Art and Culture

To do list? (Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha)

Twitter?  What would be

The point without an I-phone?

Buy one? Save the nation?

Last night I wrote this “twaiku” (why is it not a “twittiku?”) after having read yet another series of articles on why or why not to Twitter and still more articles on why it is important for a nation of consumers to keep consuming even if that is what got them into trouble in the first place.  One of the articles was lamenting the loss of true communication that comes with being limited to 140 characters, and it set forth some examples of how peculiar, when taken out of context, some twittering can sound, especially to the uninitiated.  In my attempt to keep an open mind about devaluing language while still communicating in language, I was led to think about haikus v. sonnets and other longer poetic forms.   A haiku easily fits into 140 characters.  This led me to wonder whether anyone had created a haiku trend on Twitter?  A quick Google search revealed that I am way behind the times in terms of the twaiku?

One of the articles suggested that Twittering is about being in the moment.  Contrarians say it fosters attention deficit disorder and a host of other language-loss ills.  This led me to think of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali “yoga citta vrtti nirodaha” (yoga is stilling/aligning with the thoughwaves of the mind).  When evaluating what to consume, when to consume, and how to consume (whether it is language and communication methods or electronic goods or anything else), if we are serious about taking yoga off the mat, it is good to think about whether our consumption eases the trials of being embodied or makes daily living more agitating, and whether our consumption brings us more into alignment with nature/spirit (brahmacharya) or turns us away.

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In the “ether”

Yesterday, I took the plunge and joined Facebook.  I’d read one too many articles in the New York Times about it without being able to really understand what I was reading.  What an interesting phenomenon — seeing images and reading words of friends and acquaintances through space (friends around the world) and time (friends from way back).

Tomorrow, I will be speaking on a webcast to more than a 1,000 people.

I’ve gotten thousands of hits on this blog.

This is a lot of shared energy without knowing most of those with whom one I am sharing. It is shifting space and time as I think about it.  In the computer world, we say or write about what we are thinking as we type or speak into the computer, and then our words and energies shift and take on their own power as they extend out instantly to anyone who chooses — intentionally or randomly — to receive them.

I think the more we are in the ethereal world, the more we need simultaneously to make certain we are grounded.

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Ardha, Kama, Dharma, Moksha

Friday, when I was traveling through New York City on my way home from a business trip, I detoured to the Metropolitan to see the Walker Evans’ postcards and the Bonnard, Late Interiors.  The curator chose this quote to inform the viewing of the paintings:  “Material concerns and worries about the future are troubling me a lot, and I’m afraid that painting may abandon me because of a lack of mental freedom.”  Pierre Bonnard to Henri Matisse, September 1940.

The quote made me think of the yoga principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha. In classical yoga, in order to reach liberation (moksha), we need to have our material life — how we eat, consume, dwell, etc. (ardha), our love and relationships (kama), and our work/life path (dharma), in right order.  From a tantric perspective, when ardha, kama, and dharma are aligned so that mind, body, and spirit are united in our day to day being, then we are living liberated — jivan mukti (moksha).

In 1940, the Nazis were growing in power and World War II was impending.  Bonnard had lost his love, Marthe, was ill and aging, and was in some financial difficulty.  He was afraid of losing his vision, his creativity (dare I interpret “painting may abandon me” as “loss of connection to spirit”) because ardha and kama were out of alignment.  The late paintings carry a sense of yearning of spirit — perhaps because of the consciousness that struggling physically and emotionally challenges our ability to truly see, to feel connected to spirit.  The paintings are lovely with color and light.  The subject matter makes them accessible at a surface level.  Shadowy figures and ambiguities, though, give a sense of longing and seeking.  Although there is a certain basic prettiness because of the color and the subject matter, they are not comfort paintings.  They invite one to think about whether color is enough, whether home is enough, what we need to be in a place where we can rest at one with ourselves.

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Theater of the Absurd

Last night I went with a group of friends for dinner and to see “Hell Meets Henry Halfway” at the Woolly Mammoth.   We all had a most enjoyable time, although the play was pretty negative.  What could you expect, though, from a play based on a 1930s novel written by a Polish exile that was about declining monarchies and social depravity, etc?  What relieved the bleakness of the outlook was the slapstick playfulness of the acting and staging.  It was also a pleasure just to see beautiful technique, and acting was wonderful.

As the recession deepens, I have been trying to go to see more theater and dance, to support local theaters and restaurants that I care to have still in my world.  It would be easy to settle into a mindset of anti-consumption at this time.  Better I think, even if we are trying to shift the consumer orientation of our society, to become ever more mindful in our consumption, being especially mindful of those around us are struggling from the sudden shift.  The right action, I think,  for those who cannot help but recognize problems, or suffering, or even absurdity, is not only to seek change, but also to see the playfulness in everything to keep the spirit vital and to be able to accept the change that might not be realized despite our best efforts and intentions.

