Have You Lost Your Chaturanga?

I have, at the moment. Some days I am so focused or mindful that I can lower myself smoothly down and hover for a moment before moving on to cobra. But other days, I can’t do it. I just have to do knees-chest-chin as if I’ve never had the strength or the practice. That happens in life as well. Just when you think you are at least at a certain level of practice or ability, something comes along that lets you know that you still have more to learn or that you are not on the path you thought you were.

I recently had a tantalizing job lead that at once elated me and troubled me. The opening was in the publishing industry and I had about 85% of the requirements down solid.  One area, budgeting, I had no experience with and I have not been actively working in online formatting. I am still print-based in my employment. Well, it’s not that I did not know that online publishing is a major force in the industry, but I’ve been kept busy with print—and teaching, and tutoring, and, and, and. But now, even with all of my experience in this field, I am no longer strong. I’ve lost my publishing chaturanga.

Do I stay at knees-chest-chin and hope the groove comes back or do I allow the good days to flow and show the bad days some compassion? I’m not a stay put kind of person by nature. I am easily frustrated though and that often gets in my way. But I’ll practice mindfulness and compassion and let the publishing world do without me for some time while I take some classes to get myself current in the online medium. That wasn’t the only gig out there. Yoga? I remember how smoothly the poses have come when I did not fight them or worry about them. But I do need to keep up with my practice and learn more so I can give myself the room to grow.

Don’t let yourself lose your chaturanga. You may misplace it for a little while, but know it is there waiting for your mind and body to come back to the mindful path.

Advertisements

“There is Now A Level Zero.” But Is That Reality or Perception?

Image

Yes, I quoted Kung Fu Panda, and I’m proud of it. Even though a film or a book is geared towards a younger audience or is not intended to be an intellectual or overtly educational experience, many writers of these materials are well educated in literary history, philosophy, logic, rhetoric, religion, and history.

One of the most profoundly thrilling moments in the film for me is when Master Shifu realizes that it is not Po’s inability to learn or belong (Po being the “big fat panda”–the hero), but his own failing to learn how to teach Po. This causes the perpetual chaos and frustration that everyone is experiencing. Shifu judges Po’s ability from outside appearances (as self-conscious and comedic as they are) and sees him through his own filter of expectation—not Po’s own essence and possibilities.

When I teach my students or work on my own educational, literary, and spiritual growth, I cannot fail to remain conscious of the possible causes of any setbacks, stagnation, or failures. Is my student refusing to make use of his materials? Maybe. Is it me that has not acknowledged that these materials or the medium I use to disseminate them are suitable to this person’s style of learning? It is up to me to figure this out. If I stop learning, I am not worthy of being a teacher.

I am currently working on a text for an educational publishing company that should be a breeze for me. It’s a 5th-grade-grammar workbook for ESL students. Very basic layout via Word. How simple is that for a professor and long-time writer/editor of similar materials? Not at all. The book map is not as detailed as I’ve worked with before or even created before. The distribution of work (writing, editing, layout, and proofreading all in separate stages with different people) is not part of the process. I have to design and write simultaneously. Yes, there are existing texts to use as my guides. Yes, the content has already been chosen. But I have to be creative and write entertaining exercises while being conscious of what images to use and how to fit them while I keep to the objectives of the grammar for each stage. Too many hats for me. Maybe not for anyone else, but yes, for me. That made me feel quite ashamed frankly. How can a person with a master’s and who has been in publishing and academia for years be so unable to do this with ease?

I return to the movie: At one point, when Po has been repeatedly pushed physically and emotionally to his limits, Shifu finds him high on a shelf in a perfect split (that he could not master on the training grounds at all). Po cannot not perform even basic moves in standard training, but he can accomplish quite a bit when what he relates to best (food) is involved. It was Shifu who insisted on making Po fit in the wrong mold more than Po’s being an ill fit.

Maybe my “level 0” has more to do with a structure that I do not relate to. I work in larger grammatical structures, vocabulary that addresses many disciplines, and freedom to choose my own topics to write about. I just buck at the limitations of this project.

Maybe we all have a “level 0” just as we all are masters in some aspect of our lives or work. What you see as “level 0” at the moment may be really that your mind rejects directions and motivations that are not framed the right way for you right now.

So, how do you see yourself? Is how you define yourself or how others define you truly who or what you are? Can you see a person struggling as someone in need of a new perspective or motivation rather than a person who is failing or a misfit?

