I drove back from Durham on Thursday, up to Columbus Ohio, and had a marvelous sweatfest of a practice at a yoga studio there (well, on Friday morning), with the "Morning Mysore Club" that had to have at least twenty people cross in, out and through over 2.5 hours. Amazing membership.
So Friday morning after maybe five hours of sleep, I did the yoga there, drove the nearly three hours to Indy, found out about the Aurora Colorado horrorshow, re-entered the householding, played a lot with the boy, and had what Matthew would call a "going high" energy experience, like spiky flames shooting up toward my head. This resulted in rapid walking about the house narrating stuff to myself while J and the child were playing outside. It got pretty intense and crazy and I chilled it out, finally, with kefir (dairy always seems to chill me out, provide comfort, ease heat) and then oily pasta supper (which coincidentally a friend would later recommend--the oily warmth particularlly--for vata imbalance).
Matthew said he always thought of himself as pitta but is apparently dominantly vata. I've never done any serious Ayurveda but I have done some unserious Ayurveda and I'm certain I'm vata-pitta or pitta-vata, it varies. I have pitta anger, heat and discipline, but vata wandering, breadth and contingency.
Anyway. My Ayurveda is quite half-assed and so I'm not going to pursue any insight with it yet until and unless I more full-ass it.
Travel is a very uprooting experience for me. I basically go crazy before travel, and my loathing for packing is intense and long-lasting. But once I am off and away, it's all better. I would rather travel alone than with company, and I like leaving things out, because it helps me integrate with where I'm going; I sort of enjoy having to get stuff that I didn't bring along. Or at times, I just go without it, whatever it is. I get indifferent to old routines when I travel, it's very easy for me to give up an old routine when I'm not in my "home soil."
I also, and particularly when I'm doing yoga travel, very easily lose track of where I am, what it "means" (preconceptions, stereotypes), and what time it is. Travel really adds "space" to me, in the sense of spacing out, breadth, cosmic curiosity, astronautism. But rigidity in travel, particularly when imposed by other people: that creates RAGE. And that goes for almost any ridigity or even stabilizing of my experience: scheduling, telling me what I "must see," where I "must go," maintaining "who I am," all of that. Travelling with uptight people who need to be somewhere specific at some specific time and who have the trip all gridded out, just put me in a state of constant spark-throwing brain-grinding RAGE.
This is also why I don't like 9-5 jobs unless they come with opportunity for daydreaming and spacing out and applying imagination even to rote tasks (but I'm good at that, so it's rare that I TRULY HATE even a rote 9-5 job). I like open schedules, opportunities to run away, have lunch at 2 instead of 12, wake up too early, climb in the morning before class, whatever. Zigging and zagging so that no two days have quite the same energetic or colorful lines.
But at the same time, I love a certain type of routinization. I go through phases where the morning MUST BE coffee in the dark, the yoga, then yogurt with honey, and if that progression gets fucked up, my inner life turns into white noise. Same with my Sunday morning crossword: please STEP OFF and let me have my focus. But these routinizations are always ones that I choose; routinization from other people inevitably brings rage, huge flaming rage, destructive power, urge to annihilate with extreme prejudice.
Understandably, I think, control freaks and I are a relationship made in the deepest part of hell. We drive each other endlessly nuts.
J (who is an Aquarius sun, "the contrarian") will ask me, "How come you love routine if you're so revolutionary and all that?"
And I (who am a Taurus sun, the earth comfort sign) will answer, "Well they're MY routines, and that makes all the difference."
J: "But don't you do Someone Else's yoga?"
Me: "I do MY OWN yoga within someone else's pattern, yes."
J: "You're not submitting to an authority...?"
Me: "No...well....ok, if what looks like submission to an authority is actually providing a discipline which creates focus and ability to more clearly achieve one's goals, then that's not submission to an authority, it's following a method for greater focus of one's power."
J: "I'm not sure I see a difference there."
