You and I both know what asceticism is, right? And who ascetics are? Sure, asceticism means giving stuff up, and ascetics are not just people who give up these things, but (and I think this is really part of an active stereotype) ascetics are also those preachy people who can never tell us enough times or with sufficient volume about what they've surrendered and how important it is/they are and how morally-or-other superior they are either because of their better health or their discipline or both.
So an ascetic is disciplined, for sure, and (to those around them) likely annoying with this preachiness. I used to know a woman who turned "juicer" because she wanted to extend her lifespan. Nothing about quality or anti-factory-farming or anything like that: pure and simple lifespan extension, pure issue of mortality. Fair enough.
You'll expect, probably, given how few punches I've pulled of late, that I'm going to beat up ascetics. Not so. I'm seeing some current practices of mine as ascetic, but that's not a label I'm willing to accept (because "ascetic" is also, and very much so, an identity) without a little finessing first.
Easier one first: I started having pain from the wisdom teeth on April 2, and stopped drinking booze at that point. I'm still off booze; today is day 28. What is this about? Mostly it was about pain and pain-killers, but now I'm six days off painkillers, and still have no real desire to drink booze (particularly, craft beer, which I was drinking about 8-12 pints of PER WEEK in March). It has nothing to do with claims to moral superiority or health, calories, all of that. It has everything to do with curiosity about discipline (can I just refuse it, no matter how much I'd like a pint? Let's find out, hm, yes, ok) and also the realization that I'd been drinking booze to put down stress or at least to draw a line between myself and my stress, but those are not healthy (psychologically speaking) reasons to drink booze. Those are the roots of an addict's reasons. Can I drink booze out of celebration? Probably. What is there to celebrate? This week's coming birthday? Maybe. We'll see.
Primarily, I understand booze as a social buzz; it promises "company" even when you're alone, just like coffee does (same imaginary promise). So an under-companied extrovert like me is drawn to coffee and to booze out of the social factor. I tend toward solipsism, too, which means basically that my imagination is almost stronger than my reality, so when I'm alone and can "drink myself into company," that really WORKS for me, but then reality is, by comparison, depressing, which I can see leading to the need for further intoxication--see how the cycle begins?
So I'm currently a little puzzled by how/why I might drink booze, and it's backed up by my second ascetic practice, to which we now turn.
Ok, as you expect (it's been a while since I deviated from this formula), I am about to GO THERE again, in the usual euphemisms but with a bit more detail than before, so if you'd like to stay out of my writing-bed, please skip to the next section.
I've gone through several periods of what could be called sexual asceticism, but really, it's been more like emotional asceticism, or maybe what one could coin "interpersonal" asceticism. When I was 16, I swore off all female people, because they were (as I put it at that age) too damn confusing. Now, I hadn't really any close female contacts to "give up" at that point, so what I meant was, I'm going to stop lusting for female company. So that asceticism was very much of the emotional variety. I did it. I completely stopped relating to women with any "romantic interest" for ten months. It didn't really reduce my angst about the whole affair, but it did reduce any horrifying awkwardness at the same time that it reduced any chances of coincidental marvelousness.
When I was married, I pretty much swore off any sexual contact with my then-wife, because her body issues mixed with Catholic guilt mixed with rapist ghosts mixed with passive-aggression was FAR too toxic to bother getting close to. Talk about putting your head in a lion's mouth. I still wanted her to behave "like we did in the old days" (i.e., our first five months together), but that never happened.
It's occurred to me that I need to say something about "who I am" in these terms also, because you can't understand what one refuses without understanding the desires and fears of he who refuses. Otherwise, this will all come out as some objective indictment of "how screwed up women are," and that's both inaccurate and impolite.
