all packed and freaking out a little bit, so I'm going to post some of what I wrote in my final essay for the teacher training:

"Mandiram is usually translated as 'temple,'" but Krishnamacharya offered another definition from the Sanskrit roots of the word: "'the fire that dispelled darkness.'" I'm mulling over the possibility and implications of translating mandiram rather as the fire that resides in darkness. I've never been comfortable with the us versus them mentality of good versus evil, light versus dark. We all contain both. It's enough of a struggle to live with one's dark side without demonizing it and trying in vain to cast it out. It is harder, but ultimately more satisfying, I think, to learn to live with the things we don't like about ourselves. There is a quote by Barry Lopez (from Arctic Dreams) which addresses this directly (and which I constantly find myself rereading): "No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of the conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one's own culture but within oneself. If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox." Mandiram. Fire residing within darkness.

"'There are only two castes,' he [Krishnamacharya] would say: 'Men and women.' And he gradually came to regard women as the superior, at least in terms of Yogic practice." Oh boy. Rather, oh girl! Where to begin? Well... he's wrong, of course. Everyone is created equal, men aren't better than women, women aren't better than men, free to be you and me, blah blah blah. On the other hand, let's be realistic for a moment. He's right. The vast majority of yoga teachers I've studied with, known, or known of have been women; yet I've only ever heard of (or known) male teachers who were engaged in morally questionable behaviour with their students. When was the last time you heard of a cult leader who was a woman? I haven't either. Whenever I see the bumper sticker "Well behaved women rarely make history," I think to myself, no, poorly behaved men are usually the ones making history, and that's really not something to aspire to. I don't know what to make of this apparent schism between genders. Maybe it's nature. Maybe it's nurture. Maybe I'm seeing a difference where none actually exists (but if so, then Krishnamacharya apparently saw it too). Maybe this perception of mine stems from some deep well of self-hatred, but I don't think so. (I've spent enough time on the box-of-tissues end of the psychotherapy couch to know self-hatred when I see it, and this ain't it.) Whatever the reason, I find myself in a peculiar position. I have to hope that whatever failings my gender might incline me towards are surmountable through self-awareness (svadhyaya) and concerted effort (sadhana, tapas). And almost certainly, they are. I'm inclined to think that when it comes to cross-gender comparisons, intra-group diversity is more pronounced than inter-group diversity (i.e., men and women have a lot more potential for commonality than difference).

Okay, moving on, as I've probably stopped making sense to anyone but me...

Regarding attachment, "perhaps the strongest of these [memories and latent impressions] with adverse effects upon our actions is the irresistible, eternal desire for immortality. Much, if not all, of our previous Yogic practice is meant to help free us from this desire: in essence, from instinctive self-preservation." Reminds me of a great line in an Ani DiFranco song: "I don't care if they eat me alive, I've got better things to do than survive." I'm also reminded of Freud's great dichotomy – the two opposing forces which drive humanity, eros (creative life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). The desire for immortality that Desikachar talks about is really not an embrace of life, though it masquerades as an outgrowth of eros; desire for immortality actually arises from a fear of death. It is therefore an outgrowth of thanatos, the death instinct. Truly embracing life and experiencing it means recognizing and accepting that it will end. We wouldn't value it otherwise.

The excerpt from Krishnamurti's speech renouncing gurus and religion resonates strongly with me (predictably). He's right. If you take something of value (like truth, though there are other examples) and try to nail it down, put it in a box, codify it, sell it, or give it a brand name, it ceases to be what it was. The once beautiful thing disappears. It was only beautiful or valuable in the first place because it was not simply described or easily conveyed. The struggle to discover what is important or what is true is itself the thing that is important. This is, in part, what is meant by the observation in the Bhagavad Gita that we are entitled to our efforts, but not their fruits. If I had to condense all of the teachings of yoga into one statement, that would probably be it...

To be a teacher, one must devote one's life to practice, remain a student of yoga oneself, always speak the truth, and care more about the student than about oneself. "It is not the most brilliant intellect that makes such a teacher. It is the inner capacity to care about someone else more than yourself."

The student must be committed, must accept what is taught even if she disagrees, must accept full responsibility for her own learning, and must exhibit humility and respect towards her teacher.

"...the journey toward happiness is above all about deeply felt and conscious experience." Even crying can be blissful when it is deeply felt and conscious. Here, as elsewhere, I speak from experience. Kind of a lot of experience, actually, now that I think about it.

Whenever I challenge myself, step outside my comfort zone (which is certainly what I'm doing by going to Guatemala, a country where I barely speak the language and have no familiarity with the culture), I find myself thinking of my friend Byron. Perhaps it is pathological or morbid for me to do so, but I want to believe he would have been proud of me for pushing myself. He was one of very, very few people whose judgment I deeply valued and whose approval mattered to me.

