“Truth is an empty cup.”
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Religiousness in Yoga Part8: aṅga, yama, niyama, āsana

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Yama & Niyama

… Yoga does not offer us a specific method, in that, if we do this, such will happen … Yoga also suggests that our attitude towards things can help in this movement toward reduced avidyā and freedom from duḥkha. The entire practice of Yoga, as we are beginning to see, consists of certain attitudes, action and their consequences …

… Attitudes towards “the outside” are called yamas and those toward the “the inside,” niyamas. These are the first two of eight limbs or aṅgas used in Yoga …

Part2: Yama

Yama can mean discipline, restraints, etc., but attitude may be a preferable definition. If we have a particular attitude, it may also be a discipline …

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra considers five attitudes (yamas) or relationships between an individual and the “outside.” The first is ahiṃsā. While the word hiṃsā means injury, cruelty, etc., ahiṃsā means more than merely the absence of hiṃsāAhiṃsā means “thoughtful consideration of people and things … we must consider our circumstances and accordingly follow this concept of ahiṃsāahiṃsā is conditioned by duty. We have to do our duty. This could even mean that if our lives were threatened, it would be our duty to fight.

The next yama is called satya. The word satya means “to speak the truth.” … Speaking the truth is good, but not if it harms others. We must consider what we are going to say, how we are going to say it and how it will affect others. If speaking the truth will harm someone, it is best to keep quiet. Satya should never conflict with or work against ahiṃsā

The third yama is asteya. Steya means “to steal” … asteya means “if we are in a situation where people trust us, we will not take advantage of them.”

The next yama is brahmacarya … the root car meaning “to move” and brahmā meaning “truth.” Brahmacarya is “to move in the direction of truth.” It is often used to mean celibacy. However, it more specifically means that we must create a condition in our relationships to other beings and things that fosters understanding of the highest truths. If we move towards the understanding of truth and sensual pleasures get in the way, we must keep our direction and not become lost …

The last yama is aparigraha … means “hands off,” “not to grasp” … “to receive exactly what is appropriate.” … otherwise it is exploitation.

The Yoga Sūtra described what happens when these five attitudes become steadfast in a person. The more we develop kindness and consideration, that is ahiṃsā, the more our presence engenders friendship.

Satya … For everyone who speaks the truth, there is no difference between what they do and what they say, and what they say, will be.

It is said that to a person with asteya all jewels will come … they will have access to everything that is precious in life.

If we do everything possible to move towards truth, brahmacarya, we will develop a capacity to go in that direction. The more we see the importance of this, the less we become involved in other activities. Naturally, we will need great vitality to pursue this course. The word used to describe this vitality is vīrya … [it] is linked to the word śraddhā … [which] means love or faith … the more śraddhā present, the more vīrya we find we have.

Parigraha is more and more a movement towards materialism. The reduction of parigraha, that is, aparigraha, means we turn more inward. The less time we spend on having possessions, the more we have to investigate all that we call Yoga.

Part3: Aṅga

Aṅga means a limb of the body. When we are born, every part of the body grows together … In the same way, if we are moving in a positive direction, things mutually and simultaneously develop … aṅgas must grow together.

Part4: Niyama

Niyamas, like yamas, are attitudes and are not to be taken as actions or practices. The five niyamas are more intimate in the sense that they are attitudes we have towards ourselves. The first niyama is śauca, or cleanliness. There are two parts to this … external … is simply keeping ourselves clean. Internal śauca has to do with cleanliness or the internal organs and mind. The practice of āsanas or prāṇāyāma could be an internal śauca.

The second niyama is saṃtoṣa, a feeling of contentment … Instead of despair when our actions don’t yield desired results, we progress and learn from our actions …

The next niyama is tapas … means to keep the body fit. It is like heating the body to cleanse it … to bring out aśuddhi, “dirt” inside the body … Posture, attention to food habits, breathing are all tapas that help us to avoid the accumulation of “dirt” … [tapas must not make us suffer]

Svādhyāya is the fourth niyamasva means “self or pertaining to ourselves.” Adhyāya means “study, inquiry, etc.” … to go near. Svādhyāya means to go near yourself … the study of yourself … We are encouraged to read ancient texts because our reaction to what we read will tell us something about ourselves … Sometimes svādhyāya is taken to mean the repetition of mantras

The last niyamaīśvarapraṇidhāna means “to leave all our actions at the feet of the Lord.” … This attitude suggests that we have done our best, therefore we leave the fruits of our action in the hands of something higher than ourselves …

Part5: āsana

The third aṅga is āsana. In the theory of āsana … there are two aspects … we must be comfortable and at ease (sukha) and we must be steady and alert (sthira). We must be involved and at the same time attentive. Yoga suggests two ways to achieve these qualities … Locate certain knots or resistances in the body and by certain means release them. We achieve this progressively using the concepts of vinyāsa and counterpose. The means we use to release these knots must not adversely affect our bodies … If we force our bodies, the reaction will be negative and painful.

… the second suggestion is to have a mental image of a perfect posture … An explanatory metaphor exists in Indian mythology, represented by Ananta, the king of the serpents … a cobra is carrying the universe on its head and at the same time is providing a bed for Lord Vishnu. The cobra must be relaxed to provide a comfortable bed … That is the sukha concept. Yet the cobra cannot be dull and weak because it is carrying the universe. That is the sthira concept …

… It is said that if we really know how to use āsanas we will be able to handle opposites … because we know how the body behaves, we become sensitive, we know how to adapt. A test for āsana practice is our ability to adjust easily to extreme cold and heat … if we need to stand for a few minutes, we should be able to stand; if we need to sit … we should be able to sit …

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Religiousness in Yoga Part7: Improvisation in Asana

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

… As we continue āsana practice using a variety of postures and breathing in a planned sequence, somehow we get used to the routine. Gradually our attention to our practice decreases … This, then, is a reason for improvisation, to bring a new quality of attention and a sense of discovery to our practice.

… If we are doing āsanas and the mind continues to wander, we are not doing the āsanas, only our bodies are doing them … There is a need to focus the mind and this happens automatically when there is attention and discovery.

Another reason for improvisation is physical improvement … Improvisation can help solve a physical problem and can also us to avoid duḥkha. What might be good or possible for one person can have a negative effect on another. We must carefully consider a person’s condition and then improvise so that he or she might gain something without getting into trouble. That explains why, in our practice classes, we suggest different things for different people.

One last reason for improvisation is efficiency, to get the maximum results through minimum effort … If we know how to do a posture in a intelligent way, we can achieve the most beneficial results from that posture …

The easiest way to improvise is to modify the āsana … attention is placed on different areas or needs .. variations … help give everyone a sense of discovery. If we modify a posture we can see how it affects the different parts of our bodies.

Another way of improvising is to modify our breathing. For example, we can control the breath to make an inhalation equal to an exhalation … We can make the time of inhalation equal to the time of holding the breath or we can make the time of exhalation equal to that of holding the breath, or any number of variations.

… Also, what we do before a posture can determine where the action will be felt. Often people say they feel nothing in a posture. They want to feel something in their muscles and they think nothing is happening. To assist people in learning to feel, we can change a technique or being with an opposite posture before the main movement. This will assure them that something is really happening.

One more way of improvisation is to shift our attention during a posture to different parts of the body …

There are two ways that we do postures. We can do a posture dynamically, that is to repeat the movement ,and we can do it statically, that is to stay in a posture. Within these types, the following variations are possible:

(1) Free breathing. Inhalation and exhalation as long as possible using the throat restriction.

(2) Making the inhalation equal to the exhalation …

(3) Making the exhalation twice the length of the inhalation.

(4) Holding the breath after inhalation.

(5) Holding the breath after exhalation.

(6) Holding the breath after both inhalation and exhalation.

(7) Inhalation, exhalation, then doing a pose while holding the breath …

(8) … to reverse the normal breath movement patterns

… Improvisation should not be done at random … Generally, improvisation should be done only when it is warranted … Otherwise … we will be more distracted than helped by improvisation.

… Normally, we breath in a certain way beginning in the chest and moving to the abdomen. Inhalation involves the upper portion of the torso, the chest and diaphragm, as well as the spine. Exhalation, in terms of movement, involves the contraction of the abdomen. If we want to increase the effect on the chest we concentrate on the inhalation. If we want to increase the effect on the abdomen or stomach, we concentrate on exhalation … if someone has a weak heart we never hold the breath after inhalation because it builds up pressure and increases anxiety. For such persons, we usually establish an inhalation/exhalation ratio of one to two.

… Generally it is all right to move from Yoga practice to other activities provided we rest in between. Moving from other exercises to āsanas presents problems. The whole attitude when we run or play … is different from when we to āsanas … we might not be present in our practice. Physiological problems could also arise. In some sports … muscles are always contracted. If we immediately try to do stretching or bending backward exercises we will develop cramps. If we must do āsanas after physical activities, take a long break. We should avoid sandwiching any other activity into a planned sequence of āsana practice.

… Generally anything before prāṇāyāma is all right provided there is an adequate break for transition … If we are going to engage in a competitive sport after prāṇāyāma, we must allow an adequte transition because this breathing practice makes us calm. We have to boost ourselves a little bit before we do vigorous exercise … On the other hand, a performer who might have stage fright will find that controlled breathing is very helpful … a very relaxing prāṇāyāma calms the nerves.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part6: Puruṣa & Prakṛti

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

This chapter is a brief overview of Samkhya.

In this excerpt I’ve elected to let the live teaching setting in which this book originated by letting the questions come through. I believe that the questions (and answers) capture well the essence of these teachings by encountering (and re-framing) often unspoken metaphysical assumptions.

Part1: Theory

According to Yoga teachings, the world is made up of only two things. One is the puruṣa, that which sees, but it sometimes prevented from seeing clearly by avidyā. The Yoga Sūtra uses the word draṣṭṛ for seer or observer. That which is seen by draṣṭṛ is dṛśya … We think and we know that we are thinking, so we are able to see not only the outside but also the functions of the mind. Next the senses function as the instruments of perception. Finally there exist the objects of perception, all that is seen, the whole outside world. This whole process is not one of distinct events; they are interrelated. In fact, all things that fall in the realm of the seen were created from the same source … this common source, called pradhāna, had no relation with puruṣa. When the puruṣa came in contact with pradhāna it was as if a germ sprouted. This germ, prakṛti, multiplied and the material world evolved. First came mahat, the great principle. After mahat came ahaṃkāra, the “sense of I.” From ahaṃkāra came the tanmātras and the indriyas. The tanmātras are the characteristics of sound touch form, taste, and smell. They were created in this order … from the subtlest to the grossest. The indriyas include, besides the mind, the senses of perception and action. Those of perception are hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling; those of action are vocal, manual, locomotion, evacuation, and procreation. From the tanmātras came the bhūtas or elements of space, air, light, water and earth.

