Lover

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Lover

Across my inner thigh,
the left one, high along
the tightrope of tattered
lace and the pale ridgeline

that leads this wanderer
from vertical curled hip
to hollowed pool below:
Fingertips brush, press, and root

through plexus of treasure.
When I was a young girl
I rode an expensive
Selle Francais on expensive

English saddles. I loved
the proper sit and post;
best of all the country
canter, to see withers

damp, the steady heavy
muscles transform to liquid
ripples, shivers of nerve
and heat. Cruel girlish gaze:

Capture is a wonder
both wicked and desired.
The sweet hand’s guiding drape
leaves in its wake a scroll

lavish, long, thin: imprint
of a quill, black ink scrapes
knee to toe, back again.
Each touch a stain of pleasure –

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Completion (Blue)

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 Completion (Blue)

The only Innocence
is stasis.
Do not mistake
this
for neutral stillness,
but rather
a presence
of one strength exhausted,
collapsed against another.
Neither a Holding
nor a Supporting,
limbs pressed together,
Aspen leaf in wax paper:
Dependent
but not
Intertwined.

The garden is made beautiful
primarily from what it is not.
Begonia, Vinca, Sword Fern;
black soil shining soft, giving way
in effulgent expectation,
Spring without end.
Grass lays flat to the Serpent,
the calloused arched foot –
All eyes of the sacred glade
turn past and above
damp fronds, the dripping heart
of lily and rose,
to a blue that drifts,
floats, deepens,
never settling to a single shade.

Blues shape the green garden
as the emerging sketch,
unnoticed and unremarked,
define a home –
the lives, births, deaths
within its walls.
It is always
the in-between –
shifting hues
of azure, navy tinged
with black, pale saltwater
almost white at the shoreline –
that bring the shocking flood.

For a long time, years and years,
there were two bodies
side to side
fingertips touching even in solitary
dives of deepest sleep.
Bodies milkwhite in a blue room.

The garden is repetition.
Sexless fronds unfold,
part feather part web,
again, again, and again.
The self-generating roots,
bees above in ecstasy of hunger,
stamen, nectar,
anxious flight.
Long bodies of insects, lime green,
elegant, thin,
who consume their lovers
when sated.
All repetition
is desire.

Another word for repetition
is pattern.
Fingertip to fingertip
lovers wake at twilight –
pattern preordained
or like the shaded fern self-generated –
in the design of desire,
in the small stitches,
one can see
tiny knots,
a delineation
that shapes
separates.
Eventually one arrives
to the borderland
beyond which
the vivid pattern
gives way,
and returns
to the cruelest innocence.

The rooted garden.
The shifting blue above.

buried no shovel (sketch)

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buried no shovel
(sketch)

Dear reader,

There is a woman.

She is a mother. Housewife.
She has never paid taxes. She was handed cash and tense instructions,
flawless unscratched mirror to her rich white sisters of 1955.
Her own grandmother had more understanding of money than she does,
even though she, too, was handed cash, once a week, along with a kiss on her vodka scented cheek.

“Why do we have money, Mommy?”
said this woman’s 8 year old daughter 3 days ago.

 

 

Thus began a conversation about parallel universes, the general meaning of the exchange
of
“Goods.”
And Value.

 

When the mother the housewife
reached a certain age, had one too many breakdowns,
demanded one too many payouts beyond the value
of whatever Goods she had on hand,
Truth rose finally from her somnolent bed.
Truth can be so lazy, so sleepy sometimes,

a little like a housewife who starts the Sancerre at 4 instead of 5
and takes a little extra yellow pill for the anxiety.

But when She wakes up she is so fucking hungry,
you would not believe the savagery of her hunger
unless you, also, have lived through years and years of sleeping
with your secret assassin, your captor,
and finally wake
the bed stripped and empty,
with the fine boned jaw of the Honest Goddess keening over you,
demanding all manner of change one cannot possibly enact
as quickly as She requires.

So the housewife moved around, traveled, took care of her children.
Her tax man, would you believe it, is becoming her shrink,
which saves her I cannot tell you how much money.

She will have to give up manicures.
And her Vision of one day being a human being.
Sometimes she wonders if the first might be more difficult.

