“You see all of us go through the same doubts. We are afraid of being mad; unfortunately for us, of course, all of us are already mad.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Dancing with Allergy

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About 2 weeks ago first subtle signs of allergy appeared. It was a subtle itching sensation in the back of my throat. As the days went by the signs accumulated and gradually intensified … though for the most part subtle (in comparison to past years).

The most stable aspect of my life is my daily practice. It is therefore the most reliable point of reference and reflection for me. I can tell how I am by how I am in practice. In past years I continued with my daily practice as long as I could until it collapsed in the face of allergy symptoms.

This time, when first signs of allergy manifested I met it differently. I began to change my practice. Instead of pushing forward with practice-as-usual (until I couldn’t anymore) I modified it to accommodate the allergy manifestations. Instead of just accepting that allergy has arrived I took it in and responded to it. We started moving together … dancing.

I was sweetly and softly surprised by what happened. For the first 10 days my asana practice responded to the symptoms. I gradually modified my practice. First by gradually removing practices that had a brahmana effect – that consumed my breath. Then by reducing my time spent in forward bends which increased my sense of congestion.

During these first 10 days I was also considering modifying my pranayama practice, but there was no need to. Changes in asana practice made it possible to stay with my pranayama practice. But there was a subtle qualitative shift there too. In the beginning, at the end of every part of every breath I felt that even though breath was complete, there was less space in the echo of the breath. Where there was previously a round softness there was now a sharper turn.

YET, during these 10 days I noticed something new. My nostrils are typically somewhat blocked. This is not from mucus but from some kind of tissue inflammation. Then, when they are inflamed, it takes only a little mucus to cause a sense of blockage. What I realized, and surprised me, was that when the allergy symptoms began my nostrils suddenly cleared. It was as if allergy had released a blockage that was locked in place and the blockage was transformed into a more vague and moving presence. For the first time over these years of reflection around allergy, it seemed, amongst its clearly dysfunctional symptoms, to perform a specific function.

As the days passed I continued to be attentive to the quality of my breathing. By the end of these first 10 days my asana practice had become short and concise … a preparation for sitting in pranayama, no more, no less. And then I finally felt a change was needed in pranayama itself. I reduced the length of breath and removed holds (I stayed with the same technique, pratiloma, which is why I was able to notice the clear and open nostrils). These changes allowed me to stay in a good cycle of breathing practice.

Today, about 15 days in, after waking up at 4:30am. This is the earliest I have gotten out of bed during this cycle of allergy. During the allergy period I typically I wake up with a sense that my breath is locking up, if I stay in bed it does so quickly, less so if I get up, get vertical and start taking liquids.

I got on the mat one more time. I did not complete a practice sequence. Between a physical tiredness and a weak and fragmented breath the practice became uninteresting, uninspiring and unappealing. I stopped practicing.

I practice because I want to. Because the experience of practice engages me, reveals me and reminds me of that I am. I do not feel that individual practices are in themselves acts of healing or self improvement. I do feel that it is a continuous relationship with practice which takes me through healing, health and beyond. I do feel that when a disturbance such as allergy manifests there is a qualitative drop in energy and well being. What matters most in such times is not how far I fall, but where do I fall from. If I am higher up on a scale of well-being, when I do fall, it is to a better place than had I been in a lesser place to start with.

Now I don’t want to practice. The practice experience is unappealing. Maybe I could discipline myself into practicing for a few more days. Doing so, I feel, would be a denial of where I am. It would also undermine my long term development by re-surfacing qualities (forceful, controlling, fear, etc.) which I have witness soften through practice and the life that has formed around it.

And so, I softly got off the mat, rolled it up and put it away. I remain softly curious to see what the coming days and weeks bring. Regardless, I trust that in a few weeks, when allergy symptoms have passed, my mat, my practice and I will resume our relationship.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment

Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality on: Is Trump Evil?

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I don’t know that there is any

A recent interaction with David on Twitter brought up the question Is Trump Evil?

David is making a great effort to present what Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality is and I have dedicated a section of my site to Pirsig’s Book Lila: In Inquiry into Morals.

While I generally agree with David about the view on Trump I have a reservation about the “Evil” conclusion.

David and I connected via email and started a debate chat … and with his permission I’ve moved the conversation from email to here so that it can unfold and be available to others. Most of the content will therefor be found in the comment thread below.

 

 

Posted in inside, Quality | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours

My shoulders, socks and lowerback … doing and not-doing

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Shoulders

My practice includes lying back bends with active arms. I start with my arms alongside my body and swing them “up above my head”. One of my focuses in this posture is softening and relaxing the shoulders every time my arms are placed back on the floor alongside my body. I have been working with this focus for a few months and there has been a gradual improvement:

  1. First I had to bring my attention to my shoulders at the right time (there are other focuses in the posture that require my attention).
  2. With my attention in place I was a bit mechanical in finishing each movement, noticing my shoulders were active and relaxing them.
  3. Gradually that become a more fluent movement … but still mechanical and somewhat separate … relaxing the shoulders came after finishing the movement.
  4. Then the two movements have merged. I am aware of my shoulders already when I start to lower my arms. When I am attentive enough I arrive with my shoulders down.
  5. Now the integration is expanding further. The question I am with now is how can I do the entire movement in such a way that no excess is created in the shoulders at all, so nothing need to be adjusted at the end of the movement. I am learning to engage my shoulders differently throughout the entire movement. It’s a curious learning because I can do it yet I can’t (yet?) describe what it is exactly that I am doing.

