Now, what set this off is a comment out there in the blogosphere about "maybe the yoga SHOULD hurt us" and then a re-mention of the by-now-quite-well-known-as-overblown NYT piece.
I believe my "talking to the screen" reply was "No. No, no no, no, no no." And then I got determined to write this.
Tapasya: what is it, fifth in the niyamas? Somewhere in there? Satchidananda translates it in his commentary as "washing" although most metaphors have to do with fire, burning away. To be honest, Satchi's commentary compares it to beating one's clothing against rocks, a real physical washing process, getting the dirt out, which I think, even without the fire metaphor, gets the idea across nicely.
So wait, it's burning or else being beaten on rocks? Holy crap, did I sign up for your ashtanga workshop?
Right. Let's fix this.
Tapasya could be understood in asana terms as meaning, bending to the point of release. Nothing in that says pain (although, as I hope to say later, emotional pain is something I think is necessary in asana practice if an asana practice can be said to be WORKING). But also, tapasya could be understood in terms of discipline, so that it means, "getting to the mat six days a week" (or however often). And, tapasya can also be read in its "burning" sense, as being about breath and stoking the "inner fire" or, as so many texts have it, "digestive fire," and then it becomes about diet and breathing and pranayama, and I think that's also accurate.
The yoga does NOT need to hurt us on a physical (annamaya) level. Sure, I can see an argument about getting (as it was put elsewhere) that last little bit of Marichyasana D, but really? To expend all your attention (not labor, but ATTENTION) on the last inch of a bind? Do you have nothing more subtle to work with?
Where ELSE can one find tapasya? What, you think the (ni-)yamas only exist on your yoga mat?
Nobody talks about ahimsa that way, like you're only non-violent when you're on your 2x6.
I've been referring (mostly to myself, for I am my own most common interlocutor) to the parenting and the householding as "following the dharma" for quite a few months. It feels right (and I'm nipping the idea of dharma from the Ramayana, mostly, as far as I can understand it, so any lack here is from my inability to grasp that book; as any writer says: the errors here are my own) and it feels like the reason I don't wander off and pursue my own thing or "fix" (which would mean "break" but that's a long and different post) my relationship situation.
How and why should I carry around the new child screaming in his sling for 14 hours a day, including 3:47 am, on some random night? Why did I do that for a few months?
I did that because that's what you do. Did I know it was coming? Nope. Did I wish it was different? Yep. Did I do it anyway? Uh huh.
This too is a kind of tapasya, discipline at doing the activities which constitute (but are not) the massive surrender of parenting.
I do not have a LOT more emotional sophistication than my almost-three-year-old. I have a FAR more sophisticated emotional EXPRESSION, in range and depth, but I don't have a lot more CONTROL than he does.
When he cries for over ten minutes, I *still* feel like I'm in a burning building or like someone is trying to drive a nail into my ear. Red alert, a bit of adrenaline, a lot of annoyance, a desire to go walk around the block, a desperate wish for J to say, "I can get this." All of that, all of the refusal. Sometimes I will go get whatever it is (this often happens when he's going to bed, which he just does not want to do, so it's not as easy as "fix my train" or "I fell off the couch"; those are easy), and I'll go in there and try entertainment, then I will try singing Grateful Dead songs (he used to love "St. Stephen," really!), then I will try telling him about (so he will imagine) the big steam engine from Michigan, passing cars stopped at snowy street crossings. Sometimes he falls in with that, and sometimes none of that works.
As soon as I get his emotions under control, even a little bit, my emotions come under control a little bit. And I think that I have already exerted (or determined that I will exert) control when I wade in, to try to get that quiet that the household wants. Some nights annoyance waits for me to fail (funny how one splits like that, you see yourself being annoyed while you're also being consonant and patient, and it's definitely you being both, at once) and other nights annoyance vanishes as soon as I practice consonance and storytelling, and other nights, when that consonance fails, annoyance reappears with volume. But not every time: sometimes I just fail and walk off, like "oh well that didn't work" and I'm not really angry at anyone, it just didn't work, like not catching a frisbee.