Me: "In this case, this discipline is good for me and has no payoff for the authority. So it's not authoritarian, which is always bullshit."
J: "I still think it's suspicious that you follow these authorities you don't even know."
Me: "Ok, but when it's disembodied like this, it's like there's no one there but me and the discipline, so there's no authority other than maybe that which I gain over my own business."
J: "Well why can't you just use self-control instead of having to do all of this obedience and discipline?"
Me: "If you can do that, then you apparently have what I'm working on, so, you know, congratulations!"
Our hosts in Durham, Fran and Kathy, are magnificent. They're aging hippies who do all this woo-woo stuff like read astrological charts and talk about energy, but I think Kathy got well into Intermediate, and Fran 2/3 of the way into Fourth series, before trading the ashtanga almost entirely for Matthew's "Vinyasa Krama" sequences.
The last thing I did there, the afternoon after the last practice session, was have a chart consultation with Fran. He's a sales guy, in charge of people, and has marvelous energy personally: he's direct, enthusiastic, total go-getter. As he put it, "Never in doubt, not always correct." He's softening his edges and it's a good idea. Here's some of what he told me about the chart based on my birth date (down to the minute) and location:
I am a Taurus sun, Aries moon, and Capricorn ascendant. Taurus wants to sit peacefully in a sun-dappled forest. Contentment. Capricorn is the Elder, the Teacher, and the ascendant is your mask, the thing you wear for others. The moon sign is relational, so needs to be read in relation to other things.
The twelve signs (Aries to Pisces) are set into a 12-house circle, and the houses generally govern areas of existence or energy. There are houses of Home, of Death, of Friendship, and so on. Part of how you read a chart is seeing what planets (all of which have meanings) are in what sign (and those meanings) and then what HOUSE all of that sits inside.
Right off, Fran told me that my sun is conjunct (i.e., close to and friendly with) Mercury and Saturn, and that those three planets are in the House of HOME.
Home, seriously? I said, out loud. He said, "The House of your Sun is the Key to your Sanity. So HOME is where your sanity is."
The Sun is identity; Mercury is intellect, brightness, sharpness. Saturn is long-duration, depth, and often difficulty, but also introspection. So my House of Home is governed by "me-ness," introspection and intellect. And this is home in a metaphorical and literal way: the home I grew up in, the home I will set up, and also my "home," my Self-home, who I am. Fran said, you're smart, and Saturn means there is work to be done in your home that ONLY YOU CAN DO. You have a task in your home and you are the only one who can complete it. The shadow side of this is self-pity, self-doubt, surrender.
Then we went on: Mars and Venus are conjunct in Gemini. Gemini is communication; Mars is warriordom, Venus is love, beauty and aesthetics. These are in the fifth house, the house of CHILDREN. Also called the house of play. I'd told Fran during the week that I teach, and he ran with it. You are a WARRIOR TEACHER, he said, creative and readily able to communicate things. I nodded, because that's completely true. The shadow side of play is love affairs; the shadow side of Mars is anger and violence.
Then we hopped up to Pluto, which is in my eighth house, the house of DEATH (but also, and Fran didn't make much of this, the house of sex, money, and transformation). Pluto is, as Fran put it, "hell." Wherever Pluto lands, one feels a thing all the way, does the work, goes through hell and comes out differently. He said, "God of death in the house of death, and this is linked to the problem you're here to solve, the Wound, from a prior life. Your eighth house is square to (i.e., three houses away from: Ed.) your House of Children, and your Pluto is in Virgo, which is precision and self-confidence, so it's possible that in your prior life, you inherited a lot of shame and guilt, which is the shadow side of Virgo, about the death of a sibling or a child. That's what you're here to fix."