She is still beautiful
but she is so haughty
and unhappy and tired of silly men
who wear hats indoors and do not read
and end sentences with all forms of dangling…..

Mostly these days she does math.
She fucking sucks at math. A gift she gave to her daughter.
The one who asked about money.

 

A family of philosophers
chess players
dancers
boxers
yogis
useless intellectuals
poets readers writers gypsies travelers
fashion-addicts political debaters ~~

Inheritors
of depression
addiction
restlessness
incest (stopped with her, went way way back, like the blue in her blood)

Hamlets
and Ophelias
rage
laziness
which
then reveals itself
as
Truth.

Her math, this lithe woman with the foul mouth
and feathered-soul,
keeps showing her
this equation:

0 0 0 = 0 no matter what
Broke.
Stay in this city,
the hated city
a pretend city
hot dry dusty bro-filled,
stay here
and she can afford
a tiny flat in a car-drenched suburb.
Perhaps.
She hates cars.
And suburbs.
And bros and dry air.
She is green like a peacock.
The city an encrusted brown concrete slab.

Or
she can gather
the goslings
and move to the East, which is closer to Paris anyway,
and buy a couple of wooded acres
near the water
near great schools
and the Great City.

For a song, as they say.
She loves the poetry of that phrase:
a whole new life
for a song.

Indeed her math is wretched (profligate, kind, but cannot add), however even she understands that all equations in this particular test
=
her own imprisonment.
She understands, as the Buddha has taught
as the strung diamonds
of Patanjali
have taught,
that she is responsible for
the construction of this confinement.
He is a Happy Jailor
but she gave him the job.
She has lost the keys, always always
she is muttering
“Where the fuck are my keys?”

She’s not a housewife anymore.
But she still has to
bring him
the goods.

City Child

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City Child

– “It’s an abstract world.
You’re an abstract man.”
~~ The Ramones

– “I am a city child. I live at the Plaza”
~~ Kay Thompson
Eloise is my favorite children’s book not only because of its flawless wit and masterful timing, but because Eloise the child reflects a truth not usually spoken of in the context of childhood:
She is lonely.
Eloise is intelligent enough to live as a small adult, and vulnerable enough to have endless faith her restless adventuring mother will always send for her, though of course she never does. The adults in her life are either absurdly stupid or hired substitutes; they are either affectionate but unreliable alcoholics or they’re frustrated outcasts. She relates most to the latter.

Eloise knows loss. Eloise knows bravery. And hilarity, even in solitude. Eloise is bright enough to outwit her tutor and compulsive enough to draw pictures on hotel walls.

My son is Eloise’s twin.
                      
Recently he took his first trip to New York City. Each of my children are to have a trip of their choosing upon the transition to double digits: an age that feels to me equal parts a turning from (childhood) and toward (independence).  My son chose, I’m sure through no maternal influence, to explore Manhattan.
Or, more accurately, to obsessively play chess in Greenwich Village at the Chess Forum and with the eccentric, often brilliant street players in Washington Square Park.
It was disconcerting to see my young, chronically disorganized first child adapt with such alacrity to the chaotic speed of the city. Within a day he blended to the environment like camouflage, absorbing new smells, accents, energy, and crowds as if he’d known them since the pram.  His temperament is perfectly suited to the urban movement of a busy metropolis: he holds no judgment against anything but stupidity, he speaks quickly and thinks at triple the time of his speech; he is utterly strange and indifferent to those who find him that way. What he appreciates is skill, quality, and competition, and it doesn’t matter if the source of those qualities come from a banker on the Upper East or a drug dealer who talks to squirrels.
Actually, he prefers the man with the squirrels: less pretense, more action.

From the earliest age my first born had preternatural focus. Before he could speak he took apart and put together puzzles of 50, 100, 150 pieces. Deeming the pictures unnecessary, he began to complete the puzzles on their white side, forcing us to maneuver around him for hours in our small dark kitchen. My neck developed a permanent ache from bending over to occasionally help and watch the pictures take form. Eventually a few people told me this was “not normal,” a comment that left me confused, defensive, and cold. He is my son, I would think, that’s all. Not a comparative number on a measuring stick, and not a label to make those of us addicted to cubbies and categories feel at ease. Gifted. Asberger’s. ADHD. Twice gifted (a particularly asinine designation). ODD. OCD. ADD and fuck off please.