Parenting is constant tapasya. Not that one has to "do the work" all the time, because sometimes you just chase your kid around the house and it's all laughter and goofiness, but because there are going to be moments of emotional tug-o-war and discipline that WILL HAPPEN and they will happen several times a day, but you can't ever predict how much or when on any given day so you always have to be BOTH slack and ready. All the time.
Now think of a 9-5 job in a context like that, and the schedule is MUCH more settled. You work, you have your anxious portion of the day (that meeting or that person or that news story or whatever), you have your chill portion of the day, you have the post-work commute (ahhhh horror!) and then your post-work beer (ahhh chilling) and so on and so forth. Emotions are settled by schedule, and in my case as a parent, they're also upset by the chaos of my schedule, I never can be certain which or how much of what kind of emotion I'll need to feel at any given minute, which is probably also similar to how my kid experiences emotions, as they happen.
This is a nice segue point to emotional stuff in asana practice (nice combination of the two prior sections).
It used to be that certain postures would set off more frustration or more emotional release, and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana never quite does fail to be emotional, although I did have a good couple years with it, where I could just do it, make it very annamaya, and move on. Nowadays I'm getting quite a bit of emotional stuff going on and through my asana practice, even when it's really light (in fact, most-so when that's true, which is why that's true), and it's not set off by any posture in particular, nor is it about any specific thing, and so it's quite a bit, like, well, parenting.
Thursday I had the most intense emotional practice I've had since at least June and one of the most so in my whole yoga history, and on the level of posture, nothing happened. No Intermediate, no wild developments in asana, it was just another practice day in the yoga studio's small room (all beige and orange, very hard balance for someone nearsighted, but that's part of the adventure).
9-something am, opening chant, sun salutations, and a practice that would take almost an hour to get to Utkatasana. Adrenaline, nervousness, tremendous anxiety in the Suryas. I had to sit for a while and really focus on the bandhas to get it to calm down. Not overcaffeination; I know what that feels like. Nice hip openings through the triangles, but anxious panic-attack-style breathing in the side angles, and particularly so in the revolved ones. I kept the posture, or came up standing, depending on how heavy the panic got, but I did not break practice. Something (like I said before about equanimity) sustained the emotional "work" as long as I stayed on the mat, sort of in-the-zone, even if I wasn't doing a specific asana. Panic-attack-style panting turned alternately into sobs and laughter, pretty wild interchanges from one to the other. If it calmed down enough for me to do a posture, I did a posture. That's how I did the Prasaritas.
I definitely wished, at least twice, that I'd never found this practice so I wouldn't have to feel this stuff. I actually felt the words "I don't want to be broken open by this" go through my head. Then I made myself accept that, chased those words down and owned them, because this IS why I got into this. You want to PRACTICE, right? Then practice this, too.
I bet it took ten full minutes of this weird hysteria before I could complete the first side of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I kept the outstretched hand, two fingers extended, even with the foot unlifted. Again, the physical readiness somehow intensified the emotional work, gave it a sort of anchor; if I'd taken a seat, the emotional wave would have run away.
That's when I started seeing, in my mind's eye, the parking lot back at my father's funeral, bright sun, big black hearses from the agency, a lot of people who knew each other, all having stilted conversation because we had to talk around the main topic, even remembrance was done like that. Nobody was ready for it, that event, somehow. Like it was impossible, like it would never happen. And yet with all the arthritis and the exit from public politics and all, aging had taken this house-binding effect on my father (and as early as 1987, when I was 17), and he told the old stories with all the customary enthusiasm, but there was always a sense, to me, that that reduction, that shrinking from the public, was a black hole. Admittedly, he wasn't exactly looking down there and coming with wisdom for us, but I was suprised how friends and family also seem to have no idea, in a way, WHAT HAD HAPPENED. See how weird that is? It's like, "I live a thousand miles from here and ALL YOU LOCALS have as little idea what this is, as I do? Less, even? How the fuck is that possible?"
