“Your thoughts and your actions are fixed forever in their terms. That is slavery. I, on the other hand, brought you freedom. Freedom is expensive, but the price is not impossible. So, fear your captors, your masters. Don’t waste your time and your power fearing me.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Yeshayahu Leibowitz: A Right to Land


Here is a rough translation because there are no subtitles in this short video (from its quality I place it in the 60’s or 70’s) an Israeli asks Leibowitz, an Israeli philosopher, a question:

I am a farmer who owns lands. What do I tell my Arab neighbor who tells me, in good spirit, that the land I am working was his 30 years ago? The same land that I now pay him to work was his.

This is the outline of the answer Leibowitz gives:

  1. There is no such thing as a right to land. No one has any right to land.
  2. As an example (to step outside of the Israeli/Palestinian controversy) he says that even no Swedish person has a right to Sweden.
  3. What makes Sweden Sweden is the millions of people who have lived there together for generations and experience an EMOTIONAL belonging to the land.
  4. This kind of link is stronger than any legal argument because you can argue and bargain about legality but you cannot argue or bargain with what is in a person feels.
  5. Therefore, he says to the person who asked the question, the problem is not between you and your neighbor. The problem is that your fate (he uses the word fate!) was to belong to the Jewish people and his to belong to the Palestinian people … and to find yourselves belonging to the same physical land.
  6. And the two of you are stuck in this horrible situation where you have no choice but to inhabit your lived experience of belonging.
  7. This begs the question: so what now?
  8. We have to choose between one of two options AND there IS NOT a 3rd option.
  9. Option: a war to the death (in which case the world will support the Arab position).
  10. The other option: dividing the country between the two peoples who inhabit it.
  11. And I know, as does everyone, that dividing a country is not reasonable and not just and that it will be very difficult and come at great cost
  12. … but you cannot change history.
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Choking on my past?


I wrote this partial post back in mid-January 2021. When I started it I had a feeling I may never finish it, and indeed I haven’t. Shortly after aborting it I did write a letter to my family on the same subject. But this post stayed with me. I have no desire to resume writing it. I do not even wish to review what is written before publishing. I do have a desire to make it public. I don’t know why. But here it is. Unedited. Incomplete.

Shortly after posting my last practice review my breath collapsed. It seemed inevitable to wonder if somehow COVID had reached me. I can’t really tell, but I suspect that is not the case. The focused blockage that was manifesting in my nostrils seemed to “get loose” and spread down into my chest. It became a cough and a tension in the diaphragm … the place where my asthma lived (lives?). This went on for ~10 days after which I felt a subtle shift for the better. I arrived at a comfortable ujjayi breath of Now is the time of day I am usually on the mat, and I am not there because the last 3 days have seen another wave of deterioration.

During this time I’ve been re-listening to the podcast series Fear & Loathing in the New Jerusalem. Daryl Cooper has been like a close friend whispering harsh truths in my ear. He tells a story of my history. I was told this story in school when I was a teenager. But I was told an incomplete and broken version of the story. Daryl doesn’t hide or cover anything up.

If you wish to better understand what I am talking about I recommend listening to the podcast. There is a good chance it is one of the best history-story-telling podcasts you will hear. Any attempt I make to describe that story will fall far short of Daryl’s offering. The chronological “newsflash” version is:

  • 2000 years ago Jews living in modern-day Israel piss off the Romans and the Romans come down hard on them and send them into the wind … a 2000 year diaspora.
  • Basic tribalism keeps the Jews isolated in most of the societies they inhabit. Tribalism seems to be a fundamental source of “us and them.” Tribalism is eventually refined into racism.
  • Jews learn to live under threat for thousands of years.
  • ~150 year ago nationalism comes into fashion and the Jews join the party.
  • ~120 years ago waves of Jewish migration (motivated by different social forces) start to arrive in Palestine fueled by a wish to make it into Israel.
  • ~100 years ago the era of the two world wars begins and all the flux creates new potentials and opportunities.
  • ~80 years ago the 2nd world war arrives and lands hard on the Jews.
  • The Jews embrace the de-facto normalized strategies of “vengeance and attrocities” and turn them against everyone in Palestine who is not Jewish. The British are driven out of Palestine and the Arabs are driven into the ground (they have nowhere to go).
  • ~70 years ago, on foundations of violent attrocities (receiving and giving), the state of Israel is corrupted into existence.
  • ~50 years ago, just before one of its historical “survival wars” I was born.

Most of the modern world was built on violence and exploitation. Yet it feels to me like my, relatively recent, history is spiked with an excessive share of it.

Exploiting the Holocaust

My mother’s parents were German and Polish. They left Germany in the 30’s, they escaped the 2nd world war. My father’s parents were Romanian. They lived in a city ~80km from where I currently live. They did not escape and were Holocaust survivors.

