I should not read around on the interwebs.
I often think of how a Gandhian vow was defined to me, way back in 1992 when I was in college, in a course called "Gandhi and Merton." It was really informative, and I liked it (with time) more than I realized while I was taking it. Gandhi apparently believed that one could not make a vow about anything one doubted that one could achieve; a vow was not to be a prop for willpower. This is in total opposition to, for example, how Americans make New Year's resolutions.
"This year I will stop smoking...no really!" A Gandhian vow would be like, "This year I will stop smoking," and you put the thing down and you never pick it up again, not because you Magically Succeed at willpower, but because you knew beforehand, that you had the willpower.
There are two definitions of "vow" there: in the Gandhian case, it's simply saying out loud what you know you will do. In the American case (and sure, more than Americans do this, and not all Americans do this, either), we're not sure that we can do the thing, so we say it out loud to see if The Powers That Be will PERMIT us to have the wish.
Nietzsche hates that about us ;-)
One can do more with this type of thinking: there are so many damn yoga blogs about whether or not the practitioner will make it to the mat today, or so many queries about if someone should be traditional or not, or when to take pranayama, or whole blogs about apparent disagreements between teachers, "who is right in this case, well, let's see what everyone says."
Maehle would do this in a cleaner, more authoritative way than I will, but do you see how fluffy and relativistic all of that is? "Will I practice or not?" Well how about you just practice or decide not to, and call it at that? "Am I traditional?" Well, do you have a teacher you follow? Do you have a tradition you follow? Yes or no? Ahh, I see, what you're REALLY asking is, "Is the tradition I'm aware of, worth it?" Why not just decide that it is or that it isn't, and then proceed? Or, as a teacher in Austin put it, "For your first ten years, you are just trying the system out." "When should I take pranayama?" Well, when does your tradition say to? Ahh, you have no tradition, or you're not sure? See the prior question. "Who is right in this case?" Well, who's teaching you? How much do you trust them? No, not much? Then why is that person your teacher?
One can cut and dry a lot of wheedling and in-the-middling with this type of thinking.
I am going to officially call my seventh series practice "transformative." So there.
Sure, you can hand me that Bad Advaita and be all, "There is nothing you need to transform, for you are whole already" and then I'll hand you my crazy sex samskara stuff and you can tell me all about contentment, right?
So fuck off with that shit.
Transformation's first siddhi is the ability to see through all semi-transformation, all pseudo-transfomation, all "talk" of transformation that has nothing to actually do with transformation. I said in 2011 that I would reduce my practice, in order to commit more fully to parenting, and I did both of those things. Gandhian vow. Did I want to make such a vow? No, of course not: one IS an ashtangi, right? One IS a practitioner, right? An identity, a discovery, a self, at last at last, right? All bullshit. Who cares what one is.
My Facebook feed is UNRELENTINGLY full of "happy yoga nuggets" and quotations of wisdom and little "discoveries of joy" and "feel good moments" and all of that Hallmark Card of Yoga nonsense. Now, TRUE, a lot of it can make one feel better, or open up a vista of new things to see, but MOST of it has that depressing "New Year's Resolution" flavor of "this is how I wish I felt" or "this is how actualized I know I can be!" where the "know" has nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with a flimsy untested faith.
Kierkegaard hates this in us ;-) So does Dostoevsky, for the record ;-)
What transformation does NOT provide, and in fact the new test that it creates, is that one cannot use this siddhi-for-seeing-the-pseudo to convey transformation to other people. It's as if seeing the actually-transformative from the shadow, is a completely separate skill from manipulating the actually-transformative and the shadow. Or, if you will, your transformation "eyes" have very very little to do with your transformation "hands."
It should be painfully obvious by now that I have a lot of shadow stuff in my sex stuff; anyone who can't see that hasn't been reading here for the past four years. I used to let that imagination run hither and yon, wherever it liked (and in fact that was my modus operandi when I was in my fuckedup marriage), and that resulted (particularly in those days) in a lot of time spent (wasted? spent? who knows anymore?) in online conversations and research (yes, I count some of that activity as research) and curiosity and discovery and so on. Nowadays, I hook my erotic imagination strictly to J (where it is suprisingly content to rest) and I address all of that energy as needed, down the shortest circuits and the most effective outlets. Saves time AND energy, and sure, one could be less euphemistic, but first it's not that kinda blog, and second, you read me loud and clear and You Know It.
This is why the yoga students I've talked about before, the ones I sometimes call the "enthusiastic submissives," are the most dangerous but also really interesting, energetically. They give me a CLEAR opportunity to handle my shadow, to really manage energy. Because the shadow is like, "go on, get in her personal space" and I make myself step back and replace my presence with that of the yoga, I make myself go against the shadow, explicitly, right then and there, face to face with it. I turn it down with no illusions. And I have never failed to turn it down, at least in my yoga classroom (there are not exceptions in my non-yoga life, but I didn't want to come on like He Who Beats the Shadow; that's pretentious). This is also why I had nothing to do with a student a few years ago who in email after a class basically said, "You can have me if you want."
So what are we, if we need to trust The Powers That Be, to grant us boons? What do we believe about ourselves?
I'll give you what will seem at first an unrelated statement: I believe that monogamy is chosen rather than built-in (either genetically or culturally in a way that is "so deep" that it's essential). Why does this matter? It means that my monogamy with J (for example) is a choice, and we actually did have that conversation, early on in our relationship, because I was doing a polyamorous thing when I met J. Now, don't confuse this with "oh ok you were dating two people at once" or "oh yeah you guys were swinging." The partner I was with when I met J, was doing real live theorized, intellectually defensible, practicing, workable polyamory. Was it messy and a lot of interpersonal work? You bet your ass it was. J asked me after a few months of this if we could "do" monogamy (because interpersonally, poly is just not her thing) and I agreed, so our monogamy was consensual, and I liked that.