I’ll take my “level 0” in stride right now and see if Master Shifu (my editor) can figure out how to frame the structures differently for me. Or, when I must take the role of Master Shifu, I will try to figure out how to connect with my own versions of Po without the obstruction of judgement and rigid form.

How To Avoid Blogging: Have Something Difficult to Say

I’ve been looking at a pile of scribbled notes and dog-eared copies of The New Yorker for some time now. The issue of gun control has been weighing heavily on me, but I did not want to simply state my position or argue a point that many people may already have made many times over. It took a book on war to bring me around to what I’ve realized is the fundamental focus of my thoughts and my desire to write about this topic for other writers.

As many of you know, I’ve been very slowly going through How Yoga Works and reveling in the, well, revelations. My current mantra is “Plant the Seeds.” Yes, the title of one of my earlier blogs and directly related to that book. When I feel sad, or more importantly, overwhelmed and scared as I am prone to be, I pause my thoughts and say “plant the seeds.” Basically, just changing the thoughts but with the more important component of the new thought taking hold and growing into a more positive and fruitful behavior over the long run. I’m telling myself for the first time ever that nothing has to be the way I see it–at least not the negative. A challenge should be met, not eluded. OK, OK, enough, you get it already.

So, how do I go from How Yoga Works to addressing gun control as a moral and ethical requirement of us all? By reading Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse. Big change in content, huh? I have a long-standing interest in history, especially war. It began more as an interest in how the areas we now call specific countries have formed and changed over the centuries in direct relation to the wars waged on or by them.

When I imagine myself as a draft-age male in 20th century America, I especially shudder at the prospect of going to Vietnam. I have no doubt that I would not have survived. At least not intact. The more I know of that war, the more horrified I am by the volume of atrocity unleashed in an offensive measure. I’m not saying bombing Hiroshima was a righteous act, but let’s agree that the U.S. would not have had to face making the choice if the Germans, then the Japanese did not swing first. Feel free to disagree. My point is that I cannot really comprehend the disbelief that people have over the fight against gun control when texts like Kill Anything show us how absolutely disinterested our government has been in our well being before and how many soldiers were not appalled or horrified by the orders they received to “kill ’em all.” When you note how much lower on the scale of value women, children, and the elderly have been than the average male, the surprise should be even less. Rape is a weapon of war and that has been wielded as readily as guns and grenades. Now, anatomy is one thing. It is what it is. But we can limit access to extraneous weapons and punish the inappropriate use of both. Hunting and lovemaking really cannot be compared equally with slaughter and rape.

My yoga teacher reminds me often that we all have our own universe to manage. Not that we stand alone, but we can only tend to our own world. We can plant the seeds and try to help others tend to their own goals so that all of us work in conscious harmony, but “we cannot plant the seeds for others” as she likes to say. I really understand now what “everyone in their own time” means. So, the discussion of each person’s rights is what I keep coming back to. How is one person’s rights more important than the safety and rights of the whole? Let’s face it, I have the right to live, don’t you? If restricting gun ownership and the type of guns allowed in public means I have a greater chance of exercising my right to live, then what is the problem?

If you are wondering what my world is like–how I’ve come to my perspective—I’ll tell you. My husband and I are gun owners. My husband hunts. We don’t buy meat raised in the realms of agribusiness, but we’ve not gotten to the point of becoming vegetarians. We would rather do without though than buy a cellophane and Styrofoam package of questionable quality meat from a questionable source. We plant the seeds of ethical farming even if we have not–yet–gotten to the point of sparing some animal lives. Still, I have no problem having to restrict access to our guns if it means preventing someone from accidentally or purposely harming others. I would love to have a central armory where we have to house our weapons and sign them out. If you are not planning on committing  a crime, what’s the problem with structure? Your freedom? I have freedom too: To live safely. Really, most of the NRA types sound like kindergarteners who were absent the day they learned about sharing and taking turns. I mean, really, you HAVE to have 100 rounds in an automatic or semiautomatic weapon at arm’s length? Are you sure you are not planning on committing a crime?

The April 15th issue of The New Yorker, has an article in the “The Talk of the Town” section entitled “Shots in the Dark.” The main question here about stepping up to the plate about gun control seems to be about taking risks. Who is willing to stretch out his/her neck and stand up for common sense and the right for the rest of us to live? Perhaps we are being abandoned because some members of Congress are not willing to risk losing their seats in the next election? Perhaps the Senate would not uphold any substantial changes. They like the cushy lives that playing with the pro-gun boys support. The column mentions Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s position (of all people!): ‘[A] right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose’ is not how the Second Amendment should be read. It does not “confer” this unadulterated view of absolute freedom. Last I checked, absolute freedom from control was anarchy or, no, wait, infancy.