This is a brief and incomplete summary of the theory of evolution set forth by the Yoga system … What happens in the outside world influences us and what happens in us influences our relation to the outside world …

There is no source in Yoga that explains whether the original of primal pradhāna or puruṣa was from the Lord or simply there. there is no description of the puruṣa other than thatit sees and only through the mind. We cannot do anything about the quality of puruṣa; it is constant. Our practice in Yoga is to effect a change in the quality of the mind so that the observation of the puruṣa, which is through the mind, is not distorted. When the mind thinks it it seeing rather than the puruṣa there is avidyā, and this is the beginning of duḥkha … It is important that we remember … puruṣa is unchanging; prakṛti changes, and mind is a part of prakṛti.

… There is no other way to describe puruṣa. It cannot be seen by the mind. We only know it is present because sometimes we have clarity … puruṣa is an active witness uninfluenced by that which it sees … According to the Yoga Sūtra, the whole saṃyoga or confusion between prakṛti and puruṣa is in our life so that those who are inclined to seek clarity can learn the distinction between correct and incorrect understanding. In this sense, Yoga is optimistic; we move through our recognition of problems and confusion into a quest for clarity.

… Observation only happens if there is an energy and an inclination on the part of puruṣa to go out, as it were, and bring back an impression. This is different from modern physics where there must be light in order for an image to come to the eye … something must provoke us to see, to listen, to think. That which triggers this action comes from the puruṣa, not from the outside. Often external things try to provoke and yet we do not react …

Part2: Questions

Question: How does this relationship with the puruṣa come about?
Response: … Any stand we take will be speculative. How can we know? We develop many theories because of our discursive intellects. Who can experience the beginning of the world?

Question: Does puruṣa have the potential to explain things like what happens after death?
Response: There is no death for the puruṣa because there is no change for it, and what is death but change … any explanation we give for actions that we have or have not experienced comes from the mind because words emanate from there. Words do not emanate from puruṣa.

Question: Does puruṣa act?
Response: Its action is that it sees … It does not act in the sense of walking or talking. All actions that we are able to see come from prakṛti but the source for these action, the energy, comes from puruṣa.

Question: Does the puruṣa go into another form when we die?
Response: … There are quite a few theories on this and you can accept whichever you like.

Question: Is there an explanation for how the mind can bring about changes in itself?
Response: … it is difficult to say we changed because we practiced Yoga, Zen or any other system. There are those who change as the result of practice and those who never change in spite of practice … We never know. What we do know is that somehow the qualities of heaviness and “dancing” in the mind are eliminated … Something fundamental must happen at the right moment, something so strong and so striking that we really want to stop, think and change our course of action. After that happens, little by little we progress.

Question: Clarity is a state of mind or quality of mind. I don’t understand the need for the concept of puruṣa?
Response: … who is going to know if there is or is not clarity? We need an element outside the mind to witness clarity. That is why puruṣa is important.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part5: Saṃskāra, Puruṣa & Prakṛti

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Saṃskāra

… dust that blows on the skin is harmless, but if a tiny particle gets into the eye we suffer … a person who seeks clarity becomes sensitive like the eye … That is why there is always more apparent duḥkha for a viveki, one who is seeking clarity, than for someone who is not …

Yoga uses the Sanskrit word citta for mind and cit for the puruṣa. Citta means “that in us which thinks it is the thing that sees.” Cit is “that which sees.” … When the mind is free from heaviness or “dancing,” it has the clarity of sattvaguṇa.

The triangle is an outside object. The image of it falls on the mind so that the cit can see. If the mind is colored, the triangle appears colored to the cit. If the mind is dusty, then there is no image at all. If the mind is clear, the cit sees the triangle as it is.

… Yoga describes wisdom in seven steps. All of these steps are complicated except the first, which is an understanding of that which should be avoided … We might not know what to do, but we recognize the problem. That is the first of seven steps of wisdom, prajñā.

… we must consider the five faculties of the mind. (1) Pramāṇa is an activity of the mind that registers things accurately through the senses. (2) Viparyaya is an activity of the mind that registers things that are never accurately confirmed. (3) Vikalpa is imagination, that knowledge or understanding based purely on words and ideas with no substance or reality. (4) Nidrā is dreamless sleep. (5) Smṛti is memory, the activity of the mind that retains the experience of an observation. These faculties of the mind work together. With the exception of nidrā, at any one moment there is likely to be a mixture of them. Any of these faculties or a combination of them is not necessarily a form of duḥkha but they have the possibility of affecting the amount of duḥkha.

… Think of the mind as a camera. The image of the object is projected on the mind through the lens of the senses, but the seeing is coming from the direction of cit (puruṣa). The puruṣa observes the mind. If the mind is colored the image is colored; if the mind is clear, the observation is perfect. Since the puruṣa can observe only through the mind, the quality of observation depends solely on the state of mind … The puruṣa, in fact, provides the power for the mind to see … The mind cannot see by itself … That is why in Yoga we work with the mind. We can’t do anything with the puruṣa.

… is it the mind that decides where to focus our attention? Very often the mind does make that decision. While it should not, it does, because it has been conditioned to do so. We called that saṃskāra, constant and automatic movement of the mind in a particular direction. This is why some of the practices we do in Yoga are so important. In āsanas, for example, we do some excercises that are not conditioned by our usual mental activities and yet are not beyond our capabilities … This sense of reorientation is communicated in the Sanskrit term parivṛtti … failing this, the mind will continue to take over … The mind is not the master but very often it behaves as if it were. Therefore, it is useful for us to do some things which give the puruṣa some scope to see. If we get into a groove, the mind takes over and the puruṣa becomes ineffective.

… Clarity means you see how the mind functions and are able to handle it … We know what will lead us into more or less duḥkha. This is clarity. This is why we use the word viveka, “to see both sides.” We are able to see what we are and what we are not. When we used the word asmitā we defined it as ego. Asmitā is also a state where puruṣa and the citta are mixed up and often form a unit within us … When the puruṣa and the citta can be separated, we have viveka, the ability to see both sides.

… one might ask “What is to be done with duḥkha?” … the only duḥkha that matters is that which is about to come. Things that have happened or are happening must be accepted. Tomorrow’s duḥkha can be avoided … The whole of Yoga is an attempt to do this. We know duḥkha is coming as long as avidyā is prevalent. The only origin of duḥkha is avidyā.

Saṃskāra is the total of all our actions that condition us to act in one way. Kāra comes from the root kṛ which means “to do” or “to act.” Sam means “complete, accumulated.” Saṃskāra may be either positive or negative. We try to create a new positive saṃskāra, not to reinforce the old, negative … If this new saṃskāra is powerful, the old one causing duḥkha will have no effect … As the new ways become stronger, the old ways become ineffective … The Yoga Sūtra tells us that we should create powerful new saṃskāra to cause the old to disappear. Then it tells us, don’t stop there but go on until there is no saṃskāra. Let us concern ourselves with only the first step now.

… when we do Yoga, we develop increased sensitivity. If we become preoccupied with this sensitivity we might increase avidyā … If we carefully observe our actions, we will not have this problem.

Part2: Puruṣa & Prakṛti

… In this world we have two things: puruṣa and prakṛti … the term used in the Yoga Sūtra for puruṣa is draṣṭṛ, for prakṛti, dṛśya. Draṣṭṛ is the seer, that which sees; dṛśya is that which is seen. Avidyā exists when these two get mixed up. When the distinction between them is missing, it is known as saṃyoga. At that moment the seed for duḥkha is sown.

One of the expressions of saṃyoga is asmitā. Asmitā is when the seer (cit) and the mind (citta) are associated, mixed up and held in an inseparable notion of I-ness … This association of two distinct entities often leads to problems.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part4: Vinyāsa, Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Vinyāsa

… Will someone who knows nothing about Yoga recognize the difference between it and gymanstics … merely by looking at a book on Yoga āsanas? Yoga … is not an expression of form for others to watch. We are doing it for ourselves. We are the observers and we are the observed … if there is no self attention, it is difficult to call it Yoga …

It is important that Yoga practice be planned in a sensible, organized way … we have a starting point. Our condition before beginning the practice, which we discover through some investigation, is this starting point. We then ascend gradually … we prepare the body … After we slowly ascend to the “crown” or apex of our day’s practice, we slowly descend …

In Sanskrit, this concept of intelligently conceived steps in order to reach a desired point is called vinyāsa. If we want to do a particular posture, we need to find out what is involved in the posture, then prepare the body and breath so that the posture can be done without strain. In planning a sequence of āsanas there must be preparation.

… Postures must not inflict torture. We must take steps that will make us happy, sukha, to be in a posture.

… While preparation is important, another important point to explain is the descent from a posture or its compensation. Compensation is to counter the negative effects of a posture … We call such compensation a counterpose … we first teach preparation, then we teach the counterposture …

… We should always start with the easiest things … and little by little we can introduce the more difficult …

The counterpose for a given strain is generally the easiest pose opposite to the direction of the strain … The reason we do this is to return the body to a normal condition … The counterpose for a given posture is not always the same. The counterpose is decided by the effect of the original pose rather than its form.

… Postures can be done in two ways, either dynamically through repetition or statically, by staying in the posture for some time.

It is always better to do a posture dynamically before we try to stay … allowing the body to get used to the position, and compensate.

… Rest is also important to our planning. Obviously we must rest if we become breathless of unable to control our breath … [or if] some part of our body becomes tired and sore … During rest periods we have a chance to feel the muscular effects of the posture … Rest is also required before doing prāṇāyāma … the more time spent doing āsanas, the more we rest.

Part2: Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa

… There are four parts to breathing: inhalation, exhalation, and retention after inhalation and exhalation. In āsanas we should never hold the breath if it is going to reduce the length of the inhalation or exhalation … Holding the breath can be used to intensify the effect of a posture … retention after exhalation increases the posture’s effect on the abdomen . On the other hand, if we inhale and hold the breath the effect on the chest is increased … In forward bending postures there is a tendency to hold the breath after exhalation. In backward bending postures … we hold the breath after inhalation.

