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Well, that’s over …

Some time ago, this blog went on hiatus because … well, I haven’t enough brain cells to keep ‘blog writing and postmodernism in my skull at the same time. I’m pleased to report that I’ve done my penance in the hell that is contemporary sociological theory and I’ve possibly lived to tell the tale. Final marks are due sometime next week. In the meanwhile, let’s get back to something real.

Not to relive the nightmare but all I can say is that if what I just endured is the very best that Western philosophy has to offer, we are in deep freakin’ do-do. Today I have a funeral … nothing is says real more than death… and for the next 10 days I get to read what the hell I want. On deck is Orit Sen-Gupta’s Vayu’s Gate: Yoga and the Ten Vital Winds.

Talk to you later and Namaste,

Kate

PS: It feels good to be back.

And now for a word from our sponsors…

This blank, non-sutra containing space was brought to you by

Emile Durkheim

Georg Simmel

And Karl Marx

 

Our regularly scheduled sutra study will resume when I get the damned term paper done.

 

Namaste,

 

Kate

 

Subtle, but still sneaky: YSP 2.10

2.10 te pratipasava heyah sukshmah

 

Bouanchaud: Recognizing inherent impulses eliminates the cause of suffering at a subtle level.

Desikachar: When the obstacles do not seem to be present, it is important to be vigilant.

Swami J: When the five types of colorings (kleshas) are in their subtle, merely potential form, they are then destroyed by their disappearance or cessation into and of the field of mind itself.

 

These next two aphorisms are the first place where Patanjali moves away from pure theory and gets into the pragmatic advice of how to deal with the colourings of our mind. It’s good to remember at this juncture that the kleshas, as destructive and misleading they are, are not something we can rid ourselves of. The ancient philosophers saw them as being one of the fundamental prices we pay for having a physical form. The kleshas arise not because we’re bad or sinful. They are with us because that is the price to be paid when spirit coalesces with matter. In other words, we have to learn to deal with them and to manage them because they are never going away.

That said, they can become very subtle, almost imperceptible and that, of course, is where the danger lays. We can think we’ve gotten rid of them when in fact, they’re just lying low, waiting for the next opportunity to pounce on our unsuspecting minds. So Patanjali’s advice here is “When things are going smoothly, be watchful”. In other words, these good times, they too shall pass. Nothing is permanent in this world and if we slack off from practice, we’re rekindling the embers of the kleshas.

And to trot out yet another cliché, an ounce of prevention is worth a full pound of cure. It’s easier to deal with the machinations of the kleshas when they are small and subtle, like it is easier to deal with a fire when it’s a few sheets of paper and not the full side of the house. Daily practice is part of preventative maintenance. Most of us who own cars know that the oil has to be changed every three months or so and the consequence for failing to maintain the vehicle can be catastrophic engine failure.

Why do we practice? We practice because we never know when it’s going to be game day. We practice at first to lower the kleshas – clean up our perception on the world. Then we practice to maintain that much welcomed state of mental and emotional clarity. And finally, we practice to prevent flare ups of the kleshas that disturb our clear-headedness.

The point of practice is to avoid fooling yourself, becoming honest with yourself about the integrity of your conclusions and the possibility of error.

I have no idea who wrote that. Sometime over the past five years I wrote that in my journal and it’s one of the entries copied over whenever I start a new journal book. The attribution got lost along the way. In any event – it’s true. We practice to keep ourselves honest.

Next aphorism – what to do when the house is already alight… Until then, thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf? YSP 2.9

2.9 sva-rasa-vahi vidushah api tatha rudhah abhiniveshah

Bouanchaud: Fear is present even for the sage and develops from its own inherent source.

Desikachar: Insecurity is the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It affects both the ignorant and the wise.

Swami J: Even for those people who are learned, there is an ever-flowing, firmly established love for continuation and a fear of cessation, or death, of these various coloured modifications (kleshas).

We all have something we’re afraid of. For me, it’s dentists and spiders. At least those are the two that have blossomed into full-fledged phobias. Fear is part of the human condition. It’s part of our mental wiring. It’s one of the ways we make sense of the phenomenon of the world. Without fear being wired into our mental profile as a species, we wouldn’t be here. Our ancestors would have been lunch for some big animal on the savannah a long time ago.

As much as we like to cast ourselves as evolutionary super-heroes (survival of the fittest and all that), the inescapable fact is that we are the descendents of the Palaeolithic Nervous Nellies. You can see it now – two guys walking through the grassland when they see a large, long, rough skinned animal basking in the sun by the watering hole. Chap A says “Hey, let’s go check that out…”

Chap B didn’t hear him because he was screaming and sprinting in the opposite direction. Which one do we call “Grandpa”? You guess it – the sprinter. Chap A was the crocodile’s lunch.