Is this a new ideology for me? No. One of my most vivid memories of my freshman year of college is unwaveringly arguing against the whole of my first-semester composition class the point that I did not mind stricter criminal laws if that kept the predators and other unsavory characters behind bars longer. I did not mind having to watch my own behavior if that meant others stayed in jail. Yet, the rest of the class wanted as much freedom as possible even if it meant less jail time, or none, for offenders. Wow. I mean, I’m not saying we need to live in a police state, but why is it so hard to be responsible for your own actions and look out for your neighbor? And, no, I’m not saying our justice system isn’t damaged, but let’s work on the whole, not just give up and let everyone run amok.

Bottom line: I’m willing to curtail some of my own freedoms in order to ensure that the bad seeds are thwarted as much as possible. I’m also for reading as much about as many things as possible so that my range of knowledge includes seemingly disparate subjects such as spirituality and war crimes.

Of course, nothing will end violence, but everything can be done to limit it and access to its most effective tools. No one can plant the seeds for cruel, troubled, or misguided souls, but we have to do our best to keep these people limited to small container gardens until they are ready to do their share. We don’t need a whole field of perennials setting the wrong seeds on the wind.

Plant the Right Seeds

Plant the right seeds in your students as you endeavor to plant them in yourself.

What seeds? Well, I’m still reading How Yoga Works–very carefully and slowly. I’m savoring every bit of it and doing my best to restructure my own perspectives on life by practicing what the instructor in the text, Miss Friday, directs her students to do. The seeds are of course not actual plant seeds, but metaphors for right behavior. Good habits take root and grow and these beneficial plants then spread more seeds. Hopefully, you can influence others to rotate their own inner crops and let the bad seeds die off while the good hold fast and flourish.

I’m doing my best to crowd out the bad seeds that many events and choices in my life sewed deeply. The more I read this text, the more often I actually cry. I am in mourning for what I did not know and for the things I cannot undo. I’d have written “yet” and the end of the last sentence, but I’m learning that there are some things we cannot change because it takes the participation of others to allow the soil to become fertile for change. Well, maybe the “yet” still stands. The others involved may come to their own desire for change and allow me to participate.

Planting the seeds sounds easy enough, right? It depends upon where you are in your own stage of life. My current thought process as a professor and tutor is to try to offer some of the wisdom I am endeavoring to retain and practice to my students and hope that these seeds take hold somehow, someway, someday. I can ‘t make them be ready, but I can’t cheat them of the chance to learn if they are ready now. I don’t presume to be a master by any means, but I can’t be anything but an observer if I don’t act consciously.

Planting the seeds in my college students is a tricky matter. Not everyone is in my classroom for the same reasons. Some are there under duress frankly. The composition courses I teach are mandatory. Not everyone likes to write. Fair enough. Not everyone is in school to learn and many are there to “buy” a degree so they can be “qualified” for a job. What they learn seems to be secondary to the framed paper on the wall. I have to weed through (no pun intended) and see if I can find a way to reach them all–to help them value themselves enough to value what they can learn even in core requirements seemingly unrelated to their major.

There are times when students are unable to meet the requirements of my course or focus regularly on tutoring sessions. The reasons can range from not being properly prepared educationally, to not caring enough to want to bother, to not having the confidence to think they can do this. Maybe life threw them a physical or emotional curve ball and they just don’t know how to regroup. At these times, what seed is it that I should plant to help them for their sake?

It would be easy to let them make their decisions and let them take the consequences. So I could let a student who has not participated all semester suddenly drop a bulk of back logged coursework on me so he can graduate on time. What about the quality of the work? I could work hard to lead him to the good grade and go easy on him because life just got harder or his GPA is balancing on my final click of the mouse. Who are these decisions really benefiting? These last options seem pretty cushy really for the student. But what about real life after school?

Let me tell you about real life. I was a student. I had serious setbacks. I did not get coddled. I had to take the hits, financial and educationally to catch up. I had to face the reality that no one was obligated to change standards and requirements just because I could not meet them. Sound harsh? Sound like a grudge? Sound like I’m taking it out on them? Nope. My falsely smoothing the path now will plant seeds of false expectations for later and that, my friends, would be a disaster. My bleeding heart now could lead to a lost job and lost opportunities later on. I must plant the right seeds for their sake.

