Training

Nice extended weekend. Every weekend should be four days long. Actually, just figured out how to use a few well-placed vacation days and the upcoming holidays to ensure that I have NO five day workweeks this month. It’ll be three 4-day weeks, one 3-day week, and one 2-day week. Ahhhhhh.

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Today I figured out how to combine dog training and house cleaning. Usually sweeping or dust mopping involves Tyler swooping in and attacking the broom or dust mop. Hmmmm. How to solve for this? I tucked some dog treats into the waistband of my yoga pants (no pockets!) and grabbed the broom. I called him to me, told him to “sit!” and gave him a treat when he complied. “Stay!” I said, putting my hand in front of his face to get the idea across. He looked at my waistband and played along.

I managed to sweep about 25% of the room before Tyler, overcome with excitement about the broom, came bounding over. Okay, so another “sit” command, another treat, another “stay!” And another 25% of the room swept. This went on through the whole house. Another triumph for behaviorism.

Here’s a picture of the lap dog.

lap-dog

All ji, no ri

Owl asked if asana can be considered art. From a three-dimensional object in space perspective, it could certainly count as sculpture. But what else?

I’ve been reading a book called Picturing Mind: Paradox, Indeterminacy and Consciousness in Art and Poetry. I don’t quite know what to say about it. Now that I think back, I’m not really sure what I expected it to be. The things it gets at seem obvious, which makes me tempted to say that the book is naïve.

I wonder though if the author just isn’t interested in many of the same things that I am and, therefore, drawing many similar parallels — so it all seems, well, obvious so far.

Here’s a quote:

Observational painting as enquiry into “the real, resistant and experienced world”

In our experience of things-in-the-world, we seem to encounter volume, solidity, materiality, substance — yet the appearance of substance is deceptive when looked at through three different lenses. Firstly, through our perceptual experience, we discover that the object is not a static stable entity but a dynamic part of a continually changing field of perceptual and interpretive activity. Secondly, through our cognitive processes, particularly scientific modes of enquiry, we encounter at the sub-atomic and quantum levels a world of interpenetrating energies and forces. Thirdly, in considering our existential condition we find our own identity or self to be anything but a fixed, finite, object-like construction — rather it is a matrix of at times contradictory moods, feelings, thoughts, processes which somehow cohere but are open to continual revision and transformation as we negotiate changing circumstances and conditions. Our position as observer is more transparent, indeterminate and inseparable from what we observe that might at first be assumed.

Thus “objects” are events or fields of relationships, transactions between observer and observed. They have no enduring substance or self-identity, no permanent essence. They are relative, impermanent, and ever-changing. And observational paintings present us with iconic and indexical images which are the products of an engagement with these event fields.

Some of these ideas about painting and drawing from observation can be linked to ideas about experience, thought, perception and notions of the real put forward by a number of poets from the 1960s onwards. In exploring their ideas we can see, from another angle, more of the complexities and paradoxes that surround our relationships with the world — our entanglement in the unfolding mystery of being with other beings in amongst the fabric of things. We share our existence with beings who have purposes, needs and corporeal presences that are not ours, and we exist in a world that has a profound disinterest in our presence and an enduring materiality that is both our habitat and spatial/temporal reference. Engaging with this materiality gives rise to questions about reality and otherness, how we experience and how we represent or express changing fields of consciousness.

Okay, as I was reading that into the voice-to-text software, I thought, “Wow, this is actually quite pretty.”

Now I just want to throw in something that I was reading yesterday from Shunryu Suzuki’s book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, which is a series of talks as he did on the Sandokai.

We do not make much distinction between things that exist outside and things that exist within ourselves. You may say something exists outside of yourself, you may feel that it does, but it isn’t true. When you say, “There is the river,” the river is already in your mind. A hasty person may say, “The river is over there,” but if you think more about it you will find that the river is in your mind as a kind of thought. That things exist outside of ourselves is a dualistic, primitive, shallow understanding of things.

So the characters in the first line [of the Sandokai] refer to ri, the source of the teaching beyond words. The true source, ri, is beyond our thinking; it is pure and stainless. When you describe it, you put a limitation on it. That is, you stain the truth or put a mark on it. In the Heart Sutra it says, “no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no objects of mind,” and so forth. That is ri.

The next line reads Shiha anni ruchusu — “the branching streams flow on in the dark.” Shiha means “branching stream.” Sekito says shiha for poetic reasons: to make these two lines of the poem beautiful and to contrast shiha with reigen, “source.” Reigen is more noumenal, and shiha is more phenomenal. To say “noumenal” or “phenomenal” is not exactly right, but tentatively I have to say so. That is why it is good to remember the more technical terms ri and ji here. Ji refers to the phenomenal — to something you can see, hear, smell, or taste as well as to objects of thought or ideas. Whatever can be introduced into our consciousness is ji. Something that is beyond our consciousness — the noumenal — is ri.

We talk about emptiness, and you may think you understand it; but even though you can explain it pretty well, it is ji not ri. Real emptiness will be experienced — not experienced, but realized — by good practice.