The Holocaust is celebrated in Israel. It is fundamental to maintaining the national Israeli identity. If I am not mistaken both of my sisters went, as teenagers on school-organized “Concentration camp tours.” I was spared this ordeal because flights and tourism were not as developed. In the decades since these tours became more affordable and more common and became a regular part of many (if not most) young Israeli’s. We must never forget and we must never let it happen again. That comes in very handy when real military service is mandatory and you will be asked to subjugate other human beings. Young Israeli’s are sent to war as soldiers and when they die they come back as fallen (mostly) sons and (maybe a few) daughters!

The Holocaust was celebrated in my family. My paternal grandfather was once ceremoniously interviewed on video. I wasn’t there. I hated that this was happening. I had a feeling that what was taking place was deeply disrespectful. That this horrifying personal and collective history was being used not honored. Now, in retrospect I know that is was being used to set the stage for more horrifying history. When I left Israel to move to Romania (back to the place from which my grandparents were taken to German concentration camps) my fathers reminded me that “Everyone hates the Jews!”

Sheep & Men

I am a foreigner in Romania. I am also a stranger. I bury perfectly good firewood to make raised beds! I build strange stoves with barrels! I refuse to cultivate my land by plowing it with tractors and I feel compelled to protect it from overgrazing by sheep.

That last one almost got me in trouble. My neighbors, on one side, rent their land for industrial farming (and wonder why I don’t do the same … easy money!). My neighbors on the other side rent their land to a herd-owner for grazing his sheep. There is a lot of pressure on grazing land in Romania. I have tried allowing some controlled grazing on my land, but it didn’t work. I end up having to police my own land and policing leads to arguments … so I just don’t allow grazing on my land.

One time, I found the sheep grazing all over the raised beds. I ran out and demanded (asking was worn out by then) of the human being guiding them to get them off my land. He (naturally?) got angry at me and told me I should build a fence. I decided to hold my ground and to allow an aggressive energy to pass through me. There was anger in me but I was not angry. He also decided to hold something .. but not the ground … my shirt … in his fist against my chest.

This is the closest I’ve ever been to violence. I felt the anger swelling in me. I wanted to subdue him, to hurt him. Fortunately, I have neither the skill nor the inclination for it. But I remember the anger. The vibration was alive in me for a couple of days.

I realized that there was no good outcome for me. I am the foreigner and the stranger. I don’t drink in the bar (with the policemen?). I felt, in my bones, the fragile thin-ness of the veil society. I can imagine that under the right conditions … a bit more land stress, a bit more economic hardship … that the social threads could easily tear and I could become “The Jew.”

I am remembering now, applying years ago, to get my Romanian drivers license (administered by the police in Romania). The request was based on my Israeli drivers license and so there were some “unique bureaucracy” involved (my recurring “luck”) and so the commanding officer was involved. He made some comment about “the Jews taking over again” … its right there!

I am Jewish to the extent that I was born to a female human being who other male human being deemed to be Jewish. I do not practice Judaism and I most certainly do not congregate with other Jews. I am not afraid. I am however aware of the potential for other (probably male) human beings to decide that, for their reasons, I am Jewish.


I am very sensitive to violence. To this day if I am around two adults who are angry at each other (having nothing to do with me) there is a child inside me that wants to hide.

Exploitation is, in my mind, a subtle and insidious form of violence. I am sensitive to being exploited. In school, I rarely collaborated with other kids (I can only think of one time where I willingly collaborated, all the other times were probably forced upon me). I was usually thorough and rigorous and hated the feeling of being used … taken advantage of … by others.

It is also challenging for me to receive. I need to feel that the giving is clean, that there are no strings attached. My grandmother, the Holocaust survivor, took care of me a lot when I was young. We were each other’s “favorites” … she my favorite grandmother and me her favorite (and for the record: first) grandson. But when I became a teenager I started sensing that her giving was not clean … that there was an accounting going … I was expected to be ” a good grandson” … and I distanced myself from her.

Expectations … I also experience expectations as violence. I am allergic to “expectations of me” … both when they are inflicted upon me by others and when I inflict them on myself.

Violence is a war that Israel, as a nation, has lost. I felt it when I was still there. I felt it, even more, when I withdrew from it (perspective). I gave up so much (how much is becoming apparent as the years go by) to withdraw myself from the violence. When the shepherd grabbed me by the shirt … I was so angry because he brought violence back to my doorstep … he reminded me that violence is present in him … and in me.

Weeds & Rigor

I don’t garden because of weeds … and allergy. The default story of weeds that lived inside me evoked violence … I was called to fight the weeds. I don’t want to fight the weeds.

My Holocaust surviving grandparents had bad teeth … supposedly caused by nutritional deficiencies. My grandmother had a deep fear of dogs … from guard dogs in concentration camps. To what extent such ripples persist across generations?

I have, for as long as I can remember myself, been and felt like a rigorous individual …. thorough … thinking things through … trying to make good choices … aspiring for better. This does not feel like a choice I make … I don’t feel like I can choose not to be this way.

