Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Diving into Freedom


Photo credit: Sheron2482 from morguefile.com

One of the great temptations of human existence is to base your life on contingency. That you will actually take the courageous step once all the conditions are absolutely and utterly right for you. When you have the right boss, when you have the right job, when the car payments have been made, when the kids are through college, when you're on your deathbed. When you're dead. It would be certainly easier then. The though is that if only I can control the climate of my existence and get the temperature exactly right, then when I'm completely comfortable, and have a sense of freedom, and a sense that I'm not beholden to anything, then I'll take a courageous step in my life. Of course, these conditions almost never come.

David Whyte


Yes, this contingency seeking has been a common experience of mine. Tweaking and fussing, hoping and cajoling some situation in my life so that it will be a "safer," more predictable platform from which to jump off of.

Reminds me of the first time I jumped off a diving board. I was in swimming class, probably two or three years older already than most of the kids around me. The class teacher had gotten me to go up the stairs - how, I don't know. My knees were knocking, and I felt quite weak and dizzy as I went up, but somehow I made it to the top. Standing out on the board and looking out over the pool, I couldn't imagine jumping, let alone going upside down.

The teacher held up a long pole with a little hook on it and said I could grab it and use it as a support while I jumped. My young mind believed this for some reason, and I bent down and got into position to dive. Still absolutely scared, but somehow the sight of that pole kept me there. Then I heard the teacher count down - Three! Two! One! I stood still. Completely frozen. Someone said "Jump!" I looked at the huge pool under me and didn't flinch. Someone then said "Try again." And the count down began again. Three! Two! One! ...

As I began to move through the air, the teacher yanked the pole away, and a sudden racing shot through my body. It was too late to go back, and yet the fear ruined my form, and I ended up smacking the surface of the water with my back. I went under, and sunk almost to the bottom of the pool. Thoughts of drowning, which I knew nothing about, but could imagine - flooded my mind. And as it did, I saw the surface of the water coming closer and closer, despite anything in my head. Surfacing, I looked for the teacher, and said something about her taking the pole away, but the experience was clearly an example of the worthlessness of contingency seeking.

Thing is, though, when I look at how I have led much of my life, it's not much different than that little boy freezing, trying to calculate things out. Too much waiting for a pole to show up. Not enough just diving, taking the fears and calculations along for the ride.

But that's not the end of the story. Or even the whole story of what was. Liberation comes sometimes through recognizing the gaps in what you believe.

I've been only that scared and calculating little boy. Leaps have been made, small and large. Keep going there. Keep going there. Just like the breath in meditation. That's the path. That's the pool of freedom, ever ready for you to go swimming in.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Notes on the Yoga Industrial Complex


Photo credit: mantasmagorical from morguefile.com

This article came across my blog feed a few days ago. I read it, found myself nodding in places, and also resonating with some points in the comments section. Then I chose to let it sit, and see if it interested me enough to return to. It did, so here we are.

In 2011-12, I completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training, following a good decade of yoga (and Zen) practice. I knew full well upon entering the program that there are too many "yoga teachers," and that the bulk of what passes for yoga in America these days is little more than a glorified exercise routine. However, after a year of witnessing from the inside, I came to the following conclusions:

1. The vast majority of yoga studios are built on models that discourage (by design) the development of a community of practitioners. Individual students might become friends or even "practice buddies," but the only "practice communities" I've ever witnessed in studios (where folks actually study and practice in a group over a sustained period of time)are the temporary ones in yoga teacher training programs.

2. Nearly universally, yoga teachers fall under the category of freelancers who work a series of temporary gigs. (Yes, some of those gigs might last several years if a person's classes keep attracting enough students, but for many, this isn't the case.)

3. Yoga teacher training programs are often more about the greens than about developing great teachers. If you pay the fees and finish the classes, you're awarded a certificate. The depth of your practice, wisdom, and/or actual ability to teach is mostly secondary.

4. Yoga teaching is treated as a "career," which is by definition creating a few problematic frames: a) a transactional sensibility where an expectation of financial gain is present b) a "productivity" sensibility where an expectation is present (amongst students and teachers) that certain goals will be met in short periods of time. (Such as students will learn x number of yoga postures in a given class or series of class, and have some level of achieved performance. Note: this kind of stuff is often not explicit or stated, but more an underlying, sometimes unconscious expectation.)

5. A "successful" yoga teacher under current standards is one that tends to have full classes, and/or classes with enough devoted students that they are both making some income, and also maintaining their "value" to the studio.

6. There's a lot of what I would call "Rugged Individualism" spirituality offered in yoga studios. There's not really a collective anything going on, even though numerous folks enter and exit the doors of a studio in a given day, week, month, year. There's rarely any talk or consideration of how systemic -isms (racism, sexism, classism, etc) impact any given person or group of people's spiritual lives and/or understanding of what it all means (or could mean.)

I offer this as a set of insights I have had since teacher training, which made me feel sympathetic to Jessica's situation in the post I linked to, even though I also agree with comments in the comments section pointing out entitlement and privilege in her words. More than anything, though, I think it's important to recognize that her situation didn't happen in a vacuum. There are numerous collective circumstances that have come together to make it both very difficult for yoga teachers to sustain their teaching (even if they "day jobs"), and also much more likely that whatever is offered as "yoga" will be a mere fraction of what yoga is as a spiritual discipline.