Wednesday, September 14, 2011

just sayin

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'.


mandy eubanks said...

‎"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

- Mark Twain

along the same lines. This was a great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Vijay P Kumar said...

Well, the traffic is integral to the India experience…we had a professor from New Hampshire visit our college in India, who remarked that he understands why there is so much religion in India: During his cab ride from the airport to the hotel, he must have said "Oh God!" at least a thousand times!

lisa said...

greetings. i enjoy reading your blog. though i want to respectfully challenge something that you wrote in this post, you were quoting someone else i believe, but you are in agreement with the statement - "beware the teacher without a teacher." please be careful saying husband and i are teachers. he teaches meditation. i teach yoga (have for almost 9 years). neither of us have ever had a formal teacher. We have prayed for a teacher. we have stayed open to receiving a teacher. but, there has been none. we are both self-taught. life-taught. we are the parents of four little girls. we have not had the time, energy or money to seek out teachers, or travel to workshops or conferences or retreats. we just do the work. we have a daily yoga and meditation practice. we use books, cds, dvds, blogs and you tube to enrich our knowledge base. we have good hearts and wise minds. we are healers. but, we don't have teachers. our ego is kept in check by our children! we have watched people we love die. we have seen babies being born. these experiences are our teachers. the teachings didn't come from someone else. they came from within us. We live in a little town outside of indianapolis; and we want a teacher....but so far, we are the teachers and the students. many blessings to you and yours. if you're interested in my point of view, check out my blog:

Christina Sell said...

Lisa, no need to challenge, just share your thoughts!

More could certainly be said about your post but I was thinking about it in the bathtub this morning and I was reminded of something Mr. Iyengar supposedly said: "A good book is better than a bad teacher." Meaning, learning from books is a very valid way to learn and it is obviously serving you well. I am an ongoing student of Mr. Iyengar through his book Light on Yoga and I bow to its wisdom daily.

Also along those lines, Robert Svoboda said one time that the texts are "living goddesses" and so they are capable of being viable means of transmission.

Also worthy of fleshing out a bit more but comes to mind on this theme is the idea that Douglas Brooks talks about relative to initiation- it is essentially not in the hands of the teacher as much as it is a kind of receptivity of the student. We receive initiation, in one sense, in direct proportion to our readiness and receptivity and so if the inner soil is prepared the student will receive teachings from everywhere. If the student is not ready, a great wise person (outer teacher) may be present but no real transmission can occur.

Sounds to me like you are being taught well and that you practice a high level of studentship to what life has offered you which, is really what the teacher is about anyway.

Obviously, more can be said.

Also, what you describe does not sound like being without a teacher or without The Teachings. Sounds to me like you are sincerely in the stream and serving.

And on another side note-- Many things I write on this blog are true relative to the topic I am exploring or the point I am making at the time and are not written to imply that they are the only thing that is true.

So as a general principle, I think its fine to "beware of a teacher that has no teacher" but I never said doubt, distrust or disregard a teacher without a teacher. Nor did I say that a teacher without a teacher can not be effective, etc. or anything like that.

Sounds like you and your husband are doing great work to me and the world needs more people like you.