Over recent years I have become more conscious of my two younger sisters as human beings that are getting older alongside me. We are very different beings. But it has been interesting for me to recognize that rigor is a shared trait. We have very different priorities but whatever they are we approach them with rigor. Recognizing this as a shared trait has made me wonder about it? I believe this rigor comes from my father and his parents.

Rigor can be a tough quality to live with. It is demanding both of myself and of others around me. It can become escalating … leading to too much intensity. It can inhibit movement (for better or for worse). It can be demanding on others. It can feel and be alienating. It can make me seem uncompromising and it can make me seem arrogant … not a very attractive social being!

Observing my sisters it is interesting to see how rigor itself, though common, has morphed in different directions through us. The older of my two sisters is mind-rigorous. The young is heart-rigorous. I think I am somewhere in between.

But I believe that rigor is a critical piece in … life … in facing the complexity of the world … in recognizing past failures and in avoiding repeating them.

Social Void

Violence doesn’t work for me. This is NOT an ideological statement. It is a biological one. I don’t feel good around violence. I shrivel and shrink … I can’t breathe … I can’t think clearly.

Placing myself in historical perspective through Daryl’s storytelling has jarred me. I felt shaken and moved to tears at the end of every episode. So much violence has gone into … me! So much violence against “my people” and so much violence perpertrated by “my people” … so much violence required for me to be.

Distancing myself from violence was and is, in its own right, a sensible move. Yet doing so has left a dark void. I feel physically intact. I feel spiritually intact. But there is NO social fabric.

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Seeing Samkhya


Today I launched a website about my exploration of the Samkhya Karika text. It is one of the ancient Indian philosophies and the metaphysical ground upon which Yoga rests. The text has 73 verses that outline 25 principles that constitute Samkhya. I am creating a generative summary for each verse along with a painting.

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Farewell Milford Graves

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ההיסטוריה המלאה שלנו


שלום משפחה,

כנראה שכבר שיתפתי את חלקכם ב- “המלצה” הזו. אך אני מרגיש צורך לחזור עליה ואולי לנסות להדגיש את ערכה.
הקישור יוביל אתכם לסדרה של 6 פרקים (שביחד מכסים כמעט 24 שעות!) של podcast המספר את סיפורה של ארץ ישראל:


הסיפור דומה מאוד לסיפור שקיבלתי כשהייתי תלמיד בתיכון.
אך הסיפור גם שונה. קודם כל  כי הוא מסופר באופן איכותי ונוגע … כמו סדרת טלוויזיה טובה.
אך הוא גם שונה כי הוא מלא. הסיפור שאני קיבלתי (וכנראה שגם אתם קיבלתם) משמיט חלקים מסוימים … במיוחד כאלה שאינם מאירים את ישראל, אותנו, באור טוב.
לאחרונה סיימתי להקשיב לסדרה בפעם השנייה, ובסופו של כל פרק מצאתי את עצמי על סף דמעות.

אני נושא בקרבי הכרה חדה וחודרת שקיומי שלי … אני (הספציפי …אני …  רונן … לא איזה “אני” סמלי) מושתת על שדות אלימות שמתפרסים עד, ואולי אף מעבר, לאופק … הן אלימות שנעשתה “לקודמי” והן אלימות שנעשתה “על ידי קודמי”.

אני לא יכולתי להמשיך לתת חיים לאלימות … לא יכולתי להמשיך להיות נשא של וירוס האלימות בעולם.
אני מרגיש שאני מבין עוד יותר,אולי יותר מתמיד, את הבדידות שנראה שגזרתי על עצמי.

לפני שנים רבות (קצת אחרי שאני הייתי נער) כשבישראל נהיה אופנתי לשלוח נוער למחנות ההשמדה כדי “שנדע ולא נשכח” … הרגשתי שמשהו לא בסדר … כעסתי… אפילו סלדתי.
כשהמשפחה “עשתה כבוד” לסבא ותיעדה את סיפורו … הרגשתי שמשהו לא בסדר … כעסתי … אפילו סלדתי.
הייתה לי תחושה שאנחנו מתיימרים לכבד את השואה אך שבעצם אנחנו מנצלים אותה כדי לתחזק ולהצדיק לעצמנו את עצמנו.
הניצול הזה הוא לא חדש … הוא מאבני היסוד של ישראל. עשינו זאת לאחרים ועשינו זאת לעצמנו.
הניצול איננו מותיר מקום לכבוד … והתוצאות … מדברות בעד עצמן.
בלבלנו בין כבוד לבין שטיפת מוח … כי האמנו, אולי אפילו בכנות, ששטיפת המוח נחוצה … אולי אפילו חיונית לקיומינו.
בדיעבד … אני מבין, עכשיו עם יותר הכרה, את הכעס והסלידה שאז היו אינטואיטיבים.

לא ידענו ואיננו יכולים לשכוח את אשר לעולם לא ידענו!

