07 May 2011
Please keep following the musings and random yoga geek discussions! And the new website offers all sorts of tools in order for YOU to do more yoga with ME. I'm even pondering my own yoga podcast... but we shall see... we shall see.
Much love and gratitude,
24 March 2011
Ah-ha! Maybe I need to get out.
Michael Stone, during a class on the precepts, mentioned a koan or quote about "practicing in the light". Taking your practice from the dark of your person/home/private experience and bringing it out into the community. With this as my inspiration (armed with the new-coming Spring), I have decided to participate in Moksha Yoga's seven-week challenge. My goal? To practice in the light. To not only sit on my zafu or unroll my yoga mat on the kitchen floor, but to go out and practice with people.
I'll keep you posted on the how the challenge goes . . . And if you're interested in participating as well (like my wifey!!!!!), check out this link: www.mokshayoga.ca/lym.htm
28 February 2011
I heard "I came across this koan by typing into Google the words “sex koan.” What showed up was a list of all the koans where women are the main characters…" and I thought "Oh sh*t, here we go".Through the Buddhist teachings of emptiness and form, we come to understand (or at least to explore the idea…) that we operate in a world that takes a particular shape, yet those shapes are not fixed or their characteristics inherent. For example, we understand sexuality to be [fill in the blank], yet [fill in the blank] is not inherently sexual. Our experience of [fill in the blank] is influenced by our own opinions, preferences and worldviews, as well as the conditioning of culture, history, etc.
Ok… so what am I trying to say exactly?
Brahmacharya is most frequently translated as "the wise use of sexual energy". Yet the term "wise" leaves the teaching a bit ambiguous. What is considered wise? Do we take the familiar view of sex as sin? Are we to be celibate like Buddhist monks and nuns? For me, brahmacharya becomes clear in reference to the other precepts. Is it hurting yourself or another? Is it dishonest? Are you being greedy? Are you taking something which is not being freely given? Non-harming, honesty, non-greed, and non-stealing become the filters through which sexual energy must pass in order to be considered wise.
It is a rare experience to get 30+ people into a room to discuss sex, misusing of sexual energy, and the teaching of brahmacharya. And I could not, for a second, operate within the naive belief that communication can occur without generalizations and common understandings. That said, I wonder --- as part of the practice of integrating the precepts into our thoughts, words and actions both internally and externally --- if we should not also be looking at our language, and the usefulness (or not) of those generalizations and stereotypes.
We have the form (gender, sexual preference, an accepted understanding of what is considered provocative or sexy). But can we now see these things as empty? And, to get really honest with our investigation of brahmacharya, what is our actual experience? Much of my experience of sex, gender, sexuality, what attracts and repels has operated outside of the mainstream 'accepted' form.
Biological sex is defined by our physical bodies (what parts do you have?), whereas gender is something defined by culture, religion, historical context, etc. Sexual preference ranges from hetero to homo and much between. What parts of the human body are considered sexually arousing? In the Victorian era, the list would include a woman's bare ankle (oh my!). And how to men factor into all of this? Can men not be sexually provocative?
What all of this typing boils down to is the following: when we sat around as a group talking about sex in pop culture, low-cut shirts, short skirts, and awareness of the attention attracted through a woman's attire, what sprang to mind was a bit in Ms. magazine about a girl who had been raped but not allowed to press charges because she was wearing heels and a short skirt. In order for us to talk openly and honestly about brahmacharya, at least a part of our conversation must reference mainstream or pop culture representations of sexuality. And then we should look deeper. Are our generalizations a useful communication tool? Or are they unskillful, dishonest and perhaps harming?
Sometimes a bit of cleavage is just another part of a body covered partially by clothes. Part of a body that will age, die, and decay (there's a meditation on that). Sometimes bare legs are just bare legs. High heels might make a person feel feminine, not mean that they want to… well you get the picture.
