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!”


31 Responses

  1. YES, totally: “what we want an (insert authority figure here) to see when (s/he) (observes practice, sits in on our class, interviews us, etc etc etc).”

    I used to have one suitcase of selves to carry around and when that one exploded (in a psychoanalytically literal way), I went about constructing new ones, and that construction was SO NECESSARY. But now I see that I have, indeed, a new suitcase, and yes, it is PRECISELY important that, for example, a Mysore teacher SEE the RIGHT ONES.

    Hilarious, in a fashion. Scary, in another. Comforting, in yet another.

  2. Or perhaps not see any suitcase/self at all? Didn’t you get the feeling that MS didn’t give a hoot about how you got there, but just that you were there, exactly wherever that might be, in the moment he was dealing with you?

    I’m advocating a no-suitcase, no self, no dog and pony show lifestyle.

    And yes, it’s funny, scary and comforting. The triumvirate of life. 🙂

  3. Do you think that asking people to drop all the bags can be disorienting in a way that isn’t helpful?

    I have seen people hop on the diamond vehicle and go through classic symptoms of *depersonalization*. In a way that is not grounded and generates some large extra stuff that in turn becomes the center of contemplative practice (or, if they jump ship, the focus of the “cult-escapee” therapy they seek). These friends have dropped some baggage but then new impressions of what it’s like to be post-baggage fill the empty space. [Hello, Eckhart Tolle conference. :)]

    Does this make sense?

    I ask because of course I agree with you (I love it when present situations–like ashtanga–are SO INTERESTING and arresting that the story fades… good practice), but I also sense problematicness between a very direct “dropping it” approach and staying grounded.

  4. Maybe we can’t give up the dog and pony show completely but we can be more aware of when it’s going on.

    It’s all a mystery to me, really. I am seeing a lot of people trapped in their narratives lately (esp. here in Spain). I don’t think I can totally give up the Yogamum show but lately I find I spend less time performing it.

  5. YM, I’m also traveling this week, and have actually been thinking about how moonlighting as a nobody is wonderful. I’m sure it’s a bit of practice for dropping the story too–and this might be why I love it.

    In the context of mysore practice, it is just so wonderful to sneak in to an archipelago of the community where nobody knows you. To enjoy the energy, and perhaps be grounded in the aspects that are familiar if not proprietary, while experiencing less internally or externally generated story. At least, that’s one way of approaching the whole drop-in thing.

  6. Yay! People free of their suitcases (at least for a while, at least a bit).

    And yes, Owl, there is keen awareness at zendos that the dropping of self can cause all kinds of destabilization in people. People are asked to leave if necessary. Usually that’s only in long-term situations, not short retreats. And I know there is a certain level of stability considered necessary for proper psychoanalysis (though I understand some of the modern psychoanalysts are challenging this).

    I don’t mean to be cavalier about the potential for destabilization. It’s definitely there. I’m not sure how to solve for it — is it dangerous, do you think, to even talk about this?

    So yeah. YogaMum’s middle way makes lots of sense. Even just recognizing when you’re performing (great way of expressing it, YM) is hugely freeing.

    And definitely, the baggage-dropping can turn into its own suitcase, for sure. (Damn, I keep trying to drop this freaking suitcase and it keeps morphing into a different suitcase and sticking to my hand!! LOL!)

  7. Yes on the last paragraph. Funny. But also hard to see people freak themselves out and get so very lost in the freak-out. And possibly generate suffering in order to experience suffering, because this is what they are told they are experiencing. (I don’t know anything about zen… but it sounds like the ungrounding could be a bit different in that context.) Theory/practice… not so separable. 🙂

    Is it dangerous? I hope so! If it’s not potentially dangerous, it’s probably not transformative either.

    I think Spirituality 2.0 is where we talk about all this stuff.

    I like it when you take it here.

  8. I’m all about the middle way.

    Or maybe just indecisive.


  9. YM: LOL!

    Owl, I suppose the potential destablization can be mitigated by having a clear system and good teachers?

    Re: suffering. Whoa. We make LOTS of it. Plenty to go around. And that’s a whole suitcase in and of itself. I really wish I knew more about how to help when people feel it/when they make it, etc. I don’t have any kind of answer, though…

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, all I can think of is plastering my suitcase with “Spirituality 2.0” stickers. And then I can cart it around with me wherever I go — suitcases aren’t just for traveling anymore! 🙂

  10. karen, the leg switching was frightening for me too. yes, it seems maybe i have deformed myself. yikes!

    a question, what do we get if we leave our suitcases behind, because it is so hard. for me, seems impossible. except, know what, i think i can glimpse it in asana practice, but maybe i am just kidding myself…ya, no, i think each pose has a history eacy day…yes, that’s a suitcase…

  11. I guess what’s left when the suitcases get put down is what we are without all of the ideas of what we need to be. Just us in the “right now” — without all of our attention going to things in the past and things in the future.

    I think it’s less about “what’s left,” and more about “who is.”

    And you’re really on to something with the pose “suitcases”! I think part of Ashtanga is how it makes each pose suitcase so clear — and then part of the practice becomes learning to accept and work with our expectations for poses — ultimately getting to the point where we aren’t beating ourselves up, because we know they’ll change each day and that we can just do our practice in the midst of that change. Maybe it’s easier to try to stay present to a pose/a practice — compared to trying to stay present in “real life,” or in relationships, which shift so much that it can get really complicated. So practice is practice for life and relationships?…

    Just musing here. And it’s 4:45 AM. So a big grain of salt. LOL!

