Saturday, January 31, 2009

East meets West

Three things:

  • After teaching class on Tuesday, I had the Buddhist chant "Gate, gate, paragate" stuck in my head (which is weird, because I didn't play it or chant it during class). "Gone, gone, gone beyond." Later in the week, I was listening to the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, and I had the out of the blue revelation that when Dorothy sings "Somewhere over the rainbow," she's expressing much the same sentiment. Or is she? She wants escape; absolute anathema from the point of view of the middle-way; but what she ultimately discovers is that if she can't find what she wants right where she is, she's not going to find it anywhere. The value of her fantastic travels is that they allow her to experience and value home differently (something I reflected on in Guatemala last summer). H'mmm. Buddhist perspectives on American show tunes. If I still had any inclination towards the upper echelons of academia, I think this would be a gold mine thesis title.

  • Another realization from this past week: The weird otherworldly vocals in the beginning of Battlestar Galactica? Sanskrit. It's a Sanskrit chant. I recognized one of the words, then I remembered which chant I knew it from, then I recognized the rest of the chant, and then... well, then my head pretty much exploded. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. It's the Gayatri mantra. In English: "The dawn, the day, and the dusk, those three most excellent daughters of the Sun, the radiant forms coming from the Gods, I meditate upon you and reach out to you. That is my offering." I am ridiculously, overwhelmingly, embarrassingly pleased with myself for recognizing this.

  • I participated in an "Eye of the Tiger" Anusara yoga practice last night; two and a half hours of asana. We started with twenty six sun salutations. It was WONDERFUL. I haven't worked that hard in a long, long time. My only disappointment was that the teacher didn't play the Survivor song at any point in the practice.

Friday, January 30, 2009

There is no mat.

I started writing a post about cookbooks yesterday, but two paragraphs in I decided that it was stupid and I'd probably already made all of the interesting points anyway. Short version: we'd have a lot more quality time for ourselves if we'd get rid of all of our labour saving devices and "helpful" gadgets. But, well, I think everyone more or less knows that already, so I won't go into further detail.

In the intermediate/advanced yoga class I taught on Tuesday night, I incorporated a great deal of pranayam (breathing) instruction. Actually, pretty much all of my planning for the class focused on pranayam. I know there's a school of thought that says advanced yoga practice involves well choreographed vinyasa and complex poses, and there's definitely something to be said for that, but I don't think that that's how I want to teach at this point. There's another school of thought that says that in advanced practice, the more basic practices (like asana) are used as a launching pad for subtler work. The physical practice is used to prepare the body for breath work. Breath work is used to prepare the mind for meditation. And meditation is used to calm the fluctuations of the mind, which is the whole point of the practice. In the most advanced yoga practice, of course, as I've written elsewhere, the mat disappears. But most of us aren't ready for that. We need to keep getting on our mats as a reminder, if nothing else.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I was thinking today about nature and civilization, and how arbitrary the line between them can be. Everything ultimately was produced by natural forces, right? So is it just the act of laying human hands on something that makes it an artifact of civilization? This was touched on briefly in His Dark Materials. Perhaps a more significant distinction is our expectation of things, depending on whether we call them natural or man-made. We expect natural things (trees, forests, mountains, cockroaches) to change. They gradually come into existence, then just as gradually die away. Generally, both of these processes are happening at the same time, so like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, it's hard to say whether something is coming or going. Adding to the complexity, things in the natural world are in a constant state of becoming something else. A mountain is constantly being eroded by wind and water, and what was once mountain is now silt; and what was once silt is now river bed or flood plain soil. Animals are constantly playing host to myriad bacteria and fungi, which, far from parasitic, are necessary parts of the larger animal's existence. Where do I end, and the flora in my gut begin? It's hard to say. In nature, everything is constantly in flux, and nothing is well defined.

On the other hand, we seem to expect man-made things to exhibit a bit more consistency. Once something is made, we expect it to last. But that's nonsense, isn't it? It's a basic tenet of Buddhism (and the second law of thermodynamics) that everything falls apart. Doesn't matter if I made it, you made it, Flying Spaghetti Monster made it, or it came into existence on its own. It will, eventually, return to its most basic components. All work we do sometimes seems like a struggle against acceptance of this basic, undeniable fact.

I've forgotten where I was going with this... oh yes. In his speech this afternoon, President Obama talked about how it's time for us to take responsibility and fix what's broken. I know he's right, but I'm embarrassed to admit that part of me would rather look for excuses. "It's all going to fall apart anyway, so why bother?" Well... here's why. It's not about the end result. It's not even remotely about the end result. It's about the work itself. Honest work undertaken with whole hearted intention and awareness (tapas and svadhyaya for all you yogis out there) creates its own reward (isvarapranidhana), regardless of what the material consequences may be. Of course whatever we build is going to fall apart in the end. If it didn't, it would rob us of the opportunity to rebuild it yet again.

Speaking of fixing what's broken, I finally initiated email correspondence with my father in November. At first, I just wanted to thank him for letting me (and my sister and brother) know about his health issues, and wish him a speedy recovery. But we've kept emailing back and forth. We haven't touched on any of the big issues that divided us for years. We've really only talked about movies, actually. But, well, I had to start the rebuilding process somewhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ski lift

Warning: this post is yet another in my series of mopey, maudlin, self-pitying diatribes.

A few months ago, my brother was shooting a wedding at the summit of Hunter Mountain (with his camera, I mean). I talked to him beforehand, and he told me that he was so scared about riding the ski lift to the top that he almost wanted to just jump off. As a preemptive strike against falling off. I've kind of felt the same way lately; not about any specific thing in my life, but generally. Things are going well - very well, actually - but all I can think about is the omnipresent possibility of calamity, and it's making me crazy.  I think maybe I always get this way at this time of year; maybe I need more sunlight or exercise or something.

I've been seeking solace through the usual sources:  yoga, friends, books, music.  I finally completed the playlist that I started working on years ago, and I've been listening to it non-stop.  Cathartic.  I remember asking my therapist once years ago if it's okay to cry when you don't know why you're crying.  She said it was.  So, I guess I've got that going for me.

I went for a massage about a week ago - my first ever.  I felt calmer afterwards than I remember ever feeling before.  Probably should make that a more regular event in my life.

Anyway, new episodes of BSG start on Friday, so I have that to look forward to (even if I kind of think they should have ended it with the last episode that aired last spring).