Wednesday, April 8, 2009

70/98 -Learning from Dogs

10:30 am with Lenette

The room was fairly crowded for a mid week morning.  I took a spot in the front right, away from the window and the fans.  It was 109 when I put my mat down, but it didn't worry me because I know Lenette always keeps a merciful lookout on the heat.  Sure enough, she opened the doors toward the end of the standing series, and I think the heaters went off for good somewhere around Camel.

Overall, practice was OK.  I sat out one set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.  For whatever reason, I seem to be on the downward side of a spiral right now.  My stamina isn't really there.  My flexibility is a bit off.  But at least today, I felt really on top of the class mentally, even if I could wish for more in the poses.

On the plus side, my balancing was very good again today.  I kept the foundation strong in Standing Head to Knee.  Then I had two very solid sides in Standing Bow.  On the last part, I managed to hold the pose for the duration, and went as deep as I ever had (possibly deeper but its hard to tell).

Back strengthening was a bit weak.  I got a foot cramp in Cobra.  Worked that out in Savasana, just with breathing.  And then I forced myself into a remarkable cramp across my entire upper back in Full Locust.  I didn't feel like I was up as high as I have been recently, but maybe I was doing it with better form.  I got a good compliment from Lenette on the pose, and then my whole upper back just seized.  I know that the pose is supposed to get to your upper back, but this was ridiculous.  I managed to get myself together and continue, but the rest of the back strengthening suffered quite a bit because of the aftermath of that cramp.

I love the day 97 meditation.  First, it introduces the last of the niyamas:  surrender to God, or devotion.  Letting go is so much a part of the method of yoga, and to this point it only really appeared as a corollary to non-hoarding.  And here it is in its own self contained principle.  At first blush, I take it that this niyama will have two components -- the first is letting go and the second is faith.

Gates says that he learned much about this principle from watching animals, particularly his dog.  Dogs are amazing animals.  They, like people, are one of the few animals that plays as an adult.  They also react directly with the world.  They are capable of pure joy, pure love, and overwhelming exuberance.  When they are mad, they are extremely direct, but then amazingly quick to forgive. 

I spend lots and lots of time with my dogs.  I have spent countless hours over the last several years watching and taking pictures of dogs playing with each other.   I know lots of people who have wanted a pet for companionship, or to guard their house, or to appease their children.  They tend to attribute human motivations to their dog's behavior, and they try to figure out how to make their dogs act more like well behaved people in their households.  When asked, I try to explain to them that instead of trying to teach the dogs to behave like people, they would be much better off if they could watch and learn to behave more the way dogs behave.

If you are interested, you can see some pictures of my Samoyeds, Boon and Papa here 

Gates says that animals are perfect examples of samedhi, and thus I suppose also of surrender to God.  Some people will object, on theoretical grounds, that lacking free will, an animal can't surrender at all.  I understand the point, but in the end I've decided I disagree with it.  Animals make decisions, just as people do.  Their reasons may be less complex, but they choose just as much as people do.  

And even if they don't, that doesn't mean that we can't learn from their example.  When I see the pure joy of my dog's chasing each other through six inches of muddy water, moving with an ease that shows that absolutely everything is right with the world, its hard for me to cling to some philosophical objection.  There's nothing wrong with aspiring to that sort of joy, that kind of connectedness to the environment.  And in the end, I doubt that I'm projecting human attributes onto the dogs; instead, I think I'm searching for a way to strip off my own human qualities and simply BE, the way my dogs are so effortlessly capable of just BEING.

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