כדי לכבד באמת (או לפחות לנסות בכנות) את ההיסטוריה שלנו, כדי להבין את עצמנו, כדי ללמוד מן העבר, כדי שנוכל לחתור לעתיד מחבק ומכבד חיים … עלינו קודם כל להביט בהיסטוריה המלאה שלנו בעיניים פקוחות ולב חשוף.

הסיפור מרתק, עוצמתי ומהותי … וטוב לדעת!

מן הראוי היה שכולנו נדע ונחבק את הסיפור הזה במלואו לפני שאנחנו שולחים נשמות צעירות לחשוף את גופם, תודעתם וליבם למחנות ההשמדה. האלימות לא התחילה ולא הסתיימה שם.

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Yoga Practice – Winter 2020/21


This feels like a long-overdue update. A few months ago I had in mind a post with more “graphs” to illustrate the shifts in my practice, more details about the practice, and my breath, but that never came to be. Now I have only a slight inclination to write … so this will be brief … mostly to make note of some highlights of this period.

Summer: Work

After a relatively good allergy period, I settled into a regular flow of work. I was also practicing continuously and practice itself was on a steady curve of recovery. However, it didn’t go beyond a certain quality. I was not able to settle into a deeper more intense practice:

  • There was physical dstraction: I was doing a lot of physical work which left me physically tired and neading rest.
  • There was physical anxiety: Much of the work this year involved working high up on scaffolding, on a pithched roof … with safety ear. Though I worked slowly and with care, the hightened demands on balance, footing, work process, etc … were taxing … physically and mentally.
  • There was mental distraction: There were a lot of mental challenges which required my attention and occupied my mind. Sometimes resolutions would come during practice … sometimes at the “expense” of presence in practice.
  • There was emotional distraction: It was a disharmonious time in my relationship with Iulia. There was a demanding mixture of working together towards something while growing apart.

So, though I was practicing regularly, it felt like there was only so far I could go within these conditions. I was aware of this and embraced it. I settled into a good wholesome, stable practice. My breath was getting better. I was looking forward to fall, when the work would taper off and for better practice conditions.

Fall: Sleep

Iulia had spent most of the summer sleeping in a tent outside. When the temperatures dropped she folded up the tent and moved back inside. That had a drastic and obvious negative impact on the quality of my sleep … and sleep, somewhat like breath, is a clear indicator of well being … or in this case lack of it.

This biological feedback led to a clear realization that I did not want anymore to share a living space with Iulia. I did not want to wait until next year until we finish the summer kitchen renovation. I wanted to sleep better now.

So I decided to separate our living spaces. I moved into the living room and Iulia stayed in the bedroom. A new mattress converted one of the couches into a bed. Most of Iulia’s belongings moved to the bedroom. I now had a space to myself. Iulia was now free to live with her excesses and I was free to live with my minimalism. I only had to tend to one stove (instead of two). I had a quiet space without constant hectic movement … and I had a desk!

During fall and winter I look for other ways to fill my days (when it is too cold, dreary and muddy for physical work outside). Most of the things I wanted to do required, like practice, a sense of calm and presence. When sharing a space with Iulia I did not feel calm and present. Now I could start to nurture more such presence.

… and I have a desk … I can sit and write, paint, practice shodo

Practice was getting better, but a new obstacle surfaced … a blockage in my left nostril. It demanded my attention and required softeness … and it limited what I could in practice:

  • Sometimes it only required caring attention. This was nurturing … it evoked … caring attention. If I didn’t practice with attention and placed excess demands on my breath … my breath became strained … and called back … attention!
  • Sometimes it required softening of practice. This was also nurturing … it evoked … softness! In terms of asana count, or duration of practice I was “practicing less” … but I sensed an (almost corresponding?) increase in both attention and softness.
  • Sometimes it demanded only a short and soft practice (such as pratikriya) … and sometimes it demanded no practice.

I felt a subtle “peak” during this period. I had no ambition to get over this, to fix or heal myself. I found myself engaged with noticing where I was and praciticing accordingly. A peaceful sense of presence … and indeed, except for a few days here and there, I did not feel that, despite the limitation of breath, my sense of presence was not compromised. I also physically well. I felt my body available for more … but respecting the limitations of breath.

Over time I came to associate the breath blockage with aloneness.

Winter: Alone

As I write these words, almost the end of the 2020 calendar year, my breath is, by my standards, quite deteriorated. Since fall, I’ve gradually had to retreat in Pranayama from Pratiloma Ujjayi to Anuloma Ujjayi and in recent weeks to Ujjayi. There were a few weeks, after retreating to ujjayi, where I was able to gradually increase the length of my breath (from an 8 second inhale to 10 seconds) … but that has not held.

Around the time of the winter soltice I felt a shift. The blockage in my left nostril felt somewhat released and a tension appeared in my upper chest … and then moved down towards the diaphragm. Sometimes it sits at the place I associate with asthma. When it does, I get to inhabit consciously and without urgency that place in me where breathing was (and can be) blocked. Though I now sometimes express a light cough, I feel that shift was of release … of diffusion of a tension that was locked in one place. I am curious to see where this goes.

