Friday, July 17, 2009


Thursday 10:30 am with Lenette

It was one of those days when the body was willing, but my mind wouldn't cooperate. I had the hardest time just staying put. I tried harder and harder to simply focus, and eventually just gave up on the focusing. And then something strange started happening. My mind settled down, but the focus didn't return. As a result, I twice caught myself doing the wrong thing. First, when everyone was setting up for Rabbit, I caught myself with my arms over my head, getting ready for Half Tortoise. Then, after the left hand stretch at the end, when we should go back for the sit-up that aligns us for the stretching pose, I started going into Savasana for no reason, and had to catch up again.

This was a pretty strange experience for me. It wasn't that my mind was elsewhere. I'd already gotten over that kind of distraction. Instead, it was more like my mind wasn't anywhere at all. I clearly wasn't listening or following the dialogue, but I'm not sure what I was doing.

Before class, I told Lenette that there was a good chance I would just sleep for the full 90 minutes. (I may get to be the boy who cried wolf on that point.) Of course, once I was in the room, there was no good reason not to try. And so I went through all the poses, didn't sit out, and from the standpoint of working my body in the poses, I did OK, and maybe better than average. Camel and Rabbit were both very good. I got my legs completely locked again in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee. The balancing series was surprisingly good considering how distracted I was. And it may even have been the best class I could have had under the circumstances, and it definitely helped with my general mood.

An eighty-five year old friend died the night before. He had liver cancer and had been given less than a month to live over a year ago. He was a really good man, had friends and loved ones around him to the end, and he lived a fulfilling, happy life. He died at peace with himself, and he was more than ready to go. And even knowing all that, it still threw me pretty badly.

The day 196 meditation is about how asana practice helps us discover who we are. Gates says that it helps us to learn to strip away all the things that we are not -- our fears, our desires, our preoccupations, etc... In class yesterday, Lenette asked the challenge participants what they had learned this time around. One student said that the progress is a bit like peeling away the layers of an onion. I think Gates is talking about something similar. We strip off the false layers, one at a time. But here's the problem: the onion doesn't have a core. When you strip off all the layers of an onion, you wind up with -- nothing.

That's just a quibble. But I do wonder about this emphasis on learning "Who am I?" To me, it sounds just as goal oriented as anything else. It may be that doing yoga makes people more confident and instills in them a better sense of self. But that doesn't mean that getting that sense of self is the goal. I've run into "spiritual" people fairly often who have done unkind and thoughtless things because they were so preoccupied with "finding themselves." I don't necessarily think that Gates is wrong her; it's just that I think its possible to put as much misdirected ambition into the search for self as it is into any other desire or goal.

1 comment:

thedancingj said...

Ahhh... good topic. Very tricky. There is self and then there is Self, if you know what I mean! And this is correct, I think, that we have all these built up layers of things that we THINK we are defined by: our bodies, our jobs, our possessions, our family, our ideas, our egos. All of those things are transient, they're all just perceptions, so they can't be part of our real Self.

So your question is right on: when you peel away all the layers, what is LEFT? What a wild question to think about! I don't know if there CAN be a solid center. Maybe all that's left is energy. Light.

Bikram knows something about this. I've rarely heard him teach a class without mentioning "self-realization", and we all THINK that we know what he means, but I don't know if we really do. Emmy says that every one of us is a "multi-dimensional being of light." The last time I heard her say that, it finally occurred to me that she means this literally, not just as a pretty turn of phrase.

Don't get me started on people who call themselves "spiritual"... good grief... what a hot mess....