Tuesday, September 8, 2009

169/248 - Explorers and Adventurers

Saturday Off.

In the day 243 meditation, Gates calls yogis explorers and adventurers of the body. He says that instead of traveling to distant places we set out to explore what is closest at hand. I really like this comparison.

There are a few ways to travel. Frequently, people opt for quick tours, with lots of their compatriots. They may ride a bus, or a train, or cruise on a ship. If so, they are likely to stick together with people they know, or at least with people from their own country. They will see some wonderful sights, and perhaps have a guide tell them about it. And they might have a wonderful time. When they come home, they might even have some snapshops: that's mommy standing in front of the Eiffel Tower -- the French were so rude; or there's dad, throwing a coin into Trevi Fountain. Didn't you just love Roman Holiday?

I don't really have as much disdain for this type of traveling as it may sound. And I certainly have nothing against Roman Holiday. (I do, however, absolutely hate those kinds of snapshots.) But there is an alternative to the Six Night, Seven Cities tour.

I took my first trip to Europe when I was nineteen. I rented a student garret in Paris for the full month of June, and stayed in the city and its environment. I walked, alot. I started frequenting the same cafe and getting to know some of the people there a bit. I played my guitar in the subways and in front of the Pompidou center to make money for a slightly better dinner. I had a blast, and I like to think that I actually absorbed a tiny bit of France in the process.

Now, I prefer to find a spot or a couple of spots on a vacation and stay there. To eat, I do my best to find out where the locals go, and I have found wonderful, small restaurants this way. In Ravello, Italy, there's a family owned restaurant called Compa Cosima (and I'm slightly guessing at the name). In town, they know it as Netta's place. She's the owner and learned to cook from her father, who was the owner before her. They serve the best seafood and pasta you can imagine, and Netta treats the customers, at least any who return, as her kids. Last time we were there, we stayed in Ravello for almost a week and ate at Netta's four nights. By the last meal, she was asking us the night before what she could make especially for us.

The town itself was similarly homey. There's a town square where basically everyone goes to hang out and socialize in the evenings. There might be a group of men playing cards and talking trash to each other, while drinking the evening away. There is sure to be some kids making up games with each other on the spot. Elderly couples just sitting on the church steps, watching their grandkids and enjoying the evening.

On one magical night, there was a local band, all brass instruments. They preformed a brass arrangement of highlights from Rigeletto, by Verdi. And, they were good. Probably the whole town turned out. The people knew each other, but were equally welcoming of strangers, like me and my wife.

This kind of travelling is quite different, and I think it has an element of what Gates is talking about. To really get to know someplace, you have to drop your preconceptions about what it should be like, and allow yourself just to be present in the environment. In travelling, to me, what this means is that you have to understand the difference between on the one hand "doing the Louvre" simply to be able to say that you had done it, and you were disappointed in the Mona Lisa. Or on the other hand, going to the little museum where David stands, and just sitting there for an hour or two to bask in the work, and then coming back again the next day to take in a little more because its just so freaking awesome.

And that's the way it is with yoga as well. In asana, instead of trying to become present and allow ourselves to absorb the daily feel of Paris or the joy of a summer night on the square in Ravello, instead of that, we are trying to accomplish the same thing with our bodies. Instead of trying to simply do some exercise and get it over with, we are trying to learn how to bask in the feeling of our limbs aligning as they should, our muscles stretching just at their edge, or our breath making a difference because its just so freaking awesome.

Yeah, I liked this meditation.


thedancingj said...

I really like this, too! I totally agree with your travel philosophy. I'd much rather settle down into one place for a week or two and get to KNOW it a bit, rather than visit 10 different countries in 10 days or something like that. (I spent 3 months living in a city in India, pretty much on my own, when I was 20 - THAT was a heck of a summer.) I had never compared it to yoga practice before and I like the idea a lot. :)

Bosco said...

I loved this post. I loved the description of travel where you really let the culture sink in. Of course, sometimes you do just want to see things, so you go from place to place to place. I have done some of this lately. Unfortunately if this is your goal you will only get to experience places from the outside. It is staying and hanging out for awhile that allows you to experience places from the inside. For years and years my devotion to my body resulted in lifting weights and doing Stairmaster, I was always kind of a hurried tourist, never getting very deeply in to any of the exercise I was doing, and (especially with weights) just anxious to get through this set, so I could get to the next set, so I could get the whole damned thing over with again, and then feel reasonably satisfied, and somewhat refreshed by my workout. Starting about three years ago I was actually bored out of my mind with this workout routine, which had become something of a disgusting habit, and really wanting something else. Yoga was what I was looking for. And with yoga (while, to be honest, I am sometimes looking forward to the end of class) I feel that it does by its nature impose a demand to become present and engage with the here and now of what is happening in each pose, which is so much more satisfying and helpfu, in every way, than lifting weights or listening to ipod on the Stairmaster. It is perhaps not unlike enjoying a fourth meal at Netta's.

Duffy Pratt said...

J: Three months in India sounds wonderful. It's something I would love to do: almost no language barrier, but the culture is about as different from ours as you can get.

George: I think what you are saying about weights and stairmaster exactly illustrates the point. That kind of workout is very much like the "tour stop" approach to the body. And it does have its benefits. And you may sometimes look forward to the end of a yoga class, but is it ever because you are bored? I find that hard to believe. I've had classes that were excruciating, where I felt like my skin was going to burn off my muscles, but I don't think I've ever been bored.

hannahjustbreathe said...

This might be one of my favorite meditations (and interpretations) thus far.