“That of course it the very nature of healing - that anything you are holding onto that is less pure than your highet intentions will come to your attention, and as long as you stay conscious, you will move through it. I knew that, but just knowing didn't help.”
Bob Frissell

Nothing in this Book is True, but it's Exactly How Things Are

A gift from the mushrooms?

n

I came out of practice and went to the kitchen to take the next step in bread preparation. I was mixing the dough when Iulia stepped out of her room. This was our first encounter of the day.

I stepped back from tending to the bowl on the counter and turn to face Iulia. I consciously and intentionally made myself available to embrace her. I was communicative in my body and in my eyes. But the next step is up to her. I will only embrace her if I feel clearly invited and welcome. She knows this. We talked about it. Many times. She just stood there. Her presence didn’t say yes and didn’t say no. But in the context of touching Iulia, maybe is a clear no. I waited. I gave it time. Breathe. Nothing. OK. I stepped back and continued tending to the bread.

Iulia: why can’t you just offer me an embrace?
Me: I did, and I didn’t feel a yes.
Iulia: why does it need to be …
Me: It was you who …

And we were almost back on track to a very familiar and unpleasant (to me!) pattern of conversation. But then something switched in me. I became amused … and I softly disengaged. No hard feelings. Embrace is OK. No embrace is also OK. Some psycho-babble conversation about why I didn’t offer an embrace … NOT OK!

In that moment I realized a pattern that I was putting a lot of energy into over the last few years in my relationship with Iulia. I usually assume that I am missing something, even when I feel confident that I’ve thought things through rigorously. No matter how right I feel, I still assume that there is a possibility that Iulia is seeing something that I may be blind to. She likes to remind me that I have issues, and she is probably right. So I stay open … and doubt myself.

Not this time. I was very clear in my intentions and actions. I will not just walk up to her and embrace her. That is no longer in the books for us. I wanted to and offered to embrace her. I clearly communicated that to her and she received the message it. For whatever reason, she didn’t say yes. But she didn’t choose to state her reason. I have a tendency to speculate, but even that was suspended. She chose to put it on me. But I felt VERY clear … and the confrontational mushroom experience resurfaced. There, I tried, demanded, begged her to speak to me directly, without evasion, without avoidance, without deflection. The clarity of the mushrooms came back.

In a flash, I recognized all that. In a flash, I recognized and accepted that she has her reasons. In a flash, I recognized that this was not coming from me. In a flash, the potential for a typical confrontation between us dissipated (for me!). I didn’t retreat into darkness. I didn’t feel hurt or attacked. I didn’t feel a need to defend myself or convince her of anything. Things were fine. I felt amused. I smiled. I shared this realization with her …. and got on with my life. I am no longer interested in or available for this kind of communication.

I DID NOT expect to experience a lasting effect from the mushrooms. But there it was! I felt clear about myself. I don’t think a clear line can be drawn between Iulia and me. I can never be sure where I end and she begins. But THAT was not mine! How refreshing!

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

5.5 grams

n

On June 22nd I finally experienced psychedelic mushrooms. I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years.

The previous day I was having yet another “dead-end” day with Iulia and I wanted to look into that. But I awoke to the potential late in the day. My stomach was full with dinner. I was confident about going in within the context of our relationship as it was in the present moment. I was not confident that the actual present moment was the right time. It would have been a night trip and I was not sure that was a good choice (and I do not like to disrupt my natural biological rhythms). I spoke to Josh (who has some mushroom experience) about it (and the context in which it was arising) and from our conversation, it seemed that a day-trip (the following day) would probably be better.

I let Iulia know about my decision and asked not to be disturbed. She would be there to look after my physical well-being. I asked her explicitly not to come near me if she is carrying anxiety, fear, worry, or doubt.

I started my next day as usual. However, instead of sitting with the next Samkhya verse, I watched this video ( a gift from Jennifer) about the Hebrew alphabet and how it may hold a key to a meditative physical movement. It was a conscious choice. Samkhya, especially the verses I am currently encountering, felt like a movement towards a hypothetical abstract that currently feels like a slow and heavy movement. A physical manifestation of the Hebrew alphabet felt like reaching into my embodied roots. Roots seemed like a good idea.