I'm highly verbal, and I prefer partners who are also highly verbal. If I feel like you keep your "private business" actually private, and particularly on an emotional-energetic level, I'll find you very difficult to relate to as a partner. I can read this kind of energetic honesty and foregroundedness (or its lack) on people within a few minutes. But at the same time, this really isn't about sexual behavior ITSELF, because I can also read people who are "easy" but "shallow" pretty much on contact, and I find easy shallowness to be deeply repulsive. Really I prefer partners who are keenly aware of their embodiment, their physicality, and who also have clear psychological-intellectual-emotional links to and through their physicality. You need to BE your body, to get into a relationship with me. And ALL of these preferences are not so much what I want from partners, but what I MYSELF WISH I HAD. So partners need, on a certain level, to PROVIDE, and to BE, what I'm worried myself that I am not.
This is, in one way, what my post about Gandhian vows is about: the desperate desire to become myself, to find myself in a relationship, an embodied relation, to meet the REALITY of myself, beyond and better, alongside and integrated with, my ferocious intellect.
This is also what my coursework is about: Surrealism, Abject Art, video art where the art is immersive. Affective relations, feelings and sensations, immersion and totality, bath of the senses, all spectators one, bodies relating, all in the same experiential pool. I make a point of striving to turn my classrooms into this.
It's all that same desperate (so desperate!) wish to FULLY OVERCOME the mind-body problem, the key to all suffering in my existence.
But this is also how I become the Cult Leader, the paradigm of embodiment, speaking yoga with one hand and hallucinatory immersive art with the other, creating a whole bunch of drug-addled naked followers rolling about together, like the climactic orgy in the film PERFUME.
And for all of those reasons, I can't solve any problem through sexual expression or through relationships. None of this leads to what the Sutras call the "Shining Self."
And in this way, what some people call "the heart" becomes that Third Way between the intolerable poles of Mind and Body. Body can't heal Mind: it can't. If it could, I would know by now how to do it.
Sorry folks! If you made the jump to avoid the sex stuff, you'll just have to JUMP AGAIN because I got into a more productive tangent there (but the good news is, you can now go back and read, in relative safety! Whooohooo!).
Let the euphemistic section begin!
What J and I usually do, even in our silent-and-infrequent nights these last few years, is begin in some fairly innocent touchy/snuggly position, with some chitchat about the boy or what we'll do in Seattle over the summer vacation, or some other random topic. If I'm interested in more, I move a hand somewhere (which might not be any of the classic hot zones, right? Because for some people, an earlobe or the side of the neck, or the foot, is totally a sex organ, let's not be simple-minded, eh?). J does not give verbal consent these days, and I really wish she would, because I both like it for clarity and because consent makes me hot. So I have to sort of increase the touch-ante and see how/if she responds to it. Often she responds in a silent affirmative (breathing, moving, some signal of that type) and things proceed nicely from there.
Less than a week ago, things proceeded like that, and then they got TOTALLY awkward. I had gotten to the "increase the ante" phase, and there was *no ambiguity whatsoever* about what was going on (I can't politely say more about that without transforming the nature of the blog). Let's just say that no one could have been confused about the topic of the touch-as-question.
Total silence, and no movement. Not just non-verbal non-consent, but more like total silence, utter shutdown, but with no hot emotions, not even sadness, no trauma, NOTHING. Like caressing a parking meter.
And that's NEVER happened to me, ever in my whole life. When I get physically close to people, it's because I've gotten INTERPERSONALLY close to people, and she just totally shut down the interpersonal, as if she switched her own humanity to "off." I was completely horrified and backed off and then she started this random conversation about the boy and the weather, that went on for fifteen minutes, then she drifted off to sleep.
I stayed awake trying to process that for THREE HOURS. And then the whole next day, and night, it was like nothing happened. No resentment, no trauma, no bringing it up for question or discussion, nothing. Literally like nothing happened. And J does not repress stuff like that, she doesn't keep stuff under wraps. So this had me thinking, "Wait, You've Done That Before...You've Had That Sorta Relationship Before." She has said that past partners have found her unresponsive, even calling her "frigid" in one case. And J DOES fit play in around work; she has always been "work first." So if she's got a lot to do, or doesn't have energy to spare for play, she just shuts play off, she just stops existing there. AND she's an introvert who never gets enough alone-time for recharging, with the boy and work and such, and so she's really starved for time and space for self-realization, and while I find sex play to be massively stress relieving and productive, I can see how she finds it One More Damn Thing To Do.