You can see how this built-in natural sense of fear has its advantages. At the bottom of it, is the very real fear of death. Humans are remarkably conscious of their own mortality and it colours our perception of the world around us. At some, usually unconscious level, we’re all on the lookout for the thing that can “get us”. This worked pretty well when we lived in caves. Now that we live in cubicles and the things that can get us are “the boss’ stare” or “contents of my in-box”, this fear reaction can get out of hand very quickly. We call it ‘stress’. I liked Desikachar’s translation in this sutra – the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It really captures the essence of the problem.

And here’s the big point – it’s inborn. Everyone experiences it – sage and fool alike. Some of us have better methods for managing it. Some of us have positively destructive methods for handling it. Some of us are better at hiding it from others but we all experience it. Remember that the kleshas are part of our programming and we cannot eliminate them. At best, we work towards reducing their hold on our perception so we can see reality clearly.

How many of us spend our days bouncing between the posts of hope and fear? We hope that the situation will turn out like this but we fear that it won’t. We hope we have enough money for our retirement but we fear that that we don’t. I hope my heart will be healed but I fear that it won’t. I’m scared witless that I’m never going to comprehend my sociology readings enough to pass the exam. It goes on and on. Hope. Fear. Hope. Fear. No wonder I suffer from near permanent emotional whiplash.

The fact is that all my hoping and fearing are just mental distractions. My heart is what it is – regardless of what I hope or fear. My retirement savings are what they are – regardless of what emotional attachment I’ve added to them. Furthermore, worry, anxiety and all the rest of that band of brigands provide no useful action concerning my heart, my retirement savings or my upcoming sociology exam.

This is what it means to be caught in the kleshas. I’m so entangled in their web that I can’t settle myself down enough to see that I need to put more money away, do my readings and accept my heart function for what it is right now. All the energy that goes into the hoping and fearing is wasted energy; however, I believe we’re hardwired for it. It’s our default setting. In order to overcome it, we need to take active measures to reduce it. I don’t believe for a minute that tranquility is our native state. I think a zillion years of evolution has wired our species for hyper-vigilance and predicting outrageous outcomes. If I want to extract myself from this mental stew, I have to take concrete actions towards that goal. For me, that means practice. Postural practice, breath practice, self-reflection practice, study, mantra, mudra, meditation – it doesn’t matter what the form is so long as it is consistent. It’s been discussed before but it always comes back to this: abhyasa
and vairagya. I clean up my head space and my body space when I maintain an abiding practice and let go of the results. I see reality instead of just my fear surrounding it.

For those Canadians in the crowd, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your Tofukey or suitable substitute is wonderful.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate


Happy Thanksgiving One & All

It’s the start of the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and my family and I are heading out to St Martins, NB, along the Fundy coast. We’ve rented a retreat cottage for the weekend and plan to spend some time getting reacquainted as a family. This location is great because there’s no internet, no WiFi, no TV, no cell service. We have to spend 3 days talking to each other … weird, eh?

I hope you all have a chance to reflect upon the things you have in your life that you’re grateful for. I know I have loads. I have my ever-supportive and loving family – especially my husband of over 20 years who has certainly been my rock this past year. I’m grateful for the wonderful community of yoga students and teachers I have in my life. You are forever an inspiration.

I’m grateful to be living in a pace and times when the study of yoga is even possible. I’m grateful to be living in Canada where I enjoy peace, economic prosperity and security on many levels. I have lots of healthy food, medical care and clean water comes directly into my home.

I am blessed by my education and I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend university. This year, in particular, I’m thankful for my sociology theory professor, Paul Sahni, who somehow manages to find an unspeakable amount of enthusiasm for some of the driest material on earth.

And now my husband is telling me it’s time to get my butt in the car, so Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Namaste,

 

Kate


 

The flip side of attachment – dvesha: YSP 2.8

2.8 dukha anushayi dvesha

Bouanchaud: Aversion is the consequence of displeasure.

Desikachar: Unreasonable dislikes are usually the result of painful experiences in the past connected with particular objects and situations.

Swami J: Aversion (dvesha) is a modification that results from misery associated with some memory, whereby the three modifications of aversion, pain, and the memory of the object or experience are then associated with one another.

Last week, we looked at attachment – that basic human response to hold onto or to repeat the things we find pleasurable. Dvesha, sometimes translated as repulsion or aversion, is the other side of that coin. We tend to avoid repeating those things we find unpleasant. This one is confronted all the time in postural practice. We have postures we love and postures we hate. The bad news is that it’s the postures we hate are usually the ones we need the most.

I’m currently embroiled in a hate-repulsion-would you just go away relationship with Danadasana – the staff posture. It looks like nothing but given how much strength I’ve lost in my thoracic spine over the past year, it’s just an out and out unpleasant experience to sit in it for any length of time – length of time being defined as more than 3 breaths. If I lived to be 1000 years old and never had to do another moment in Danadasana, it would suit me just fine.

You all know how this is going to end – not well. The reason I hate Danadasana so much is because I’ve allowed myself to collapse through the mid-thoracic spine. I’ve developed quite the slump over the past year. Shoulders rolled slightly forward and in, head off balance and jutting forward, rounded slightly stooped spine. This posture isn’t good for anyone. For someone with a diagnosed heart condition, this posture is dangerous. The collapse through my mind-spine compresses my heart and lungs. My heart is congested enough without reducing the physical volume of my thorax on top of everything.

