NomadYogi: Let Your Self Go
I know that I told you I would describe my experience with Dolano, but something calming has happened over the past month. The urgency to express that crazy month has mellowed, as naturally happens with time. But this isn’t to say that I won’t get to it. I’m actually writing that blog entry now, taking my time to make sure it all makes sense… I mean, if that’s at all possible.
But, right now, as I start the New Year in Goa, India, and you start it where you are (SF Bay Area, LA, NJ, NYC, Seattle, Chicago, Berlin, Dublin Vienna, London, Singapore, Paris, En Hod, Had Tien,…and more than a few of you are nomads like me so, who knows where you are), I want to tell you something important.
I want to tell you about the joy of washing my clothes in a bucket.
I know. I know what you’re saying. “Yossi, you should just have your maid do it for you every day (as you do in Pune).” Obviously, this is what you’re saying. But, you don’t understand. Then I wouldn’t get to do it.
Let me explain: I put maybe 5 or 6 items in each load. This means I wash garments every 2 or 3 days. I fill up a bucket with water from the shower, estimate how much powder to drop out of the 40g bag of detergent, and soak my clothes for 20-25 minutes (longer, if I forget what I was doing, which happens, but more on that later). Every 10 minutes or so, I return to the bathroom to agitate the water and gently rub my pants against my shirts. Then, I rinse. And, since there’s no way to get my soap-usage-per-article-of-clothing-estimation perfect, the number of times I rinse depends on how the fabric feels. I have made the mistake, many times, of not rinsing enough, only to find out that, after my clothes are dry, they don’t feel, uh, quite right.
Speaking of drying, that’s my favorite part. That’s where I go up on the roof, or to a line of rope tied between palm trees, to squeeze out excess water and hang my clothes while listening to birds, the wind blowing through the leaves, the neighbors’ children playing, and traffic in the distance.
And this is where I my tone must become dramatic.
Dear Friends, you are missing out. Your technology has stolen your peace. Yes, the robots. But, I’m not talking about your computer devices and your connectivity to the World Wide Web. At least, not right now (just kidding Internet, I would never; I love you). No, right now, I’m referring to your sprinkler system, your dish washer, and your time-operated coffee maker. I blame your washing machines and clothes dryers, especially, for taking something sacred away from you: the mundane. Indeed, it is this sheer ordinariness that you have traded for much-lauded convenience and you have allowed the robots to take care of these things for you, so you could go off and do something else.
But you are missing out. You are stacking activities on top of activities in an endless search for efficiency, for fun, for fulfillment. And you are missing out.
Life is happening, right now. And you are off doing something. Of course, life is happening while you’re trying to get something “more important” done but, doing the mundane is sometimes the most important thing you can do. It is so easy, so effortless, so mindless, and so simple. So amazing.
What do you normally do laundry day? Do you play with your dog? Do you hang out with your child(ren)? Do you read the paper? Do you clean the kitchen? Do you do your homework? Do you get high and watch TV? How long does your washing machine take to clean your clothes, anyway?
You know, for me, the washing and hanging takes about 30 minutes, but like I said, sometimes I forget what I was doing because I go on to do something else. You know what that something else is?
You want to know what I do?
N O T H I N G .
I sit my ass down at the kitchen table, or sometimes right there on the floor outside of the bathroom, and I do nothing.
Sometimes I close my eyes, sometimes I don’t.
But mostly, I just sit the fuck down and try not to move.
I resist urges to get water and, knowing that this is a frequent distraction, I get a glass of water ready before the bucket-soaking commences. I resist urges to answer my phone and, knowing that this is a frequent possibility, I turn it off for 30 minutes. I resist, most of all, the urge to get up and do something. I force myself to do NOTHING, to simply wait — to wait 10 minutes before I get up again to swish clothes in a bucket.
And yes, often my mind will scatter from one thought to the next. Often, I will hear a song in my head (today it’s Stan Getz’ “Girl from Ipanema” and a couple days ago it was Chris Issac’s “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” which is weird because most of the music I listen to was made on a computer, has no lyrics, and sounds like “untz, untz,” so who knows when the last time was I actually heard those songs but, I digress). Often, I will be reminded of a movie scene I saw recently. Often, I will remember something painful that happened to me. Often, I will feel a little anxious about something I have to do later. Often, I am bothered by all this.
But then, often, I’m not. I sit quietly with random, non-sequitor thoughts, passively flashing in the background of my mind. Arising. Falling away. Arising. Falling away. Disappearing. I don’t do anything. There’s nothing to do I just sit there, waiting for India’s dirt to release its grip on my fabrics. I just sit there, learning to patiently wait, learning to not jump up and do the next thing that pops into my mind. Learning to find ecstasy in ordinariness.
Could you do this? I wonder if you could do this. I wonder if any of you will reply to this email, 7 days from now, and tell me that you sat, in front of your laundry machine, or at your kitchen table, without a magazine, without your iPhone, without the television, without music, for 30 minutes, while the machine did its job in the other room. Would you do this?
Would you stop for 30 minutes (even 15 minutes?) and deal with your mind screaming about how boring it is to just sit there. I mean, fucking hell, it is Saturday, after all, and you really should wash the car/get the groceries/call so-and-so and make plans for tonight while you have some time to do so.
No. Don’t call so-and-so. You won’t have time just yet. You can get the groceries after you put the clothes in the dryer. That’s usually a longer cycle time, anyway. No, with your clothes in the washer, you are going to sit down, place your hands in your lap, relax your back against the chair, and…
…just take break from the endless activity. Just take some time to rest from everything. Sit down for a while and just let it all happen. Do nothing. Take a little vacation from having to do something.
Just see what happens.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to sit still? Animals of lesser conscious authority enjoy stillness all the time. Dogs lay down in the sun. Cats spend most of their lives just, laying around, staring out windows. Birds perch on telephone lines, sometimes in groups, just sitting there, taking a break. But for some of you, this will feel like torture.
Listen, don’t worry. Restraining yourself from activity won’t do any damage. Nothing will happen. And that is the point. In fact, nothing is happening right now. It is the most amazing thing. Do nothing and see that your heart is beating, your blood circulating, your food digesting, your lungs breathing, eyes blinking, hormones secreting, without you even trying to do any of it. It’s all just happening for you. For your benefit.
And on your next laundry day, your machines will wash your clothes for you, giving you time to do nothing. To enjoy the fact that, for 30 precious minutes of your busy, busy life, there is nowhere to go, nothing to solve, and nothing to do.
This is the New Year’s gift I’m giving you: nothing.
Don’t bother thanking me It didn’t cost much.
For the start of 2011, I am wishing you nothing, and nothing else,
Surprisingly, shockingly, actually, I am happy to be back in India. I know, I know, for all the nasty things I’ve said about how difficult life is here, it’s amazing that I keep coming back or actually, gasp, enjoy it. But it’s not that any of my past criticisms have dulled, and it’s certainly not to say that I won’t get irritated by the next shop keeper who looks me in the face while contradicting himself to very simple questions about, say, whether or not he has tested the (fill in the blank) to see if it even functions before I purchase it. (e.g. “did you test it?” “yessir.” “and does it work?” “nosir.” “but you still want me to pay for it?” “yessir. you pay now.”) I am not kidding.
From my apartment on the sixth floor overlooking the river, I can see birds perched on water buffalo. I can see hawks coasting on wind currents above the trees, rarely flapping their wings for many minutes. I see goats and chickens roaming the small group of tin-shack dwellings inhabited by families who live in a kind of poverty that is unfathomable to someone like me. I hear piercing calls from hawks, the labored moo-ing from the water buffalo as they are herded off the street, and the ever-present grinding of two stroke engines emitted by the auto rickshaws down below. I see 30-year-old bicycles ridden by boys that are half their age, size, weight. I see dogs eating trash. I see men and women urinating on the side of the road. I see trees that line the other side of the river extending up to the burn platform where, at least once a week, a funeral procession will end, and a ceremony will begin.
Well, this is it.
I don’t quite know what I am doing here. Something inside me has known that I didn’t fully complete the last Satsang the first time. I really fought with Dolano when I was here in March. I didn’t trust her. I challenged her logic, actively looking for contradiction, for ways to invalidate what she was teaching me. It’s something I’m very good at. I can argue very well, or, at least, I think I can. (I’ve never actually taken a debate class and I don’t know how well I would actually do if I was pitted against your average high school debate team leader.) Nevertheless, it’s something I enjoy doing and, often, it’s something I do automatically - a sort of default way of listening and talking that’s been a habit since, well, as long as I can remember, really.
This habit has proven effective in so many areas of my life. It is how I examine business ventures and the character qualities of the people managing those opportunities. Likewise, it’s how I have made friends and kept relationships. It is how I developed my own unique, defensible, reasonable approach to life and philosophy…
And it has gotten me this far…. and, well, so far, so good.
But I won’t get any further with this approach. And that is why I’ve returned to Pune. If I want to progress further down this path of maturation and evolution, I’ll have to go beyond this skill. I may even have to let it go, as much as it defines me, and perhaps BECAUSE it defines me. Or because I think it does…
Without talking to myself.
Without giving subtitles to everything.
Without my critical analysis.
Cogito ergo sum is a LIE.
To be in this moment.
This. Just this.
To be or not to be?
I choose not to be.
Being means something must be done, some effort made.
What is, is without me. Without me doing anything.
Reality is just happening, unfolding, in this moment.
This is life, itself.
Because this is as good as it gets. If you can imagine a more/better/different experience than what really is, then you degrade what is here now. And then, you suffer…
But if you let all your thoughts drop away, then what is left is self-evident. It is, it is, it is. It goes without saying. And it is perfect as it is.
I have been so trapped by my mind. I follow my desires, chasing pleasure, avoiding pain. It’s too uncomfortable to keep the story of my identity going, and it costs too much. This body-life stream is too short not to be appreciated as the miracle it is.
So, I’ve returned to Pune to sit with my Zen master.
I may not write another entry while I’m here. It takes effort to write all this and I’d rather focus all my energy on what’s happening. Besides, talking about what I’m doing here is not only impossible, it forces me to put into words what is truly unimaginable - what cannot be spoken. If this sounds weird to you, if you think I’ve jumped off the deep end, you are right. But I will tell you this: I do not fucking care.
I would give up everything to know what it’s all about.
I am so desperate to answer the question, “who am I?”
I would give up everything to see through the veil of my irrelevant and meaningless daydreams and judgments, to see reality as it really is, unobstructed by thoughts, emotions, and the trappings of my identity.
This is why I’m here.
I spent the month of March in Pune, India, two weeks after a bomb exploded in a popular cafe. Soldiers and police were stationed every few streets and several roadblocks were set up to stop traffic. Ostensibly, this increase in security personnel was meant to provide more, um, security. In truth, however, it was an incredibly disorganized system (like everything in India) that enabled police to focus on their specialty: the extortion of passing motorists. Police harassment is the norm here and will continue to be until the government pays its police force a living wage.
And while I could go on and on again about how rough India is, I’d rather talk about something else. But, the thing I want to talk to you about is going to be difficult for me because, really, there are some things in life that are not even worth trying to describe. Their very nature defies description, like staring at photos of deep space or narrowly escaping your own demise. They are mind-blowing.
And, like describing outer space, it’s hard to find a reference point. Do you remember the first time you saw a picture of the Milky Way galaxy? Do you remember the way if felt when you realized that our little planet was in there, somewhere?
Here, do it now. Have you ever glanced at the timeline of evolution or the history of Earth and came to know your insignificance? Or, have you ever been confronted with your own mortality? It’s difficult to emote the experiential quality of facing your own death; it is so visceral, so personal.
And yet, here I am, attempting to do so. Or not, actually. I’m just explaining why I can’t.
I went to Pune to deepen my meditation practice and, one could say, take a few more steps down the spiritual path. I attended a course, of sorts, led by a Zen master named Dolano, who has been holding Satsang 6 times a year for the past 15 years. It is very underground and very, very radical as her methods are sometimes questionable and her approach is mercilessly direct. It is certainly not something that I would recommend for everyone.
Throughout the month, we covered a range of subjects that touched on the question of free will, the theory of Mind, and, essentially, the nature of consciousness. It challenged a few of my epiphanies; It upset most of my thoughts about life and death; It devastated all of my beliefs about my Self. If it all sounds really serious and deep, it’s because it is. And yet, at the same time, or perhaps, as a result of it, my understanding of these subjects has become very un-serious. The theory of Mind is a waste of time, free will doesn’t really exist (more on that in a future entry), and the nature of consciousness, ultimately, well, anything that can be said about it is no longer it. So while it is certainly interesting to wax poetic, opine philosophic, and otherwise create stacks (and circles) of thought in an attempt to figure out the why and how of everything, it’s much more rewarding to sit quietly, directly experiencing life, itself. This, you will note, is a marked departure from my previous philosophical inquires.
The foundation for the course, upon which everything else builds, is answering the question, “who am I?” For many seekers, this is where the search ends. For Dolano, this is where it begins. Dolano’s strategy is essentially this: spiritual seekers walk the path until they arrive at a cliff… and, well, she pushes people off of that cliff. No, I take that back. Shethrows them. And yet, it was the greatest and most difficult birthday present of my life. Still, I could not describe what I learned last month, even if I wanted to. It is not something that can be spoken. It’s a bit difficult and, uh, paradoxical: I have attempted to know that which cannot be understood. Do you know what I mean? Probably not.
I mean, I have tried. I’ve tried to answer my friends’ questions about what I did there but, most of the time, I find that my explanations leave them with blank faces, confusion, and disinterest. Maybe you’re even getting bored reading this.
So, rather than try to tell you about it, I decided to splice audio from a few of Dolano’s public satsang recordings in Pune, India into my latest 90-minute mix (for those of you who’ve been waiting for my new CD). I think it’s better for you to hear clips of her message directly from her, rather than my interpretation of it. Besides, it’s some pretty slamming tech-house.
So, take 90 minutes and listen to this mix in your headphones (most of the sound effects are imperceptible in your car or home stereo system). So, do that first. After, you can listen to it wherever you want, as you desire.
***This is a pre-release, due to slow upload speeds in Thailand. I am still working on mastering the volume levels throughout the mix. The real version, which will have more Dolano audio, will be uploaded when I get to LA in June.****
The set list is given below. All tracks are available on BeatPort.com
1.Aundy - Claude Von Stroke
2.Do what you want - Innocent Lovers
3.Sister Supreme - David Panda feat Cecilia Stalin
4.Balans - Darko Esser
5.Whatever I do - Andre Lodeman
6.Conscious movement - Harado
7.Desperately in love - Andre Lodemann
8.Ease your mind - Inland Knights
9.On my way - Nick Curly
10.A chico a rhytmico - Loco Dice
11.Immortal feat. Pirica - Kiki
12.Adelante - Alex Kenji
13.Ride with me - Roberto Rodriguez
14.Friend feat. Justin Taylor - Beatsstyles
15.Deviate - Manuel Tur, DPlay
16.Vertigo - Booka Shade
I’m now back home in Thailand, where the jungle meets the ocean. There is tremendous civil unrest in Bangkok, but I’m nowhere near it. Everything is fine where I am.
Truly, what am I doing here? The travails of India continue. I am constantly bombarded with so much noise, pollution, and all-out paradox that define India, that it’s best not to leave my apartment unless absolutely necessary. My girlfriend (Tasia) and I are going to check into a nice hotel next weekend, just to give ourselves a break.
Why do I come here, again?
I am here for yoga and, specifically, the study of yoga asana. Even more specifically, I’m here to practice a particular sequence of asanas called “Ashtanga Vinyasa” made popular in the West by a man named Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who passed away last year (in ‘09) at the ripe age of 93. Over the last 70 years or so, this man (whom I called Guruji or “dear teacher”) taught a sequence with very little variation from the way it was taught to him by his guru: a man named Krishnamacharya. It is safe to say that this method, more than the guru, is the real teacher. In his broken English, Guruji was famous for saying, “practice, practice – all is coming” and “yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory.” This is because in this method, the aspirant only learns by practicing. There is no short cut; the benefits cannot be learned; they must be experienced.
The primary series, known as yoga chikitsa, is a sequence of about 100 asanas designed to cleanse the body. It is a purification from various toxins that accumulate in the muscles and organs as a natural result of daily bodily functions: eating, breathing, processing hormones of the endocrine system, etc. It is focused heavily on forward bends and some spinal twists. After 5 years of daily practice (give or take a few months to recover from the occasional injury), I have developed enough proficiency in the primary series, to be allowed to complete the sequence here in the shala. Now, as of my second month here, I’m finally allowed to progress into the Intermediate series, known as nadi shodana, which focuses on cleansing the nervous system. I’ve only been given the first pose but, it doesn’t really matter. It all stops mattering. Ultimately (and daily, really), I don’t really care if I get another pose here or if I just practice what I know on my own for the rest of my life. I don’t care what the person next to me is doing. Competing with anyone else is pointless. It is about me, directly experiencing this, alone, on my mat. Comparing myself to how or what I did yesterday leads nowhere. The only thing that really matters is what I am doing right now. Right now, both on and off my mat, is the only thing that means anything. Everything else is just mental noise. So I take a deep breath, focus all my attention on the present moment, find balance in it, rinse and repeat. This is not always possible. I am, for example, essentially living in a construction zone in Brindivan extension (a suburb of Mysore); the neighbors are performing a gut renovation or their house for 11 hours every day: sawing marble, sawing steel, hammering everything within an inch of its existence… every day, since I got here.
Every. Single. Day.
You cannot imagine.
It wreaks havoc on my nerves and it’s all I can do to prevent myself from severely reprimanding the next Indian I see hitting their dog or throwing their plastic on the ground. I am reminded of something one of my teacher’s (John Berlinsky) told me, “the easiest part of my yoga practice is on my mat.” …but, I digress
The name, Ashtanga, is actually two words in Sanskrit: astho, meaning “eight,” and anga meaning “part,” “stage,” or “limb.” Vinyasa is also two words: vi, meaning “in a special way,” and nyasa meaning “to place.” It refers to how one of the eight steps, asana (postures), should be practiced. Lastly, the word yoga is Sanskrit for “union” or “joining,” as in controlling the connection between the physical with the spiritual, between nature and consciousness. Thus, the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system is an eight-step path to enlightenment; the unification of the body/breath, mind, and spirit. This isn’t to say that everyone who practices this method will attain enlightenment and to my knowledge, Guruji never spoke about enlightenment to his students – certainly not to many foreigners. But it is interesting to note here that yoga is both the path and the result of this practice. To participate in this method requires that the practitioner follow specific codes of conduct such as moral restraints and spiritual observances and, in fact, it necessitates a certain lifestyle: one that is based on routine, repetition, dedication, and devotion. This technique dictates that I am to make the same sequence of asanas every day, one after another, without variation and, if possible, daily, without interruption, for as long as I can. Each movement is associated with either an inhalation or exhalation. There need not be extra breaths between movements and one is never to hold one’s breath. The must be constant flow. Inhaling and exhaling, moving the body this way and that. Squeezing the internal organs and stretching the muscles. Bending forward and backward. Up and down. Massaging, kneading, activating, relaxing, concentrating. There is a lot of sweat and, in order to control the body, and keep the mind from wandering, there is the breath and the drishti, specific points on which to focus one’s gaze. The result is concentration that is focused like a laser, void of distraction (from external stimuli such as other people, noises, smells, and internal stimuli such as thoughts, memories, emotions). You could call this level of mind control a “psychic ability,” if the term weren’t so loaded with images of crystal balls. But, no, really, that’s what it is. And with this psychic ability, it becomes possible for a person to cut through all distraction, both external and internal, remaining focused on a single point of consciousness, known as ekagrata. Thus, after exercising considerable discipline to study myself, control my mind, and humble myself before all of Nature (i.e. surrendering myself to what is), the ancient texts state that I will become stabilized in unshakable serenity, regardless of the circumstances. Sounds nice, right?
But, it’s certainly not for everyone and those of us who practice this method are often accused of being cult-like devotees which, I’m sure is what it looks like, especially given the way I’ve seen some of my fellow practitioners behave.
For me, however, this practice has provided all sorts of perspective-shifting, mind-blowing, life-enhancing experiences that have been altogether earth-shattering. Most of them have been so personal, so weird and unexplainable, that they are hard to articulate. I really can’t talk about some of the things that I’ve experienced on my mat, nor can I explain some of the changes that have taken place off my mat. It’s beyond reasonable dialogue. Sometimes, it’s a feeling. Other times, it’s a realization. Every time, it’s deeply subjective. It happens to me. In me. This is not to over-sell or mystify the practice. This is simply to say that, for me, for my temperament and disposition, for my needs and strengths, this style of yoga was exactly what I was looking for. This method aims to calm the endless chatter in my mind, redirecting my attention towards my inner experience rather than my extroverted personality. Because, there are so many other paths that are not for me. Perhaps you didn’t know there were many different yogas? I’m not just talking about the recent incarnations in your local yoga studio: Anusara, Jivamukti, Bikram, Forest, and Baptiste Power Vinyasa, Yoga. Or whatever. Nor am I talking about the more traditional form of Hatha. Perhaps you didn’t know that there are yogas for action (karma), devotion (bakhti), chanting (mantra), and knowledge (jnana). What we call yoga, in the West, is really just one specific physical component that looks more like Hindu gymnastics than a philosophy of life… And this is what is most frustrating to me and my Ashtanga ilk. Since we take our yoga practice so seriously, since we hold this noble science in such high regard, and since we know that the physical practice is only preparation for higher stages of meditation, it’s sometimes painful to see how this deeply personal pursuit has been marketed, packaged, and sold to the masses. It’s irritating to see 20-something ex-bartenders become “yoga teachers” after attending some 200-hour certification. I mean, come on! It takes 1,500 hours to be a hair dresser! It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
But, it doesn’t matter, those who want to open the door to personal development will find their way. Those of us who want to go deeper will just have to look a little harder to find the Truth we are seeking. For me, for now, it’s this. Yoga is a means to liberate my mind from 30+ years of social/parental/intra-personal conditioning, a way to drop all the bullshit I think I know, about everything I think I know, and actually find out who/what I really am. It is so much more than a work out. It propounds a philosophy of existence. It proposes a theory of Mind. It presents a map of consciousness, the intellectual environment, the material universe, and it identifies a path to transcend all of it. It is all this but, at the same time, it is not a religion. And though the new-age set promotes it as such, it is not fluffy spiritualism aimed at opening your heart chakra. Unless, I guess, it is. But, whatever. It isn’t that, for me. For me, it doesn’t need any magical thinking or imagination to be more wonderful than it already is. I am like a scientist on my yoga mat: I experiment, observe, and repeat. In this sense, yoga means to make a laboratory of my body and mind in order to study the nature of consciousness in an attempt to understand the life-force that animates all living things. The thing behind the thing, if you get my drift.