Many years later I was to learn the usefulness of labels: they are guides, but only if utilized as such. When one begins and ends with naming, the name, like all form, comes up empty, and creates nothing but its own cage.

Like any mostly functioning mother I am absurdly proud of my children, to the point of being obnoxiously myopic in my opinions of their gifts and beauty. Fortunately I hold these thoughts close to the heart; I know how common my beliefs in the Extraordinary are in the closed maternal world.

My son, though, does exhibit a gift about which I feel open admiration: he possesses a truly adult humility in the context of study. He is as ego-less as he is competitive, and the source of this capacity is a mystery to me. It does not come from me, and it certainly does not flow from his father. He will learn from anyone, in any environment, if there is something of value to be learnt.
The players at Washington Square Park sensed this, and were he to be a true City Child I think he would quickly become as regular to that landscape as the brown skinned nannies, restive junkies, book-heavy students, thin plane trees and great old elms.
My son is a secret. The landscape of his mind he keeps hidden; I am the only one who catches more than a glimpse, and that is simply because of my persistence. He often reminds me of my father – brilliant, angry, depressed – and sometimes of me – melancholic, not quite of this Earth. Mainly, he is just himself, a trickster both toddler and wise old man. I sense he loves the city because he knows he can disappear there, and live among the millions who are also visible and rarely seen.

Pause

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Pause
The glacier knocks in the cupboard
The desert sighs in the bed
And the crack in the teacup opens
a lane to the land of the dead.”
~~
W.H. Auden

I have grown weary of “I.”

It is so tiresome, to be thinking always of oneself, to write always of oneself. Writing about the intricacies of a daily life, one’s own daily life and history, has value only in that others might see a breathing thread of union, or a mirror of their own joys, passings, miseries.

Eventually language ceases. Where, then, goes the binding thread?

The ceasing is a death. Isn’t it? Or is the ceasing a pause in the recitative, a momentary relief from the constant chorus?

Writing in this little world, my world, is constant, almost compulsive. On my last trip to Florence and Paris I filled a journal of several hundred pages with notes, essays, observations. And, of course, complaint. Perhaps it is the compulsive nature of my need, our need, to communicate, to keep record, that has finally exhausted and humbled me.

I have arrived, I believe, at the limits of language. Or to my admittedly limited creative capacity to use it.

A story:
The second to last day I was in Paris, the air itself was alive with trembling vivid color: green of Cezanne, domed sky of an aged Rubens – blue both soft and electric – limestone glowing a secret inner sun. Wandering from the shadows of the old Jewish quarter in the 3rd into the stunned openness of the Tuileries, the sheer odd fact of my own presence, of this finite body taking part in the communion of the reborn Earth, buds of spring, lovers intertwined like vines, came upon me with a force of brutal primordial Joy.

 

 

These are moments given not earned; they come suddenly and are gone. They carry with them all the baroque wisdom of ancient gods, and like gods they disappear as quickly as they unexpectedly arrive.

I once knew a man who understood gods, who like them spoke the language of grandeur and fearless exploration. He did not observe art, or books, or philosophy; he entered them, encased himself in a life of inquiry, appreciation, and Love for the finest monuments of human creation.

Had he been with me during that perfect moment in Paris, I think I might have clutched his hand. I think I might have said, “The Light.” That’s all. Almost too much. Because he would have been lost in the same wonder.

This is companionship. Brotherhood. Sisterhood. This is Indra’s Net: Union through Communion. Oh, how he knew. He just… knew.

Until he didn’t. At some point the knowing turned to arrogance, the arrogance turned to isolation, the isolation turned to rage, the rage turned on itself, an inferno inverted.

A few months ago he killed himself.

And now his absence is an even bigger presence than ever his life was, and perhaps this was part of his intention in taking his life with such settled annihilation. Self. Murder. He took the perpetrator with him, but we will always ask, “Are we not also perpetrators? At what point does the crime committed become collective? Is there a beginning?” We know, of course, there is no end.