These days I am practicing whatever I can practice softly. Often it is without a metronome, just tending to an extended exhale, if possible soft AK and BK. When vitality increases slightly, I will use a metronome. I am experimenting, when possible with mid-day and evening practices. I have explored sequences of Ujjayi -> Surya Bedhana -> Sitali.

The limited breath has shortened my practice. I spend generous amounts of time between asana witnessing my breath and how it expresses effort. I avoid pushing my breath so that at the end of whatever practice I am able to do, there is softness in my breath and access to some kind of basic pranayama.

When reflecting on all this I associate it with aloneness. I have been able to fill my days well. But I am alone … I feel profoundly alone. I imagine that even in a monastery there are other monks … even though you may be silent and turned inwards … you are still in a way together.

I think it is very difficult to be as alone as I am. So I want to say that it is difficult … but that doesn’t sound quite right or true. I do not feel emotionally burdened and I am not motivated to go and seek out people. I actually feel privileged to be able to be alone the way I am.

There is an issue with vitality. When I do connect with others and experience meaningful conversation that evokes my essense and gifts to come to the surface I feel a vitality arising. It has clear biological signals … I get warm … and especially in this time of winter I have to shed a layer of clothing to adjust. This vitality is something I do not have access to on my own.

Without this kind of vitalizing engagement, I tend towards heaviness. I counter it by occupying myself well (practice, practice, practice!). Countering the heaviness brings me to an unstable equanimity. The equanimity itself is a place I treasure, but the pull towards heaviness remains. And when I am unable to actively hold the equanimity the heaviness arises. And, I have not yet found a way to shift independently to the vitality I can experience with others.

I do not have a tendency to get emotional, and when I do I do not tend to be activated by my emotions. But my breath … it, I believe, may be expressing a lot of the difficulty that is present and not expressing emotionally.

So … maybe I am not completely alone … I am with my breath.

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I Shakuhachi – December 25, 2020: Love’s Impurities


my silence is the sound of a cleansing fire
that burns through impurities that arise
within a love that binds us

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I Shakuhachi – December 23, 2020: Slow Reach

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Mixing Paint


Over the last couple of months, I’ve settled back into painting with gouache paints. It took me time to warm up to brushes, to the different viscosities of paint, and to mixing colors … and to find something to paint (more on that soon I hope).

As anyone who mixes colors can attest, it is almost impossible to repeat a mix … to get the same exact color ratios. Sometimes, arriving at a desired color feels like a beautiful accident … I may be able to come close to it again … but it will never be the same.

Sometimes this is not a problem, sometimes it is even desirable … the colors shift slightly as a painting evolves and the colors take on a (and gift the painting) with more life. However, sometimes it does matter. Such as when I am painting a large area, or when I want to go back and touch-up a small detail with the same color.

One of the challenges I am facing, so far with mixed! results, is mixing enough paint. It originates from and evokes a sense of scarcity – some of it subjective and some objective. I have to make a conscious effort to generously squeeze the tube. I do not want a practice of scarcity to sneak into the practice of painting … but there it is!

I recently “indulged” and (finally!) made these color charts … which were, in a way, a complete (and priceless!) waste of paint 🙂 It took two days of emotional blockage until I was able to find softness and give myself permission to do this … and it was a lot more work than I imagined it would be!

… and then I stumbled onto this:

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I Shakuhachi – December 18, 2020: Calling Rita


from Rita to rta

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The Madame Butterfly Effect


This podcast episode on ripples through history by Daryl Cooper is a gem … if I could, I would hand him my “podcast episode of the year” award!

“Why were there Japanese people in an Israeli airport killing Puerto Rican Christians to support Arabs who hated Jews?”

Daryl Cooper – Martyrmade Podcast

  1. A German named Marx invents an ideology called Communism.
  2. During the first world war Germany put a handful of communists on a train to Russia to foment a revolution which spawned the Soviet Union.
  3. A generation later the Soviet Union destroys Germany and plants some seeds in Japan.
  4. Those seeds grow into the Japanese Red Army which followed a former topless dancer to the middle-east.
  5. … which adopted the imperial Japanese technique of the Kamikaze
  6. … and because fate was not yet finished with Germany some of those Arab militants show up and start murdering Jews in Munich
  7. … only this time it was not for German imperialism or Nazism but for anti-imperialism and anti-Nazism
  8. … and finally by way of that circuitous path some Arab militants, who by now have made the Kamikaze attack they learned from Japanese communists their weapon of choice, struck at the heart of the capitalist world with four airliners …

Daryl Cooper – Martyrmade Podcast
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I Shakuhachi – December 14, 2020: Fog Lifting

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I Shakuhachi – December 13, 2020: Remembering Longing

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I Shakuhachi – December 10, 2020: Be Soft


I’ve been feeling out of tune for a few days … and this morning the Shakuhachi spoke that to me. Broken breath and off-pitch … I accepted and continued to breath into it … accepting and invitng soft resonance … no explorations … just vibration … I wasn’t expecting it to anywhere … and then it arrived … one note that vibrated well … and it whispered into my heart “be soft … very soft” … and … well:

… in fact … these incidental whispers are the essence of playing Shakuhachi … similar to breathing in Yoga practice … somehow it all seems to come back to the breath!