I tried like hell to dig into it with my eulogy, which included a Whitman quote I love and can't reproduce here with precision, something from "Body Electric" about "a man of character passes but infrequently..."
On the afternoon when my brother had told me, by phone, that the passing was likely to occur, I went out to the park by the university (again, in bright sun, blue skies--isn't May UNbelievably pretty?) and practiced with a friend, and I overtly dedicated the practice to my father. It was pretty great, not legendary, but consistent and great, and I was bending and breathing at the moment of his transition (1-something-that-afternoon?) and that was, I felt, the best thing I could have been doing since it wasn't going to work to go out there.
I think Christian funerals get it wrong. It's not this weird mortification of the body, it's being in the room at the moment of transition. Apparently my brother had been there, and they just left, after some mourning period, and I almost felt like saying, BUT YOU MISSED IT! YOU MISSED THE ENERGY!! but that would have been impolite, to put it lightly.
I'm going to try to be there May 23, on that anniversary, so I can at least try to do the "honor" ceremony that I've read (on Tim's blog) that children do for deceased parents. I won't do it traditional Indian, first because I don't know it and second because it's not my or his system, but I want to at least make an energetic show of trying to "get it right."
Part of what I was thinking, even when the emotional expression during that studio practice (back to 2012 now) was sadness, was, "What the FUCK, Universe? You half-paralyze my father when i'm SEVEN-FUCKING-TEEN??? You cripple our ability to have adventures and climb mountains and revisit important bars and all of that stuff?" I feel like they got to raise me and I didn't get to raise them back. My mom is losing her memory (I think in a fairly standard way, mid-70s aging, not a dramatic Alzheimer's thing) and she and my dad just retreated, through the 90s and since. It's ok, I suppose, but my divorce is about the last piece of ME that they got to process, and they never really understood who cracked out of that particular egg. Maybe we only would have gotten along so well, but I still wish I could have shown him, her, them, more about who I Really Turned Into. Or, hell, given some of those experiences and my Abject Art course and all the foot-behind-head, maybe that would always have been a bit much.
I have never believed that energy "re-manifests" as its causal moment; I don't believe that a particular hip tightness, say, IS because of a lost parent or a rough night with the kid or whatever. I think more that energy pools up in like a near-death-experience tunnel; it loses its genesis moment as it changes character, and when it's expressed, it's in a new body, new moment, like reincarnation.
I suppose, in that way, I don't really believe in ghosts.
When I called it a practice, I took a longish time just lying on the floor, and then sat up and crossed my feet (half-Siddhasana) and had a sort of meditional moment. Usually I ask to sit still and the mind starts monkeying and eventually the energy gets extroverted and/or I have to dash to a class or errand or get food. But this was continuing the mortality meditation, and I remember thinking, "These are not my feet." I'm going to be the father that leaves my son, sometime, and if that ceremony is Christian, then "I" will be the centerpiece, but "that" won't be me, these won't be my feet then, right? And they're not my feet now. "You are not your feet." Death is a wonderful enlightener. Or sometimes I remember that my kid can be run over by a car or eat a peanut and go anaphylactic (is THAT how you spell that?) and it could go the other way. And then every relationship becomes human and vulnerable and I'm happy to see everybody and eager to be around people but I also wanted to just cry for an hour because I couldn't handle any more of that line.
So I got up and went on with Thursday.
To come full circle, because it feels a bit rude to leave you all on that line, it's tapasya to keep practicing not just when you're sore, but when you have an hour's practice like that one. Friday, for the record, was much emotionally mellower and physically stronger. I wonder sometimes if I will ever be strong and centered again, these days are so random and temporary (so IMPERMANENT). Vulnerability comes almost with a kind of crumpling; it does become humanly strong again later, yes? After all, our friend Chogyam Trungpa makes his warriors out of a vulnerable sadness....