Guatemala, in brief

Well, I´m here. Enjoying sharing bus rides with chickens, clases de yoga en Espanol, and as expected, assaulting the locals with my atrocious Spanish. There is more to write, obviously, but I don´t have a lot of time right now. I´ve been writing copiously in my journal, and when I return to the states this weekend, I´ll post some of my observations and experiences here.


One last post before I go

I’m off to Guatemala tomorrow… or anyway, my roundabout journey begins tomorrow. I’m sitting here all packed and freaking out a little bit, so I’m going to post some of what I wrote in my final essay for the teacher training:

“Mandiram is usually translated as ‘temple,'” but Krishnamacharya offered another definition from the Sanskrit roots of the word: “‘the fire that dispelled darkness.'” I’m mulling over the possibility and implications of translating mandiram rather as the fire that resides in darkness. I’ve never been comfortable with the us versus them mentality of good versus evil, light versus dark. We all contain both. It’s enough of a struggle to live with one’s dark side without demonizing it and trying in vain to cast it out. It is harder, but ultimately more satisfying, I think, to learn to live with the things we don’t like about ourselves. There is a quote by Barry Lopez (from Arctic Dreams) which addresses this directly (and which I constantly find myself rereading): “No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of the conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself. If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox.” Mandiram. Fire residing within darkness.

“‘There are only two castes,’ he [Krishnamacharya] would say: ‘Men and women.’ And he gradually came to regard women as the superior, at least in terms of Yogic practice.” Oh boy. Rather, oh girl! Where to begin? Well… he’s wrong, of course. Everyone is created equal, men aren’t better than women, women aren’t better than men, free to be you and me, blah blah blah. On the other hand, let’s be realistic for a moment. He’s right. The vast majority of yoga teachers I’ve studied with, known, or known of have been women; yet I’ve only ever heard of (or known) male teachers who were engaged in morally questionable behaviour with their students. When was the last time you heard of a cult leader who was a woman? I haven’t either. Whenever I see the bumper sticker “Well behaved women rarely make history,” I think to myself, no, poorly behaved men are usually the ones making history, and that’s really not something to aspire to. I don’t know what to make of this apparent schism between genders. Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s nurture. Maybe I’m seeing a difference where none actually exists (but if so, then Krishnamacharya apparently saw it too). Maybe this perception of mine stems from some deep well of self-hatred, but I don’t think so. (I’ve spent enough time on the box-of-tissues end of the psychotherapy couch to know self-hatred when I see it, and this ain’t it.) Whatever the reason, I find myself in a peculiar position. I have to hope that whatever failings my gender might incline me towards are surmountable through self-awareness (svadhyaya) and concerted effort (sadhana, tapas). And almost certainly, they are. I’m inclined to think that when it comes to cross-gender comparisons, intra-group diversity is more pronounced than inter-group diversity (i.e., men and women have a lot more potential for commonality than difference).

Okay, moving on, as I’ve probably stopped making sense to anyone but me…

Regarding attachment, “perhaps the strongest of these [memories and latent impressions] with adverse effects upon our actions is the irresistible, eternal desire for immortality. Much, if not all, of our previous Yogic practice is meant to help free us from this desire: in essence, from instinctive self-preservation.” Reminds me of a great line in an Ani DiFranco song: “I don’t care if they eat me alive, I’ve got better things to do than survive.” I’m also reminded of Freud’s great dichotomy – the two opposing forces which drive humanity, eros (creative life instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). The desire for immortality that Desikachar talks about is really not an embrace of life, though it masquerades as an outgrowth of eros; desire for immortality actually arises from a fear of death. It is therefore an outgrowth of thanatos, the death instinct. Truly embracing life and experiencing it means recognizing and accepting that it will end. We wouldn’t value it otherwise.

The excerpt from Krishnamurti’s speech renouncing gurus and religion resonates strongly with me (predictably). He’s right. If you take something of value (like truth, though there are other examples) and try to nail it down, put it in a box, codify it, sell it, or give it a brand name, it ceases to be what it was. The once beautiful thing disappears. It was only beautiful or valuable in the first place because it was not simply described or easily conveyed. The struggle to discover what is important or what is true is itself the thing that is important. This is, in part, what is meant by the observation in the Bhagavad Gita that we are entitled to our efforts, but not their fruits. If I had to condense all of the teachings of yoga into one statement, that would probably be it…

To be a teacher, one must devote one’s life to practice, remain a student of yoga oneself, always speak the truth, and care more about the student than about oneself. “It is not the most brilliant intellect that makes such a teacher. It is the inner capacity to care about someone else more than yourself.”