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I Shakuhachi – December 4, 2020: Child & Sun


… of a child and the sun

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I Shakuhachi – December 1, 2020: Raw & Direct


I woke up with a strain in my back. When I picked up the Shakuhachi the tapping sounds called for me … no warmup breaths, no tuning … but the tapping … which led to breathing. I was playing from and for the strain in my back:

Today (the next day), the strain was more subtle, but still present and again I was surprised to feel summoned to go directly into playing:

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My 1st Shakuhachi Decade


It’s been over a decade since I first held the Shakuhachi I currently play. I am making a note of it because I am looking forward to a new chapter in my relationship with it.

I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with the Shakuhachi. When I am with it, as I have been for the past few months, it has (as far as I can recall) usually been before my Yoga practice. This is because, like Yoga practice, I feel I need to be in a correct state-of-mind to approach it. Like Yoga practice, playing it does not evoke a sense of presence in me, but requires it of me … so if I am not present and spacious I do not approach it.

A few lessons

Way back then I took a few (2 or 3 I think) via Skype. Shakuhachi teachers were not abundantly available in Israel and are not abundantly available in Romania. I was afraid to approach a teacher for three reasons.

The first was past negative experiences with western music. I practiced piano for two years when I was young. The only thing I remember from that was a story that my parents had to sacrifice a trip to Europe in order to get me a piano … and that I did not like being assigned more homework by my teacher … so I dropped it As an adult, I tried to take on guitar and found myself with a teacher who flooded me with music theory (it felt like mathematics) when I wanted to explore music and sound … so I dropped that too. How was it going to be this time, when, on top of it promising to be a difficult instrument, the music notation is in a foreign language too!

The second reason is the most pragmatic: I was in a transition period (and I’ve been transitioning ever since) and money was becoming scarce … and lessons felt expensive for me … especially regular (weekly) lessons.

The third reason is the most delicate. I wanted to approach Shakuhachi music as a meditative practice, not as a musician. That, in my mind, sets a different bar for a “teacher.” I already had a clear notion of what a teacher can be from my relationship with my Yoga teachers and I knew that finding a teacher is a big ask.

Three things stayed with me from my limited interactions with the teacher I chose:

  1. A practice I’ve held ever since of playing bamboo leaves.
  2. Doubt about the quality/precision of my Shakuhachi and/or my ability to play it. This too has stayed with me ever since.
  3. Anxiety. The Shakuhahi has 5 holes which (initially) resonate with 5 notes from a pentatonic(ish?) scale. There is a higher register (in good flutes in the hands of good players, even two higher registers!) but because there are only 5 holes it takes refined breathing technique and capacity to activate it. The first piece I started to study with my teacher, the most basic of Shakuhachi pieces, soon required this higher register and I could not play it.

So … we (the Shakuhachi and I) were off to a bumpy start and that se the tone for the decade since.

Finding my own way

I’ve had to find my own way with the instrument and this is some of what has worked for me and the process I follow almost every time I do play:

  1. Only play when I want to.
  2. Only play when the Shakuhachi indicates to me that it wants to be played. It is a mutual relationship and there is no point in forcing it.
  3. Sure there are “only 5 notes” (which is not really true!) but there is so much subtlety and color to the sounds a Shakuhachi can produce. Embrace the “limitation” and discover that there is plenty to explore in the space.
  4. The bamboo is seasonal … it isn’t just me that changes with the seasons of the year, it is also the flute … tuning is where we find each other and come together.
  5. Go slow. Blowing (bamboo-shaped) single notes is very rewarding … and tells me something about where my breath is. Then two-note connected, then three … and be attentive to a combination of sounds – a phrase that shimmers for me.
  6. When something shimmers repeat it … again and again … until I can feel the next note that is asking to be added to the short phrase.
  7. Add it to the phrase … and repeat … and go back to step 6 until I feel drawn to go somewhere.
  8. Go where I feel drawn to go.


I’ve recently started making some recordings again. Sometimes there’s nothing there except for the basic practices. Sometimes there is friction that, when I am able to stay with it, leads to wild and unpredictable explorations, Sometimes something comes together. Here is one recent example of something that felt like coming together:

Finding Nick

During the last few months, I risked a few small excursions into the “search for the higher register” and I stumbled on to it … or part of it. But the effort to reproduce it was not pleasant (felt very forced) … neither was the sound.

I was curious to see what a Shakuhachi online search would yield … it has been more then a decade since I looked online … and I was surprised. There seems to be more … more people, more flutes … some instructional youtube videos. It is still very much a niche … but it is much larger than I remembered it.