Going In

I then went on to my on-the-mat practice and from that transitioned to the mushrooms. I started with a 1.5 gram dose. Chewed it for quite some time and sat quietly with it. After sitting I laid down. Nothing seemed to happen for almost an hour. After an hour I noticed a quietness in my breath. Though I felt clearly involved in the breathing, I also felt a bit removed from it. Being slightly distant from it I felt it become softer, deeper, and eerily silent. Then I had to pee for the first of many times.

I walked out to the large poplar tree across the road. It is the furthest point (~40 meters) I go to pee so it included a “walk.” I felt a bit light-headed and generally light. As I was watering the trees I realized that something was different about the sound of the leaves shaking in the wind. It was loud and sharp.

This was nice, but I wanted to go deeper. I decided to ingest another 1.5 grams. This also took the better part of an hour to take effect. I recall sitting with it and being deeply involved in my breath. I played with jivha, jalandhara bandhas and uddiyana sthana and felt a charge building up inside me. Then the breath took on a life of its own and my body became much more involved … I remember my head slowly moving up and down and that movement projecting down into my spine. I could now switch voluntarily between what felt like two distinct modalities. One was facing inwards, quiet, deep, indulgently nice … where there was less of me. The other was facing outwards where there was more of me … sharp and alert.

I got up to pee again. This time I took the box of mushrooms and the scale and handed them to Iulia in the kitchen. I asked her to prepare for me another 1.5 grams while I went to visit the poplar tree again – this time it would not just be peeing, but also a social visit. Here the experience took a turn.

Confrontation

Iulia has a gift of laughter. It is a beautiful gift that can bring light into darkness. But I have also experienced it as an escape from … well … rigorous and potentially dark inquiry. Now, in the kitchen, on my way out, I met her laughter and it was different. I couldn’t resist it. When she laughed I also had to laugh. Her laughter felt like a physical quality. I turned around, my back facing her, and recall experiencing the laughter in that physical orientation … and I felt as if that “laughing matter” passed into me from behind and up through me. I thought “wow, this is her essence! this is Iulia!”

I went out to my friend the poplar tree and leaned against it. Initially, I closed my eyes and was engulfed by the sound of the leaves. Then I opened my eyes and saw the bark of the tree so vividly. It’s rough infinite texture and so much moss. I ran my fingers over it and heard with amazing clarity the sound of my fingers scraping over the bark.

When I turned around to face the house Tana and Indi were across the street looking at me. Standing, watching, but not coming. I summoned them over and they both came and they both went directly into their “correct” physical positions, manifesting their relationship with me. I was kneeling. Tana sat to my left and bowed her head to be touched. Indi laid down on the ground on my right, slipped her head under my knee, and assumed her place of surrender to me (early in our relationship we had to do some work and she had to learn to surrender to me). But though she assumed a surrendered position she was pawing me demanding attention. I placed my hand on her leg and held her down and immediately connected to an essence of struggle. Indi and I explored struggle together for a few minutes. Again, I felt like I was meeting some kind of essential-matter that was Indi. After a few minutes, we did find stillness together.

I walked back to the house enjoying the enhanced sense of seeing. Everything seemed brighter, sharper, and slightly tinted with a blue-ish cool quality. Iulia left the next 1.5 grams in the kitchen for me, I took them and went back into my room. I ingested that too and as I was chewing it something shifted.

From here on out my recollection has a mixed quality. There are parts that I remember with a feeling of extreme clarity. There are parts that I am not sure happened and there may be things that did happen that I do not recall. Also, the timeline starts to become less clear.