Sometimes the richness of existence is too much. However complex the analysis of existence, or however simple a life seems through the lens of meditative awareness: it is too much, and the only sensation one knows is pain.

 

 

Through luck, love, work, a trick of the brain, that pain can be treated with time, a pause in the flowing phrases of one’s life. In the pause lies both relief and danger: linger too long and agony appears permanent, and those Parisian days drift further away, someone else’s movie.

On that sublime afternoon my thoughts stayed a long time with this death.  I traced as well as I knew how the mystery of this man’s mind as it turned slowly against itself, the months and years it took to turn his back to the light right in front of him. I wanted him with me, I could feel his rough hand, fingers thick and strong.

“Look,” I wanted to say. “Come back. Come back. And just look.”

Who was first to be blind?

~~ For my Father

Yoga as Tension

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Yoga as Tension

“Sukha-anusayi ragah”
                                            “happiness depending on external circumstance is desire”
~~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutra II.VI

The Best thing about London is Paris.”
~~ 
Diana Vreeland

Paris. Early May 2018.

I arrived in Paris during the last week of April after spending an unhappy few days in Tuscany fighting crowds, being grateful I know that the underground gateway to the beauty of those ancient hills can be easily found in winter, when most people sensibly head to warm beaches for holiday. Even the Uffizi Galleries fade when swarmed by the selfi-obsessed.

The arrival was, as it is more and more, a homecoming more than a visit. Stepping out in the 10th that evening to the noisy blend of drunken Parisian hipsters (they are the same, in case you wonder, as those in the U.S.) and stoned West African immigrants closing up their odd storefronts of cheap clothes, nail salons, and discount travel agencies, my body relaxed as a body only can when sensing some primordial Return.

Consider: the French verb for “to become” is venir.
               the French verb for “to return” is revenir.

How resonant this root: one must return to the most basic, raw Self (whatever that may be – an illusion, a wish, an invention, or a mosaic of all three) in order to find, or create, an authentic life. Returning, becoming, returning, becoming: it is rather like the Ujjayi breath of Ashtanga Yoga. Exhale, return to the home, the midline of the heart and core of the Self. Inhale, expand and become, reach into space with the outer lobes and limbs, only to find they are all the same: world, midline, Self, Other.

For whatever reason, I experience home, both the essence of return and becoming, only in this city. Even when my three children, who at birth took my heart and placed it in theirs, like a helix, are many thousands of miles away, I feel the truth of home here, in France, in Paris. It has been true for me since the silly and tender age of 12, when I made the decision that the day after graduation from high school I would travel to France. I kept that promise to myself, and I loved the country as much as I intuited I would.

After experiencing a long, brutal assault in far Northwestern China when I was 18, it was to Paris, and then Antibes, I traveled. I was ashamed to go to Denver, Colorado. But more than that I knew, like an animal, that I would be safe, embraced among strangers who did not feel like strangers to me. Or perhaps, as out of body as I was, it was the singular Light of the sea that drew me.

(A memory: one evening I sat on the beach, wearing the smallest of bikinis, my hair long, sun-lightened salt-tangled, a cigarette dangling from my mouth, writing, as I have since childhood, in a journal. A ridiculously vulnerable image of exposed girlhood. Two aggressive men approached me, and in one abrupt lightning flash of affronted and protective anger an elegant old woman dressed in white was upon them. She shamed them away in the most aggressive and proper French I have ever heard, and then turned to me and said in perfect, clipped English, “These boys. Whatever is wrong with them?” Then she smiled and walked away. I continued to smoke and look out over the sea. Safe.)

I count in my inner life three mysteries, which through therapy are not all that difficult to solve, though the Key, if there is one, remains just out of reach:
~ Why I did not pursue a professional career in dance, when my heart, gifts, and body were so obviously meant for the dedication to this Art.
~ Why I did not become an academic.
~ Why I did not move to France when I could.

The former two at this point are navel-gazing; I’m done with those regrets.

Where and how one lives, however, particularly for those who are acutely sensitive to culture, beauty, environment: for us living in a place that does not feel like The Place forms a wound that is akin to a sickness, an absence, a death.
 The rather grotesque differences between where I live and where I feel I need to live in order to Live is almost comedic, and reveals to me the uncomfortable truth that most of my existence has been ruled by fantasy and fear, which often are the same thing.