That was pretty intense. I thought about that for two solid days after. But then I started reading up on Pluto and the Eighth House and found out stuff like this: Pluto governs transformation, and I've been babbling on and on about "transformation, man!" since I was a teenager. It should be overwhelmingly, almost stupidly obvious, to readers here, that I have JUST A LITTLE hell in my sex stuff. And also, actually, I have hell in my money stuff too, look at all my loan debt and my perennial clusterfucks in all things financial. So with additional reading, I'm not sure it's so deathy-death-death. I think it's more about obsessive transformation with total darkness as to method, and I think it's about sex frustration and pain (which contradicts my Mars/Venus conjunction in Gemini, because that's all sexiness and alluring personality and interpersonal ease) and I think it's about money trouble. Extend that just a little and you end up with my always-ready critique of capitalism and capitalist culture, which ever since college has extended to sexual practices, commodifying others, commodifying the body and experience, and my long CHOSEN ascetic periods when I feel that sex stuff is too fucked up and loaded with commodity vibes. Add to that my lifelong demand that sexual experience GIVE ME THE GOD VIBES, be divinely transformative, provide a kundalini Shiva-Shakti cosmic reunion and healing of all (Catholic; hi, House of Home!) guilt and shame, alchemical healing of everything that has ever existed.
I'm not making that shit up; that's been my rhetoric for almost two decades.
So when I started to dig into Pluto and that Eighth House, I was like, "Holy fuck, this is my whole fucking life." Every manifesto I've ever written has been about shit in my Eighth House.
More about how seriously to take astrology, in just a minute. I'm not sold wholesale on this business, but I think it's key to give you an experience of my self-recognition in it before I step back and call it useful for respinning one's narrative. We'll get there.
Fran said that "the Wound" (which at that point started to sound really and truly Jungian) is the "South Node" and is the sort of site of past life pain. It has an opposite, the "North Node," which is directly opposite it on the chart circle. My North Node is in Pisces, a mystical water sign, in the Second House. Fran said, "Here's your North Node, man, and it means, abiding in the love of God." Now, the second house usually means "money," it is called "the purse" of the chart, but the only thing in it is my North Node.
Fran read my Moon, which is in the third house (communication) in Aries, as the "Key to Happiness." Your Moon sign and house show the key to your happiness, and apparently mine is "facing your fear." Looking around the chart for what is called the Midheaven and seeing Jupiter up there, Fran added this: "This is Jupiter, who is success, and that's your Midheaven, close to Jupiter, which is your public success, your career, so if you can Face Your Fear and take some public risks, you might have a big payoff."
All of that in my head added up to, "Ok, I'm going to introspect my Home to stay sane, face Fear to stay happy, perhaps have social happiness as a result of that, and I'm a born teacher with an unconventional method (Fran and I had seen unconventionality from Uranus, the sign of randomness--Ed.) which has to be cultivated intentionally to feed my creativity and perhaps children, and all of that is going to wind up in non-attachment and inner peace and divine abiding. WOW."
The astrological chart backs up a lot of my narrative as I tell it, particularly all the shit associated with that Pluto 8th. But it also emphasizes things that I'd seen as challenging, unsure what to make of them, by which I really mean the Houses of Home and Children. Those are major planet-filled sites on my chart; five of the nine available planets are in Those Two Houses and my Moon is right next to them and my North Node is right next to that. Waaaay up opposite all of that are the far planets (except Saturn): Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Briefly: Uranus indicates non-conformity, randomness, what one writer calls "bolts from the blue." Uranus is opposite my Moon, directly, and this is interpreted by people online as emotional conflict, unsureness, tension and fear about self-realization as a weirdo. The moon in Aries is likewise spun this way: emotional pain, heart on sleeve, but perhaps also icy cold emotional control, inexpressiveness, over-rationalization of the emotional. Somewhere else, I read that Mercury in the fourth house is about emotional self-knowledge and Saturn in the fourth house is also linked to knowing the emotions, the emotional body.
So on that level, I also see a major challenge that DOES EXIST in me prior to the chart reading. The constant contest with emotions.