We can also use retention of the breath to increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation … In Sanskrit this practice of making the exhalation longer and holding the breath after exhalation is called laṅghana … “to fast.” In this case we are “fasting” the lungs. Whenever there is a problem below the diaphragm, we do laṅghana. Likewise the concept of increasing the length of inhalation and holding the breath after inhalation is called bṛṃhaṇa … “to expand.”

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Religiousness in Yoga Part3: Avidyā, Dhyāna, Svatantra, Pratikpaksa, Duḥkha, Guṇa, Prajñā, Kaivalya

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Avidyā

” … We never know when a particular form of avidyā might arise. It is like planting seeds. The moment they get water, fertilizer and air, they sprout … We should never relax when we appear to have no avidyā … Therefore, we emphasize that this movement towards understanding, this practice, which we call Yoga, must go on and on until avidyā is reduced to a minimum. A few days of āsana practice and self-inquiry might help for a short period of time, but it will never help forever. Practice is cumulative and gradual … We can be better than yesterday, but we can be worse tomorrow …

Avidyā relates to action … depending on the power or potency of avidyā, our actions will have positive or negative effects … Action is understood to be of two types. One type is action that reduces avidyā and brings understanding from the puruṣa, and therefore true understanding. The other type is action that increases avidyā … Everything we do in Yoga … aims at reducing avidyā.

2: Dhyāna

… One way we could prevent negative actions, actions we might regret, is called dhyāna. In this context the word dhyāna means to reflect. This reflection may occur when we plan a course of action, and then imagine its exact opposite … and its ramifications. Then we come back to our original plan to see how certain we are … It affords us the occasion to examine our actions from a distance.

3: Svatantra

… Yoga makes us svatantra. Sva means “self.” Tantra means “technique.” We use our own system, our own methods … While consultation and guidance is a help, there is no doubt that finally we are the best of our own actions.

4: Pratikpaksa

Pratipakṣa is removing ourselves from the situation by doing something completely different … Take the problem of my coming to Hamilton, New York. It was a big decision … At such a moment and after much thought it is better not to discuss Hamilton versus Madras. I went to a concert instead. Here there was no conflict. In this environment I made a decision to go to Hamilton … subconsciously my mind is working without external pressure … the time we get in dhyāna is extremely important in that we can reflect and through this reflection gain quality of action.

5: Duḥkha

Duḥkha is a disturbance of the mind. While sometimes the words sorrow, misery and disease are used to define duḥkha, it is best identified as a feeling of restriction … When we feel we have a lot of space, have a sense of comfort and openness, that is the opposite, sukha

What is the relationship between duḥkha and avidyā? Any action resulting from avidyā always leads us to one or another form of duḥkhaDuḥkha can express itself in different forms. We never know how it might express itself. Sometimes we feel choked, sometimes it is mental.

Duḥkha comes about in a vicious circle. When we see something that we want and are able to get it, there is no duḥkha. If we are unable to get it, this is the beginning of duḥkha. Very often people have this type of duḥkha even when they are trying to improve their lives. They become so thirsty for understanding that they are unable to get understanding as quickly as they desire … This form of duḥkha in which we see something we want but are unable to have it is called pariṇāmaduḥkha … There is also tāpaduḥkha … I am used to Indian dishes at they are cooked in Madras. Though the same dishes can be prepared by wonderful cooks here, they are not as good as those prepared by my mother. So I am sitting here thinking … how I wish I had some of her Iddli … tāpa is like thirst. Another form … is saṃskāraduḥkha … We are conditioned to certain habits and when these habits are disturbed, we feel uneasy. This form of duḥkha comes from our own actions. Our actions have put us into grooves that make us happy and comfortable. Some of our grooves we know are not right, yet the process of coming out of these grooves is also duḥkha. That is why it is sometimes difficult to stop a particular action we recognize as bad.

6: Guṇa

The mind has three qualities or guṇas. They are tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is heaviness. We feel dull. We want to do something but we put it off … this will produce conflict and duḥkha … It is time to go to bed and rest, and yet the mind says let us go out … This quality of the mind wants to move, wants to dance. It is called rajas and also produces duḥkha. The third quality of the mind is really the absence of these two. The mind is truly clear. This is called sattva and obviously it does not produce duḥkha.

7: Prajñā

In Yoga one of the first levels of prajñā, wisdom, is the awareness and understanding that we are disturbed … The first clarity in life is to see that we have duḥkha and then to do something about it …

Duḥkha does not mean pain … There might be no physical pain and still be great duḥkha … there are often small things buried within us that constantly bother us … That is duḥkha. It is a disturbance deep within us … While duḥkha might have physical results, it is primarily mental … we don’t need to bring it out because it will show itself naturally.

8: Kaivalya

… If we thought something was not changing and we established our lives on that basis and then gradually recognized that things were changing, we might have duḥkha. The opposite might also be the case. If we felt that everything was constantly changing, and therefore, we did nothing to establish anything in our lives, this might produce duḥkha … Nothing is constant, but all things are reality … There is a human state called kaivalya. That is, a person is free. When a person is free, it mans that things outside of himself are not as disturbing as they were in the past … A little flexibility always reduces duḥkha.

… The differing interpretations of Yoga found in so many recent books, and the great exposure we have to so many ideas, makes it even more important for us to know how to investigate ourselves in everything we do … This is why we must investigate where we are – whether it is for āsana, breathing or the study of the whole concept of Yoga. Otherwise there will be more duḥkha.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part2: Asana, Sukha, Sthira

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Asana

The practice of Yoga provides us an occasion that might give us a feeling for the meaning of the word Yoga. Despite any incidental benefits, this is the fundamental reason for practice …

In our practice we focus upon the body, the breath and the mind … it is the purpose of Yoga to unify their movement …

āsana means “posture” and it comes from the Sanskrit root, ās, “to stay, to be, to sit, to be established in a particular position.” Patañjali‘s Yoga Sūtra describes āsana as having two important qualities: sukha and sthira. Sukha is the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Sthira is firmness and alertness. Both qualities should be present in a posture … Without both qualities it is not as āsana

To make this idea of an āsana a reality we must accept ourselves as we are. Therefore, if we have a stiff back, we must acknowledge that fact. Perhaps we are very supple but our breath is quite short; perhaps our breath is all right but our body isn’t ready … It is also possible to be very comfortable in a posture while our minds are elsewhere. This, too, is not āsana … The quality of breath is very vital since it expresses our inner feelings … The breath is the link between the inner and outer part of our bodies.

2: Breath and Movement

… The most important principle is the natural relationship between breathing and movement … As in any physical activity when we squeeze the body, pressure forces the breath out. We breath out in all postures where bending is in a particular direction, such as a forward bend of the back.

… This type of coordination establishes the relationship between breathing and movement … when we contract the body, we exhale; when we expand the body, we inhale … we determine the length of time for our inhalations and for exhalations. This fixes the timing of our movements.

… Deep inhalations expand the chest and move the diaphragm downward … When we exhale, we do the opposite. We contract the abdomen on exhalation and as we do this, the ribs contract.

3: Ujjayi

Our next step allows us to feel the breath throughout inhalation and exhalation. Through this we will gradually improve the quality of our technique of breathing … To give is this feeling of uniformity and smoothness when we breathe, we impose a restriction on the throat which produces a sound. It is as if we had a valve in the throat and we partially closed it to control the breath. We measure the control by the sound … allowing us to hear, as well as feel, the breath as we work toward deeper and longer cycles.

There are two advantages two using this technique. One, we are more involved with the flow of the breath, and therefore, we have concentration throughout the āsana. Two, the sound in our throat tells us when to stop or change an āsana … In beginning practice, we do āsana in the dynamic way … Dynamic movements lead to the second phase, static postures. This in turn leads to longer and longer periods of firmness and alertness in postures (sthira). Beginners often have the problem of not knowing how many times to do a posture … Only the breath will determine this. As long as we can breathe smoothly with the sound in our throat, we are within the limits of our body. The moment we need to take a quick breath through the nostrils, without maintaining the proper sound, we must stop.

4: Holds

Another concept of breathing used during our practice is called “holding the breath.” After we inhale, we hold the breath and at the same time stop all movement. Similarly, after we exhale, we also hold the breath and stop all movement before our next inhalation. As with inhalation and exhalation, holding the breath is a conscious act. The length of time we hold the breath is critical. If it is too long … the body rebels … If the holding of the breath is too demanding, the inhalation and exhalation will be disturbed. Holding the breath should be practiced only as an aid to inhalation and exhalation.

5: Practice Planning

What postures should we choose?

Postures to make us limber are needed and the best of these are the standing ones…

We have postures that counter the great effect that gravity plays in the function of our bodies. Gravitational effects are both good and bad. Yoga tries to undo the latter … We try to reduce the negative effects of gravity by using the body in a different plane. This is achieved through inverted posturessupine postures where we simply lift the legs .. the headstand and shoulder-stand which are the complete opposite of normal posture.

… The effect of gravity also affects the muscles. When we are uncomfortable sitting in a slumped position … it is because the muscles of our backs are unable to take the unusual loads. Also, if we are unable to sit straight, our breathing is inhibited. Therefore, we need prone postures to strengthen back muscles …

Finally, sitting postures help us to sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair so that we can do some breathing exercises.

… Yoga teaches us that with every action there is both a positive and a negative effect … we must stress the positive while we neutralize the negative … by doing a counterpose

… Before we do a posture we should be sure our bodies are ready for it … If we prepare well, there is less need for a counterpose …

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Yoga Practice & Well-Being Charts 2022 part 1

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The experiment in charting my well-being continues through subjective Yoga-practice related indicators.

Monthly Charts

The monthly charts being 10 days before the beginning of the month and continue 10 days beyond its end in order to give the month some context.

6 Month Charts

The 6 month weekly median and daily charts stretch back into the previous half year and 3 weeks into the next half year in order to give this half year context.

Observations

  1. OpenCollective + Israel + Allergy – there is dip that starts at the end of April, is clear in May followed by a slow recovery in June. It is clearly visible in the 6 month charts. This is a convergence of me starting to work at OpenCollective, then visiting Israel for 3 weeks and returning to the yearly allergy period.
  2. Practice has been mostly regular (including, for the first time, while I was in Israel) and the charts show that when my physical well-being (body/asana) fluctuates so does my breath but that my breath is also subject to its own slightly more erratic nature.
  3. My breath is recovering both in the long term, mid-term (6 month scale) and short term. Yet, overall, the quality of my breath has been fairly consistent.
  4. I feel, and the graph confirms, that my quality of presence has slightly diminished, but overall I am surprised by how well it has responded to both this turbulent period and to being regularly immersed in work (I was curious how work would effect my presence!).
  5. My physical well-being and overall well-being seem to be a slow trajectory of recovery and improvement, but my presence seems to be lagging behind. Curious how this will continue to unfold as I move into what is typically a period of recovery and strengthening.