So you may ask, “What is the real teaching of Buddha?” If you don’t understand it you will keep asking, “What is it? What is it? What does it mean?” You are just seeking for something you can understand. That is a mistake. We don’t exist in that way. Dogen Zenji says, “There is no bird who flies knowing limit of the sky. There is no fish who swims knowing the end of the ocean.” We exist in the limitless universe. Sentient beings are numberless and our desires are limitless, but we still have to continue making our effort just as a fish swims and a bird flies.

When we understand things in this way, according to Dogen, we are not people in mappo, the final period; our practice is not disturbed by any framework of time or space.

Okay, so back to asana as art.

LOL!

What does art need, in order to be art? Documentation? Intention? A “product” or “object”?

Gah! I can’t go down this path. It gives me art school flashbacks!

Maybe art needs ri, tied up somewhere in the web of its aesthetic or documentation or intention or objecthood? No matter, it is WELL beyond anything we can pick at with critiques or analyses. (Thank God.) And how about the web of the being making shapes? Can it possibly be in a position (yes! a little joke!) outside/beside/beyond ji, with its appearances and words and framework of time and space?

Who knows? No matter. In the meantime, let Suzuki Roshi put a bluejay in your heart.

Gratitude, Clothes & Steam under pressure

I’ve been lucky to have the most delightful string of practices lately. Instant theta state. Just enough focus to be conscious of how good asana feels. Thought, one morning as I drank my pre-practice coffee, “I am so lucky to be able to do this.” Meaning the practice. And not meaning “able to do it well” or anything like that. Just to be incarnate. Muscle, nerve, bone: really, what more could you ask for?

So it’s been pretty rosy. I’ve been particularly enjoying stretching out the hip flexors — which suddenly became especially possible after Thumbs of Steel Candice undid some ancient knots in my left quadratus lumborum. Suddenly the samakonasana/hanumanasana part of standing feels UNbelievably good. Luckily, I was taught by VBG to include the samakonasana/hanumanasana crim bit in my practice. Otherwise I’d feel guilty about it.

Over the years I’ve left it out for long periods of time, because it really irritated my hamstrings — to the point that it was entirely useless for my hip flexors. But apparently it’s now time to enjoy hanumansana. It’s the most good-hurt part of my practice, by far, and I look forward to it every morning.

Oh, right, this is about gratitude. Well, this morning I am particularly thankful to the practice and its powers of transformation. I wrapped up and sat there for a moment on my mat, and noticed something was missing. Something I was vaguely, intellectually aware of possessing, but which I never *really* knew about because it was so much a part of the fabric of my psyche. Today it was notable because it wasn’t there.

I didn’t wonder, “Did I do enough?”

Nope. The new question, apparently, is whether I can feel practice all the way through.

I am a head person, which explains my penchant for fundamentalism in Ashtanga. When I was just doing primary, that was easy — I was heading for setu bandhasana, and once that was done, it was urdhva dhanurasana and closing.

Now, though, I am on my own and swimming out past the raft. There are intermediate poses, and extra urdhva dhanurasanas, and hangbacks, and passive bending. So it’s easy for me to feel like I am not “doing enough,” and that I should make a set curriculum for every morning of so many repetitions of each element. That way, I can assess whether I did enough.

But this morning, I was simply grateful that I’d had another feelingful practice in theta state.

What would it mean if I were to one day just sit on my mat and just stay there, theta-state, for hours? Would the world screech to a halt? Would I be “bad”? Would I be “good”?

Good, bad, yes, no, enough, not enough.

It’s getting practiced away.

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In case this entry’s sounding too ethereal, let’s also make note of a couple of mundane things.

1. Clothes shopping

I know, I always complain. But seriously, I am hating buying clothes because there is no standardization of sizes. I went to a shop in a chi-chi part of town and grabbed a 00, 0, 2P, 2, 4P, and 4 of a couple of skirts I wanted to try on. The woman who helped me was hovering, eager to ferry whatever I was selecting to the dressing room, and when I finally headed into the dressing room, both she and one of her colleagues (who were already in the dressing room area) looked up at me rather guiltily. I imagined they were talking about me before I came in, trying to figure out why I don’t know what size clothing I wear.

Some of this I blame on Ashtanga. Back in the old days, when I was into weightlifting, I wore a size 4 suit. Now I have size 6 shoulders, size 4 waist, and size 2 hips. Um, yeah. Like a tiny man.

2. My newest entertainment

machine_2_webb

The Vapor Clean II. Yes, I’m a dork. I know. My Gift calls me “Monica” (if you ever watched “Friends,” you’ll get the joke).

Do I feel goofy admitting that I am thrilled by a tool that shoots out steam and cleans things without chemicals? A little. But then I think of the ozoney smell of the rooms I’ve cleaned so far… LOL!

I still feel a little leery of the thing, considering it’s boiling and pressurizing water in a small metal container that I’m pulling around behind me. I finally got comfortable with my pressure cooker after a couple of years of it not exploding — hopefully I can learn to trust the Vapor Clean II a little more quickly.