I did not find a resolution to the question of the higher-register (despite some tips on how to go about it). I did discover that a younger generation of practitioners, makers, and teachers who seem to have surfaced. Maybe this is a consequence of technological literacy and a willingness to bring online an art that was traditionally only available physically?)

My search brought me to (amongst other places) this video:

… YES …. it is about the breath … NOW THIS is something I’d like to know more about. So I clicked into the channel and ingested this next video. The best description I’ve encountered so far of the essential differences between ji-ari and ji-nashi Shakuhachi:

But it wasn’t just the information … there was something else about this guy. I appreciated his white t-shirt, or more specifically that he was NOT wearing a kimono to evoke a superficial Japanese vibe. I appreciated the Tatami mats underneath him and what looks like a Shoji screen next to him that together speak of authentic immersion in Japan.

Then I moved to this video that describes an arc of relationship with the Shakuhachi ranging from monastic to musical:

… and finally his intimate (and successful) crowdfunding effort to translate a traditional text into English:

… and I felt peacefully drawn … would he be able to gently guide me into my 2nd Shakuachi decade? would he be able to heal and deepen my relationship with the flute I have? would I be able to one day ask him to make for me a flute that would slip beautifully onto my breath? would I be able to advance my knowledge and practice to the point where I could relate to the Kinpu-ryu text as a living text and not just as a museum piece?

These questions sat with me … and I hesitated … until finally I wrote him … and he wrote back. His name is Nick Bellando and we had a flowing and pleasant introductory conversation. He felt to me like a kind and knowledgeable human being. He listened to me and my Shakuhachi story with care and understanding. If all goes well, he may be my guide into my 2nd Shakuhachi decade.

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Shodo – Getting Started


A couple(?) of years ago Iulia went to a calligraphy workshop in Cluj and the papers she came back with shimmered for me. It stayed with me for a while. Eventually, I did some research into it and that led me to Shodo:

THIS spoke to me. I seem to be drawn to Japanese culture. First the Shakuhachi, then Kumiko (for which I have not had space during this last year) … and now Shodo. This felt like a great “indoors activity” for winter.

While I was inquiring into Shodo, Iulia searched and found that there is a practitioner in Cluj. I was surprised and excited at the possibility of having a living human being who could guide me. I even left my cave and went to meet her at a presentation she gave in Cluj (about a year ago?!). We spoke, she was reluctant and said that if she had space she would get back to me. I haven’t heard back from her (yet?).

I also inquired about online courses and found one that seemed attractive. I signed up for the first-section to sense the vibe. I liked it and started researching for materials. For better and for worst, Amazon is a limited experience in Romana so I had to look elsewhere. After more research, I found a producer from China (Japanese calligraphy originated in China) and, just before the pandemic took off, placed an order.

The order took a long time to arrive (~8 months). I was starting to think that maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. However, as fall set in and I was nailing down the last tiles on the roof nearing the end of this construction season, I received an SMS that the package had arrived in Cluj. It took two visits to the city to retrieve it (because during the first visit the post office was closed for disinfection) but it made it home … a brush, an ink stick, an inkstone, and some paper.

… and I’ve been practicing. I am using newspaper as practice paper: … still don’t have the courage to “waste” good paper 🙂

The most interesting aspect of this practice so far, has been a raw and fresh experience of Quality. With every movement, every stroke and every character, I get a direct sensory experience of Quality. Before I get into an intellectual analysis of what worked, what didn’t and what I can improve … there is an immediate experience: this sucks, this is OK, this is actually good … that stroke came out beautiful. It reminds me of breathing in Asana … but this is a new subject matter … where the experience is still new and immediate. I don’t have (yet) past experience to pre-empt my experience.

I feel like I am excercising my Quality muscles 🙂 … and since I am using the newspapers to start the stove … all that is left is whatever embodied knowledge accumulated … and my impression of Quality!

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Yoga Practice & Allergy – Summer 2020


During the first half of May, I started to sense first signs of allergy. A slight itch at the top of my mouth, a very slight wheeze in my breath, an itch on my back. All these, when allergy is in full swing, can quickly escalate. But they were subtle. I recall one or two mornings where I felt practice was limited due to agitation or constricted breath.

Then half way into May the subtle symptoms got amplified, still relatively (to past years) soft, but affected my breath and vitality enough to warrant a shift in practice. Though this year the shift was different. Instead of gradually winding down the practice (as I’ve done in past years) I decided to make a shift from a siksana (intensifying) to a raksana (health maintenance) practice.

This shift, in retrospect, embodied a deeper intuition than I was aware of at the time. In the past, winding down the practice gradually represented an attachment to the quality of practice I was enjoying before allergy symptoms appeared. It is a quality that comes from a period of deep, continuous and uniterrupted practice. It is usually how I am coming out of winter into spring, but this year it was further amplified by the pandemic. I did absolutely no travelling and so was deep into undisrupted practice.