One afternoon after a long but awakening Ashtanga class with Kia Naddermier, an  otherworldly teacher and woman who serves more and more to me as a beacon of practice, I wandered for many illuminated hours throughout the city. I walked slowly, like a flaneur, all the way from the 11th to the tourist choked Rue St. Honore, through the brilliantly green Tuileries, over Pont des Arts and into the 6th, stopping only to take photos and stare. Particularly along the river, the city is too beautiful: no amount of looking will take it in. It is never enough. For the wide skies above the Seine I am insatiable.

 

 

It was in Paris I realized my marriage was over. It was in Paris I grieved my marriage, missed my children, and realized I would have to create a life in a city I loathe living by myself in a culture (tech, fitness addicts, bros, hipsters, Mommy-Land) utterly alien to me. It was in Paris I met the astonishing woman whom I knew on sight would be my next teacher, and it was in her shala I sensed an instant thread of profound, unfamiliar yet somehow comfortable connection with fellow practitioners.

My root teacher, Richard Freeman, speaks often of the Jeweled Net of Indra: an invisible but palpable web that ties us together, even when thinking we are most apart. In Paris I see more clearly the Net, and in joy want to stay for all my remaining days of existence in this incarnation.

I cannot pick up with my three little children and move to Paris. And so there is a fixed tension in my heart: my home is where my children are. My home is not where my children live.

It is not here, in dry, colorless, over-developed Denver, Colorado where I will ever experience a sense, existential or spiritual, of returning: this is not a place that aids in lowering my soul into the depths. The becoming, however, is up to me.

And is this not Practice? Is this not Yoga? The understanding that it is not location, or beauty, or Place, or preference that creates faith and Unity with the selfless Self. Nothing in the Yamas or Niyamas of the 8-Limbed Path dictate one must live in harmonized beauty in order to evolve.

 

 

 

There is no evolution without tension. Tension – of desire, of the wants of the ego, the great but illusory needs of the Heart – is a tool that, if used with skill, helps to sculpt and shape a spiritual practice. Discomfort is part of the dance. Karma is too: we live with our choices, and all those many years ago I made a choice to turn away from what felt like home.

I’ve been an exile all my life.
Perhaps it is the life of the exile that will help to guide my children toward wholeness.
And that is worth an infinite Paris springs.


 

The Best Love Letters are Brief

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The Best Love Letters are Brief

To my son, who is grieving –
To my son, who is brilliant –
To my son, who is too small to be this sad –
To my son, who is too young to be this worldly –

when you were conceived on a bright spring day many years ago, this body, my body, already knew you and your History and your Present and your Future.

It takes a long time to learn that you are only Infinity.

You must humble yourself to storm clouds, bow to poisoned lakes, and honor the fish who live there as your brother, your sister, even as you might slaughter them.

Wholeness comes from Wholeness, and the attempt to disassemble a piece (of Soul, of Flesh, of Story, of Family) will not disrupt the Whole.

When you were a very young child and could still hear about Love, I used to say to you:
“I Love you more than there are Stars in the Sky.”
But it was a lie.
You are the Love.
You are the Stars.
You are the Sky.

And it also takes a long time to learn that language is an affront to Infinity.
There is only Love.
Let us sit with it.

Corvus Corax

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Corvus Corax

Is it not a relief,
as the faithless years pass,
to wake with the dying
night? Dawn muted and brief

before the desert light
shakes shadows from spindled
limbs of thin trees who live
like starved saints. Venus bright,

infinite sun. Cacti
of Rainbow, Horse Crippler,
King-cup and Prickly Pear.
Bone-root of Pinon, dry

as smoke. Ravens gather
in a regal cluster.
Purple, Blue, Onyx
robes of oil-slicked feather,

Earth’s omniscient conclave.
Eyes deep as blackened jade,
tufted down ’round the throat,
still wings drift, wave upon wave –

 