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Baksheesh and Brahman

I spent a few hours this weekend reading Joseph Campbell’s  Baksheesh and Brahman, which is Campbell’s journals from a year in India from 1954-55 (I’m now about a third of the way through).  Campbell writes that he went to India to find Brahman and instead found politics.  He approached his visit from the perspective of a mythologist.  In contrast to Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, who went to India to find God, Joseph Campbell went to observe religious practices.  Although the journals evidence his own perspective and prejudices, he makes cogent observations on the difference between religiosity and spirituality (not all that dissimilar to the distinctions made in the Bhagavad Gita about the difference between rigidly practicing ritual and truly believing).  He also makes very interesting and still timely and cogent comparisons between the relationship of Hinduism and to the then rather new Indian nationalism and American Protestantism to democracy.

Ultimately, though, it is evident that this year was important for Campbell’s life path and work, as it was for the Beats, and has been for many of my friends who have gone, though not for all.  I think about going to India.  It will be when I have several weeks and don’t have a venerable and ancient cat who cannot be left behind for a long stretch of time.  In the meantime, reading of such journeys can stimulate thought and can be applied to other aspects of my life, though reading and studying (especially in the yoga tradition), is never a substitute for experience.  Just reading of spiritual experiences, but not doing the practices to open the door to one’s own experience is like reading cooking or gardening books, but never going into the kitchen or the garden.


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A Personal God (Ishta Devata)

My earliest exposure to eastern mysticism was through Salinger and the Beats, which I read avidly in high school and even junior high.   The Beats were hipper and smarter than I could ever hope to be (and they weren’t so good to the women, but that’s another avenue to discuss and explore), but I could check out the Beats call to the east.  One of the reasons I found the Beats use of the eastern imagery so compelling, was that I wasn’t expected to believe, I was just expected to understand how the imagery could open me up to new experiences and understandings of the deeper self and how it fits into the web of being.

I just finished reading Deborah Baker’s A Blue Hand, The Beats in India, which is an unsentimental, not particularly flattering, but most interesting account of the Beats and their time spent in India and how it influenced their work.  This particular passage resonated with one of the issues that I wrestle with as study yoga and its underpinning philosophy and its relationship to my personal experience of “spirit”:   “Mr. Jain explained to Allen [Ginsberg] that all gods are unreal, but most Hindus choose one and use the image of that god (either a picture or a statue) to focus on during prayers, to quiet the mind and soak the heart in the gentle vibes it radiated.  Or, after taking your measure, your guru might assign you a god.  Apparently, there was a personal god for everyone, Allen [Ginsberg] reported to Jack [Keroac], tailored to your temperament, desires, or inclinations.”

Have you found that the characteristics or image presented by one of the pantheon resonates more deeply with you than the others?

Other interesting books about the Beats experiences in India:  Indian Journals, Allen Ginsberg, Passage Through India, Gary Snyder

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Buy a Coffee Mug (and never forget)

buy-a-coffee-mug-and-never-forgetI didn’t buy a coffee mug, but I did take the picture.  If only remembering was as easy as buying a souvenir.  Memory, though, it much more ephemeral.  I’ll remember this day.  Sometimes I will deliberately recall it.  Sometimes, images will come unbidden as something triggers a memory, just as the solicitation by a friend last week to support an orphanage in Peru brought back the thought of 9/11.  I had been in Peru at the retreat center that supports the orphanage when the planes hit the World Trade Center.  I hope for news tomorrow of the imminent closing of Guantanamo to start reshaping our relationship to 9/11.

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Privilege and Periphery

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At about 10:30 am, I left my house and walked over to the Capitol.  I knew that by leaving the house at that hour, instead of at 7am, I would be outside the fence, but I instead practiced in the morning and opened myself to the sense of amazement and hope filling my city.

My friends who were inside the fence either are press or have other jobs that got them an invitation or they arrived at 5am to volunteer. I look forward to hearing their stories and seeing their pictures.

It felt urgent to be present for this occasion.  One of the things that made it especially poignant is that where I went was on my walk to work.  I forget, sometimes, the import of the capitol and the Mall because they are so much a part of my daily geography.

The audio visual we had in my spot just north of the Capitol (turned out to be next to the cannons for the salute) was a couple of ipods with speakers and boom boxes, rather than the big, fancy rock concert screens, but we were in fact physically closer than most on the Mall.  Some of us were just happy to be there together celebrating and being less densely packed into the crowd.  Some, so used to being marginalized by society — being able to see privilege and insider status, but have it be completely out of reach — grumbled that they might as well have stayed home as they witnessed even those with tickets not getting through the security lines towards the end.

But every one was hushed, even in the crowd, even without a view, for the oath of office and for the President’s speech.  It was a privilege to stand with these neighbors and fellow citizens.  It was an honor to see grown men unashamed to let their eyes fill with tears as they witnessed what they never saw they would see in the Nation’s Capitol, in their town, an African-American President.

I am filled with hope, not because I think there will be almost instantaneous and miraculous “change,” but because we have just witnessed an enormous step in a better direction.

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Aerial View

If I had been born a different person and chosen an entirely different career path (say a secret service agent), I might have had a view like this today.  Would it have been worth it?  So interesting to watch the dance of intention and fate.  This, by the way, is the view from the cafeteria at the Department of Labor, so I can have it any other day.  If you look closely, you can see where the podium was set up in front of the capitol.  The pictures in the next post are mostly from the park just north of the capitol — so they would be just outside of this shot on the left.a-secret-service-view

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