  12. “So practice is practice for life and relationships?”

    Absolutely. If you (one) can extrapolate what you learn in practice to the rest of your life, you are (one is) on the right track, I would say.

  13. Real Karen is emerging, slowly. The realization will be completed when you finally see that “there is no Karen at all”.

    “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.” No my dear, reverse your point of view, you did not felt bereft, your ego felt it. But if you stay “there” (in that feeling) without judging or expecting, understanding may come that your “I” is imagination cause it si true: “I” is just not “there”. But there is no reason to talk about it…. you are so close.

    “So practice is practice for life and relationships?” Nonesense. We do yoga practice because we don’t know what else to do.

  14. I always miss the hot weekend conversations!

    I would add that the personas (suitcases) are only dangerous inasmuch as we need to feed them through unconscious actions and attachment to results.

    No ego = danger! Richard Freeman talked about that once to the effect that ahamkara = an immune system that sometimes filters out and sometimes lets in.

    (unrelated note – DZM I use to live on Anderson St in Beacon Hill near Joy St – were you a fan of Buzzy’s?)

  15. Huh? Personality stereotypes? Why is everyone here saying what they always say? This is hilarious!

    I love you guys! Just to stay in character, let me say what I always say:

    Zee dear you are full of puckey. “Peak experiences” are great but you don’t get to use them to pretend you have everything cleared up. You’re just running away from your real personality issues (for example: meanness, obsessions with women, fear of relationship) by identifying with brief moments of oneness experienced IN THE PAST. Meanwhile, in the majority of your life, you are in a state of arrested development.

    You, right now, hunched over your chair eating pizza and yelling at people on the internet: that is not enlightenment. You got to PRACTICE something to even begin to see what you are NOW. Self-study is a path to self-recognition… or maybe you think the snap-you-fingers-wake-up method is actually working for you?

    Congratulations on experiencing oneness for five seconds yesterday. Can I send you a trophy?

    Off to deform myself and love always,

  16. Because we love our suitcases? And even if they are not the passport, there is no point in banging them around.

  17. Dear Owl, I accept your criticism, although I view your words as relatively minor superficiality given the efficacy of your understanding. Self-development is not a deterministic do-and-get-result endeavour. We are unlikely to achieve a single deterministic solution regarding this subject.

    Efforts (sadhana) to effectively reduce the burden of subjective “I” are likely to involve many initiatives which when taken together can easily strengthen the very thing that we want to get rid of.

    Yoga practice doesn’t eliminate the ego-enhancement threat; it merely hides it from the intended practitioner by introducing an automated challenge response system. The goal should be to identify and eliminate “expectation” from the practice. The markings on the Karen’s wall are indication of such wrong perspective.

    Before you reject my words can you suggest practice that can (in any way) produce certain-steady-ego-diminishing effects?

  18. “The markings on the Karen’s wall are indication of such wrong perspective.”

    Sometimes a backbend is just a backbend.

  19. Yes Cody… symposium of ‘Goddess Divine Energy Conjunction ‘ has mentioned just that. Such backbend leads to mercy, glory, divine recognition, divine love and divine praise, all together to ‘Realization of the Cosmic Divine.’ …. It leads to the Super Mind 😉

    Why yoga? Why don’t aerobics? Then I might say: Karen, don’t be afraid of being bereft, how graceful are your feet in sandals, o queenly Karen 🙂

    Dog and pony show of who we are!

  20. Wow. Owl used the word “puckey.” This conversation has become very serious.

  21. Hi Karen
    It is difficult to lose the self in meditation, because the self is not programmed to be abandoned. I’m looking forward to a daylong this Saturday, to calm up.

    For those of us for whom it took years to get the feet in Lotus, the advice of switching legs once in a while makes a lot of sense. You will get resistance when binding, but it’s possible.


  22. Haha! I’m here at work, having a VERY tough day, and I look at these comments and am hugely amused. I love that this conversation happens. Thanks, you guys.

  23. Awww, you said something new!


    Ego enhancement, expectation, snuffing out?


  24. Um, sorry.

    With Zee’s gravity and all this talk of the writing on the wall, I started hearing the echoes of the prophets.

    Thank god the background traditions at hand–ashtanga and zen–are big practical jokes. Sometimes puckey is just a backbend. I mean sometimes a backbend is just aerobics. I mean sometimes practice is just writing on the wall.

    Oh god, now I’m really lost.

    Hope the day concludes well, Karen.

  25. Well, it has concluded.

    That’s my Yoda suitcase.

  26. Wait, are you saying we can unpack the baggage from our suitcases and put Yoda in instead? Like Jedi training in the swamps of Dagoba?


    I have to refrain from commenting on the new post because I’m inordinately excited and might geek.

    The summer our shelty Gem was a pup, we put her in a backpack and climbed all over the Beartooth Mountains. I remember her squeaking as I traversed the boulder field at the summit of Mt. Moraine. She also rode around in bike paniers. Seems relevant? Calling the dog Yoda might be asking a lot of him, though.

  27. Oh my. Red Sean is due to weigh in around 100 pounds. I’m not gonna want to put him in a backpack.

    But dogs in backpacks are certainly less irritating than our personal suitcases, regardless whether the dogs fit.

    Will you have travel stories of Boston? Perhaps a picture of Cody?

  28. You and Laks both broke the seal on personal photos this week. I like that a lot.

    But Cody (and I) might be even more coy.

    We’ll see…

  29. My caricature is remarkably accurate!

    (Owl and I already grabbed a quick cuppa today)

  30. (Puckey.)

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