“Wouldn’t it be nice if the problem were indeed the greed and wickedness of the dastardly individuals who hold the reins of power? The solution would be so simple then—simply remove those people from power, scour the world of evil. But that is just more of the same war against evil that has been with us ever since the first agricultural civilizations invented the concept of evil to begin with. More of the same will only bring more of the same. Surely the time has come for a deeper sort of revolution.
… Truly, to be an effective activist requires an equivalent inner activism.”
This post was written to bookmark and share an article titled Americas Artificial Heartland
It is almost an important article to read … almost because for me it resonated strongly with Robert Pirsig’s views on Quality (in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and our blindness to it due to a ancient man-made division between what Pirsig calls classical (favoriting structure, logic, sciences, etc.) and romantic (favoriting integration, hollism, etc.) views. The article gives a stark example of this destructive living division in consciousness as it exists today in American society (and from there is spreading like an infection across the planet).
Ironically, the author himself seems to manifest this division. The article benefits from a substantial subject matter. It could have been more clear, concise and penetrating in more plain-spoken language. Instead it struggles to elegantly-twist in complex sentences, fancy wording and redundant poetics and undermining the power of its message.
As I read it I picked out some quotes but when I viewed them outside the whole context of the article they felt fragmented and lifeless. So no shortcuts on this one, if you want to know what its about it you are going to have to read it from start to end.
this came to me via Arthur
“The power of attention is much greater than the force of self-restraint.”
“Our addictions and superficial pleasures aren’t only substitutes for something else – they are also glimpses of that something, promises. Shopping does give many people a fleeting experience of abundance or connection. Sugar does give many people a feeling of loving themselves. Cocaine offers a moment of knowing oneself as a capable, powerful being. Heroin offers a brief surcease from the pain that one had experienced as omnipresent. A soap opera produces the feeling of belonging, which properly comes from being enmeshed in the stories of the people one sees every day … Over time, their palliative efficacy diminishes while their destructive side effects grow. The drug stops working. We up the dose. Eventually that doesn’t work either.
The same dynamic currently afflicts our civilization. We constantly up the dose of technology, of laws and regulations, of social controls, of medical interventions. In the beginning, it seemed, these measures brought great improvements, but now they barely suffice to maintain normality and keep the pain at bay …
In both cases, the personal and collective, the fix masks an underlying malady. In both cases, when the fix stops working, the underlying condition comes to the surface, and there is no choice but to confront it. That is what is happening to our society today.”
Shortly after my previous on-the-mat update I asked my teacher to take my practice a step forward. To my understanding, the direction he took was changing from a langhana to a langhana-somewhat-brahmana practice. The previous practice was a healing practice, this practice has been a continuation of that healing togather with a sense of renewed vitality.
After I was given the practice I had a period of ~2 weeks of undisturbed practice. Then almost a month (a two week visit by Annelieke and then recovering from illness) of disturbed practice followd by almost daily practice (there was a 2nd visit by Annelieke with some, though less disturbance to my practice).
and then a short counter-posture sequence.
- asana#1: front & sides
- asana#2: 3 times with only exhale + 3 times with mild B.K. (hold after the exhale)
- asana#3: 2 times open + 2 times twist + 2 times open
- asana#14: 2 times exhale longer than inhale + 2 times with added B.K.
#1: I was intrigued to find how subtle variation effected me. I started by practicing alternating front and side (up side, down front, up font, down side, etc.) – and it anoyed me. I changed it to only up side (preferring to raise my arms on the side as a continuation of the movement generated by the breath), down front and I felt much better with it. In recent weeks I changed to 3 times up-side, down-front and then 3 times up-front, down side … which felt like a smoother connection to the 2nd posture.
#2: at first there was stifness, but I quickly found myself returning to (a) past movement range; (b) variety in range depending on my general well-being.
#3: At first the open twist seemed to continue the work I’d been doing in the previous practice in opening and softening the shoulders/shoulder bladed. Similar pains appeared at first … though not for long. I think I have arrived at an unprecedented relationship with trikonasana (both open and twisted).
#4: I was surprised to find physical strength, most of the development has been in the breath.
#6: The part of me that still likes and dislikes, dislikes downward facing dog very much. There is a kind of mini-trauma for me with this asana. My arms don’t straighten fully, which means they never arrive at a place where I can benefit from skeletal support, which means I have to rely heavily on muscles. This demands all of my attention. If I divert any attention away from my arms and shoulders I feel like I am going to collapse. So I have never (in all my years of practice) have really experienced a sense of settling in the posture. Having said that I started this practice barely holding 4 breaths of ~18.104.22.168 and am now holding 4 breaths of ~22.214.171.124 peacefully.
#8: Surprised to find I still had this range. Experiencing for the first time with such stark clarity an interplay between strength and flexibility.
#9: Again, surprised I had the core strength to contain this asana with quality.
#11: I moved savasana to after the raised leg postures where I needed it (I did not need it after lying twists). I’ve been needing it less and less as my breath is redeveloping.