Silence & Song: Motherhood

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Silence & Song: Motherhood

After the third breakfast of the morning, two broken dishes thrown away, one spilled and mopped bowl of freshly full dog water; after the new doll’s head has been replaced upon slender shoulders and the plush Easter bunny (ears gold, neck ringed with pink silk, already stained) has been rescued for the fifth time from terrier teeth; after the headband “with the bow” and the tulle skirted dress have been located along with the underwear that says “Tuesday” because it is “Tuesday, not, Mama, Wednesday, God,” and musical requests fulfilled (“no, not Afro-pop. The Police. I want the Police,” not yet knowing the tragedy of whatever Sting later became) – after the small child with the impossibly beautiful face and absurdly wily demands settles into her small throne of play and pop songs and small books hiding huge ideas,

I make my way in a secret silence (I can hear it beneath the Copeland percussion) to water. My head has not known water in three, or is it four? days. The heated rivulets are a Paradise. My body uncoils like the finger-leaves of a thirsting fern. My skin turns a happy pink from sugar scrubs and coral colored cleansers. Oh. How I miss their smells.

The child is quiet and happy.
I am quiet and happy.

Mama. I think I broke only one egg.”

And so the song resumes.

What is Practice?

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What is Practice?

The length of my exploration of Yoga has precisely mirrored the length of the most important relationship of my life, that of my affair and then marriage to my (X)-husband. In those days of my late 20’s I was almost drowning in gifts and newly discovered riches: finally I had left Colorado, I had broken from the coked up party people upon whom I had stupidly wasted the previous few years, I was in love with a kind, generous man who was lonely and complicated and knew everything a human mind can know about soul music – and I found Practice.

Yoga is analogous in many ways to erotic love or hard drugs: many people can walk into a yoga class, roll out a mat, tolerate or mildly enjoy the class, and then leave it behind. Like a one night stand or quickly set aside experiment. For others, the memory of that “First Class” burns all throughout one’s life, and serves as an occasionally sorrowful, sometimes joyful reminder of what Life feels like when lived fully awake or open. My first love affair, with a beautiful boy from Athens, Georgia, was like that. My first line of coke was like that. And my first Yoga class was like that, but even more so: I was caught, but I knew not by what. Yoga, above all, is Mystery.

As I grow older, and Practice weaves itself in and out of my life, its presence shifting according to differing levels of chaos, depression, discipline, and traditional “householder” needs, I find my understanding of Practice and Yogic discipline changing, though not necessarily evolving. This is due in part to the choices I have made over these many years: instead of the life of a semi-renunciant, to which my nature is in many ways highly suited, I married. And moved back, profoundly against my own instincts, to Colorado. I had a child. And then another. And then a third. My partner never practiced, and indeed held a slightly contemptuous attitude toward Practice, and during the gorgeous years of tiny babies and worlds awakening around me, my own world became smaller as my marriage fell apart and the reality of my own self-created imprisonment became clearer to me.

Discipline faded, even as I grew stronger as a teacher of asana. Oddly, the more hesitant I am in my own faith, the more artful and thoughtful my instruction has become. I am a good teacher. A gifted teacher. And not a particularly good yogini.

Strange, the contradictions we hold within our hearts and hands.

Over the last couple of years, circumstances in the strange, sickeningly commercialized world of Western Yoga have further isolated me from Practice. I practice both Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is particularly fraught with minefields of ego, historical myth, astonishing moral and physical judgment, and a sense of cultish superiority. It is also a beautiful art, the most beautiful I have seen in the world of asana and pranayama. My relationship to Ashtanga Yoga usually looks like an internal Robert Motherwell of dark and white devotion mixed with rejection, often blended together within seconds of one another.

In the Mysore room (the traditional form of practice is thus named), I have experienced moments of true passage, in which the dull, limited “Rachel, age such and such, of this body in this time” fades to the background of illusion and ego, and in its place is…. the numinous, whatever state is beyond language, beyond the reach of human description.

I have also experienced the opposite of this state, which is of course to be expected but presents its challenges nonetheless. In any engagement with art, one runs into obstacles – teachers who are totally misguided assholes, interior struggles that prevent evolution, insecurity, self-doubt.

Lately, however, it is not the struggle with Practice I feel so much, but more an overarching, long-lens conflict about the Western interpretation of Yoga.