My Neptune is in Scorpio, in the 11th house, the house of Friends but also the house of Community. Neptune is abstract and dreamy, a sort of vague "being-space" and Fran said it was "interest in taboo shit." It is defined online (when in the 11th) as an interest in and great tolerance for darkness. Scorpio, of course, is the big sexy sign of the twelve. What do I see in my life based on this? The Abject Art course. The matter-of-fact way that I can talk about people peeing on each other for erotic thrill, and bloodletting, and body art and performance, and all of that. I mean, I used vomiting as an example of abjection on the FIRST DAY OF CLASS. Darkness of this kind and I are friendly, very friendly, because it's all about sensation.
So I can retell my narrative through this chart, I see a lot of things that echo, but what I did not see was that big ego-self emphasis on Home and Children, and sure, I could metaphorize that into "selfhood" and "play," but it just feels right to take those literally. What is my massive identity crisis about? Home and Children. What is my current dharma task? Home and Children.
Fran pointed out two things: at 42 years of age, because of the time it takes Uranus to make its orbit, everyone's Uranus is at a spatially opposite position from their natal Uranus, so you get an AUTOMATIC identity crisis. And he further said that right now, and probably for almost two years in either direction, Pluto has been in Capricorn, which is my ascending, which means that my mask has been going through some serious hell or as he put it, "fucking deep intense existential shadow work!" for a few years, and of course, that's entirely true.
I mean, irrefutably true. That's practically (broadly speaking) the only thing this blog ever fucking talks about.
But all the same, I think that astrological charting like this can be a useful tool, not some woo-woo revelatory thing you MUST commit to (although I have pretty much committed to karma and virtually to reincarnation, because they seem so informative in my understanding of how my shit works...).
Things to know: one, you NEED a chart-reader you can trust, if you do this. I trusted Fran to give me the two cents on my astrology. I think he cleaned up the Pluto a bit, but that's fine. Two, you need to go to astrology with an open mind which sits evenly between skepticism and clinging. In fact, it's good advice to go to most of life and certainly relationships, with that in-between mindspace.
Finally here, it's all relational. You can't do anything astrological with just saying, "This planet in that house means this!" That's just an amateur's beginning. To really do it, you've got to look at all your house and planet relationships, figure out which is stronger and weaker, and then even when you've got the messy relating of the chart figured out, then apply the day-to-day presence of the planets and other forces IN CONTEMPORARY SPACE and set up all of THOSE relationships to your natal arrangement. That's a hell of a lot of work and knowledge. Fran and Kathy said that they sometimes have workshops with Steve Forrest, who is THE yoga astrology guy, and he's their main astrology guru. I might well pick up one of his books.
It blew my mind when I realized how the yoga teaching and the art history teaching are the same thing. But we cannot start here.
It begins with Matthew on sensation: he asked us in the Vipassana-style meditations to keep the mind on sensation, not the thoughts ABOUT the sensation, but sensation itself. Particularly in the full-body scans that began the afternoon sessions. Later in the week he would say that feeling sensation means that the sensations are "not us," because they can be observed, the same way that we can observe thoughts and so they too are "not us."
However, he also said that in the cosmic view, no sensation is "good" or "bad," because sensation is one of the roads to meditation and to universal love. Space is the other. So when he, on one retreat, had a sort of vibrating/humming take over his whole body (this is his bit on "we are blipping electrons"), they just said, keep meditating. Body as sensation, as blipping electrons, quantum body, manifesting body, alive manifesting/unmanifesting, Process Body. Matthew calls this the "on" switch and says it has a feminine character.
The alternative is the "off" switch, which is unthinking, turning the mind to, if you will, a blank movie screen. Darkness and quiet. I got a bit of this on the fourth day, I think it was. Space, masculine, Vedanta, Shiva.