The student must be committed, must accept what is taught even if she disagrees, must accept full responsibility for her own learning, and must exhibit humility and respect towards her teacher.

“…the journey toward happiness is above all about deeply felt and conscious experience.” Even crying can be blissful when it is deeply felt and conscious. Here, as elsewhere, I speak from experience. Kind of a lot of experience, actually, now that I think about it.

Whenever I challenge myself, step outside my comfort zone (which is certainly what I’m doing by going to Guatemala, a country where I barely speak the language and have no familiarity with the culture), I find myself thinking of my friend Byron. Perhaps it is pathological or morbid for me to do so, but I want to believe he would have been proud of me for pushing myself. He was one of very, very few people whose judgment I deeply valued and whose approval mattered to me.

Ending on an up note (and back to yoga briefly): At my graduation ceremony a month ago, my brother asked me if now I could finally use my Jedi powers to help him get his X-wing fighter out of the swamp, and I said no, it’s YOGA, you must have heard me wrong.

Swim update

After a few weeks of hardly any yoga and lots and lots of swimming, I have the following to report: 1. My endurance is definitely improved… over a mile is no longer a problem. 2. My speed must be improving too. The swim-freestyle-for-laps-and-laps-and-laps people were there last night doing their thing, and they only passed me 3 times (last time I swam with them, it was 4, and over a shorter distance).

I’ll be in yoga class tonight… I’m kind of dreading it, I know I lose flexibility quickly when I don’t practice regularly.

There’s a “master swim class” tomorrow up at Minnewaska that I will probably go to. The last time I took swimming lessons was twenty or more years ago at the YMCA, and for the vast majority of those two decades I wasn’t doing any sort of proper swimming at all, so I know my technique definitely has room aplenty for improvement. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to go to the class tomorrow and be critiqued.

I leave for Guatemala on Monday… maybe I should start packing or something. I looked up “to shower” in my Spanish/English dictionary today. “Ducharse.” I don’t think I’ll have difficulty remembering that one. Sheesh, I can be so puerile sometimes.

I had a discussion last night about whether it’s okay to be angry at someone else (or yourself) when you recognize that anger really isn’t appropriate or well warranted. Maybe okay vs not okay is not the right way to look at it. When I get stuck in anger, figuring out whether it’s justified never gets me anywhere. I just get more and more frustrated. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s an intractable situation and there’s just nothing else to do with it. What I really need is a distraction.

more yoga ramblings! yay!

Okay, I was all ready to close the book on post-training rambling, but I just found this, which I wrote in mid May:

I did my second of three assistant teachings this morning; [J]’s all levels class in [C]. It went well. I felt comfortable doing it, and that has been the big stumbling block for me to work through in this training. I really am getting there. “I can win this,” as River says in the last episode of Firefly.
This is graduation weekend for SUNY New Paltz, and I mulled that over on my drive up to [C] this morning. I’ve known college students who really blossomed and unfolded in the course of their undergraduate years, and it has been beautiful to watch; but that was not my experience. I remember an abiding sense of emptiness after I got my degree. The questions “Well, what was the point of all that?” and “What now?” loomed. Those questions don’t present themselves to me in the same ominous overtones with respect to the culmination of my teacher training. I know what this was all about, and I know what happens next. This has been a major part of my blossoming and unfolding, in a way that college really wasn’t. As college was about listening to other voices, this has been about listening to my own.
Anyway, this morning’s class was all women. I felt a little uncomfortable and out of place at first, until I hit my rhythm with assisting and adjusting, and I forgot that I had the only Y chromosome in the room. I’m not 100% sure what to make of my discomfort. I’m comfortable with friendships with women, obviously, and I’m comfortable practicing with women. Why not teaching? I think it’s the power differential. I’m not a peer anymore when I’m at the front of the room giving directions, or making adjustments. I bear a different level of responsibility, and I know how badly that responsibility can be abused. The phrase “trembling before g-d” comes to mind for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Maybe that makes sense given the central role this practice has in my life. I know how vital this has been to me as a personal practice, unimpeded by concerns of the sincerity of my instructors. I want anyone I teach to have that same experience.

On an entirely unrelated note, in a month’s time, I will be in Guatemala on holiday, assaulting the poor unsuspecting natives with my absolutely atrocious Spanish, and probably contracting aeomebic dysentery. Can’t wait! I’ve never been outside the US and Canada before, and I really have no idea what to expect. “Show up and see what happens” is the mantra I’m choosing to apply to this situation. (Of course, I AM doing some preparation as well… brushing up on my Spanish, getting injections, doing some amount of planning. I am fortunate in that I’ll be traveling there with friends who have been there before.)