Allergy (yearly chart)

This chart is the one I was most curious to see. I felt (and continue to feel) that this year has been my “best” allergy year – in the sense that the symptoms and life disturbance have been minimal. I have felt this trajectory over years, but have never had data (subjective though it is) to back it up. This year, for the first time I do:

… and what a difference. Last year’s drop is clearly visible and it too was noticeably better than previous years (when I would have weeks of agitation, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc.) This year I have “dropped” to the levels it took me last year 3 months (July, August & October) to reach through recovery. In fact (I just checked my “logs”) this year I never felt that I had to adjust my practice to a cikitsā (recovery) modality at all.

I am grateful for the opportunity to look at this chart. I wish I could look further back in time and I am looking forward to visualizing years to come.

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Religiousness in Yoga Part1: Yoga, Avidyā, Pariṇāma, Puruṣa, Sādhana

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Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

1: Yoga

Yoga is one of the six principle systems of Indian thinking known as darśana. The word darśana is derived from the Sanskrit root drś, meaning “to see.” Fundamentally darśana means “view” or “a particular way of viewing.” It also has a further meaning which suggests … a mirror in which we might see ourselves. Yoga, as one of the six darśana has its source in the Vedas. The word veda comes from the Sanskrit root vid, “to know.” It means “that which tells us everything we would like to know.” … Yoga was formalized by Patañjali, one of the great Indian sages. His classic text is the Yoga Sūtra.

What is Yoga? … The Word “yoga” is also a Sanskrit word derived from the root yuj … “to bring two things together” … “to converge the movement of the mind” …

Another meaning … “to reach a point we have not reached before.” If there is something that is impossible for us to do today and we find a means by which it becomes possible, that movement is Yoga …

Yoga also means “to act in particular way with all of our attention focused upon that action …

The advantage of attention to action is that we act better, and at the same time we are conscious of our actions … If there is attention to our actions, there is always a chance for us to reassess them and especially to avoid mindless repetition.

Yet another classic definition of Yoga is “to be one with the Lord.” No matter what name we use … any movement that makes us understand something higher than ourselves is also Yoga …

… the practice of Yoga calls for direction … to watch cautiously the direction of each step we take in order that we know exactly how and where we are going. These cautious observations will lead to discovery …

How we begin [to practice Yoga] depends upon our individual interests. There are many ways to practice Yoga. Gradually, the practice of one technique will lead to others. We might begin by studying the Yoga Sūtra, or we might begin with prayer. We might begin with āsana … We might begin with breath … We begin where we are, as we are, and what happens, happens.

… When we begin the study of Yoga … we are dealing with but one technique … As we progress, we notice that we are whole beings consisting of body, breath, mind and more … as complete human beings, we must gradually look at all aspects of ourselves.

2: Avidyā

Avidyā means literally “knowledge other than right knowledge.” Avidyā is a false state of understanding. We think we are right and we act accordingly but eventually we find ourselves on the wrong track. Equally troublesome, we may have an understanding that we think is wrong which in fact is not. Therefore, we don’t act when we should …

Avidyā is the accumulation of … many thoughtless actions that we have repeated mechanically, almost blindly, over the years. Our minds become so conditioned that we accept yesterday’s actions at today’s norms. Such conditioning is called saṃskāra. Because of this conditioning our minds become covered, as it were, with a film of avidyā.

Avidyā often does not express itself as avidyā. If we know that we don’t understand and we are sure of that, we will nto act and if we know that we understand, we will act and will be right. This action is based upon a deep level of perception. Quite the opposite, avidyā expresses itself through superficial perception that says, “I think I know then I act, and find out later that I didn’t know.” … Therefore, we have two levels of perception. One is deep within us and is free of the film of avidyā. The other is superficial and is covered with avidyā.

… we will know it through its four children. First is asmitā. It is the “I-thing” which is always pushing us … Second is rāga which is attachment or desire. We want something today because it was pleasurable yesterday, not because we need it … Third is dveṣa [aversion] … If we don’t get what we want we tend to hate it or we have a bad experience and we don’t want it to happen again. Finally there is abhiniveśa, which is the source of fear … we feel insecure when the continuity of our way of life is disturbed … these four children, separately or in combination, make it difficult for us to see clearly.

… What Yoga does is to reduce the action of avidyā, in order that true understanding prevails.

… The reduction of avidyā is seen through the reduction of its effects … We notice avidyā by its absence, not by its presence. When we recognize previous troubles we know that avidyā has been present.

When we know we are right, there is deep within us a feeling of quietness; no tension, no disturbances, no excitement. When I speak slowly, deliberately, I know there is a source of quietness and there is vidyā in me However, when I am not sure of what I am saying, I tend to speak quickly, I use unnecessary words, and I break my sentences.

3: Pariṇāma

… According to Yoga everything we see, experience and feel is not an illusion but true and real. This is called satvāda. Everything, including avidyā, dreams, and even fancy and imagination, is real; however all these things are constantly in a state of flux. This concept of change is called pariṇāmavāda … In Yoga although everything we see and experience is true and real, changed to occur either in character or in content … Whether things get better or worse is to quite an extent in our hands. That is why the practice of Yoga, called sādhana, is suggested. Sādhana is the means by which we reach a previously unattainable point.

4: Puruṣa

However, there is in the concept in Yoga something deep within each of us that is real and not subject to change. We call it draṣṭṛ or puruṣa. It is what sees and can see correctly. The practice of Yoga is to let this happen. As long as the mind is covered by avidyā, our observations are clouded … true understanding which occurs as the result of reduction of avidyā generally does not happen spontaneously. This complex of body and mind has become accustomed to particular patterns that tend to change very gradually. In any case, change from confusion to clarity should be gradual in order to avoid shock.

… the word puruṣa means “the person who resides in the city.” … What is the nature of this town? It consists of the body, the mind, the senses, our culture, customs and even avidyā.

… the purpose of avidyā. We have avidyā and when we recognize that, directly or indirectly, we realize we must do something about it. While our first step, namely “I want to be better” may be rooted in asmitā ,,, it is the right step because it is the first rung on the Yoga ladder …

5: Sādhana

Again, I refer to Patañjali‘s Yoga Sūtra. Three things are suggested by which we can begin to explore the meaning of yoga and therefore feel avidyā. First is tapas. Tapas comes from the root word tap, “to heat, to cleanse.” … what is meant here is the practice of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Apart from other benefits, these practices aid us in the removal of impurities from our system …

The next means by which we can explore Yoga is svādhyāya, the study of ourselves. Where are we? What are we? What is our relationship to the world? …

The third means of exploration as suggested in the Yoga Sūtra is īśvarapraṇidhāna. It is usually defined as “love of god” but it also means “quality of action.” … We must also carry out our jobs, go to college … All of these actions must be done with a high degree of quality. Since we can never be certain of the fruits of our labors, it is better to remain slightly detached from them and pay more attention to the actions themselves.

… These are the three specific practices that are recommended to reduce avidyā. Taken together, these practices are known as kriyāyoga, the yoga of action … While only part of Yoga, kriyāyoga is the practical aspect of Yoga which can initiate a change for the better in the quality of our lives.

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Humility

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Following yesterdays larger bit of translation, here is another, smaller bit from “Nisayon” by Yair Caspi this time about humility:

A study of humility requires overcoming a popular objection to it: at the beginning of the 20th century the socialists claimed that humility is a conspiracy through which the rich wish to train their workers to settle for a minimum wage. Their opposition, the nationalists said that humility is how weak nations subjugate visionary and daring nations.

In the beginning of the 20th century, technological prophets claimed that humility weakens the creative spark that ignites the internal will that dares us to do something that has never before been tried.

The marketing department says that informational advertising, that merely describes the qualities of the product without tying it to perfect beauty, phenomenal success, elated happiness, or higher status, will not sell.

The worshipers of man argue who was the bigger man and which theory is more perfect, but agree on one thing: if we do not tempt man with the heavens, if we take from him the hope to be like a god, he will cease growing. If we tell him directly: you’ve been given a special opportunity to experience a larger creator, to imitate him, to get really close to him and to never be able to cross a barrier that separates you, man will give up.

The path to humility requires overcoming the temptations offered by the prophets of the perfect man:

They tell us of immortal masterpieces whose creators have entered an eternal hall of fame.

They present us the greatest scientists who have deciphered the secrets of god and our bound to provide us total control in all domains.

They tell us stories of a hero that alone will save the world.

They show us how some people have become so rich, there isn’t a desire they cannot fulfill.

They present us with the perfect model. The first flawless woman.

They tell us how they have overcome all bodily limitations and desires, to achieve complete control, in weight or consciousness, their fears and pains completely, finally, absolved.

They tell us that we can too. If we just try a little harder. If we renounce our mistakenly adopted boundaries. If we purchase their secret. If we believe that man can be god.

Our patient today is a man that is too big. All knowing. All controlling. Special. Different from all previous generations. Endlessly loved and all his desires fulfilled. Always entitled and never guilty. Completely free. All deserving.

Our patient has been infected by an all encompassing lie about the state of man. A self-deception upheld by the entire world. It is present ever since we were gifted a little bit of knowledge that gave us an advantage over an ancient ape. The liars tell us that they have a solution for the difficulties of a man that knows god, wants to be like him and remains a man.

This is a well known sickness. The Greek tragedy has warned us extensively of hubris. The suffering of heroes is attributed to the human tendency to grant ourselves the status and power of gods.

The Greek hubris manifested in inter-personal relationships where people were divided into godly and downtrodden. It manifested in the attainment of high status by overcoming and humiliating the downtrodden. “I am of gods and you are of animals.” And from the other perspective: “I am of the downtrodden and need to be accepted by the godly.”

The ancient wisdom of Greece recognizes the danger but is unable to prescribe the ancient Hebrew medication. The culture that believes in gods that are half men half gods, is unable to relinquish the promise of the potential to cross the threshold and is unwilling to make do with the ordinary human status.

The man who is jealous of the power of the gods, their pleasures and eternal life, sets out on a journey in which he attempts to become like them. The journey will fail but he can’t help himself, is unable to learn from small failures, to go through a crisis and decide to change his course.

