“Freedom is responding completely to the challenges of the living moment. … Yoga is the process by which I find out the nature of my binds and keep in touch with those aspects of life that limit freedom.” -Joel Kramer from “A New Look at Yoga: Playing the Edge of Mind and Body” from January 1977 Yoga Journal (this is the article that Ti is currently reading from for inspiration in his classes)
Part of a conversation in yoga class this past Thursday:
A student: “Back then (1977) yoga was cool.” (my longest time student and the only person in my classes who was doing yoga back in 1977, and even before that!)
Me: “And now it’s, what, just popular?”
Another student: “Now it’s a status symbol.”
A different student: “Instead of sign of deviance.”
A pause as we all laughed.
Me: “We try to keep the spirit of deviance alive here.”
Another student: “That’s why we come here!”
We all laugh and have a moment of connection and mutual understanding.
As you may know, when I was in high school and most of college, I was a punk rocker. Teenagers have this great ability to see bullshit and to call it that. So much of modern life is just that. Though I no longer consider myself a punk rocker, I definitely still appreciate that rebel/deviant spirit intent on destroying false icons and promises. I’ve always thought that yoga is one of the great Ways, ultimately, to destroy- really, to outgrow- the lies that perpetuate the modern world of separateness, greed and environmental degradation. It is also one great way to realize that happiness/joy/love is not found in endless accumulation at whatever cost, or in getting what we want from someone else, but that those qualities arise naturally from within. Modern commercial society cannot survive, thankfully, if enough people realize that they ARE Joy/Love and that that can’t be purchased, and it DEFINITELY cannot be hoarded but MUST be shared freely!
It partly inspires me that yoga is so popular even if I believe that most of current “yoga” practice misses the Point of it, and probably will continue to miss it, and even seems to make a practice of missing it. Fortunately whatever the yoga style, it has the simple foundation of breathing consciously and being aware in the body that can lead to the Ultimate Realization of Oneness/God/Truth. As I’ve said many times, if we pay attention in the moment long enough, eventually we will see what’s RIGHT THERE and has been there all the time. If those invested in the status quo understood this fully, I believe yoga would be illegal as it was in the Soviet Union and as it is in China. In the US, the intent seems to be to try to co-opt it and make as much money off it while watering it down as much as possible, possibly to the point of irrelevance. If we know of this possibility, we can guard against it and not get lost in the distractions that modern “yoga” itself can present.
How do we destroy/outgrow the mistakes of our culture/our own life? Simply by PAYING ATTENTION, in the moment to everything happening inside of us and around us. There are many practices in yoga and other Paths that have as their underlying purpose the Goal of being Aware and Present in the “living moment.” If we’re not IN the moment, if we’re not AWARE, then there is no way we can be free, no way we can “RESPOND completely to the challenges of the living moment.” I prefer to say, “respond completely to the needs of the living moment,” or more simply, “respond completely to the living moment,” but awareness is an absolute necessity.
The challenge here is to respond, as opposed to react which is what we are doing most of the time. The more awareness and presence we can bring to the moment, the more we have a chance to respond. And we all know that awareness, though it’s always present even in small amounts, takes practice and discipline to truly cultivate and nurture and potentially/eventually take to its logical extreme of TOTAL awareness, all the time.
The gist of much of the early part of the article is that we can’t get to Freedom by thinking about it and imagining what we need to do to get to it, but we CAN investigate the nature of our binds. We can, and need to, study the, largely self-created, fence that keeps us imprisoned. This is not glamorous or even necessarily very FUN work, but it is its own reward AND it does lead to feeling more free, alive and real. It also is the beautiful, painful process that reveals the binds to be, for the most part, illusions, appearing and FEELING to be so real and having very real effects, but very often disappearing or transforming spontaneously upon close investigation. Sadly for us, though, probably all of the binds have fear at their root, and if we investigate our fear deeply, it will inevitably reveal itself to be fear of death or its equivalent.
If you’ve never tried looking deeply at any given fear, when you notice one, ask yourself “if what I fear came true, what would be the worst that would happen?” And then keep repeating that question for each answer, “what’s the worst that could happen?” Every time I’ve done that, or guided someone doing it, it comes down to “I would die,” or something essentially the same.
Given that (unpleasant) fact, it’s easy to see why the “norm” is to avoid (even by just “numbing out” or by “taking a pill,” even a metaphoric one), deny, justify, deify, angrily accept, or blame our pain on someone/something else, all of which keeps the binds in place. I use all these approaches at different times, too, just like everyone, so don’t get into harsh self-judgement. That’s also part of what binds us and keeps us from freedom/responding to what is there in the moment for us.
So doing this work of exploring our binds is “deviant” behavior, in a sense. We deviate from the societally approved “norm” because we want to be happy/peaceful/content, whatever it is for you, and we’re willing to work for it. That gets us back to the title of this article, “keep yoga weird.” Let’s keep using our practice to go against the status quo, to make a new and better world starting with the place/person over which we have most control. If you don’t have a daily practice of SOMETHING yet, consider that it might be the best thing you ever did for yourself…. and your world! We can’t wait for _____________ (the “right” person, the “right” job, the “right” political party, the “right” amount of money, the “right” family situation, the “right” time, etc.) to be happy/satisfied/at peace/loving. All we have to do is, in the moment of feeling bound, to look at the the bind, feel the actual block/lock/chain/whatever, and spend some time looking/feeling deeply. It can happen even in just a matter of minutes if that’s all we have.
I’ll end with a quote from Amma, the main source of my inspiration and spiritual guidance: “If you try to pursue happiness, you will miss it because the search for happiness will cause discontent. Searching is bound to create turbulence within. A turbulent mind is an unhappy mind. Your search for happiness is always in the future, it is never in the present. The future is outside; the present is within. Bliss awaits you within.” -Amma