So maybe that's what happened.
In any case, it completely horrified me away from sexual contact with her. I do NOT get close to cold people. That DOES NOT HAPPEN. But as I was processing this, I realized that if I backed away totally from the relationship, I'd help to chill the whole thing to perhaps-unrecoverable coldness (duh), and so I HAVE TO retain organic contact with the relationship, which means that, for my own interpersonal PROTECTION, I have to choose the nature of my sexual interactions with J. Not on a simple basis of refuse/engage, but conditionally, occasion to occasion. I have to stay right there, up close, but I also have to control my own participation in our relationship where all of this is concerned, I have to be able to raise, lower, and otherwise manipulate the energy as needed, on command.
No longer ever again can I be prey to the appetite alone, trying to "satisfy it." First because that's impossible (see many posts on "samskaric business"), and second because it's damn time that I was in charge of my sexual business rather than it being in charge of me.
OK, welcome back everyone.
So long story short, I've given myself the mission of being in charge of the energy, and currently that has meant sexual asceticism. Asceticism in the sense that I'm avoiding imagery and language that stokes that energy, but also accepting that when I see people in the halls in strappy summer dresses, there's going to be some appeal, and it's ok, and also, that when I grab J in a hug and get turned on because that's what happens, that's also ok.
Energy management (in any respect, any energy at all) is never about "yes" and "no." That's far too simple. It's really about awareness, first the sheer ability to feel the nature, density, insistence, the "direction" or "tendency" of the energy. Yes and no are answers to questions that maybe we pose about the energy, and in a sense, they only come after the management, the interaction (perhaps interaction has a less "managerial" flavor). Playing with energy doesn't necessarily circuit up through the mind for a clear "yes/no."
I was thinking about this in terms of asana practice: if I want a floaty jump-back from Paschimottanasana, it's not a thing I think about. I change the gaze up to my feet, press into my hands, inhale and pull the feet to crossed, and really press into the base of each finger, inhale up, and then exhale is pure extension back. Gaze moves down under, maybe in a way pushing the hips up and back, like the gaze chases the hips backwards. And if my feet scrape and I didn't "want" them to, I immediately break a smile and cease caring. Keep breathing and go to the next one.
Energy management isn't about "I made a thing happen," it's not all this bullshit about "manifest the Secret" (as I've snarkily said here before). Energy management is more like conscious focus on the ability of the energy to "reach" or "recede" and the force with which it does so. My teaching in the art history classroom is a good demonstration of energy management, and it FEELS GOOD to teach in the highly performative and somewhat seat-of-pants way that I do. There is a call for papers in a conference on teaching, where I will send an abstract soon, and it's about "innovative strategies in the art history class," and I'm really tempted to put in a thing about energy management, because the common belief now that lecture is by definition a stultifying format ("students are born multi-taskers and become bored"), is really unthought.
Boredom comes not from a format, but from the energy and force that is IN that format, and so really (by me, anyway), bored students are produced by bored teachers. Or, put another way, if students don't ramp up the energy of a format, and the teacher doesn't ramp up the energy of a format, that energy's PROBABLY not going to get ramped up, and that's why throwing an eraser or setting off a fire alarm is a valid way to ramp up that energy.
Is lecture in this way "boring"? I don't think so; I teach lecture classes of 80 students as if I'm doing stand-up comedy, complete with call-outs and random emotional "outbursts" and tangents and then a "return to topic" as if we're a TV show coming back from commercial.
This is getting pretty tangential, but again, it feels good to write here and to really let all of the people that I am, come out to play. To try to make this a "yoga" blog, especially after seventh series started, was just impossible. "Where" is the yoga? "How" do I contain it? Contain it? Fuck that, the last thing I'm after is containment.
Unless of course it's about asceticism, right? But even there, energy play isn't about containment, it's about feeling the force and, when and where necessary, interacting with that force. More focus; narrower beam; broaden the reach. Requests of this kind. Like shining the world's coolest flashlight around the universe. Like closing your eyes and feeling the walls of a subterranean cave with just your hands and feet.