#10: Subtle yet clear development – finding consistently more range regardless of general well-being. Previously tight-life directly manifested in this posture and limited my range. Also breath has become more peaceful.
#14: Reconnected with past range of movement. I started with two blocks and am now practicing with just one.
There is an overall sense of improved strength and vitality, though vitality is still very much linked to general well-being. There are few days when my general being is not well and I either do not practice or practice only partially.
Breath has really developed over this period of practice.
The most challenging postures have been: utkatasana (4), downard facing dog (6) and raised legs (9). In all three there is much less forcefulness in my breath after the sequence and a much shorter recuperation period.
In recent weeks I have reconnected with a softness that comes from aiming to complete these three postures with a settled breath. I began this journey coarsly by shortening the breath from a typical ~126.96.36.199 to ~188.8.131.52 … and I find the breath is gradually expanding again (though also with sensitivity to my general vitality and well being).
I have re-connected with a softer and more peaceful presence in B.K.
The pranayama practice has been fine though initially the 184.108.40.206 ratio was surprising. Now it is fine and even welcome.
Generally when I began with this pranayama sequence I felt like my energy channels were dead. The only sensation available to me was the flowing air out of my nostrils – it wasn’t connected to anything inside. I would describe the place I am currently at in this relationship as “undead” … not quite dead and not yet alive.
The illness with which I met the new calendar year manifested in my mouth: no eating, no talking, etc. The healing period after the illness had the typical coughing that lasted two+ weeks. However during this healing period I had for a couple of days clear nostrils like I have not experienced in many years. This did not last long. I believe that my nostrils may be slightly clearer then they were a few months ago, though not categorically different.
I’m surprised to find that even though it is a short pranayama sequence that I still experience some discomfort in the raised (nostril controlling) arm.
There is an overall sense of steadiness though of-course diversion and wonderings are there.
However there has been a noticeable change at the end of the practice. During the previous practice I’d arrived at an ending that felt meditative. This period has brought me to an ending where I, though steady, want to move on to a doing … not escaping, not agitated … more ready to move on … less ready for stillness.
As I’ve been practicing I found my body wanting to go places that are not yet in the practice. Rather then speculating where my teacher will guide me next, I thought to make a note of the wishes that my body has expressed and then see how those wishes align with how my practice will evolve. I have given a little thought to these wishes and I could reflect on their qualities and relationship to my perception of the practice evolution, but I have mostly opted to receive them as direct expression and wisdom of the body.
- Extend kumbhaka from 2-3 seconds to 3-4 seconds
- Add stays in the standing twists
- Continue into shoulder-stand after raised leg sequence
- Extend stretch in lying twists by extending one (top) leg
- Add lying back-bends
- Add mid-range movement/stay into seated forward bends
- Refine stay in pranayma
I usually start my practice with some Shakuhachi. I always go through some series of “technique” practices focused on quality of breath and sound. Sometimes, when I feel an invitation to do so, I venture into playing exploration.
It was at this junction that I first realized something that then seemed to be present on the mat and off it. For me to play something there needs to be an active wanting. The technique practices do not require this. For playing I need to want to express myself, to speak-out … to say something, if there is nothing I want to say, there is nothing for me to play … there is silence.
I think this describes a general change in my quality of energy. I am more alert, more looking for doing, more wanting. It is a delicate place for me given where I am. Though spring is here and physical work is available and inviting my inclinations of doing point in other directions … to places I do not yet have access to.
So on the one hand I welcome the vitality, on the other hand I do not enjoy the unfulfilled temptations it brings with it. For the time being I am able to feed this energy with physical work that is available to me. I have also been able to resume some website work … though it is expressive work … I feel it is not a healthy doing for me.
During the last few weeks (3 or 4) I have been experiencing a two-day cycle. One day of vitality and then a day that starts well but then crashes by mid-day … the crashes are unpleasant and I basically wait for the day to end.
Over the last week the crashes have been softer and generally coming later in the day. I’ve been able to sometimes softly go through them and rise again … delicately and patiently. I have surrendered to a short nap when it comes on (I used to avoid mid-day napping, because I could never quite resume sharpness afterwards).
When reflecting on this I also realized that is may be associated with another two-day cycle. Ffor a long time (I don’t remember how long) my cleansing cycle – bowel movements – have also been on a steady two-day cycle instead of once a day. This has been disrupted marginally during the last few months … but for the most part has remained a steady pattern.
I should say that this is noticeable time of change. The days are getting longer (by ~30 minutes every week). Winter is making room for an early spring. The longer days combined with more activity require more food. Very powerful winds. Much is shifting. Spring is a time of change and I seem to be half a beat behind the tune … so somewhat out of tune … in a constant catching up. Hoping, over the coming years, to find more internal resiliency which will manifest as a more stable external connection.
Yet overall this has been a period of very regular practice … I’d say 95% of the days … compared to ~80% during the previous practice period.