Socks

It’s warm enough for me to wear baggy pants that expose my legs somewhat during movement. It is also cold enough that I am still wearing socks. When I initially bend forward (on both sides) I have a tendency to pull up my socks. It is a distraction that I have noticed for some time. During winter, as my hands reached my legs I could get away with a more subtle distraction of slightly arranging the fabric of my pants. It was subtle because it kind of merged with placing my hands on my leg. Now the distraction is much more obvious.

This presents a subtle challenge. I do not know how to SOFTLY not-do something. Refraining from doing something echoes subtly with qualities such as self-judgement, an aha! of “catching myself”, expecting myself to make a mistake, etc. So while it may be possible to “not-do” something, I feel that it has more downsides to it than value. I also find it easier to move towards something I want than to escape from something I don’t want.I found 2 “wants” to support me.

The first is wanting to notice and better discern between the impulse to arrange my clothes and the action of actually doing so. I trust (from past experience) that doing so will, in time, resolve the distraction. Something seems to find satisfaction when it is given attention, making the action at first lest necessary and ultimately unnecessary.

The second is related to my eyes. For some time now, in the same seated forward bends, my eyes tend to open. So, I am trying to keep my eyes close. This is something very tangible for me to work with. More tangible then catching the impulse to arrange my clothes. I am curious to see which one (noticing the urge or closing my eyes) will take hold first.

Lower back

Because of recent life off-the-mat I have felt a bit of rigidness in my lower back and can best discern it in seated forward bends. Here too I’ve been on a subtle and gradual journey of learning:

  1. In the past I would have felt some disappointment knowing that I can bend better then I am doing in the present moment.
  2. Gradually I came to accept that my back is the way it is and to work with it as it is rather then wish it to be something else.
  3. That shift in attitude allowed me to experience a softness that improved my ability to bend. That softness improved my range of movement.
  4. That  softness also allowed my attention to move more freely (not that a-tension had been reduced) and to move to my core (abdominal area).
  5. Applying strength in my core further supported my back and improved my range of movement.
  6. Gradually I came to be curious (instead of critical) of any sense of limitation in my lower back (a curiosity which applies to all movement). I began to explore how to fully be with the limited range of movement. It became a practice of surrender … softening generated attention generated strength generated trust generated more softness.
  7. I realized that meeting limited range of movement was teasing out of me more softness and better attention.
  8. Eventually I came to appreciate limited range of movement (of varying levels, from slight discomfort to painful injury) and realized that what I was experiencing as limitation was actually my body protecting itself from further injury. When I came into that relationship I lost interest in overcoming the limitation.
  9. Since then, when experiencing more serious discomforts in my lower back, I know that I have an opportunity to refine my practice that I would otherwise not have. There are subtle things that I have learned about movement through pain or discomfort.

This kind of refined learning seems to be never-ending. I can, like in the present moment, feel more established in my lower back, less in my shoulders. Then another dimension opens up and I feel like a beginner again, where I previously felt established.

I continue to be surprised by the subtle relationship between attention, breath and movement (I haven’t mentioned breath much in this post because these days my breathing is stable and developing and less affected by life disturbances). From years of practice I feel I know better how to work within that relationship, but how it actually works seems beyond intellectual grasping … more like magic.

 

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

My Conception, Birth and Early Life

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I recently asked my parents to tell me about how I came into this world and this is what they were able to recall. How this came to be and the reason for doing this will appear in followup posts.

Conception

My mother (freshly married to my father) visited with a friend (another woman) who had given birth recently. When my mother held her friend’s baby in her arms she knew she wanted to have a baby too. To my surprise, my mother was passionate about this (I do not recollect experiencing my mother passionate about anything). My father was supportive but raised some questions about practicalities (both of my parents were students and living in a shed in a boarding school in a village setting).

My mother got off birth control and got pregnant with me. She has some sickness in the first months but other then that enjoyed the pregnancy very much. She felt good and confident. N

As my birth neared my parents reviewed a book of names and chose a name for a boy and a name for a girl. They did not know my gender. They opted for a name that felt fresh and young (stepping out of the cultural norm of seelcting classic / biblical names). The name they chose for me was “Ronen”, they liked that it meant happiness (though I don’t remember that meaning being brought to my attention, it is only much later in life that I realized that my name had meaning and wondered about how it related to me).

Birth

I was born in a hospital. My mother arrived in the morning hours. She was alone. Fathers were not allowed into the birthing rooms, so my father was in a waiting room. There was no one else with her, not her mother, not a friend. She was alone.