Ending on an up note (and back to yoga briefly): At my graduation ceremony a month ago, my brother asked me if now I could finally use my Jedi powers to help him get his X-wing fighter out of the swamp, and I said no, it's YOGA, you must have heard me wrong.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Swim update

After a few weeks of hardly any yoga and lots and lots of swimming, I have the following to report: 1. My endurance is definitely improved... over a mile is no longer a problem. 2. My speed must be improving too. The swim-freestyle-for-laps-and-laps-and-laps people were there last night doing their thing, and they only passed me 3 times (last time I swam with them, it was 4, and over a shorter distance).

I'll be in yoga class tonight... I'm kind of dreading it, I know I lose flexibility quickly when I don't practice regularly.

There's a "master swim class" tomorrow up at Minnewaska that I will probably go to. The last time I took swimming lessons was twenty or more years ago at the YMCA, and for the vast majority of those two decades I wasn't doing any sort of proper swimming at all, so I know my technique definitely has room aplenty for improvement. In fact, I'm almost embarrassed to go to the class tomorrow and be critiqued.

I leave for Guatemala on Monday... maybe I should start packing or something. I looked up "to shower" in my Spanish/English dictionary today. "Ducharse." I don't think I'll have difficulty remembering that one. Sheesh, I can be so puerile sometimes.

I had a discussion last night about whether it's okay to be angry at someone else (or yourself) when you recognize that anger really isn't appropriate or well warranted. Maybe okay vs not okay is not the right way to look at it. When I get stuck in anger, figuring out whether it's justified never gets me anywhere. I just get more and more frustrated. Unfortunately, sometimes it's an intractable situation and there's just nothing else to do with it. What I really need is a distraction.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tagged by NoR

So this is the task:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the 5th sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

This is going to be so unsatisfying for my tagger... I'm in my office, so the nearest book is a programming reference guide:

"You can store text that is generated by the macro facility during macro execution in an external file. Printing the statements generated during macro execution to a file is useful for debugging macros when you want to test generated text in a later SAS session. To use this feature, set both the MFILE and MPRINT system options on and also assign MPRINT as the fileref for the file to contain the output generated by the macro facility."

I tag... anyone who cares to be tagged by this.

Wow... I think this is now officially my dullest post ever! I almost fell asleep writing it.

ADDENDUM: I just noticed that my copy of the unabridged Shakespeare (one of my copies of the unabridged Shakespeare, anyway) is closer to me than the programming manual is. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


That last post was supposed to be mostly funny with a side order of serious, I think I got my ratios mixed up.

Monday, July 7, 2008

water, water everywhere

So I'm a scorpio (shocker, I know), and apparently that's a water sign. I have no idea what that means, but it seems like there's been an awful lot of water in my life lately. #1 - since finishing the teacher training, I pretty much can't stand the thought of being on a yoga mat anymore. I'm burned out. I think I'll come back to my practice in a while, but right now, no. So I've been swimming a lot lately, up at Minnewaska. #2 - there's a periodic and very very very annoying leak in one of the bathrooms in my condo. The leak originates from the unit behind mine, so there is nothing I can do about it apart from alert the management, which I've done, and hope they do something to fix it, which so far they have not. Water torture. This brings up my shit to a degree that is probably hard to imagine for anyone who does not know me well. Understanding why this is such a big deal to me has not so far made it a smaller deal. #3 - My mother owns a lake house which is currently involved in legal issues which involve me and which I don't want to deal with. But since when is what we want a predictor of what we have to deal with?

I had to laugh on Sunday afternoon - I was at the town pool (more water!) helping with the testing of new Minnewaska swimmers, thinking about all this water, and the irony of the song that's been playing in my head for the past few days struck me:

Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid any nautical disasters of my own. I should take some perspective from this song, probably.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada day

Slightly drunk on expensive Canadian beer from Bacchus right now, so please disregard any spelling and/or grammatical errors...

Went swimming this afternoon up at Minnewaska - did my mile, with much less emotional hullaballoo than last year's first mile swim. There were two other swimmers also in the lake while I was doing my laps. They were swimming exclusively freestyle. They were swimming when I got there, and they were still swimming when I left, and they passed me at least three times. By my rough calculations, that means they swam at least two miles exclusively freestyle (plus whatever they'd swum before I got there and whatever they swam after I left). Granted, they were stopping to tread water for a minute or two after every length (1/8 of a mile), but still, wow. I know there's a triathlon in the 'gunks in September, maybe they were training for that. I keep thinking I'd like to train for that and take part in it some year, but I hate running, so realistically, it probably ain't gonna happen.

I'm kind of afraid of the swim-laps-for-hours-and-hours people. I see them coming up behind me with their synchronized strokes, and I feel like a little kid stuck in a corn field with grain threshers bearing down on him. I try to give them a wide berth. I kind of wish there were a standard rule of thumb for where the faster swimmers should swim, but some of them seem to like to stick to the rope, and some of them stay further out. It makes it impossible for us slower swimmers to know how best to stay out of their way.