Though, this year, it seems, I was not attached to my practice. Instead of practicing to my fullest, constantly testing my edges in response to the allergy … I decided to seek a soft, stable and grounding practice that:

  • Respecting and responded to the reduced vitality and somewhat limited breath.
  • Preserving a soft and continuous relationship with pranayama.
  • Staying in touch with my physical body.
  • Keeping up basic strength.
  • Preserving flexibility … avoiding, if possible, settling into a more rigid form that I would have to work at later in recuperation.

I have marked in green the parts of the practice that stayed, in red those that I dropped and in yellow those that were added or adapted. Overall the breath was good but shorter (~8 second inhale compared to my fuller 10 or 12),

uttanasanaR2 + S2
parsva uttanasanaR2+S2 / –
trikonasana (uddhita + parivrti)ALT4 + [ALT4 + S1]
utkatasana + ardha utkatasanaR6
cakravakasanaR2 + S3
adhomukha svanasanaS6
raised leg variations~8 breaths
dvipada pithamR2 + S4
bhujangasana + bent kneesR4
ardha salabhasanaR4 + S1
salabhasana (incremental)R4
dandasanaR2 + S2
janusirsasanaR3 (midrange, micro, static) + S2
mahamudraR12 / _
pascimatanasanaR2 + S2

In Pranayama I switched from a 1:2 ratio to a 1:1.5 ratio and from Pratiloma to Anuloma: anuloma ujjayi anuloma ujjayi anuloma ujjayi anuloma ujjayi ujjayi

And this held steady, with very little fluctuation for this entire period! This steadiness was a precious experience in what has been in the past a very turbulent period.

To demonstrate my feeling consider this theoretical graph that charts vitality/well being over a period of 18 days. This chart tells a story of turbulent fluctuation:

In this next version I describe a quality of well-being at the “50” level. If I can achieve this baseline, it moderates the turbulance. I don’t drop to lows below “50”.

This year, I felt I arrived with a kind of peak vitality and when I “sharply” dropped into Raksana (staying healthy) mode I both avoided the friction (expending energy) of trying to hold on to more practice AND settling into a soft and spacious experience. The result was an experience of feeling better and more stable throughout the period … more like a “70” baseline … much less fluctuation … a more stable experience:

This feeling of stability is also marked by what was absent from it:

  • No sneezing until my spine hurts
  • No sleepless nights
  • No accumulating agitation that leads to impatience and lack of concentration.
  • No loss of appetite.

The symptoms increased during the early part of June, but remained very moderate compared to previous years. I took antihistamine pills only twice (compared to 8-10 times last year). Once as a pre-emptive curiosity when symptoms were escalating before going to sleep. Another when symptoms were escalating midday.

Overall the symptoms were greatly reduced in frequency, intensity and duration. When symptoms did arise, I could sit and witness them. Most times they either dropped away. A few times they stayed around for a few hours but with a relatively with a light presence.

Around mid-June I felt a shift … a subtle increase in vitality. However, towards the end of June, there was a noticeable downturn. A feeling of constriction seemed to settle in my chest and nostrils. It affected practice. It required more softness and attention, shortened my practice, and on a couple of occasions required a minimal ujjayi sequence instead of a full Pranayama sequence. On a few days (4 or 5) I moved the practice from the regular morning time to the evening when I felt more ease in my breath.

During the first ~10 days of July I’d been subtly and gradually re-populating the practice. I’ve experienced some physical tiredness from recent construction work so I started by adding a stay in Savasana (after cakravakasana). I had avoided lying postures because lying on my back aggravated my breathing … so being able to stay in Savasana is an improvement. In recent days I’ve also introduced some raised leg and dvipada pitham … re-introducing the space of lying postures.

Since then the practice is really ramping up at a surprising pace. The standing posture sequence is almost back to full. So is the seated posture sequence… with a moderate and shorter stay in mahamudra. I’ve started re-introducing back-bends. BK are extending and AK are starting to appear again. Shoulderstand may return before the month ends. Then, I expect to plateau and slowly witness a building up of finer qualities. This graph illustrates the difference I am experiencing this year compared to a few years ago:

This graph places me (as I feel) shows a recuperation almost 2 months earlier. As I charted it I realized how long this event lasts. In the past it reached 5+ months. This year much shorter.

This year was a radically different year in terms of allergy. I feel I have stumbled onto some deeper understanding. But I feel I would need another few years (and allergy cycles) to take a deeper look at my “hypothesis”. It may be that it was a “lighter pollen” year, or that the rainy weather kept the air cleaner … time will tell.

I am left with a reflection on allergy as:

An exaggerated response to misperception.

I have been tending to it as such over the years … and as I look at the wider state of the planet … I am seeing this pattern in more context and depth … but these reflections, both at the persona level and beyond, I will reserve for another time.

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The Edge of Something


This comes to me to compliment an impoverished philosophy.

“I feel I am on the edge of something …”

David Bohm
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