Labor was difficult for her. Epidurals were still not available but she did receive some medication for the pains she was experiencing. My head was not centered, off to one side, and so labor was prolonged. Forceps were placed on my head and used to get me out. I was born in the early evening hours. By then my mother was exhausted and disassociated. She does not remember the details of what happened after I was born. I was not given to my mother after I was born. I was taken out to my father for a short meet and greet. I was then taken away to a nursery. My mother held me for the first time only the next day. I did not nurse at all.

Post Birth

I got sick with Jaundice and was hospitlalized for two weeks. I was in the same hospital as my mother. My mother was released from hospital after 6 days. She came to visit me everyday until she was allowed to take me home. She was alone, and I was alone.

After I got over the Jaundice I was circumcised by a rabbi (not a surgeon) at my grandparents home. If tradition was followed, I was probably given some wine to soften the blow. During the ceremony the rabbi asks for the name of the baby and the name of the father and grandfather (you get the jist) so as to insert them into the prayer templates. When my parents responded with “Ronen” my grand-grandfather (my mother’s father who was a well known rabbi in the city) interjected, as if he didn’t hear their reply and said “yes, but what’s his name”. He couldn’t fathom the name “Ronen” and so, for the sake of the ceremony, my name was “Haim” (an established and proven biblical name that means “life”). Beyond the ceremony my parents stuck with “Ronen”.

Early Life

At the time, my parents felt supported by family in almost every context of their new life as parents. I felt that my father stated this in contrast with today where family feels far and fragmented and the feeling that we are living in a world where everyone is on their own.

During the first year of my life the Yom Kippur war began. My parents awoke in the morning to the sound of radio coming from somewhere outside their shed. When they turned on the radio they learned that war had started and continuous sequences of recruitment codes were being broadcast. Within a few hours a jeep appeared to collect my father who then disappeared from my life for 6 months. When he returned I did not recognize and rejected him.

My mother had a very difficult time during the war. She was alone with a newbor, in a remote place. She did not know even where my father was serving in the war. She wanted to leave to go be with either her parents or my father’s parents. But she was a teacher and principle insisted that she stay. She was offered assistance in the form of a young woman soldier who took care of my when my mother was teaching, and then came at the end of the day to sleep with us so that my mother would not be alone. My grandparents visited her regularly to bring her groceries and to help her with me.

During my third year of life I experienced a first asthma attack. At first my parents were very concerned, but once they arrived at the hospital and I was diagnosed and medicated they felt confident they could handle the illness. I asked them if something happened in my life around that time, that they could associate with the onset of the illness. They could not think of anything. However, in a roundabout part of our conversation they mentioned that my older sister also got asthma, and the timing at which she got it got my attention. It seems that my asthma appeared when my mother was in her first months of pregnancy with my older sister. It seems that asthma appeared in my older sister when my mother was in her first months of pregnancy with my younger sister.

I am Ronen.

 

 

Posted in About, Myself | You are welcome to add your comment

Robert Pirsig: Rest in Abundant Peace

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Robert Pirsig has departed. He was and continues to be a grand pillar in my consciousness. Though I have very little patience for academic philosophy, I do consider Pirsig a philosopher, a grand phiilosopher of our time . Grand as the myths that society seems to (mistakenly!?) assign to famous Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle (which he challenged and pointed at as culprits of much of our modern day suffering). His philosophy felt driven by a passionate need to make sense of an appearingly senseless world. His hunger felt like that of a starving person, not of a privileged theoreticist. He continually transforms my perception of a deteriorating world (which seems to evident at this time) to a world that is stubbornly moving towards better.

His first and well known book was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I have an interactive summary of it, maybe its time to release that). I have dedicated a section of this site to his second, lesser known (yet in my opinion more vital) book Lila: yetAn Inquiry into Morals.

Almost every day, as I look out at the world, as I read about other people’s interpretations of it, I wish that Pirsig was a part of the conversation. I feel that so many efforts by so many people to navigate the troubled waters of our times could be richly informed by Pirsig’s reflections. I believe his presence will continue to shimmer in the peripheral vision of human consciousness from where his field will continue to subtly inform us. I am pleasure whenever I see echoes of his discoveries manifesting in others ideas and realizations.

Though he is no longer in body, I feel him vitally present. The best words I can find to describe the experience of his departure come from his own writing. But not from either of his books, rather from an afterword added to a later edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In it Pirsig talks about the death of his son Chris who was stabbed to death on the streets of San Francisco. I did not want to change the original and so I invite you to hold “Robert” in your heart when you read “Chris”:

“Chris is dead … Where did Chris go? … What was it I was so attached to? .. Do real things just disappear like that? … What is the ‘he’ that is gone? … What had to be seen was that the Chris that I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it … Now, Chris’s body, which was a part of that larger pattern, was gone. But the larger pattern remained. A huge hole had been torn out of the center ot if, and that was what caused all the heart-ache … If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh of Chris and call if the “spirit” of Chris or the “ghost” of Chris, they you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter … it was not many months later that my wife conceived, unexpectedly.”

Robert Pirsig … your larger pattern remains … may you rest in abundant peace.

I am also holding gratitude in my heart for James Landis (with whom I corresponded briefly some years ago) the publisher who chose to support Pirsig’s work.

 

 

Posted in Expanding, inside | Tagged | You are welcome to add your comment