Monday, February 6, 2012

Expanded Love

I have been contemplating the ways in which we construct narratives recently - and probably much of my life if I'm really honest.

Lately, though, there's been a tug around blogging,
and the ways in which what gets written (here and elsewhere)
tends to be linear,
rather rational,
and well, simply put, organized towards certain messages or outcomes.

How does this impact readers? Or writers for that matter?

What are the limits of this kind of writing when it comes to speaking about -
our spiritual lives?


Let's try something different. And see what happens.

Start with this: Americans alone spend $5.7 billion annually on yoga classes and products.

That BIG. Big Mind Big. Every time I think of folks paying $50,000 to hang with Zen teacher Genpo Merzel, that's what comes to mind.

Big, but not

Not the universe,

moving in the ten directions,
connected if you will
as we are
with the myriad of beings

A few days ago, I came to stop at the edge of the bus stop, as a man was talking to someone on a cell phone, upset, pacing back and forth in the cool, early February wind.

Soon, he stopped too. Stopped talking. Clicked the phone shut. Looked at me. Sighed. Said "Sorry about that. My brother just died."

I stopped again. The "I" who was worried about such a conversation happening.

He started: "Things sometimes happen you know."

I do. But didn't.

"It's just that my sister stole the clothes he left me. I don't know why she did that."

Tears. Coming from somewhere between us
breaking through

for a moment

In meditation retreats. Sitting there, my entire body aching,
I have looked around and saw that nearly everyone else was still in half or full lotus posture.

So, what have I done? Stayed in half lotus, and either tried to cut off the bodily sensations, or intellectualized the pain as being “good for my practice.”

Why do we keep cutting our selves off from ourselves?

This man loved his brother. He was willing to cry with a stranger at a bus stop over his brother.

That's love just as much as the boundless joy of being together is.

Do you really know how to love? Allow love to grow and be?

The body as sex object. The body as an advertising method, and sales tool. The body as a machine. The body as a workhorse, means of obtaining income through labor. The body as powerhouse athlete.

All of these narratives are pulsing through many of us,

stealing the canals of our hearts

threatening to damn us
to lives of
or not so quiet

He called himself "the godfather" of his family,
but also
a "lost cause"
damaged by military service,

and that which remained in silence
whatever it was
which clearly left him limping,

languishing in a certain kind of lack

even as he so easily
lifted the bar, unclasped the belt
to the wheelchair
of a passenger
about to get off
the bus

“alienation from the self is the entire focus of yoga philosophy"
yoga teacher Stephen Cope once wrote

as if we really needed that sentence
and yet

it's all so clear to me now, the way the seeds lay in our fields waiting,
patiently waiting

for the rain to come.


Robyn said...

Hi Nathan,

I want to offer another perspective on pain in both yoga and Zen practice. First, in yoga...pain has been a great teacher to me. In fact, I think I have learned more from my injuries than from the asana that have come easily. I really like what Kino MacGregor says about it:

Physical pain during sitting, especially on long retreats like sesshin, has other lessons for us. Yes, we can disassociate or grit our teeth and get through it by force of will - god knows, I am familiar with that last one! But there is another experience of pain that is possible and it can be a gate (as I have heard people say). "Ignoring" (as if!) pain just never works. But what if we move towards the pain, fill ourselves with the pain, become the pain? Remove the gap between me and the pain? It takes some effort. It takes a ton of effort, that is to say, focus and unwavering attention, but it is possible. And what is found there is very alive. So alive that I think I could carry that experience with me into other situations, like meeting strangers at bus stops and making supper for my children when I am dog tired. We don't need to seek out pain - there is plenty within and without - but neither do we need to look askance at it.

Maybe that is what you were saying? I just don't want to give pain a bad name - haha!

Nathan said...

I have also learned from pain during meditation and yoga asana practice. I totally agree that viewing pain as "bad" or always a problem isn't at all helpful. In fact, it can be a great source of concentration development, learning to let go of constant comfort, and many other things.

At the same time, I always ask "Where's the edge? Have I gone over it?" A dharma brother of mine spent about a year at a monastery on the west coast and returned with knee pain that lasted several months. He said they seemed to be competitive around zazen, and he plugged into that atmosphere, ignoring his body's needs. I think we need to advocate for, and help others learn, how to locate their edge - stay with the pain and discomfort at that place- but also to step back when it's clearly over the line. Some minor injuries, lingering aches, and whatnot are probably part of the learning process. But anything beyond that is excessive in my view.

Robyn said...

Your story about your dharma brother is interesting. There definitely can be a kind of macho attitude around sitting. But, it wasn't the center that gave your friend his knee pain.

Today, one my yoga mentors told me about why she stopped teaching ashtanga - she felt she was sitting by and watching while people injured themselves. She even spoke about a guy in his 50s who admitted to having high blood pressure and still did inversions, against her strongest recommendations. He insisted and said he had been for years and had no plans to stop. Finally, she left the job because she couldn't stand to be in the room when he ultimately keeled over.

One's edge can be hard to find, sometimes! I think I am realizing my edge might be somewhere around being gentle with myself, which is so much more challenging than pushing harder and harder. Hard is easy, if you know what I mean.

And there is mental pain too.....!

Was this even related to what you were writing about??

Nathan said...

There was a lot going on in this post. Including some about what you've been focusing on.

I agree that neither a particular practice, nor a place like a Zen monastery, is to blame for anyone's injuries. Although when it comes to places, I do think the collective culture that develops can be a contributing factor. Our sangha used to have what I would call a culture of excess striving. Which in my view made it easier for those of us who had poor body awareness to keep pushing, and ignore the more potentially dangerous levels of pain.

With that said, I totally agree that finding and working with that edge can be difficult. During a recent yoga workshop, I realized that sometimes, when I find the edge, I quickly grow impatient with the discomfort and pull back into a place of more comfort. It was really interesting to recognize that, and so for me, perhaps pushing more might be appropriate. (Pretty funny, given that I've been trying to offer cautions about excess pain here :)

Robyn said...

Can you stand it? One more Kino article...

Nathan said...

I heard about the Kino article from some yoga bloggers who were discussing Waylon's editorial "interruption." Ahem. Anyway, I have to say I like what she has to say. And I also enjoyed in the comments section the discussion comparing Kino's viewpoint to that of David Williams. Both of their voices are important I think. Kino being the voice of courage, risk taking, a willingness to make mistakes and keep going. While David Williams being the voice of recognizing limits and remembering to pay attention moment after moment. Thanks for sending the article - I hadn't actually read it in full until now.