Saturday, September 12, 2009

172/254 -Simplicity beyond Sophistication

Thursday Off.
Friday 4:30 with Rohit

The weakness in my knees still shows itself in Triangle. At this point, its possible that my knee is actually strong enough to do it, and I'm harboring some fear that's preventing me. But soon, I think it will obviously be strong enough again, and then I will only have Toe Stand to work myself back into.

I got called out in the first part of Awkward pose. I've been awfully fond of how low I can go in this pose. There have been a few classes where Rohit has said everyone but Duffy needs to go down lower. And in this class, Rohit said I was down too low. Worse, he said going down too low puts the knees at risk. Yikes!

Everything else was pretty standard for a weekday 4:30 class. I had some bad reflux issues in the first forward bend, first set. But I got my breathing and everything else under control, and they didn't crop up again, not even in back strengthening. More and more, I'm becoming convinced that I have pretty complete control over these reflux issues, and that when it strikes, its because I'm doing something wrong in the pose -- typically not breathing properly.

The day 248 meditation begins with a wonderful quotation: "We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication." Gates, in talking about this, mentions running into people who have no idea how complex life is. He says that for them life is quite simple because they "come from a place of love."

I don't doubt that Gates has met such people. He may even be right about why they can treat things with seeming simplicity. But I think he misses the point of the quote. The idea is that someone goes through all of the complexity, and after putting all the complex things together, ends up with the truly simple.

I've often admired this quality of accomplished simplicity, whether in music, in art, in writing, or in any other field where it can crop its head. Let's take music first, and I will give three examples. First, Mozart's music, especially his piano music, has a deceptive simplicity about it. Young students often play Mozart, because people mistakenly consider some of it to be easy.

A more concrete example is the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The main melody is a single note repeated over and over. But out of this a completely simple melodic material, Beethoven creates music that is deeply moving and tragic. Here it is if you care to listen.

The other example is in much of the music by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. When at their best, it seems like they were writing folk songs or traditional music. There best songs are ones that could have been around for literally hundreds of years. I'm thinking of songs like Ripple or Brokedown Palace or even Cumberland Blues.

In the arts, the sort of thing I have in mind are the wonderful later cut-out works by Matisse, or maybe the sculptures of Brancusi. In Chinese art, there are painters who work on painting a goldfish with a single brush stroke. I think its that sort of thing that the quotation is getting at.

I especially admire any writer who can write both simply and powerfully. In writing, I think of things like Frost's poetry, which seems so simple and often is not at all. Or maybe just my favorite poem by William Carlos Williams:

So much depends upon
A red wheel barrow
Glazed with rain water
Beside the white chickens

And the same sort of quality applies even to a field like Math, where a proof is a good thing, but a simple and elegant proof is something that mathematicians truly admire.

The same quality ends up being the goal of asana practice. We work and work on the details and on the techniques so that ultimately the poses might become simple. It's a simplicity that does not come naturally at first, but one that we might ultimately reach after we have wended our way through some sophisticated knowledge applied to the same poses.

1 comment:

thedancingj said...

Very nice post!! I totally get this idea. I've tried to talk about a similar idea myself (you may or may not remember), and I always end up talking about artwork and poetry along the way, too. :)

At the end of the day, my favorite asana instruction is probably still: "Just don't do it wrong!" Pure simplicity!