I picked up a scent of incense. I thought I saw Iulia moving around with it. She knows that I am sensitive to incense and am not always open to it. Yet she made a decision to use it. When I sat down again the smell of incense was me … and it was not just a small but a feeling. I called out to Iulia (who was in the other room) and said “please do not do things I did not ask you to do” … no reply. In retrospect, I believe this was a turning point. I do not know if I would have initiated communication with her if it wasn’t for the incense … for the intervention. In my sober-conscious mind, it represents an interventionist pattern, a pattern where she assumes she knows what I think or need. Now, with the mushrooms, uninhibited, I spoke it out.

I was bothered by the lack of reply so I called out “Can you hear me?” … and I recall feeling a change in the silence. It felt like it went from a silence where she didn’t hear me to a silence where she chose not to answer me, to ignore me. I was sitting on the floor and my eyes were closed … still chewing. I became more demanding: I called out asking her to stop ignoring me, and to answer my calls. Eventually, she came into the room. Still chewing.

I started a conversation. She felt distant. Though my eyes were closed I felt like I could see her. Both her words and her body language felt distant to me. I asked her (and would ask many times in the coming hours) to drop the narrative that “I am high on a trip” and to speak to me directly. She was avoiding me. She snapped quickly into her trainer/coach/therapist mode and, no matter my pleas, responded with “this is not about me, it is about you.” Her responses felt violent to me. I became more firm in my talking (though I moved back and forth between speaking loud and clear and whispering). I asked to address and acknowledge the violence I was feeling from her. She avoided … silence. I remember telling her “I did not put that violence in you” and to that, she responded … and her response remains in my consciousness as a pivotal moment, she said, “that is true.”

I ingested her answer and that became a seed in my consciousness. Still chewing. I asked her “Is your statement ‘that is true’ an acknowledgment of the violence?” and this turned into a dance. She avoided it “this is not about me, this is about you” and I refused to turn away or surrender. Eyes closed, still chewing. I felt my own energy rising in intensity (I felt sharp and demanding) and settling into softness (where I felt deeply understanding and accepting of our situation). I tried and tried to reach her … until I accepter her evasion. I remember laughing and saying to her “you thought this was going to be about me, that I was going to have some kind of hallucinatory experience, you did not expect this to become about you.” I felt I could see her, into her, past her … to the events that made her distant. I recall feeling amused and sincerely surprised that this was the direction this experience was going. I expected it to turn inwards … yet it became a deeply relational experience. I felt so whole, so completely me … as I write these words this seems at odds with the so-called “ego-death” … but this did not feel like it was coming from a place of ego … I felt surrendered and indifferent … all that was left was a “Truth of the moment” and I felt like I was speaking from and into that.

I felt a wish for Iulia to sit in front of me and to take my hands so that I could see her. But I felt that she was not available to be seen. I shared with her my wish and that I am not expressing it as a wish becuase I feel she is not available.

I had been watching the time between dosages. I allowed for at least 40 minutes between doses and I tried not to allow for more than an hour to pass … I wanted a build-up and not an extension. Feeling that Iulia was not meeting me in conversation I felt a sense of surrender and settled back into myself. I also realized that I want to go further. I told Iulia I wish to go further and take another gram. I am not sure if her response was immediate or there was more interaction … but I remember her running to the bedroom. I KNEW soooo viscerally she was manifesting mistrust, she was having an opinion about my choice, she thought she knew better and she chose to interfere. This was another turning point.

She got to the bedroom in time to hide the box but I got there quickly. I stood there and felt the mistrust. I realized that it had something in common with her laughter. I felt the mistrust as a physical quality, I could now feel it moving inside me. Then I realized that there was something deeper at play. I felt BECOMING. I BECAME her laughter and now I was BECOMING her mistrust. The extreme open-ness I was experiencing made me susceptible to BECOMING … and I felt and realized it in the moment. Then I felt another quality arising … she was willing to stand in my way … violence! I shared this realization with her … the presence of BECOMING and the potential for violence. I’d intuited this potential when she bolted from the room … now I was feeling it. I knew I would not, could not hurt her, but I knew that if she stood in my way I would go through her.