My intense dislike of the posture is actually a sign that I need to be doing it more often. My teacher has me on a weekly schedule of it for the next while. When will I know I’ve got the issue sorted? I’ll know when I stop hating it.

Last week, we talked about attraction and how it is part of the addiction process. Dvesha also falls into the cycle. Long after the pleasure aspects of drug abuse have faded – also known as habituation – many people keep using because it’s painful to stop. I probably smoked for 5-8 years after I stopped enjoying cigarettes. It was just too painful and unpleasant to go through withdrawal, so I kept lighting up. Now as every ex-smoker already knows, there’s more than just the nicotine withdrawal (which is unpleasant enough), there’s also the psychological withdrawal of our all-purpose ‘cope mechanism’.

Dvesha colours a lot of our perceptions. Hate, that global toxin of our political and social life, is an extreme and active form of dvesha. In my notes from this summer, I have the comment “it’s always a problem with vairagya (detachment)”. I think there’s some truth to that. We hate/dislike/repulse the things we can’t let go of. These are things that are stuck to us like burdocks to wool socks. If we could let go of them, there would be no need to use the energy needed to hate. We’d simple let go.

The cure, of course, is to do simply that – to let go, to release. There should be a big gaudy flashing neon sign hung on the wall of every yoga practice space that says “LET GO” – whatever the hell it is, just let go. That would probably put 95% of yoga teachers, me included, out of work.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

This ain’t no hair-shirt yoga: YSP 2.7

2.7 sukha anushayi ragah

Bouanchaud: Attachment is the consequence of pleasure.

Desikachar: Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness.

Swami J: Attachment (raga) is a separate modification of mind, which follows the rising of the memory of pleasure, where the three modifications of attachment, pleasure, and the memory of the object are then associated with one another.

Attachment is the consequence of pleasure. That statement is one of the reasons I love yoga as a life philosophy. There’s no caterwauling and whining about it. There’s no chastisement or tsk-tsk coming from Patanjali. It’s a simple statement of fact about the human condition. One of our first reflexes outside the womb is the grasping reflex, technically known as the palmer grasp reflex. When an object strokes a baby’s palm, the fingers close around the object with surprising strength. One of our first primitive responses to the material world is to hang on tightly to anything we can get our hands on.

Attachment is a consequence of pleasure. As human beings, we are hard-wired to want to repeat those things we find pleasurable. That fact alone goes a long way to explaining how babies get made during wartimes and other forms of social crisis. Yoga doesn’t deny us the pleasures of life, including the sensual pleasures. My study group coined a phrase for this idea when we were working together this summer – “this ain’t no hair-shirt yoga”.

Hair-shirt yoga, of course, is a reference to the cilice, a type of corporeal mortifications used by certain religious groups to induce discomfort and pain as a sign of repentance and atonement. These shirts are made of fabric woven from goat’s hair and worn close to the skin and are extremely itch – which would be the point of wearing one. It’s literally a means of denying the pleasures of the flesh by making the flesh so miserable, it hurts.

Hmmmmm, not me, thank you very much.

I am fond of my sensual pleasures … and there’s the sticky side of the wicket. Yoga doesn’t deny me the good things in life. It does warn me to not become overly attached to them.

This is where Desikachar’s translation weighs in: Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness.

GUILTY as charged, your Honour.

Some people have personality types that just make them prone to attachment. I would be one of those people. I want, I want, I want some more. Consumer culture is based on feeding our attachment to stuff – the entire idea that we will know true and lasting happiness if we could just get the new iPhone or the snazzy car or .. or… or. There is no end to this because within a few days or weeks of acquiring X, we discover the existence of the new and improved X-plus, now in G4.

And it’s not just consumer culture. There’s no need for me to feel all smug and self-righteous on this matter just because I can no longer afford these material indulgences. I have plenty of ‘attachments’ to keep me busy for the next while. My relationship with food is largely characterized by ‘attachment”. Any addiction is a nasty soup of attachment and repulsion (which will be discussed next week). Again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the bounty of a well-cooked meal that nourishes both body and soul. It’s when I start using food as a drug that I end up in a world of hurt. This is classic case of how the klesha of attachment causes my suffering. In order to end this form of suffering, I need to enfeeble the klesha of attachment.

We can become excessively attached to our spiritual practices, including our yoga practices. We can use them to bolster our ego (asmita). These kleshas aren’t an either/or situation. We can mix and match the kleshas to buy ourselves all kinds of trouble and we can spend a lifetime learning how to weaken their hold on our minds.

“How do I do that?” I ask my friend Patanjali. He points to the beginning of the chapter, right there at Sutras 2.1 and 2.2: The yoga of action is practiced to increase contemplation and decrease the causes of suffering.

Now that’s what we’re talkin’ about…Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate