Can you tell that I get a backup of delicious things to write when I hold off or get too busy?
Briefly: on teaching yourself and the tradition. On the idea of guru and spiritual friend. An ego simile. Probably a number of Trungpa citations (and more death). Finally, and throughout, "relational" (as opposed to discrete).
Here we go.
Ego first: recently I was thinking of the ego as in a situation of constant threat, an "I" that must always defend itself or conquer something. "High drama," if you will, is the mark of the ego "I." I envisioned it as a human being whose choice is to either grab a hot stove burner, or else release it and drop into a bottomless pit. You can't choose one without pain and you can't do the other without terror. There may well be more apt comparisons, but that one really sings for me. And you (the ego) can spin it: I am not falling! I win! Stuff like that.
This is somewhat related to what Trungpa calls "poverty" in "The Open Way" in CTSM. We envision ourselves as needing MORE, needing SOMETHING ELSE, needing some kind of outside nourishment or information or whatever it is. And don't just pass it off as bad Vedanta, with that stupid catchline, "We are already complete." Trungpa doesn't play this bullshit "complete" card (it's not Buddhists for Jerry Maguire, after all). What he says is, we are rich. We are so rich that compassion is native to us. Apparently in his Shambhala warrior text, he says that surrender for the warrior is a surrender of privacy--we are so busy giving to other people.
OK, so, as we all are wondering:
"Hey Patrick, WTF is your practice like these days?"
On vacation time from schedule and routine, it's TOTALLY random. When I can't get a box of time from seventh series in order to practice, I do whatever I can whenever I can, in as little time as I can. Most recently I've had something like a 30 minute block in which to do, well, "something." What? Do I do sun salutations? Try to rip off a standing-poses-closing-poses short practice? A Swenson short form? WTF should I do? How am I going to keep up my Kapo work? It's confusion itself.
So I do little blocks of work on whatever it is that I think needs or wants attention. I wanted focus and exploration one day, so I did seven sun salutations (5 and 2) and then the first six poses of Advanced A, which SERIOUSLY revved up some dizzy energy in my whole body. I felt like I was in an inversion for about 45 straight minutes after that. Another day I did four yin-flavored Venki hangbacks in standing, and then the backbends of Intermediate (with no other poses before). Other times I do sun salutations, some or all of standing, and then backbends (which are never quite full expressions with that little warmup) and closing if I have time. I try to include dropping back if I do a fragmentary ashtanga practice. Often I can get some drop-and-stands, but I get crazy aches in the outer hips at night while sleeping, when I don't practice those steadily.
When school begins and regimentation comes with it (and that's a week from today), blocks of time will appear by force. It'll be a very "do or do not" mode of practice, and there won't be time to mess around and half-ass it. I expect this for a schedule:
MW: practice after daycare dropoff.
TR: practice after teaching morning sessions (probably begin at noon).
F: practice after seminar (afternoon practice), then daycare pickup.
S: potentially studio practice.
Su: too much baby; no practice expected (although I do teach).
When it gets too cold to be in the house/outside, I will again retreat to the Y, just like last winter. Exhibitionism central, which it turns out that I enjoyed.
As anyone who reads here frequently enough knows, I have a MOSTLY traditional practice except for backbends, at which point there's a big wiggle-room wedge in how I treat the entire matter of "pose-getting" and all of that.
Primary to Laghuvajrasana is totally locked. All of those poses have been OK'd by the equivalent of a senior teacher. Dropbacks and standing are problematic; I wasn't able to pull a single standup, for example, in TL's room. In a classical (or, if you like, uptight) enough room, I might not be doing any Intermediate. The last time I had regular exposure to a traditional room, which was summer 2008, I was doing up to Kapo and stopping there. TL let me go to Ardha Matsyendrasana but didn't allow the forward bends of Intermediate until the backbends got cleaner. I think I could reasonably expect that to be a stopping point for a while.
In my actual practice (for example, over last winter and the cold part of spring) I was regularly pulling full Intermediate, with some un-full expressions, such as Kapo to toes or feet (not heels) and Karanda lowering without picking up, and without hands-free-balance in Dwi Pada. None of those really confronted me as impossible. It would simply be a matter of continuing to work, and sure enough, one day outside in White River State Park in June, I balanced Dwi Pada.
This is how my practice becomes untraditional, but that's how I learned Primary, and I know I'm not alone in that. You do the whole thing, modify the hard poses until they come, and build your endurance and breath and flow and then it comes. So I'm doing Intermediate that way, or at least I was. Who knows where my Intermediate will be after a whole scattershot summer of partial fragmentary practices.
With regular practice?
I was getting a Pasasana wrist bind; I was getting up my feet in Kapo; I was getting head to floor in Supta Vajrasana; I was regularly landing Bakasana B within two inches of the armpits and with straight arms; I was hitting full Eka Pada on both sides with a Chakorasana exit; I was lowering Karanda; I was getting knee within two inches of the foot in Vatayanasana on the tight side (touching, on the other); I even held the bind in SUPV a few times.
How open are my hips?
As I said above, twice I've done sun salutations and a little Advanced A. In the second of those practices, I was able to do up through Bhairavasana with lefty behind head and up to but not through that pose, with righty behind head. Extended leg is straight, but floating, in Kasyapasana; with lefty back, gaze is up/back; with righty back, gaze is upwards. Lefty comes to face in Chakorasana, when righty is back; rightly floats about five inches from face, when lefty is back.
Why then do I not fool around more with that sequence?
Advanced A does, admittedly, have a lot of what I'm good at, up front and early. I LOVE putting a foot behind my head and it's getting comfortable. FBH in my body is MILES easier than advanced backbending. So the Advanced A begins with a lot of complicated side planking and FBH, and then moves to arm balances, and it is well-known that I can balance on my hands all day long and into the night. Why then not just go for it? Because I know that when I hit a pose like Viparita Shalabhasana, it's going to be like crashing a car into a stone wall uphill. It's going to be IN-fucking-CONCEIVABLE. It'll be Kapo with interest.
So that's approximately where my practice is.
What is it to be your own teacher, for an extended period? This is different from extended home practice. If you have a traditional teacher you see once in a while, then I imagine (practices vary, of course) that you'd do what said teacher gives you and then either get more poses when you reappear in that room, or not, and onward you go.
I have no such situation. I have to teach this stuff to myself. How is that done?
One advantage is that I do have traditional experience, so when I get information from some text like Maehle's book or Kino's Intermediate video, I can sort of "translate it" into ashtanga-ese, rather than just saying "Hmm, so I bind the hands behind my back and then take a walk, how interesting...". When trying the new poses out (or trying out new advice in familiar poses) I can think bandhas-dristi-ujjayi and see how it all comes together, get some feeling of how it's hard, how it's easy, what the game of the pose is. This also, with experience, goes for sequences.
Physical sensation also goes a long way toward guiding me (by what you might call the "inner teacher" or even "the guru") to a specific day's practice. Are my hips just generally feeling gluey? Let's do Primary and then see at Setu Bandhasana if I want to add any Intermediate. Am I feeling light, translucent, and practicing regularly? Let's see if I can keep that through a full Intermediate. In this respect, the experience of six years of practice is really an informative guide. Are my dropbacks giving me intense night-time hip pain? Time to work less on the dynamic backbending and more on longer holds (this has, in the past, turned me from full Intermediate back to Primary-to-Kapo). Is Kapo jamming up in a way I can't solve? Time to work on longer, deeper Urdhva Dhanurasanas. And so on. This also brings "life" into the discussion of sequence choice and pose emphasis. I don't generally add non-ashtanga elements unless I'm injured or SERIOUSLY uncomfortable (in which case I might do a Sweeney sequence instead of classical ashtanga).
Doing ashtanga practice while you do seventh series can be done, with a nod to the fact that bad sleep or baby/relationship/life crankiness DOES get into your joints. But in my practice, I need a RIGOROUS schedule; there is nothing more fatal to my discipline than vacation and slack time, where the daycare isn't rigorous or daily and where classes/housework/all the rest of it doesn't have rigid boundaries.
I generally support the "same practice every day, no tangents" approach to practice, but doing that while doing seventh series in a two-job household with a hard-to-get-to-sleep kid and a lot of fucked up emotional stuff going on is not even like doing practice while sailing on rough seas; it's more like doing practice while being avidly attacked by a gang of street thugs. So I have totally surrendered the "tick tock by the clock five breaths, same sequence each day" approach. It simply is not something I can do with this much life action going on. No wonder, so I hear, Darby and wife took five years off from practice when they decided to have kids.
Trungpa's Chapter 6, "The Hard Way." Two things that are interesting to me. One, the metaphor about the "doctor with a sharp knife." Two, the piece about "love has darkness in it, and one must take an aerial view."
In short, I think Chapter 6 is the proper smackdown of which all vapid bliss junkies have had a desperate need. Your spiritual friend is this doctor who, for your own good and your very life, is going to cut the evil shit right out of you with a sharp knife and no anesthetic. It's not going to be pretty or nice, and this is surrender. Not some fluffy bullshit about "oh, let it go" with your face upturned to the sunlight.
You cling to your evil shit, and you know you do. The ego with its hand on the stove burner. You can't just "surrender" into "bliss" and find inner peace. And you know why? It's because you DON'T WANT INNER PEACE, punk. You DON'T WANT IT. But now it's too late, and you realize, like Kafka's mouse, that you've marched right into the cat's mouth and now you're going to lose that bullshit you don't need, except you can't give it up; it's going to be taken from you. Peeling the ego's hands off that hot burner, and the drop is going to be pure horror.
But here's something I wrote on Facebook a while back:
"Neurotics forget that what they fear, isn't real. Asceticism takes the barest view of reality. Asceticism thus cures neuroticism basically by scaring it to death, which is, scaring it into reality. Because in reality there is no neurotic fear."
This is EXACTLY what my sex-relating samskara terror did.
It grew and swelled and crested over my world and put darkness into every corner of my life. It terrified me to pieces. And then it fell like the heaviest, blackest death you can possibly imagine, and it vanished. And that experience PROFOUNDLY killed something in me, which was the neurotic fear itself.
Or as a brilliant quote from Karen put it long ago, "You piss yourself with bone-shaking terror for a long time, until you finally realize it's all paper, and then you just lift it off."
This is why Chapter 6 ROCKS MY FUCKING SOCKS OFF: it's because it is honest, because it is precisely what we need to hear, and because it is fucking TRUE. He's not mixing metaphors. He is describing EXACTLY what DOES REALLY HAPPEN.
This "excruciating pain"?? That is NOT a fucking metaphor, IT IS NOT ONE.
Chapter 6 is not just advice, not just wisdom, not "to be chewed over" or some shit like that. Chapter 6 is a fucking DOCUMENTARY. I physically experienced, in real time, with my full bodymind, the events relayed in Chapter 6.
The other bit about love and darkness? It says (as the whole chapter does) that we shouldn't expect the path to bring us nothing but bliss and joy. In fact, I like how Trunga so far consistently disses bliss. "Sure, you could generate bliss by focusing purely on your own experience, but by the time you achieved it, there would be no one to feel it." He doesn't seem to give a fuck at all about bliss, and I really appreciate that.
It's a bit of an axe to grind on my part. I've been surrounded for too long with "spirtual" people who just bliss out on "letting go" and will tell you at will how glad they are to have "let go" of whatever it is--booze, their past pain, wheat gluten, whatever. It's like Oprah Spirituality(tm). There has been a lot of painful seeking in me, in large part because of blindness, but that's how it has been. I have a thousand metaphors full of pain and drive; a lot of fire, screams, a lot of hell. But also relentlessness, violence, cage-rattling, boundary-breaking, defiance, rage. Endless rage.
And in both lay Christianity and bliss-junkie spirituality, there never seems to be a place for rage. No, that's not quite true. It's something you "grow out of," like the animal body. Or you "achieve union" and "feel peace" and such. No.
No, that's bullshit and I've always known it. Milarepa achieved peace AFTER his murders, not instead of them. He didn't deny them; he took an aerial view. His teacher pushed him to the point of suicide, ran his madness around in circles until it almost closed all the way.
"You find (anger's) true, living quality."
The aerial view is BUILT on a tower of darkness, rage, pain, blindness, frustrations, wrong paths, intentional intensifications of frustration. It is not this blissfest with sunshine-turned faces and empty platitudes that tell us with ease to do things that are, in fact, difficult. Like "letting go."
Through systematic terror--jealousy, fear, financial woe, job search patience, sexual frustration--I reach surrender. Not through some simple-minded "letting go." And it takes fucking YEARS of systematic terror, not just some unpleasant nights.
So Trungpa tells us that love has darkness, has a characteristic that is like other's anger, has "speed and aggression" in it. There is nothing that is, in itself, pure bliss. Fuck playing that game; take an aerial view.
Death is relational, not a separate, discrete thing. How? Death is a relationship between the ego and the body; the body changes and the ego does not (wish to). This is more useful to us than considering death a discrete thing, because discrete things exist by themselves, and relational things exist only in relation.
It's a philosophical question of sorts, phenomenology. Why is it useful to us? Relational thinking reduces easy dualism. You can take it to anything and it makes it possible to complicate dualism on contact. Us/them. Me/you. Hands/computer. Pose/poser. And because we are dualists (we like that, thanks Descartes), this makes easy material for relational thinking, it's always a possibility to see things in a more interesting way.