I spoke it out, I felt very sharp and elaborate and I believe I spoke clearly. And we were back on the theme she avoided minutes ago … violence. I asked her again to acknowledge the violence that she presenced. She refused. I repeated it becoming more demanding … she stood in silence … I repeated it again … and again … I was projecting A LOT of power. She closed her eyes. I demanded that she open her eyes and look at me. She turned away. I moved closer. She moved away. She made a quick gesture (to light a candle?) and I stopped her. I felt her fear. I asked her what she felt RIGHT NOW … silence … avoidance. I brought her to tears. I stepped back with a sense of satisfaction. I said, “good, very good, NOW we are relating, NOW we are together, finally.” There was some silence … and settling.

I was aware that I did not know where the mushrooms were. But I knew they were in the room. The mistrust was vital and alive in me. I told her that I don’t trust her. I felt that if I stepped away from the room it would give her more opportunity to hide the mushrooms from me. We talked. In our conversation the following day, Iulia said she felt that I just wanted “more and more” and I know that not to be true (and I felt that even in the sober conversation the next day, she still didn’t believe me). I was not experiencing any craving or “drug obsession”. I was not able during the trip nor after the trip to convince Iulia that she is relating to her own projections and not to me and my experience. Distant! I clearly wanted to take one more step in. Iulia asked to wait a bit longer before taking the next dose, We reached an agreement.

I remember going back to my room and Iulia coming after me. I remember standing there, face to face. I don’t remember how the conversation started. But I remember pointing with my finger into the space between us … I remember asking, begging, demanding her to acknowledge that she placed violence there in the space between us. “We both did” was the best she could offer … escape … escape escape. Never mind. These conversations don’t go well when “I am sober”, there was not reason to expect it to go well when “I was high.”

However this conversation took some time … so I asked her to go get the last gram. I sat down and she went off. I was feeling sharp and clear and wanted her to be that way. But I heard her bustling around, going from the bedroom to the bathroom … I did not know what she was doing … but the mistrust was still there. I called out to her and said “please do only what you have to do to come here with the mushrooms, I am experiencing every single sound you make right now as deep vibrations of either trust or suspicion.” In the conversation we had afterward she made clear to me that the noises I heard were her trying to get the box out of hiding.

She brought me the last gram on a small plastic tray and I asked her to place it on the floor before me. There it was. This time I did ask her to sit in front of me. She did. My eyes are closed. The gram is between us. I asked her to take my hand. She did. I could feel some physical discomfort in her. I asked her to make herself more comfortable. She replied she is comfortable … more avoidance. I took the gram and ingested it and gestured for her to move the small plastic tray away. She did. I thanked her for noticing and understanding my gesture. Then she moved and made herself more comfortable! I asked her to acknowledge that she was now more comfortable. She kind of did … still avoidance. I asked her to take my hand again … her touch felt distant. I asked her to recall the shift she just made that made her more comfortable … and asked her to take my hand that way. She took it … her touch felt slightly more present, softer. I asked her to place my hand back where she found it. We repeated this numerous times … until I felt that we again arrived at a limit … that she was not available to come any closer. My eyes closed the whole time … I did not get around to opening my eyes and to seeing her. I asked her to leave the room.

At some point during this phase, I asked Iulia to try to reach out to Josh. I knew he knew I would be tripping and that he was aware of the context I was carrying into the experience. I did not wish to speak to Josh. I wanted for Iulia to be able to talk about what she was experiencing to someone who could relate to the situation. I scared her, I wanted someone to tend to her fear. She reached out, but it would take some time until he would respond.

Complete

After sitting quietly for a while I got up. I picked up a few cherries from the kitchen and went outside to sit on the steps that lead into the house. It was sunny. I was 5.5 grams in and I felt intensely focused and present. I remember the feeling that the light was very bright. I remember being curious about being curious about (<- not a typo ) the succulent cherries in my mouth, but I wasn’t. I was enamored by the trajectory of the pits as I tossed them into the grass … it was as if they moved in slow motion and I could easily follow their trajectory.

I felt complete. No mystical experience. No veil penetrated. No hallucinations. No monsters. Just me. Full, present, intense, radiant me. It was self-affirming. I did wonder though … was there more ahead? was I resisting? would I discover a blind spot if I went further? how many grams would it take for me to lose myself? how many more grams to astral visions?

Iulia came to sit by my side. The confrontation with Iulia was now complete. I had an embodied sense of the gap between us. A gap I’ve been experiencing for a couple of years. I could see there was no point in me trying to move forward as long as she responded with evasion and avoidance. I felt surrendered and empowered by the acceptance. I asked her how many more grams would she like to see me ingest? How many more grams until the mushrooms gave HER a more desirable outcome from me? She thinks I need therapy, that I have blind spots, that I am traumatized. The mushrooms didn’t heal, didn’t shed light on the blind spots and I don’t resonate with the trauma-framing, not when sober, nor when high. I was not dissolved by the mushrooms, I was crystallized, solidified. I asked her, in a direct, present, clear tone, if she would like me to take more … maybe more will get me to where she thinks I need to get? She replied “No.” I asked why? The only reply she had to offer was “you’ve had enough” … distant, evading, refusing to meet me in the moment. But that is OK. It is how we have been for a long time. It is how we are now. It is probably how we will continue to be.

She moved closer to me and embraced me.

Suddenly a thought landed sharply and clearly in my mind. I turned to her and said with some urgency: this is a unique moment, an opportunity, since you and I will not get past this point, please go, right now, and call someone, whoever you want, and have an honest and sincere conversation about what YOU are experiencing right now. RIGHT NOW! She started evading … this isn’t about me it’s about you … what about you … how about you talking to someone (5.5 grams and she is still pitching me therapy). I turned to face her … looked directly into her eyes. I begged her to stop evading me. We were both in tears. I repeated the proposition that was so alive in me … go speak to someone RIGHT NOW. Her last reply was “but what if I don’t want to?” … to which I replied, “then don’t! you don’t need to fight me.” She went in and spoke to a friend.

I felt complete. I was done. I did what I came here to do. I went back to my room, grabbed a pillow and laid down on the floor.

Lost

From this point on the experience changed and became more trippy. I do not recall hallucinations. I recall lying down on the floor … and getting up to go outside to pee. Many times. I lost track of time. I did not feel disoriented but I was not sure where I was. I aske Iulia many times: what time is is? how much mushrooms did I take? I knew the answers, but wanted to check myself.

During one of my pee excursions, Iulia called out to me – Josh came online and responded. I went to her room. The chat was open but an audio/video connection was not yet established. I couldn’t handle the technology and asked her to connect us. Josh was coming out of a shopping mall and his connection was unsteady – he was breaking up. I remember thinking: “I definitely don’t need a breaking up experience right now!” Iulia tried to fix it … she asked Josh “Are you on?” and I broke into uncontrollable laughter so hard I was barely able to say the words that were in my mind: “I don’t know about Josh but I AM ON!” and added, “maybe you could choose your words more carefully?”

Finally, a connection was established. Josh and I had a short interaction. Iulia moved away, clearly signaling that she did not want to partake in this conversation. I said this to Josh. I wanted him to witness the situation. To witness me and to witness her. I indicated to him that the way the conversation was happening, that I was forcing it on Iulia because she didn’t want it. I asked Josh to repeat to me what he heard me say and indicated that I will wish to talk to him after I come down from the trip to hear what he witnessed (we had a conversation the next day).

At one point I told Iulia I wanted to speak to her friend, to hear from her what Iulia told her. She called her and held up the phone to me. I was direct: “can you please share with me what Iulia told you?” She answered “we talk a lot, which conversation do you mean” … there it is again … evasion. We had a short interaction … I quickly realized it wasn’t going anywhere … I had no interest in playing games … I was being direct and sincere and wanted a response in kind … no luck … so I said thank you and goodbye.

During most of this phase, I felt mellow. But the time disassociation made me wonder if I was being manic. Sometimes, when I went to pee, I felt like I had just been out to pee … so it felt like an erratic back and forth movement. I asked Iulia if she felt I was being manic? She had to look up the word and told me that no, she didn’t think I was manic. I do not know how many such cycles I went through, I do know it went on for ~2 hours.

Iulia was present in many of these iterations, while I was lying on the ground. THAT made me feel a bit delusional. I was not sure she was really there and asked her many times: are you really here? I felt like I was in a movie coming in and out of scenes with Iulia – like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

I wasn’t sure when a scene started or when it ended … but the scenes felt distinct. Each time she was in a different position. Sitting next to me, standing next to me, sitting behind me, strumming her Ukelele (which sounded so out of tune – but whole in its own way) – I took this picture near the end – so I could confirm it was real:

I remember her hands … finally holding my hands softly. I remember thinking: “she figured out how to take my hand.” I remember talking, now feeling more vague and distant … no longer sharp and present. I was surrendered, I had said what I wanted to say. Because of the fuzziness at this point, I do recall saying to Iulia that I hope that I did say out loud everything I thought I said. I finally did get to look at her … it was a soft looking … not the penetrating looking I desired earlier. I saw her face age … her wrinkles deepening and spreading.

I remember a recurring feeling of being “alone on the ground” … it persisted even when Iulia was next to me holding my hand.

I remember feeling and expressing to Iulia a sense of deep tiredness. Not just from the current experience … but an accumulated life experience.

I remember that my perception of the carpet changed. It felt so bright and clean … and now it was fading into a darker color … it felt like it needed cleaning.

At one point our shared sober understanding and the gap between us began to re-appear. I began to feel tiredness and heaviness. Another round outside to pee. Walking back inside … this time not lying down. Standing, a bit confused. This is ending. I plugged my phone into the amplifier, sat in front of the speakers and turned up the volume, and played this song:

The song ended … silence remained. I opened the door to my room and found Iulia crouched in the door frame.

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

Aphantasia?

n

When I shared this with Sunni she asked me if I feel I have this … and this was my answer:


I am not sure that “it” is really a thing. I do not trust the dichotomies of “it-ness” that mechanistic thinking likes to assume and impose.

I do resonate with some of the experiences associated with “it.” I rarely experience visual memory (or other expressions of felt experience), most of my “memories” feel like stories that have been told to me about myself.

“Guided Meditations” (setting aside that I think the title is an oxymoron) have rarely worked for me, visualizing just doesn’t seem to play out well for me. I wonder how many other people have been alienated by “guided meditations” making them feel inapt and disconnected because the so called “guides” are not well informed?

In my painting I have come rely on a process of writing because, once again, visualizing does not works for me.

I would be hard pressed to describe people I know, even people with whom I’ve lived for years … I can’t recall features visually … I can’t tell you something like eye-color (unless I intentionally memorize it, and I am not good at memorizing either).

I think I may experience less emotional attachment (than others!?) … and that could be related to not having images present in my mind.

I do not experience much “missing” … of people or places … and even when I do … I feel doubts about what it is that I miss.

I can imagine that “it” is not a fixed phenomenon (like disconnected wires or inactive areas in the brain) and I suspect that “it” is effected by conditions and circumstances.

I do appreciate the recognition that different people (in different contexts?) experience visualization differently.

I do appreciate the breaking down of assumptions that we are all similar … that a brain is a brain … or a mind is a mind …

I do appreciate when mainstream scientific thinking moves closer (albeit in small steps) to respecting complexity, refinement and subtlety of perception and cognition.

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

Yeshayahu Leibowitz: A Right to Land

n

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.
Posted in Uncategorized | You are welcome to add your comment

Choking on my past?

n

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 10.2.15.5. 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.

Violence

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

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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

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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:

http://www.martyrmade.com/fear-loathing-in-the-new-jerusalem/

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

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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.

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

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

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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

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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

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from Rita to rta

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The Madame Butterfly Effect

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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

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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

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… of a child and the sun

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I Shakuhachi – December 1, 2020: Raw & Direct

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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

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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.

Sounds

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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