As David Loy said in "The Great Awakening,"
Although Buddhist teachings have sometimes been used to challenge state power, more often than not Buddhist institutions have been implicated in justifying and therefore helping to preserve oppressive social relationships… This suggests that Buddhism needs the contributions of Western modernity --- such as democracy, feminism, and the separation of church and state --- to challenge its institutional complacency and liberate its own teachings from such traditional social constraints.Amen.
22 February 2011
Centre of Gravity Precepts Course participants were assigned the work of responding to Arundhati Roy's essay "Walking With The Comrades" from the perspective of non-harming or ahimsa. Below is my response . . .
Gandhians with a Gun: An Exploration of Ahimsa & the Work of Arundhati Roy
To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget. (Roy, Come September)
Arundhati Roy, writer-activist, has been criticized as an apologist for the Maoists, a group declared by the Indian Prime Minister as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by [their] country” (“India's Naxalite Rebellion”). First known for her Booker-Prize winning novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy moved from fiction to explore the realm of power and powerlessness, citizen and state. She has spoken out against the US invasion of Afghanistan, against Hindu nationalism, mega dam projects, and has advocated non-violent resistance for over ten years (“Maoists Being Forced Into Violence”). In her essay Walking With The Comrades, Arundhati Roy writes about her travels through the jungle to experience firsthand the struggle between the tribal communities and the Indian government. With the poetics and delicate narrative of a novelist, Roy conveys the personalities, the people, and the atrocities inflicted on these forest villages. In a country where satyagraha – ahimsa or non-violent resistance – have been popularized by the teachings and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Roy takes the unpopular stance of applauding the tribal resistance as a type of 'counter violence'. She asks, in the seclusion of the jungle, malnourished and in poverty, against paramilitary troupes and the threat of annihilation, what actions should these tribal people take? Under these specific conditions, how does one resist without the use of violence?
Ahimsa, most often translated as non-harming, is included in the five restraints (yama) outlined in Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra. These restraints make up the moral foundation in which yoga practice is grounded, taking practice off of the cushion or mat and integrating it into every thought, word and action. In it's most literal sense, the teaching of ahimsa instructs not to kill, not to intentionally inflict harm. In the Buddhist tradition, this teaching shows up as the first precept, and teaches one not only to abstain from killing but to encourage life. Gandhi integrated the teaching of ahimsa into a political approach which blended “truth, love, service, nonhurting by deed or word, tender tolerance of differences, and . . . moderation in the pursuit of material things” (Fischer, 132). There is great value in a commitment to not harm or kill another human being – and it is definitely a good place to begin one's exploration of ethics and practice – yet it is incomplete. It creates a separateness between humanity and the rest of the world, leaving out animals, plants, minerals, ecology. To look deeply at our actions is to see that harm and killing is caused every moment, in each step, in each breath. The very make-up of our bodies – our immune systems – involve white blood cells killing off foreign matter and infection for our own health and wellbeing. When ahimsa is explored amongst the other teachings of yoga and Buddhism, it shifts from a rule – do not harm; do not kill – to a question: “What is needed in this moment to encourage life?”
Arundhati Roy begins her essay by describing Dantewada, the setting in which this story unfolds, as a place that is upside down and inside out, where “the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms,” where women who have been raped are in police custody, and the rapists are giving speeches in the bazaar (2). To believe the mainstream media and government of India is to see the Maoists as a faceless group of left-wing extremists. Arundhati Roy reveals to readers the faces behind the resistance, describing saris and army fatigues, crude weapons fashioned out of pipes, songs and smiles. She shares meals, hugs, and stories of grief and oppression with people who have been forced to take arms as a means to stand against the government's operation to “cleanse” the jungle. Their stories of lovers, family, heartache, and sadness point to our own experiences of loss and grief. In this context, one cannot simply apply ahimsa as a rule “do not kill” and walk away. Compassion calls us to ask: What would it feel like to have your home wrenched from you? To see your son shot? Or have his dead body left by the side of the road while his killers have tea? What must it feel like to then have to pick up those same weapons and stand to fight? In understanding interdependence, compassion arises spontaneously and ahimsa becomes the responsibility to act against oppression and violence. Not only those singular and seemingly senseless acts of violence, but also the violence which is embedded in our economic system, our language, our belief systems, our very social fabric.