As I knelt beside it this morning, and started to clean, I had a quick flashback to climbing. That moment when your feet leave the ground in the morning and you wonder how the day’s going to go, and if you’ll be touching back down safely at the end of the day. I guess using the Vapor Clean II could be considered an extreme sport for housewives.

Needless to say, Tyler is magically attracted to the hissing, moving red metal animal. The Cop, on the other hand, is totally disinterested. Even though I showed him it SHOOTS steam.

monday

Reading about observational realism — the pursuit of likeness. Meh. Not my favorite thing. Not enough recognition of the air quotes it needs.

Still, it’s like looking at a still life. Soothing and seemingly solid. Still.

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“there is equality among you and all beings when separated from prakrti, owing to having one form as consciousness” (Ramanuja)

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Charles Bernstein’s blog. Some good art (LOVE the Joan Mitchell painting!), and some good audio of poets reading.

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Led class with Muscleman on Saturday. I have no idea what the deal was, but it was about a thousand degrees in the room. He went over and messed around with the thermometer a few times — perhaps it was broken.

Zipped through primary and headed into second. He’d left me alone through primary, but came by to give an extra crank on both sides of pasasana, then a serious cranking on both sides of eka pada sirsasana.

“Huh,” I thought. “I’d be moving a lot faster if I had a teacher crank me into this every morning.” Followed by: “I don’t know if I want that.”

Surprising thought.

Second obedience class, Backbends & Bath time

Wednesday evening was our second obedience class. “Sit” and “come” commands. Tyler was thrilled to see his dog friends reconvened. And totally absorbed in hunting down pinecones. Seeing as class takes place in a park under cover of some very old sprawling pines, the hunting is good.

He’s good with the sit command, but a little hardheaded about coming when called. Especially when he’s in the back yard and wants to carry on eating dirt.

Dog Teacher (and Tyler) demonstrated a maneuver whereby the handler has the dog on leash, catches the dog’s attention, says “Come,” and starts cheerfully running backwards. Cheery energetic dogs will generally want to run to catch the backwards running human. Tyler was all over this game.

Then we tried it with treats. This is the only command I am practicing with food treats. Ty is amenable to learning without food, but the “Come” command is really important — it can be a life-or-death command, say, if the dog is eager to go check out a rattlesnake on a hiking trail. So we’re using food. Once Ty realized I had a treat when I called him in class, he was especially compliant.

But that isn’t REALLY why he came bounding toward me every chance he got. No, it was my jacket, which must be retired from dog training class. My winter jacket (yes, I’m already wearing a winter jacket in Scottsdale!) is an oatmeal wide-wale corduroy jacket with fake fur trim on folded-back sleeves. And oh, how Tyler LOVED that fake fur trim! It was like I had a dog toy attached to my arm. My own fashionable bite sleeve.

I’ll hand it to him, though. When I pulled him back and told him “Leave it!” he transferred his attention from the jacket to the food treat. Still, the jacket’s got to go.

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How have backbends been? In a word: great. All of ’em feel like magic these days, from salabhasana to ustrasana to kapotasana to urdhva dhanurasana to hang backs. Something about the hip flexors, for sure. I’ve been including hanumanasana at every practice, and it is just stretchy good.

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I leave you with a picture of Ty’s bath this afternoon. He loves the bath and particularly the plastic cup I use to rinse him off.

bath-time

Language envy and Hangbacks

One of my friends had a baby in mid-July. She lives in Seattle, so I’ve only seen her daughter via photos on her blog. The other day, though, there was a video!

Little KP is starting to make “hey, I want to talk!” noises. Very cute. And very interesting to Ty, who tries to figure out where the sound is coming from. He’ll look at the screen, under the computer, and in your hands as it plays. Best of all, though, is his Canine Head Tip of WTF, which is pretty much my favorite dog thing in the world.

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Yesterday was led class. Sanskrit Scholar did the honors, as Muscleman was out of town for a friend’s wedding. The British Director was present, so she, Sanskrit Scholar and I went out for tea after practice. Nice. It’s been a while since we all got together.

Practice felt good. Apparently I am back to a home practice with one led class per week mode. Fine by me. I turned the heat on in the house in preparation for practice on Thursday. First time this year. And yes, I am a baby — the temperature in the house was 70, and I wanted it at at least 76. Also ordered some more thermal shirts to wear during practice.

Anyhow, yesterday the heat was compliments of the studio and my fellow practitioners. Everything felt a little tighter than it does in summer, but not bad. At the end of primary, SS said we could all help each other with dropbacks. Seeing as I am not trusting about that sort of thing, I opted to just do hangbacks. And I’m happy I did. They were great. Finally there seems to be some kind of significant coordination between psoas and abs and bend.

I have no idea what it’s all about, but it feels nice to hang out in hangbacks.

Gift

I found my birthday present to myself!

Was thinking I’d buy a Kindle. Borrowed one we have at work to try it out, and felt like meh, it’s okay. Not enough love to really feel compelled. And most of the books I’d want to buy for it aren’t offered in Kindle format.

So, as is often the case, I stumbled upon what I really wanted once I’d stopped looking for it.