This does not make me very popular sometimes with parents or colleagues. Often, their goals are for the student to stay in the time frame expected and with the grades demanded rather than earned. Somehow, education for education’s sake is getting more and more lost in the mix. Colleges tend to worry more about attrition rates rather than the reputation that comes with the quality of learning the person holding a degree with the school’s name represents. There is no big picture. No thoughts about the reputation of the family or the university later on down the road when a degree from this place is not respected and when the person fails at bigger challenges later on. The seeds planted so often are for now and not always for the student. My desire is to have my students and clients value now, for the sake of now. I want them to value what they have in hand and demand of themselves that they earn their grades, degree, and respect the right way. I plant the seeds of responsibility and reality while doing my best to overtly acknowledged their discomfort and fear.

I do care, that is why I challenge the  shortcuts and compromises. I hold onto the good seeds that were planted in me early on and the seeds I am endeavoring to plant now. These were and are very much about self respect and earning–not demanding–something and having to redo or revisit what I could not complete the first time around. While I mourn for the losses that the bad seeds produced, I look forward to letting go of them and continuing to plant the right seeds in the fallow soil. With any luck, some will be cast beyond my own fields.

The Text is Life

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being I believe. Maybe a state of purity or pureness? There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow around me. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for an separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

Readers really do make the best writers. And maybe you’ll even figure somethings out along the way.

Long title right? Well, I could not decide. I recently read a book that inspired me in more than one way. It held wisdom that I had been long in need of. Say, all my life. It was also just a great read. On the great read side, How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally is quite accessible for any level practitioner of yoga or anyone trying to work on compassion at a realistic level of earthly conundrums.

One of my yoga instructors has read passages from this from time to time and the narrative itself was so beautifully written that it drew me in immediately. Of course, as I read the book for myself, the wisdom also came through so subtly that I felt less like a student and more like a fellow traveler. This is a tale of yogic practice and purpose presented through the experiences of a fictional female character who must live her practice and beliefs (the principles of the yoga sutras) as she is imprisoned in a small impoverished village in dire and unpredictable conditions.

Ok, so why is this important enough to blog about? Good writing is nothing to ignore in this world of mass publishing, Barnes and Noble bargain books, and well, blogs and Facebook posts. It is harder to be “heard” above the visual noise of so much sharing and sausage grinding across genres. As well, as a middle-aged woman who has had much hardship from day one (no violins, I’ve done well for myself considering), I’ve been assaulted with many axioms that were supposed to encourage me and make me feel included in the world. Nothing has stuck. Much of my misfortune has followed upon the heals of happiness or optimism.

When I was a child, I used to think that an evil spirit was watching me. Keeping track of my hopes and attempts to survive with happiness in tact. At the moment of openness, terrible loss or consequence swept in to annihilate all chances of success. Or that is how I saw it. I did not have the fortitude to take the challenge and fight. Perhaps it was the volume and rapacity of the evil and misfortune. Regardless, once I became an adult, the superstition gave way to pessimism. Simply the knowledge that the good did not last as long as the bad or unexpected negatives became the basis for acerbic asides and knitted eyebrows. I’ve got the lines on my face to prove it and the reputation for real New Yorker one liners. Woody Allen might even be concerned for me.

I still would prefer to be happy. Hence the yoga classes, the desire for a challenge without competition or judgement. So, the book being rather poetic and full of kindness (read it to understand it) drew me in. I had my doubts about finishing it with any long-term inspiration in tow, but I was overwhelmed by a brief passage that addressed entirely my life-long confusion about acceptance and optimism followed by pain. Have you seen Bridget Jone’s Diary? Remember when she alludes to the idea that once something in your life is perfect, something else falls “spectacularly to pieces” (attempted quote–not sure of the exact wording). That sort of rang true but only as an irony, not an insight.

Now, in How Yoga Works, the exact relationship of good to evil or positive to negative is fully addressed and accepted as a universal truth. One that is not to be surrendered to, but understood and prepared for: “When Important things are about to happen, bigger problems come to try and stop them. This is a law of yoga and a law of the powers that run our lives” (40).

Maybe not news to you, but news to me in terms of universal truths rather than bum luck in a jinxed life! So, read and read, and read. One day, maybe later, maybe sooner, what you read will directly affect what you write and how your write it and how you understand why you write at all.

As another of my yoga instructors often says, things will come to you when you are ready to receive them or when they are ready for you.

One of my favorite authors, the late Penelope Fitzgerald, did not start writing until she was 58. And she was from a prestigious family of writers. It just was not in her or for her until she was ready. So as far as I see it, “it” is only just ready for me and I, it.