I am up early this morning. I woke up refreshed, made some tea, did my sitting practices, glanced through my ever-elsuive and ever-mounting email account and now, after some breakfast and more tea, I am taking a moment to catch up on a blog entry.
Kelly and I are going to go down to San Marcos for some time on the river and then its yoga practice, several appointments and then I teaching the practice tonight at Castle Hill. Its great to have a few days at home to get somethings in order and to have some time to catch up on work before heading back out. I am also prioritizing some personal time for play and self-care while I am home. All in all, its been a good week so far.
I had an interesting talk with Anne the other day. She spent the weekend in Dallas at a workshop with Swati Chanchani who is an Indian Iyengar Yoga teacher. (I studied with her for a month in 2004, on my first trip to India and she is awesome, by the way.) One of the great things about studying with her or her husband Rajiv is that, since they are Indian, the cultural translation of the teachings is a whole different thing.
Learning yoga in India, for me, was a radical experience and more than once it dawned on me that the culture of yoga in India has very little to do with the culture of an American yoga studio. Now, I am not going down the Indian Yoga=Good and American Yoga= Bad path or the opposite or anything like that. I am simply saying that in my opinion, A LOT of what we think "yoga is" in America is influenced by a kind of politically-correct-organic-lifestyle-non-violent-communication-be-all-you-can-be-while being- polite- and-maintaining -the status-quo kind of paradigm. And let me tell you, that is not yoga in India.
Take driving for instance. A question evidently came up in the workshop where a student asked, "well, if we were really established in yoga, would we get upset when someone cut us off in traffic?" Anne said Swati was like, "What does it mean to cut someone off?" Finally, the students explained to her by saying, "Like, if someone insults you."
Now, Anne's point on this was that because we are so identified with our cars and see our cars as an extension of ourselves to such a degree that when someone cuts us off it feels personal and insulting, when in actuality, it is nothing personal at all. So in that way, sure, yoga could help with dis-identifying with the car and de-personalizing the various circumstances of our life that are actually only neutral occurrences to which we assign great meaning. Yoga could help with that for sure. At least in theory it could.
The problem is a lot of us come to yoga with an agenda to feel better about ourselves and as we strengthen our vessel and increase our prana, we do begin to feel better about ourselves. And, as we all should know by now, I think this is a great and wonderful thing. However, this kind of growth and self-esteem can tip to the side where we feel so good about ourselves, that we actually feel so important that things feel even more personal. In short, the ego is getting stronger through the practices, rather than put in its proper place. (And yes, a strong ego is needed in yoga and I am not anti-ego or anything like that I am just saying that the proper place, in my opinion, for the ego is to be strong enough to see that it is not the primary aim of the yoga. But I digress.) Lee used to say that as essence is strengthened, so too is ego and that stage of development is pretty dicey territory. We have real attainment and we feel really good about our very real attainment and this causes some pretty serious problems if left unchecked. (Which is why teachers need teachers and we all need to beware of the teacher with not teacher!) Trungpa Rinpoche wrote about this in his book Spiritual Materialism. More on that another time.
But the other part of the driving example that was obvious to me was the hilarity of Swati trying to understand the concept of "being cut off" from her cultural perspective. If you have ever been to India, cutting people off is not rude at all. It is simply how they drive there. If you were to get offended every time someone honked, pulled out in front of you, switched lanes quickly, you would be in a constant state of inner upset. It is not "un-yogic" to drive that way in India. In fact, it would be a death wish to drive any other way.
Or try to be "polite" at the store in India and wait your turn patiently. You will never get any help. Their whole cultural concept of waiting in line is completely different than ours. It is not un-yogic to assert your place in the cue, to nudge the person who is trying to get in front of you, to yell loudly to the person behind the counter to get their attention and to ask for a better price, etc. It is simply how you do it there.
Lee used to say that spiritual life wasn't about becoming a new and improved, more palatable version of ourselves with better hygiene. He was somewhat opposed to us spending all of our life energy on eradicating every little possibly offensive trait of our psychology or endlessly trying to make ourselves more comfortable. He was insistent that spiritual life was about getting off that conversation and directly experiencing the energy that was underneath all that phenomena within ourselves. This is what he called the Essential Self. So that was the inner work.
And as for the outer work, he was always telling us to be sensitive to what was wanted and needed in any circumstance. So often he said, we are simply mechanically reacting to the world around us rather than sensitively responding to it. It is a bit tough to take that kind of feedback and reflection, but time and again, he showed us how, even in our sincere attempts to "help", we were doing so from unconscious biases and projections, not from a true or accurate read on the situation as it was.
And speaking of driving, the guy drove more like an Indian than an American and I remember so many times trying to follow him and I was hardly driving in a new-age-"yogic" way to do it! But the context for following him was "follow the guru" not "be a polite driver."
Anyway, there is more to the story of course, as there always is but it occurs to me that while so much of American yoga is about making life nicer, more comfortable, and less offensive, the tradition itself was not aimed at improving that level of experience. Sure, once we are established in the Essential Self, in a state of yoga, we are probably going to act more peaceful, loving and so on, but one must remember that there is a difference between cultural expressions of Peace and Love and the very virtues themselves.
Probably good for us all to think about this next time any of us want to call someone or something "yogic" or "not yogic" after all those kind of divisions exist at the level of the mind, not at the level of the Heart. Just sayin'.