Like his gods who successfully crossed the border between man and god, the proud man is unable to let go of magnitude and eternal life, despite the clear signs of the terrible price they incur. There is no god to help him. Greek culture lacks a god that sets a clear boundary between himself and human beings. The tragic journey continues through to the complete annihilation of the man that has no boundaries.

The gods, half human, are protective of their place and threatened by the competition with human beings, and so they punish them with profound cruelty. They have set the story of man, compelled to seek godhood, bound to fail.

The god of Israel is different.

I had a plan to catch up with you, to claim dominion over your qualities. When I was finally able to let go of my conspiracy to replace you, I discovered that you were unimpressed. I never really endangered you. I didn’t compromise your status. All this running around was within myself. When I stopped, I took notice. I recognized my sin and the price I paid for it, I returned to my place and met you there greeting me “welcome.”

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A Modern & Critical View of Judaism

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The following is a rough and unedited (my) translation of a chapter from a book called “Nisayon” by Yair Caspi. I hope to provide more context about Yair Caspi in future writing. As I read it and recognized my place in an inherited identity I have actively rejected most of my life, it I felt compelled to take note of it and share it. It is a translation of section 9, chapter 2 titled “An Exemplary Society.”

There are two Hebrew words used often in the text “nisayon” and “tikun” which translate, correspondingly, as “attempt”and “correction.” They are essential words and do not lend themselves to simple and direct translation. Their meanings, especially in this context, are subtle (such that it can take a lifetime to meaningfully ingest them) and so I have been liberal in using different words in different contexts in an attempt to create a hopefully coherent translation.

Everything that follows is a translated quote:

A. Man discovers himself as an incomplete creation

A thousand times man looked upon the world: at the earth, the sky, the ocean, the trees, the animals, the people.

A thousand times he saw earth. Sky. Ocean. Plants. Animals. People. Then one morning everything changed. The pieces came together. Suddenly man saw a larger plan. And in this plan, every item was assigned a role. The inspired witness sat down and wrote: “In the beginning god created.” “Let there be light.” Suddenly everything started speaking. Suddenly the voice was heard. ” “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.” “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered.” “Let there be lights in the firmament.” Suddenly man saw that in every stone and tree and animal there is purpose. Suddenly is was revealed that the entire world is part of a bigger plan.

He started envisioning new stages development. He understood that he is fundamentally different from the animals around him. He was gifted with a potential to peer into the unknown. He discovered an invitation to work alongside his creator in completing himself and his world.

The special invitation that man received aroused both excitement and objection. He liked the idea of being the creator’s helper but did not like being told what to do. Therefore, after some achievements he started wondering: maybe I’ve already the level where I can decided for myself what my future will be?

A desire awoke in him to crack the code. To know the creator’s final plan and to be like him, or to at least develop tools for reigning in the creator, to make him more generous and less demanding. To guarantee fulfillment of all desires. To alleviate all suffering. To not have to wait. To not have to experience helplessness. To be forever young. To be immortal.

The creator that invited man to a journey of growth was replaced with a selection of interchangeable gods that relieved man from the long and arduous journey. The new interest became a science. Experts appeared and and taught people how to be god, or how to find one that can work for them. Methods were developed. Stages and houses were built. Everyone got busy looking for the words or sacrifices that would guarantee man control over life by manipulating the gods.

The aspirational journey towards completion came to a halt. The creator from genesis became forgotten. People turned to delusions to guide them.

People wasted precious years of their lives worshiping false idols. Nations lost themselves. Until one of them pursued one of their false idols into a crisis that reminded them to listen to the voice of the creator that calls out to man to report for duty.

B: An exemplary people

The founders of our group were originally slaves of a king that planned to destroy them. Pharoh, like the tyrants that came before him to whom we enslaves ourselves, drew his strength from the faith shared by both his people and slaves, that he is the highest authority in the universe.

The people of Israel were able to escape only after they realized that there is a power greater than that of the world’s greatest empire. This power had other plans for them.

The people that owed their lives and liberty to god, felt it was imperative to tell the world the story of how they became enslaved by people, objects, methods, that seems like god but are not god.

They built a nation, one of a kind at the time, that came together around a sense of mission:

  1. Find the highest organizing principle of reality. A principle that remains essentially hidden from us because of our limited perception. A principle that is known to us only indirectly through a sense of purpose that pervades us. Remember that it is he who extracted you from your most difficult place.
  2. Don’t be tempted to grant authority in your life to anything that is not god.
  3. Recognize the potential, that exists in every moment, to choose to submit to the creator and to take part in determining your future.
  4. Always seek purpose and correct action.
  5. Make it your priority, as an individual and as a people, to always aspire to self and collective completion.
  6. commit to a multi-generational effort that requires a long term investment in education.
  7. Set dates in your calendars to commemorate formative events in which a purpose or role was revealed to you.
  8. Value individuals based on their participation in the efforts of self and collective completion. Cancel popular success indicators: beauty, money, power, intelligence, status.
  9. Don’t give up when you make mistakes. It is difficult to decode the wishes of an unknowable creator. Learn to regularly fail and resume your efforts.
  10. Do not become addicted to your work, as if the world depended on it. Set aside a day during which you set aside your work and remain available to receive whatever is present. A day without doing.

C: Being a Jew is difficult

The burden placed on the Hebrew people created an immense challenge: to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world. From what everyone else does. To carry loneliness for many years. To renounce the human tendency to make gods out of themselves or their creations. To also overcome the opposite human tendency of making due with what has already been achieved. Exemplify in your life the potential for human beings to be accomplices in the completion of the world.

The people of Israel liked the invitation to be pioneers in this human endeavor and the compliment that came with it – to be god’s chosen people. But after establishing the first temple they grew tired of the difficult and demanding mission – to live a life of unpopular commitment. Initially the world did not embrace the biblical insights. The Hebrew people could not prove they heard a voice. They had not statues and no pictures.

The people of Israel began to wonder and complain: why do we get to do all the hard work? Why do we need to dedicate ourselves to noble causes when everyone else is having a good time? It is reasonable that all the other peoples are wrong? Is anyone even sure that god exists and that he has a plan for human beings?

The story of first temple is the resolution of this tension: some worshiped god, some worshiped false idols. According to the scriptures more worshiped false idols.

The destruction of the first temple came after a period of corruption and idolatry. It revealed to the people of Israel that there they can be fired from special job they were given and that they can end up lost to the pages of history like many peoples that came and went before them. The people of Israel realized their responsibility for the destruction of the first temple and quickly (in Jewish terms), got another chance.

In the time of the second temple of the people of Israel they knew they have no way to escape from the role. There is nothing and nowhere else too go. But they did not want to lead on their own. Towards the end of the days of the second temple the Jews found resolved the tension between their burden of responsibility to lead in human development and their wish to be like everyone else: they became small. They decided to hold onto everything that was revealed until then. Add nothing new. They relieved themselves from the responsibility of discovering what the next step should be. They chose to leave their country and delayed resuming their responsibility to a distant future.

Judaism transitioned into a holding pattern. The Jewish role changed: no longer a though leader in human development but a “keeper of rituals.” Maintainer of the great achievements of our ancestors. Keepers of the wisdom that has already been attained and embodied. Protect it until the day we can resume our role. Protect and wait for someone else with a fresh drive.

Judaism went to ground. Quit the responsibilities of living a full and independent life. Quit from a postponed role. Quit from the land of Israel. In its diaspora it stayed bound to the latest common denominator that held Jews together: the established tradition as an unquestioned and unchanging way of life. The now physically fragmented Jews decided to freeze themselves in that moment so that one day they could reconnect and complete their unfinished work. Had they continued their work in the diaspora it would have fragmented into all kinds of Judaisms that could not converge in the future.

D: A light unto others

While Judaism was sleeping the world changed: the originally rejected revelations of the Hebrew people started to find acceptance.

A large part of humanity started to adopt the notion of there being one higher authority: one, highest, unknowable (with exceptions here and there) and inviting human beings to play a key role in the making of his world.

A general agreement was formed that idolatry was a mistake.

The bible and its story of revelation, the struggle against idolatry and their historical expressions as told through the story of one nation and its attempt to shoulder its responsibility, became a best seller.

The invitation extended to all people to become active participants in their own making and in the making of the world became widely accepted. From that a new concept was born that did not exist before: humanity, the society in which all human beings are equals, not measured by their tribal affiliation, status, wealth, etc., but only by the extent to which they are participants in the completion of themselves and the world.

The world received the future from the Jews: the revelation that what is does not determine what will be, but that the opposite is true: acceptance of the vision of the world as it is supposed to be changes the present.

It became widely acknowledge that this is a multi-generational effort and that we need to stop every seventh day to observe. Rest. Not do.

The original Jewish leadership role became common.

E: An exemplary society

In the middle of the 18th century, after forty generations of postponing, the Jews discovered that the diaspora is over.

The on-hold Judaism could no longer compete with education and culture. Many Jews felt that science, education, the nation-state open to all religions, socialism or democracy – they were now the leading voices in human development, and the special role of the Jewish people came to an end.

That is when Zionism was born. Its members witnessed the erosion of Jewish life and loved the achievements of education and culture. But their Jewish wisdom alerted them to signs of an ancient illness manifesting in new forms: the human tendency to transform their tools and methods into idols. The false god of nationalism would become Nazism. the false god of Socialism would become Stalinism. The false god of the free market would become alienation and social crises. The false god of technology would become addiction to consumption. The false god of religious texts would become religious fundamentalism. The false god of man himself would become loss of inhibition.

As they joined the family of nations, the founders of Zionism recalled from their teachings that there is a higher organizing principle that exists beyond the things we make or see and that that only by turning to him can we embrace our achievements of science and culture, to give them a proper place and to avoid their idolatry.

An awareness of the sources of Judaism and their stagnation, the gifts and curses of culture, together gave rise to an integrated vision of a national, social, religious and cultural movement without any one part set above the others. This integrated movement would be something that the general culture needed in order to meet the challenges to come.

“You chose us” and “a light unto others” were translated by the Zionists into a vision of an exemplary society that would be created in the land of Israel and would incorporate Jewish foundations with modern cultural achievements.

This exemplary society would begin with the individual. It’s first manifestation would be the early immigrant who took upon himself the work of immigrating and settling in Israel.

Merchants and religious students would become new Hebrew workers sustaining themselves and creating a society free of exploitation.

The exemplary society would resume, as it did in the days of the bible, its role as a leader in social legislation. It will set new standards of mutual responsibility.