Going back to the "on" switch, Matthew invited us to try to separate "the felt" from the feeler (NOT from the observer, but from the feeler itself) and we could not. Body not as a thing that HAS sensations, but body as a thing that IS sensations. Matthew said that we are having sensations all the time, in and out. Digestion, blood pumping, noise, ambient warmth or cold, a thousand sensations, every second, all the time. He said that with concentration you can feel your own liver or feel liquid dripping down each of the two urethras. So, ideally, when you are "feeling sensations," you move from the local and specific ("my hand, my eye, my knee") to the global, the whole body at once, the whole sensorium.
Wait, isn't sensorium the word that "tactility" people use in film studies to talk about phenomenology? And don't theorists of affect talk about the sensorium as at least the equal of the intellect in reckoning with a thing, like a red ship? How it feels is as important, perhaps more so, than what it is.
And I forget now where I was when I talked myself into this, out loud. In a car? On the road to Indy? In the house? Cannot recall. But I ask students to feel things, to experience the sensation of immersive film viewing, the affect of quasi-pornographic video in a classroom (because site matters, affectively). I ask them all the time to do this: Dada poetry is "made in the mouth." It's not inspiration and imagery but moving your face around. Abject art. Video immersion. All of that, over and over: FEEL THIS! FEEL the art!
When I first showed Paul McCarthy's video "The Painter" (you can find it by hunting around on ubu.com if they haven't taken it down or had to take it down), students were insulted, thinking that McCarthy's incoherent, murmuring moaning English was either a poke at cognitive disability or else that he was so disabled. This is the AFFECTive power of McCarthy's language in that video. So what you FEEL isn't always going to be pleasant; aesthetics don't always play nice, and it ISN'T always about beauty and light and spirit. This is, in a nutshell, the whole 20th century project in Western aesthetics.
But in the body, you don't always feel pleasure and spiritual uplift either. Not maybe unless you've read a lot of Georges Bataille. Matthew was making fun of the way that Americans say "restroom" while the Brits and Australians will simply say, "toilet." "I'm not resting in there," he joked. And exactly. Fran quipped, "Feel the sensations!" and that was both hilarious and completely on-target.
Because, right, exactly: this is abject art. What is it to make videos of your assistants making themselves barf, and videotaping it (Martin Creed, "Sick Film")? What is it to can your own shit (Piero Manzoni, 1961)? What is it to make Abstract Expressionist "zip paintings" out of blood (Andres Serrano)? Feel the sensations, because this is a body, and that's life. Ron Athey, Bob Flanagan, Annie Sprinkle, and so on and so forth. Watching a McCarthy/Kelley video. Or whatever.
And somewhere in the week, Matthew said that one could lay a Shiva/Shakti dichotomy on top of all of this: Shiva is the mind, is Space, and Shakti is the body, is sensation. The tailbone, the kundalini snake, the muladhara chakra, lower elements, the guts, the orange core that Matthew said "is also the divine." Feeling is "the Divine talking to us," he said. No matter what it says.
So when I had catharsis in the pressup backbends and Matthew said, "Let that move up and down the spine," it's Shakti, the divine talking. Tightness in right hip. Tweaky sensations in knee ligaments. Sweat in the eye. Shakti, shakti, shakti. But not the sensations alone, the divinity of them. Another case of revealing what is true, that we don't see at first. Sweat in your eyes during practice is like, "Gah, must wipe." But sweat in your eyes during practice as the divine speaking to you, is different, even if you wipe the sweat away. Something changes in awareness that way.
And that's it: something changes in awareness that way. I don't tell students that, you know, for example thinking it's hot to see some guy with a crystal penis putting it to use (because we saw that in the Abject Art course: Tunga, "Cooking," from the video "Destricted"), is The Divine Speaking To Them, but I do ask them to live in the affect, not to run, not to box it up. Let it wiggle around. Then let's be a community again, talk about it, share how it works, what it turns into, and by that, who we are, what we can become. And it's all interpersonal, much like talking about sensation or color or whatever, during our meditation sessions with Matthew.
And those are the same thing.