This is a vow.
"Will you do monogamy with me?" "Yes."
As with most things, American culture is both willing and able to be stupid. Google "open relationship" some time and see the fascinating range of idiocy that you get, besprinkled (as again with most things) with some actually informative nuggets. Some of the most pernicious idiocy is this idea that men are "naturally" going to seek more partners and women will "naturally" pick the mate with the "superior" DNA, which sounds like a scientific basis for human behavior but which is total bullshit, in large part because human beings are social creatures and have a lot of social sex, and you just can't accurately make them fit a box like that, which might be accurate for reptiles but is just not the model for homo sapiens. Some of the OTHER rank idiocy available is that polyamorous people are "incapable" of monogamy just because it's not their choice--as if not committing to monogamy with your full faith is going to crack the edifice of relating itself, and the world will cave in. This kind of thinking is typical of American conservatism.
Compare this to my Gandhi vs. New Year's idea above: in one model, you choose to do a thing and you do that thing and the world continues to exist. In the other model, you need to have faith that you will somehow be enabled to do (by whom?) or stop being prevented from doing (by whom?) the thing that you want but don't actually believe you can have. And this non-believing often needs to be backed up by imaginary limits of "what's possible" and "what isn't" with a whole lot of bullshit pseudo-science and likewise bullshit "certainty" from some made-up authorities or "unchanging phenomena" (like "marriage" or "heterosexuality" or "decency" or some other undersea fearmongering horrorshow from the conservative imagination).
A vow is certainty. There was no doubt, no "me" to question, to wonder, "OMG, CAN I be monogamous, is it my NATURE?" Nature never fucking entered into it. "Can you do this?" "I can." That's it.
Now, wait a minute, am I not monstrously frustrated with my relationship right now? Why not re-negotiate? Good question; now, of course, I can re-negotiate (I would expect "no" as an answer, but that's fine, sometimes you get no), but the real reason why I don't re-negotiate is that I don't have the damn time or energy to get into another relationship. It would be like periodic booty call, and if I rev up enough imagination, I can basically do that one myself, energetically speaking (tangent: as with all things, the multiple bodies, the koshas, figure into EVERYTHING we do, because we are five bodies: if you take something that's usually considered annamaya, like eating, and you start to understand it in pranamaya and manomaya and other terms, it becomes freakishly intimate and interesting; you read me?).
This is not a copout. Poly people understand that relationships take time and energy, and it has nothing to do with "how much I need," but has EVERYTHING to do with "how much do I have to give?"
And to return to my opening statement here, ONE of the reasons I should not read the interwebs (or, apparently, my FB feed) is that a friend of mine liked this article called, "15 ways to make your marriage last 15 years" and one was basically how the husband (note how hetero the article is, too) should never criticize the wife, because she's already criticizing herself (essentialist feminine self-criticism? really? what a bummer), and another was "become each other's sexual rock stars" which basically said, "get really good at sexing each other, ask questions, figure out your deepest needs" which of course (as you expect, right?) set me off on exactly the rant I just wrote here. NEEDS? QUESTIONS? Not all relationships work on cutting each other down to the bare bones of intimacy. Not all relationships work on needs and questions and the discoveries that NO ONE ELSE HAS EVER MADE, don-don-daaa!! This article to me seems rife with all of the anxieties of unchosen monogamy. It really laid heavily on "it's the couple against the world" and "don't choose danger" (leave exes alone) and "be each other's best" and all this. As if monogamy needed to be cemented in, made into a fortress where you invite only your close (but not too close) friends in. "How fucking cowardly," to be honest, was my first reaction.
"How to Protect Yourself From Other People," perhaps would have been a better title. And of course, yes, sure, you do have to protect yourself from other people's interpersonal bullshit, not just if you're teaching in a yoga room but in many life situations, sure. But the whole idea of couple-as-fortress just made me think of Chogyam Trungpa's monkey stuck in the cement block with no idea why he can't move.
I can't tell you "stop disbelieving" or "exchange faith for knowledge," because only experience can teach you to do that. Maehle is big on this in his Sutras translation, at one point declaring, "You don't have to have faith in your right ear. You KNOW it's there."
If you're going to listen to Tim Miller on koshas (as for example in his recent Columbus workshops), then REALLY BELIEVE in the five koshas. Try that on for a while, is what I tell students. LIVE IN IT. And people made this big deal about Tim saying that his one-day workshops on the first three series were "the bullet train to samadhi." Idiots. You can't take a bullet train to samadhi without the PREPARATION; it wasn't about the destination, but how to streamline the journey.
"But, but, but, am I making the sattwic choice?" If you REALLY have certainty in that system and know your choices well, YOU WILL KNOW the answer to your doubting questions.
GET THERE: I'm not sure how to advise. For me, it was probably seventh series (but I didn't know this would happen). I committed, I set the vow, I did it. I got transformation, from what I call "doing the dharma." I got realer, more down to earth, than ever before (and sure, I still tend to have my head in the clouds, but I got real-ER, not realistic). And with it comes this unwillingness to take other people's half-assing nonsense, not in an uncompassionate way, but because of my own certainty as to what is transformation and what is not. Certain things are no longer questions.