The indirect speech of the exiled Jew and the false 10th century European politeness would be replaced by directly spoken Hebrew. Directness would characterize relationships between people and would become a core principle in relations between parents and children. Clothing and rituals would speak of simplicity. Children would be taught humility.

Zion would be a society of exemplary education. People of all ages would be granted an education driven by the faith that man can and needs to change through knowledge that leads to right action.

The foundational framework of this exemplary society will be a new kind of society in which people co-create their lives out of mutual respect and friendship. The community will mege back into the land, a settlement that will define the borders of the nation, a life of work, deep mutual responsibility, aspiring to equality and willing to come to everyone’s aid.

The Zionist national-social-religious movement laid the foundations for a new value system and generated a leadership that was free to redefine the mission. The movement stirred much hope. The people carrying in their hearts a vague and mysterious mission, the priests of an unknowable god, slowly heard the calling. In order to find common cause without being able to agree on the detail they had to overcome geographic distances, cultural and ritualistic differences, mixed languages and tribal biases.

The early immigrants forgot one thing: they did not know who to thank when they formed their state. They attributed their success to themselves: their work, their group, the settlements, the country, the army and the wonderful youth.

6: Loss of purpose

The world is in trouble: the technological developments of recent generations has revived an enthusiastic pursuit of idolatry and given it new forms: worship of technology, shopping, social norms, conformism, word that does not demand of you, a total and enveloping pluralism that has removed all boundaries and inhibitions, and mostly the worship of man himself – all capable, all deserving all containing.

The world advanced too fast and did not leave itself space to observe and discover new roles and boundaries within the new technologies and ways-of-life they make possible.

Two camps have been formed:

In one camp are the worshipers of the “new” who believe that god resides in a new laptop, smartphone, apps, a new medication, a modern lifestyle or the latest things from the shopping mall.

In the other camp are the worshipers of the “old” who believe in a bible and faith that even god himself is not allowed to change. They narrow their existence and relieve themselves of the responsibility to discover the human role within the new manifested potentials. They believe that salvation will come when we confine the new reality within old rituals.

Man is in trouble: the new science failed to protect humanity’s achievements: family, education of kids for purposeful roles, acceptance of the limitations of life. Man is discovering that he is unable to overcome individual despair without identifying the root cause that is the general idolatry. He is unable to overcome the confusion and lack of meaning without accepting a burden of responsibilities. He will not be able to rid himself of his enslavement to consumption without replacing it with a renewed sense of gratitude. He will not be able to overcome the never ending pain without learning to see in trauma an unresolved attempt to become complete.

The country is in crisis: during the sixties of the twentieth century the vision of an exemplary society, that drove the Zionist movement in its first one hundred years, faded. The “exemplary society” was replaced by two narrow visions:

  1. The vision of a “normative” of people who measure themselves by other successful people. Hi-tech like silicon valley. Welfare like Norway. Wine and cheese like France. No more desire for an exemplary society. No more leadership in human development. No more interest in studying Jewish life wisdom. just let us be.
  2. The vision of a “religious state” (that never really existed). A return to fifth century Babylon, a temple with sacrifices, thousands of religious rooms, kosher restrictions. No vision for social healing. No responsibility for a national or international healing. And a totally forbidden religious healing.

Lacking a shared vision to heal nation and world, the Israeli society is tearing itself apart into interest groups. The orthodox Jews care about religious schools more than the state. The settlers care more about the settlements than the state. The liberals care more about individual rights than about the state. The yuppies care more about their career than the state or their children.

Long gone is a shared foundation that demanded of the different groups a measure of restraint and solidarity. Long gone are the values that governed the whole. Values that stated what is a society, what is a family and how to raise children. Values that indicated what is a correct balance between self and family interest, and social and global interest.

The Jews as a people are disintegrating. They have lost their founding principle: the shared mission accepted by all that transforms individual into a whole. no one knows who is a Jew because there is no agreement about the responsibilities that define a Jew. For many years the Jewish diaspora is also unable to embrace shared values. We have lost the principle that connects the diaspora to Israel and Israel to its Jewish roots. The threads that wove us together have come undone. The worshipers of the “new” and the worshipers of the “old” no longer belong to the same nation.

People have lost faith in their leaders. Leaders have lost faith in their people. Groups have lost faith in each other. It has become normal for everyone to think only of themselves. We have lost our interest in contributing. Sharing. Volunteering. Serving. Recruiting. Risk taking. Purpose is absent. A good reason to face and withstand the pervasive challenges.

Jewish wisdom has been orphaned. It secretly holds the connection between yesterday and tomorrow, between individual needs and collective responsibility for a nation and an entire world, between religion and science and between god and man. Jewish wisdom is trapped in silent archives.

7: The Mission

This crisis will not be remedied with local fixes such as bible study, religious studies, respecting the sabbath, Jewish-spirituality workshops, advancement of women in the orthodox society, recruitement of orthodox Jews, removal of settlements, a more equitable distribution of income, a change in method of governance, management, judicial responsibilities or elections. All of these medical interventions will not heal the heart.

A fundamental correction is required:

  1. We must renounce the delusion that someone is holding onto a Judaism that is ready to be used. No one can teach the Israeli role in this day and age. We need to go back to Jewish sources and read them freely, without a teacher that confines us to the survival perspective of the diaspora.
  2. Seek the essence of Judaism. The heart of the Israeli mission. Discern between it and the temptation of false religious gods, self diminishment in anticipation of the coming messiah, postponing Judaism to the future, blocking the creation and dissemination of false knowledge.
  3. Resist the temptation of whittling Judaism down to a culture, literature or spirituality. Listen closely to the desire tha tarises from deep inside. To the cry for meaning. To the secretly held desire to have faith. To rediscover a god and a human role in our sources.
  4. To tease out the tried-and-true methods of decoding responsibility and intention in reality. Return to thinking and talking about purpose and roles. Sins and punishments. Unresolved attempts. New prayers and vast fortunes.
  5. To renew an ancient profession: people who specialize in identifying the subversive workings of self-worship or the worship of things that are supposed to make the mission easier. To resume a special role: leaders in human development.
  6. Climb Mount Sinai. Demand a direct face-to-face with god. Do not come down without clear instructions.
  7. Author missing parts of Jewish teachings. Teachings about the state of Israel. Teachings about being a couple and holding two careers. Teachings about being parents to children who think they are god. Teachings about limitations on the use of television, smartphones & computers. Teachings about not needing to shop when feeling empty … and many others.

Nothing will work if we don’t take apart our lived religion and examine its roots, refind its essence and purpose, its gifts and its curses, and reassemble it as a living religions adapted for this time and for the future.

Only then will we be able to consolidate reason and purpose and a compatible value system. Only then will we find faith, mutual trust, leadership, clarity and authority to decide about the future of the conquered territories, social justice and the correct relationship between Judaism and the state of Israel and the things that are worth figthing for. Only then will we find hope for a future.

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Ancient Greek Metaphysical Damage

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Introduction

I recently completed yet another reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. There is a section near the end of the book where Pirsig, in his attempt to point the root of our current metaphysical crises, reaches the philosopher of ancient Greece. I’ve always experienced both a draw to this section and difficulty getting it. So this time, (once again inspired by Christopher Alexander) I tried to create a generative sequence extract of this section of the book. This really helped me wrap my head around the profound argument Pirsig is making.

Greek Philosophers

One thing that I felt I was missing is a clear timeline among the three philosophers mentioned in Pirsig’s narrative:

  1. Socrates came first and there is a piece of information about him that I only recently came across and wonder if Pirsig knew. It seems common knowledge that Socrates himself did not author any texts. What does not seem to be common knowledge is why. For this I recommend the book “The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram. In it I learned that written language did not exist or was just getting started in ancient Greece. Socrates was therefore an orator who lived in a time of transition – where the spoken word was transforming into and being displaced by the written word. In my mind this greatly amplifies Pirsig’s argument.
  2. Plato was a student of Socrates and he was a prolific writer, including a bunch of stuff his teacher said but did not put into writing himself.
  3. Aristotle was a student of Plato.

Christopher Alexander: Feeling

And I want to preempt Pirsig’s work with this conversation with Christopher Alexander about “The Application of Feeling.” I feel that the modern day challenges Alexander speaks about are a consequence of the damages caused by the metaphysical moves made by the ancient Greek philosophers Pirsig talks about.

Generative Summary

The following is an edited excerpt from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

1: The Dark Ages – One must first get over the idea that the time span between the last caveman and the first Greek philosophers was short. The absence of any history for this period sometimes gives this illusion. But before the Greek philosophers arrived on the scene, for a period of at least five times our recorded history since the Greek philosophers, there existed civilizations in an advanced state of development … [they] led a life quite as rich and varied as that in most rural areas of the world today. And like people in those areas today they saw no reason to write it all down …. Thus we know nothing about them.

2: Early Greek Philosophy represented the first conscious search for what was imperishable in the affairs of men. Up to then what was unperishable was within the domain of the Gods, the myths. But now as a result of growing impartiality of the Greeks to the world around them, there was an increasing power of abstraction which permitted them to regard the old Greek mythos not as revealed truths but as imaginative creations of art. This consciousness, which had never existed anywhere before in the world, spelled a whole new level of transcendence for the Greek civilization.

3: But the mythos goes on, and that which destroys the old mythos becomes the new mythos, and the new mythos under the first Ionian philosophers became transmuted into philosophy, which enshrined permanence in a new way. The immortal principle was first called water by Thales. Anaximenes called it air. The Pythagoreans called it number and were the first to see the immortal principle as something nonmaterial. Heraclitus called the immortal principle fire and introduced change as part of the Principle … Anaxagoras was the first to identify the One as nous, meaning “mind.”

4: Parmenides made it clear for the first time that the Immortal Principle, the One, Truth, God, is separate from appearance and from opinion, and the importance of this separation and its effect upon subsequent history cannot be overstated. It’s here that the classic mind, for the first time, took leave of its romantic origins and said “The Good and the True are not necessarily the same,” and goes its separate way. Anaxagoras and Parmenides had a listener named Socrates who carried their ideas into full fruition.

5: Mind & Matter – What is essential to understand at this point is that until now there was no such thing as mind and matter, subject and object, form and substance. Those divisions are just dialectical inventions that came later. The modern mind sometimes tends to balk at the thought of these dichotomies being inventions and says, “Well, the divisions were there for the Greeks to discover,” and you have to say, “Where were they? Point to them!” And the modern mind gets a little confused and wonders what this is all about anyway, and still believes the divisions were there … But they weren’t … They are just ghosts, immortal gods of the modern mythos which appear to us real because we are in that mythos. But in reality they are as much an artistic creation as the anthropomorphic Gods they replaced.