Oftentimes, a simple answer is most craved. We look to religions or spiritual traditions to give us a rule, to take the burden of deciding and acting from our shoulders. Along with the literal and compassionate approaches to ahimsa comes the koan. The koan is the paradox, the riddle, the teaching as question instead of answer. If each action we take causes harm, how does one apply ahimsa? If ahimsa concerns all animate and inanimate beings, how does one live, eat, breathe? In the case of the Maoists and tribal people, do they stand down and allow their government to commit genocide? Or do they take up arms? In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna stands face-to-face with a battlefield and becomes too overwhelmed with the impending violence to fight. In response to Arjuna's grief, Krishna says:
If you think that this Self can kill or think that it can be killed,
you do not well understand reality's subtle ways.
It never was born; coming to be, it will never not be.
Birthless, primordial, it does not die when the body dies.
Knowing that it is eternal, unborn, beyond destruction, how could you ever kill?
And whom could you kill, Arjuna? (Mitchell, 49)
Yoga and Buddhism, each in their own way, teach that there is no one to kill or be killed. Yet to take this approach alone would be to ignore the cries of the world. Holding this understanding in heart and mind, one must act in a world that has actors, and make choices in a world that has consequences.
Generalizing the teaching of ahimsa and applying it without discernment can be ineffective and even dangerous. To condemn the tribal resistance as terrorists is to see only one side of the situation, to submit to the status quo and turn a blind eye to the actions sanctioned by the Indian state. Nonetheless, the executions and violent acts of the Maoists described by Arundhati Roy do not sit comfortably as examples of ahimsa-in-action. For ahimsa to be a living and breathing teaching, it must continuously be adapted and explored in each moment, in each circumstance. Sometimes being applied literally, other times as a compassionate stance towards life and Nature, and occasionally simply remaining a question. There is perhaps no right or wrong answer; to have a singular answer applicable in all situations would require permanence. As Gandhi once said, the aim “ . . . is not to be consistent with my previous statement on a given question, but to be consistent with the truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result is that I have grown from truth to truth . . .” (Fischer, 57)
Fischer, Louis. Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World. New York: Penguin Group, 1954. Print.
"India's Naxalite Rebellion: The red heart of India." The Economist November 5, 2009. Online.
“Maoists Being Forced Into Violence: Arundhati Roy.” CNN-IBN April 16, 2010. Video.
Mitchell, Stephen. Bhagavad Gita. New York: Random House, 2000. Print.
Roy, Arundhati. Come September September, 18, 2002. Video.
Roy, Arundhati. “Walking With The Comrades.” Outlookindia.com March 29, 2010. Online.
29 November 2010
One tends to think of space in terms of physical extension and location... Outer space is that virtually infinite expanse speckled with galaxies and stars separated by inconceivable distances. "Inner space" suggests a formless expanse of mind in which thoughts, mental images, memories and fantasies rise and pass away. Space seems to be the relatively permanent place where temporal events happen.
Buddhist philoshopers see space differently. They define it as the "absence of resistance." The space in a room is understood as the absence of anything that at would prevent one moving around in it... Rather than being the place where things happen, space is the absence of what prevents things from happening... In encoutering no such resistance, we are able to move about freely.
... Space is thus a metaphor of freedom.
Many LGBT youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them.
17 November 2010
These days, I'm participating in a six-month Precepts Course offered by Centre of Gravity. The question of non-harm and non-stealing (not taking that which is not freely offered) has given rise to contemplation around how I acquire information, software, music, and television.
There are, of course, arguments of the anti-capitalist / anti-corporatist nature, which explain that not every single thing (media, natural resources, property, etc.) should be for sale. Many people advocate the internet as a place for open source sharing. That said, in applying honesty both internally and externally, part of this pirating internet culture involves stealing.