D&P Show Wordle

I love these little tag clouds. This is from the dog and pony show post.

And this is from the comments on the post.

And the winner is…

Red Sean.

You’ll get the little joke of his nickname if you watch “Rescue Me.” I keep calling him Red Sean, but I don’t know if The Cop will be willing to go along with that for very long.

Anyhow, here he is. We made our choice tonight. We’ll bring him home August 11.

Here he is shaking his head so hard it disappears.

He’s pretty curious & fearless.

And he’s darling when he’s asleep.

Dog and pony show, Deformation

During practice this morning, I kept thinking of my previous post, and how there is a perspective that includes a little more compassion.

I recalled the feeling of being stripped of all of my internalized “personal stuff” at a zen retreat. Of just BEING there. I felt bereft.

After all, we usually drag our pasts along with us all the time (even if that past is as recent as five seconds or five minutes ago). To suddenly be “in the moment,” where none of that stuff matters is rather disorienting. There are all the things we go around thinking about ourselves: “But wait! I was a valedictorian!” “I make lots of money at my job.” “I have a cool car.” “My hair is spectacular.” “Kapotasana was always easy for me.” “I love my family.”

“I am this.” “I am that.” Whatever it might be.

“My parents were loving and supportive.” “I was abused.” “My favorite color is red.”

None of that matters. Not in the present moment.

That can be kind of freaky. The story of who we are and how we came to this present moment can seem so compelling, so relevant to the present moment. But that’s an illusion. An illusion that can be undone by zen, and by psychoanalysis, and by — I suspect — any contemplative practice. The interesting thing about psychoanalysis is that you tell your stories over and over, out loud, and eventually come to see them as selected narratives. Deeply repetitive stories you tell yourself about yourself. A whole suitcase full of stories you carry around. In my own case, I eventually came to think of all of it as “The Karen Show,” the dog and pony show of who and what I am. The stuff I’d want the zen master to see when I went into the room to answer my koan; the stuff I’d want the Ashtanga teacher to see when he was observing my practice.

The stuff everyone wants everyone else to see and acknowledge in a class, or at a party, or in a meeting. I’m not sure if we use it as camouflage or as a security blanket. Maybe it’s just a habit.

Regardless, none of that stuff matters.

And, as I noted in the previous post, Matthew Sweeney keeps it out of his classroom.

***

Recalled something more from the workshop, something I’ve been doing, but didn’t note here on the blog. He suggested we switch off on which leg crosses over first in padmasana (i.e., start with left leg some of the time). It’s an utterly freaky feeling, and my first thought, looking at my right knee as it jutted up into the air at a weird angle, was, “Three years of Ashtanga, and all I’ve done is deform myself!”

Classroom management, Matthew Sweeney style

First off, just a note re: my interest in classroom management. My background (my official, professional background, not my actually-more-real, what-I-really-love background of visual art and writing) is in educational technology.

I am interested in how people learn, which, in turn, makes me interested in how people teach. Matthew Sweeney, I was happy to find, runs a very tight ship.

If you are itching to talk about what YOU know, what YOUR theories are, forget about Matthew Sweeney’s workshop. He leaves no opportunity for hijacking of his class, no opportunity for people to make themselves out as experts, no chance for people to start establishing intra-classroom hierarchies. It is really quite remarkable, how Teflon-resistant his workshop is to hijacking.

We’ve all been in classroom situations where every concept, every sentence, is an opportunity for some participant to launch into personal commentary and expert pontification. Sigh.

Not to worry, though. MS makes it impossible for any individual to shine a spotlight on his or her self. There is absolutely no teacher’s pet opportunity, either. He just doesn’t play that.

In the afternoon sessions, he offered a ton of info on practice and adjusting (we usually ran half an hour over), and he clearly delighted in people working together during adjustment practice. But he also asked us not to go into “teacher mode” (i.e., try to teach each other as authorities).

I imagine he would be cheerful about any individual who conducted decades of personal research and decided to hit the road to share his or her experiences. But not in his classroom.

MS could often be found, during the hands-on portions of the adjustment program, standing off a bit, observing like a scientist. He had no interest whatsoever in giving out personal “strokes.”

In the Mysore room, I felt that he was rather like a classical psychoanalyst: he mirrored my practice back to me, in a way that offered means to proceed (note: I didn’t say “progress”), but he eschewed any *individual* or *public* validation. Each person was practicing. Each person was where he or she was. Each person could benefit from some direction on how to proceed. None of that had anything to do with the ego-individual or the public-individual.

Despite this rigorous classroom style, I felt a great deal of human validation from MS. Doled out in a “grand scheme” sort of way. But he utterly refused to go down the path of elevating or validating individuals or individual practices. I don’t, actually, think he refused so much as failed to imagine why he WOULD do such a thing. It all felt highly egalitarian.

Not to say that his interactions weren’t very focused and open — very present and connected. Talking to him, particularly during Mysore practice, was not unlike talking to one of the zen monks.

At first, in the lecture-heavy sessions, I could feel some people shifting about a bit, eager to share their personal ideas — eager to be seen as “special.” But there was a “special” vacuum in the room. Again, similar to the feel at the zendo. Yes, we are here; yes, we are sharing this experience; but each of us is present as part of the larger whole and as individuals who have the capacity to contain our own practices (and, consequently, our selves).

So, perhaps a bit austere for some. A few people seemed frustrated at having their desires thwarted. They wanted to share their theories/personal experiences and were not given the opportunity. No chance of “I’m special” feelings.

On the other hand, there was absolute present in-the-moment interaction in the one-on-one (Mysore) setting.

A kind of greater validation that we are in this together. And that individual idiosyncrasies fall away when you look at the bigger picture.

reincarnation cycle

Wordle

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Click on the two below to see the word clouds made when I entered the URL for this blog.

I <3 Upside Down

Did a Matthew Sweeney inspired Thursday practice. From Ashtanga Yoga As It Is:

On one day per week you can practice Intermediate on its own, even if it is only the first four or five postures. Thursday is usually the best for this, sometimes called “research day.”

It is normal to try moving ahead and practice more difficult asana. At some point just give it a go, even if the practice is a little rough around the edges.

I had a blast. Standing through ardha baddha padmottanasana, then into pasasana. Through to kapotasana exercises. On through to eka pada bakasana.

Do not fool yourself, however, that you are doing it correctly or that you have mastered a posture or sequence when the reality might be quite different.

Um, yeah. Reality wasn’t looking so pretty.

***

During the hanging back exercise, I had a teaching tool idea. I have little marks on the wall so I can focus on something lower and lower as I hang back or drop back to the wall.

They’re a little line of Xs written in pen on athletic tape. (Amusingly, the dog occasionally spots one and tries to bite it. I think she thinks they’re flies.)

As I was hanging back, I thought about using a mark that has a distinct top and bottom orientation, and, specifically, putting it up upside down.

The little heart on the wall made a remarkable difference! It deeply affected my equilibrium, as if my brain, usually worried about trying to figure out what is happening and how to orient my body in space, was suddenly given a little treat to soothe its anxiety.

I’m going to experiment with slightly more complex images with distinct up and down orientations and see if that makes any difference. Fun experiment!

Anyhow, when I stood up, I could feel all kinds of energy and sensation in my spine and limbs. Usually that gets overridden by my brain disorientation, which blots out sensibilities and “blinds” me to my body.

***

We went to visit the puppies. Below, The Cop with our current two favorites.