6: Cosmologists – The pre-Socratic philosophers … all sought to establish a universal Immortal Principle in the external world they found around them. Their common effort united them into a group that may be called Cosmologists. They all agreed that such a principle existed, but their disagreements as to what it was seemed irresolvable.

7: The Sophists – The resolution came from a new direction entirely, from a group … [who seemed to be] early humanists. They were teachers … Their object was not any single absolute truth, but the improvement of men … they said … “Man is the measure of all things.” These were the famous teachers of “wisdom,” the Sophists of ancient Greece.

8: The Conflict – this backlight from the conflict between the Sophists and the Cosmologists adds an entirely new dimension to the Dialogues of Plato. Socrates is not just expounding noble ideas in a vacuum. He is in the middle of a war between those who think truth is absolute and those who think truth is relative. He is fighting that war with everything he has. The Sophists are the enemy. Now Plato’s hatred of the Sophists make sense. He and Socrates are defending the Immortal Principle of the Cosmologists against what they consider to be the decadence of the Sophists. Truth. Knowledge. That which is independent of what anyone thinks about it. The ideal that Socrates died for. The ideal that Greece alone possesses for the first time in the history of the world. It is still a very fragile thing. It can disappear completely. Plato abhors and damns the Sophists … because they threaten mankind’s first beginning grasp of the idea of truth.

9: The Nucleus – The results of Socrate’s martyrdom and Plato’s unexcelled prose that followed are nothing less than the whole world of Western man as we know it … The ideas of science and technology and other systemically organized efforts of man are dead-centered on it. It is the nucleus of it all.

10: Arete – The one thing that doesn’t fit … about the Sophists is their profession of teaching virtue. All accounts indicate this was absolutely central to their teaching, but how are you going to teach virtue if you teach the relativity of all ethical ideas? Virtue, if it implies anything at all, implies an ethical absolute … “What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism is not a sense of duty as we understand it – duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate ‘virtue’ but is in Greek arete, ‘excellence’ … It runs through Greek life.” … duty towards self” … Can the dharma of the Hindus and the ‘virtue’ of the ancient Greeks be identical?

11: Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine “virtue.” But arete. Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute. Those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality, and the medium they had chosen was that of rhetoric.

12: Power & Loss … And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he had gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth – but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.

13: The halo around the heads of Plato and Socrates is now gone … He sees that they consistently are doing exactly that which they accuse the Sophists of doing – using emotionally persuasive language for the ulterior purpose of making the weaker argument, the case for dialectic, appear the stronger. We always condemn in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves.

14: Good Subordinate to Truth But why? … Why destroy arete? And no sooner had he asked the question than the answer came to him. Plato hadn’t tried to destroy arete? He had encapsulated it; made a permanent, fixed idea out of it; had converted it to a rigid, immobile Immortal truth. He made arete the Good, the highest form, the highest Idea of all. It was subordinate only to truth itself, in a synthesis of all that had gone before.

15: An Idea – Plato’s Good was taken from the rhetoricians … the Sophists. The difference was that Plato’s Good was a fixed and eternal and unmoving idea, whereas for the rhetoricians it was not an Idea at all. The Good was not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, ultimately unknowable in any kind of fixed, rigid way.

16: Usurping the Good – Why had Plato done this? … a result of two synthesis:

The first synthesis tried to resolve differences between the Heraclitans and the followers of Parmenides. Both cosmological schools upheld Immortal Truth. In order to win the battle for Truth in which arete is subordinate, against his enemies who would teach arete in which truth is subordinate, Plato must first resolve the internal conflict among the Truth-believers. To do this he says that Immortal Truth is not just change, as the followers of Heraclitus said. It is not just changeless being, as the followers of Parmenides said. Both these Immortal truths coexist as Ideas which are changeless, and Appearance, which changes. This is why Plato find it necessary to separate, for example, “horseness” from “horse” … Horseness is pure Idea. The horse that one sees is a collection of changing Appearances, a horse that can … even die on the spot without disturbing horseness, which is the Immortal Principle and can go on forever inthe path of the Gods of old.

Plato’s second synthesis is the incorporation of the Sophists’ arete into this dichotomy of Ideas and Appearance. He gives it the position of highest honor, subordinate only to Truth itself and the method by which Truth is arrived at, the dialectic. But in his attempt to unite the Good and the True by making the Good the highest Idea of all, Plato is nevertheless usurping arete’s place with dialectically determined truth. Once the Good has been contained as a dialectical idea it is no trouble for another philosopher to come along and show by dialectical method that arete, The Good, can be more advantageously demoted to a lower position within a “true” order of things, more compatible with the inner workings of dialectic. Such a philosopher was not long in coming. His name was Aristotle.

17: Aristotle & Substance – Aristotle felt that the mortal horse of Appearance which ate grass and took people places and gave birth to little horses deserved far more attention than Plato was giving it. He said that the horse is not mere Appearance. The Appearances cling to something which is independent of them and which, like Ideas, is unchanging. The “something” that Appearances cling to he named “substance.” And at that moment, and not until that moment, our modern scientific understanding of reality was born. Under Aristotle … forms and substances dominate all. The Good is a relatively minor branch of knowledge called ethics; reason, logic, knowledge are his primary concerns. Arete is dead and science, logic and the University as we know it today have been given their founding charter: to find and invent an endless proliferation of forms about the substantive elements of the world and call these forms knowledge, and transmt these forms to future generations. As “the system.”

18: And Rhetoric. Poor rhetoric, once “learning” itself, now becomes reduced to the teaching of mannerisms and forms, Aristotelian forms, for writing, as if these mattered. Five spelling errors … one error of sentence completeness … three misplaced modifiers … on and on. Any of these was sufficient to inform a student that he did not know rhetoric. After all, that’s what rhetoric is, isn’t it? Of course there’s “empty rhetoric,” that is, rhetoric that has emotional appeal without proper subservience to dialectical truth, but we don’t want any of that, do we? That wouldmake us like those liars and cheats and defilers of ancient Greece, the Sophists – remember them? We’ll learn the Truth in our other academic courses, and then learn a little rhetoric so that we can write it nicely and impress our bosses who will advance us to higher positions.

19: Aristotelian Laughter – And today in those few Universities that bother to teach classic ethics anymore, students following the lead of Aristotle and Plato play around with the question that in ancient Greece never needed to be asked: “What is the Good? And how do we define it? Since different people have defined it differently, how can we know there is any good? Some say the good is found in happiness, but how do we know what happiness is? And how can happiness be defined? Happiness and good are not objective terms. We cannot deal wth them scientifically. and since they aren’t objective they just exist in your mind. So if you want to be happy just change your mind. Ha-ha, haha.” Aristotelian ethics, Aristotelian definitions, Aristotelian logic, Aristotelian forms, Aristotelian substances, Aristotelian rhetoric, Aristotelian laughter … ha-ha, ha-ha”

20: A Madman – And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them … buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction and such evil that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done …”

The road has become so dark I have to turn on my headlight now to follow it through these mists and rain.

What is seen now so much more clearly is that although names keep changing and the bodies keep changing, the larger pattern that holds us all together goes on and on.

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How Electricity Actually Works

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I remember when I studied electronics and electricity in high school I was able to do the math ( V = IR ). It was presented to me as something “very intuitive” but it didn’t feel intuitive to me … and I didn’t dare to ask, because if it was “obviously intuitive” and I wasn’t getting it then something was obviously wrong with my intuition … then 30 years later a group of youtubers argue openly about it … and well:

Posted in Intake, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment

Born to fight

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Michael was overjoyed to see him. No one had known exactly where Isaac was, or if he was going to make it back. Other young men from the kibbutz had been arriving and disappearing into the war, and it seemed there were questions being asked about the ones who still hadn’t shown up. Maybe not even asked aloud, but implied. These kids had been raised to fight. It was what the Jewish people required, so that what happened before couldn’t happen again. Were they going to do what was expected?

Michael wasn’t just happy to see his son again, he was relieved. He said something that Isaac never forgot, and which he repeated to me in a little kibbutz house a few hundred yards away from where this moment had happened forty-seven years before. He’d repeated the sentence, turning it over in his head, many times. His father said, “I’m so happy you came to the war.”

Isaac loved his father until his death. He keeps a large photograph of him, one he took himself, on the wall. But he never forgot those words—the way his father was willing to sacrifice him, the idea that there were things more important than his only living son. It’s an unsettling story, one of our oldest, from Genesis. If this were a novel, the character of the boy would have to be named Isaac, but in a novel you wouldn’t dare call him that. It would be too much.

… Now he was in the catastrophe, where he belonged.

… There’s a blurry time at the end of a battle when no one’s certain it’s over, and the blurriness can get you killed … the battle is over only when you’re sure that all the enemy soldiers are dead.

Matti Friedman – Who By Fire – Leonard Cohen in the Sinai

i was born into this … into an embattled people
my parents tried to take me away from it … but were drawn back into it
i was raised to become this way … but it didn’t take
it seems I was born to not fight
for a long time, I fought fighting
until I awoke to the irony
reflecting now on this sheds yet another light on my aloneness
even as an adult I still get uncomfortable around two other adults fighting
I check to make sure that it doesn’t have anything to do with me
only to find it doesn’t matter … I am deeply disturbed by fighting
my father is a fierce fighter

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

The Art Of Life

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Because sometimes you have to make a film about the man you just met on the beach

a gift from Anna-Maija

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Celebration and … the Sacred?

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Maija asked me recently about my relationship with celebrating … and I am generally uncomfortable around celebration. Today I encountered these two stories from Rick Rubin, a master of delicacy. The first story sets the context for the second story and the second story (wait for it after the song and forgive the clumsy but well-intentioned interviewer) speaks subtly and intimately to one subtle aspect of celebration that makes me feel uncomfortable.

The stories appear at 1:38:20
(I don’t recommend the interview as a whole, there are better encounters with Rick Rubin out there).

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Realms Beyond Reason

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” … the crisis is being caused by the inadequacy of existing forms of thought to cope with the situation. It can’t be solved by rational means because the rationality itself is the source of the problem … the solution to the problem isn’t that you abandon rationality but that you expand the nature of rationality …

We’re living in topsy-turvy times, and I think that what causes the topsy-turvy feeling is inadequacy of old forms of thought to deal with new experiences …

You look back at the last three thousand years and with hindsight you think you see neat patterns and chains of cause and effect that have made things the way they are. But if you go back to original sources, the literature of any particular era, you find that these causes were never apparent at the time they were supposed to be operating. During periods of root expansion things have always looked as confused and topsy-turvy and purposeless as they do now.