We are taught that Yoga belongs to no one. It is a spiritual practice. It is a physical practice. It is a practice one can approach from myriad needs and perspectives, from the desire to thin one’s thighs to the burning zeal (tapas) for Enlightenment and Awakening.

As a woman (yet another problem in the history of Ashtanga Yoga) who lives profoundly within the Western realms of aesthetics and analysis, but who is also strangely overcome by true expressions of faith, I wonder more and more if… the whole project isn’t an ignorant commercial experiment, doomed to failure from the start by conflicts inherent between both cultural norms and good old American greed.

In the next year or so, when my children are just a bit older, I intend to, finally, make my way to India. I hope some of my questions might be answered, or at least addressed in a manner that brings me out of my myopic tendency to lean heavily into the cynical and the impossible.

In the meantime… all I can do is observe what is here, in this country, in this city. And this is what I see:

there is very little Practice (whatever that is, right?).
There exists, instead, an Industry. We even call it such: the Wellness Industry. And it is growing at a blinding pace, more than 10% in the last two years alone.  Spas and crystals and workshops and retreats to (always stunning) far-flung places. Fashion, asana sequences that are TM’d with laughable monikers (Yoga with Goats, anyone?) and almost offensive branding: “Mindful Vinyasa,” or “our signature … ” fill in the blank.

I love Practice. Some of my teachers are the most brilliant people I’ve ever encountered, and they reflect an intensity of discipline and devotion that is a gift to observe. I am not spilling any secrets when I tell you that Manouso Manos has not missed a pranayama practice in all the decades and decades he has been learning Yoga. Does this mean he has scraped his way through all the kleshasovercome samskaras both personal and universal? I doubt it. But he is closer than the rest of us.

And the teacher from whom I have learned most, partly from example, partly from listening, reflects a transcendent beauty that is a combination of natural brilliance and steady practice. Many thousands of people have seen their lives changed by a mere lecture or two from Richard Freeman, and if this is not the Yoga of transmission and compassion I do not know what is; to me, and to many, Richard is Embodiment (an opinion which I imagine drives him mad, but that is another essay).

The end of my marriage, for reasons I do not yet understand, is also bringing about an end to Practice, or Practice as I have known it. There is a great, new and frightening scale of questioning I have never before known about the very essence of Yoga as it has been adopted in the Western world.

Here: I don’t know if I like it. To admit such a thing, after identifying so strongly as a teacher and yogini for so many years, should be terrifying. But it’s not. It’s interesting, and fresh. I feel an honesty coming over me that I have never really known before. And a fearlessness.

I cannot stand the modern industry. I find most teachers to be so ignorant as to be irresponsible at worst or just silly and cheesy at best. In the Ashtanga world, there is a Puritanical devotion to mechanics and the imitation of practice in Mysore, India. But things have changed in Mysore. No longer is one supposed to linger in tadaka mudra, and people argue constantly over the type of breath used in Utpluthih. And may the gods help a teacher who attempts to teach Ashtanga Yoga without being Authorized. But to be even more frank, a lot of Authorized teachers are terrible, and become Authorized because they have made the requisite trips, paid the necessary funds, to the Institute in Mysore. I know an authorized teacher who told me that he’s “not an alignment guy,” which is a bit like a ballet teacher saying he’s not that into music.

And these concerns address only, for me, the more surface questions of Practice, safety, authenticity. The greater and more subtle issue has to do with Interpretation, or the manner in which the West has morphed, altered, and adopted these practices that are thousands of years old, and were often only given to male Brahmans who spent their lives reciting and memorizing the Vedas, or engaging in debate over the dualism (or not) of Samkhya philosophy. This has about as much to do with the overly franchised Western studios as the making of Epoisses in Burgundy does with Velvetta.

And yet. When the seed is planted it is not quickly killed off, even by cynicism, even by witnessing how bastardized Practice has become. Perhaps it is true that the West, with its Cartesian DNA of an intellectualized “I” sense, and its cultural history of money, success, and greed, will never be able to adopt the ethos of authentic Practice. But this does not mean Practice does not exist. Perhaps the turning away from the culture of Practice, toward something quieter, more intimate, and personal, is the first step toward really knowing, and then absorbing, the teachings of Yoga.