… Moon exploration doesn’t involve real root expansions of thought. We’ve no reason to doubt that existing forms of thought are adequate to handle it. It’s really just a branch extension of what Columbus did. A really new exploration, one that would look to us today the way the world looked to Columbus, would have to be in an entirely new direction …

… Like into realms beyond reason. I think present day reason is an analogue of the flat earth of he medieval period. If you go too far beyond it you’re presumed to fall off, into insanity …

But what’s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we’re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought – occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like – because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences.”

Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
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Who By Fire – Leonard Cohen, Israel … and I

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I’ve been distantly aware that Leonard Cohen visited Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war and sang for soldiers in the desert. So I went into this podcast episode about this event with a sense of curiosity. The story is told with care and subtlety and I look forward to reading the book.

My curiosity was fulfilled … and then some. I found myself immersed in a wholesome telling of a story of the world I was born into. I was 9 months old when my father suddenly disappeared for 6 months into this war. I know nothing of this world. I do not have childhood memories. Yet this is the world that shaped me.

After listening to it I spoke to my parents and they corroborated the story. I learned, for the first time, that this is why some years later (when I was 8) we moved to the USA. I did not know that my parents (mostly my mother) were trying to escape the anxiety of living in Israel. I learned that for my father, the anxiety of how to provide for his family in a new and unknown place & culture was greater than the anxiety of being physically in war. I also learned that they chose to move back to Israel because they felt the USA was less safe for their three young children than living in the persistent anxiety (and physical danger!) that comes from living in a place like Israel.

Listening to this evoked deep and wide reflections. How did this contribute to the gross and subtle difficulties I’ve had breathing most of my life? How did this contribute to my deeply rooted and persistent feeling of insecurity? Did I dream of being an astronaut because that would have put the greatest possible distance between myself and all this? Having failed to become an astronaut, was retreating to a Romanian village a feasible resolution to the problem? Though I lived near physical violence I was never subjected to it directly … and if this is how I feel, how do people who directly experienced violence feel? If this is how I feel having grown up on the powerful side of the conflict – what is being shaped right now by the historically inevitable violence Israel inflicts on Palestinians? Witnessing this perpetuating cycle sometimes brings me to tears and sometimes to a deep and peaceful stillness.

This also meets me as I am witnessing the war in Ukraine. I have noticed how I feel different in my surroundings. Having been born into war and lived most of my life in an embattled country I am predisposed and accustomed to the mental presence of war. When I look around me I realize that most people are not. I am also experiencing a sharper and embodied understanding of and respect for the embattled nature (and violence) of the state of Israel. I observe (from a safe distance) how Ukrainian refugees are facing uncertainty about if and how they will be received in whatever country they arrive – will they be let in? And I then realize with shocking clarity that there is only one group of refugees that are guaranteed shelter by law (an unfair law that excludes anyone else, including Palestinians who lived on lands that Jews currently call Israel) – Ukrainian Jews are, by law, guaranteed a safe haven in Israel … within its perennial anxiety and violence.

And though it is difficult for me to imagine living in Israel, I have also felt in my bones how this pertains to me. Though I do not feel personally threatened here in Romania (living 75km from the city from which my grandparents were taken to concentration camps during WWII) I have felt (on 2 or 3 occasions) how thin the veil of society is and how little it takes for it to tear and for anti-semitism to manifest. And I feel that both the society that physically surrounds me and societies all around the planet are heading into treacherous times that will likely introduce more than a little stress and tearing. And I wonder: how much of this feeling is rooted in being born into the war Leonard Cohen walked into?

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Yoga Practice Charts 2021

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In some past Yoga check-ins, I tried using graphs to illustrate how my sense of well-being fluctuates. The graphs were created in retrospect and I invented data to try to express how I felt. In 2021 I initiated a journaling experiment to see what real data might look like. I use a spreadsheet to collect both qualitative indicators and textual notes.

In this post, I will describe the journaling process and share charts that describe the second half of the year 2021. In the future, I intend to periodically (probably quarterly) reflect and report in this way on my practice.

Quantitative Indicators

The first set of indicators are qualitative and describe how my feeling changed compared to the previous day. A negative number indicates a decline and a positive number indicates an improvement. I adopted the following value framing:

  • 1 indicates a slight, barely noticeable change.
  • 2 indicates a slight but clearly noticeable shift.
  • 5 indicates a minot shift.
  • 10 indicates a major shift.

I move within this basic framework to numerically express the change I am experiencing.

These are the qualitative indicators I journal:

  1. Phsyical vitality
  2. Physical strength
  3. Physical flexibility
  4. Physial lightness
  5. Breath strength
  6. Breath flexibility
  7. Breath open-ness of channels
  8. Presence

Qualitative Journaling Points

  1. Modality of practice (Healing/Health/Beyond)
  2. Life events that took place the previous day and stood out in my awareness in a way that may have affected my sense of well-being
  3. Emtional observations
  4. Physical observations
  5. Breath observations
  6. Presence observations
  7. Other notes

Asana & Pranayama Practice Journaling

For asana practice, I have mapped a group of columns that correlate each to either specific asana or groups of asana that make up my practice. I then use a number (a rating based on the above-mentioned 1,2,5,10 framework) in each to indicate the intensity and quality within the practice. This is of course subjective (the numbers don’t even offer any equivalency between different asana) but within a constant frame. The sum of those numbers says something about the breadth and depth of the practice. I sometimes also add some comments about the practice or its development.

For pranayama, I notate the actual breathing practice (using breathing formulas) and also give the practice an overall numeric value which is for charting its evolution.

Aggregating & Charting

The following indicators are aggregated and charted:

  1. The physical indicators are aggregated into one indicator.
  2. The breathing indicators are aggregated ito one indicator.
  3. The presence indicator is used as is.
  4. An integrated indicator is created for physical + breath + presence.
  5. An asana practice indicator is generated by summing up the asana indicators. Zero means I did not do an asana practice.
  6. The pranayama indicator is used as is. Zero means I did not do a pranayama practice.

These indicators are normalized to create a unified chart. However, the chart has no y-axis because the values are not really significant or comparable. There is, for example, no meaning to compare physical well-being to breath well-being. The integrated indicators is slightly raised compared to the base indicators for presentation purposes only.

Each monthly chart includes 10 days from the previous month and 10 days from the following month to allow for overlapping that can give some context to what occurred within the month.

2021 Monthly Charts

2021 Yearly Charts

Observations

It has been interesting to look at these charts, especially the overall half-year perspective and reflect on what the chart shows and how it correlates to my lived experience.

  1. Allergy – I started the journaling process as I was coming out of the allergy period which is a low point in the year. This is confrmed by the overall rise throughout the year. I feel this is a recurring yearly cycle though I do believe its form has changed over the years. I believe that this “allergy dip” has become more moderate (not falling as much), falls more gradually and less like a collapse, is overall shorter and the recovery is quicker. I am curius to see what future years bring both in terms of my direct experience and what the charts may show.
  2. Emotional Volatility – I experienced a lot of emotional volatility and fluctuation over the year. In my awareness this relates both to my personal sphere of existence and my perceived state of the world within my limited information intake. This is reflected in the continuous fluctuation of both asana & pranayama practice. My body and breath seem to absorb and express these fluctuations.
  3. Breath Sensitivity – at first look there seems to be a discrepency between the breath and pranayama graphs. Within my subjective experience my breath has not been well for quite some time. But when I think and say “not well” is needs to be put into perspective. It is “not well” in relation to my past perception of the potential of my breath. So even when I describe my breathing as “not well” it is still in in pretty good shape. Within this state-of-breath, relatively small fluctuations in my nostril-blockage and chest tightness can severely impact my pranayama. This is why the overall breath indicator is fairly steady but the actual pranayama practice fluctuates.
  4. Breath Blockage – Something in my mentality towards breath has shifted. I used to be in a “healing” mindset towards breath and I have slowly moved away from that. I have realized that my breath has been challenged in some way for most of my life. It expressed primarily as somewhat blocked nostrils and secondarily as tightness in the chest. My lived expereince is that my breathing difficulties are subtly correlated to stress and anxiety. Living in retreat has made stress and anxiety relatively subtle – which means I notice and am more sensitive to smaller fluctuations. In addition to that the emotional fluctuations of the past year have introduced a heaviess and lack of vitality which also negatively effects my breathing. I believe that changes to my overall life and well-being are both reflected in my breath and the key to improving it. So, I have settled into a posture of embrace and acceptance of my breath as it is. I try to inhabit it as best I can without applying any ambition to it.
  5. Body & Breath:
    1. Diminished breathing capacity (reflected as drops in Pranayama) is usually the reason for diminished asana practice. The pranayama and asana graphs either drop together or a drop in pranayama is followed by a drop in asana.
    2. Then, recovery in asana leads to a recovery of breath and pranayama. The asana graph usually rises before the pranayama graph.
    3. In this charted period I am still able to practice a moderated asana practice when my pranayama is diminished or absent. These periods when my breath and body feel diminishes create the conditions for practicing presence: if I am not present asana practice has a negative effect on my breath. So in order to practice I need to be attentive, soft and and caring with my body and breath.
  6. Steady presence and attention – it seems that while my body and breath absorb my emotional fluctuation my sense of presence has been fairly steady. It does fluctutate, it is clearly effected by more extreme emotional fluctuations, but overall I have felt, within this emotionally tumultous period, stable. I attribute this primarily to the Samkhya study process which has had a surprising effect on me (I still find it hard to believe how study of a text can have such an effect). I also attribute this to the mental shift (see 4 above) in relation to the breathing blockage. The shift from “fixing it” to “inhabitting it” also caused a shift from “applying force to it” to “softening into it” and that too has had a stabilizing effect on my sense of presence.
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Greg Bryant on Generative Sequences

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I feel that generative sequences are one of the most overlooked and valuable discoveries in Christopher Alexander’s work. When you learn to see them for what they are you can find examples of them everywhere and then you can increasingly notice when/where they are missing.

I have adopted an attitude in which I assume that if I am unclear about what to do next, it is because I am lacking orientation in a generative sequence that can guide me. Instead of just trying out to figure what to do next NOW, I am curious about my place in a generative sequence.

I feel that discovering or creating generative sequences is very rewarding work … potentially a form of art!

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