Sunday, April 6, 2014

God, Nothingness, and Chess

I think this blog is fast (or not-so-fast, considering how little I post these days) becoming an everything-else-except-yoga blog. First, I haven't been posting as much. And when I do post, my posts seem to have less and less to do with yoga, and more to do with, well, everything else. But what do I do? Life flows like a river, and I don't have too much control over how the river meanders on its course. So the only thing to do here is to, well, go with the flow.

Among the everything else that has been occupying my life, philosophy is one of them. Why? Well, I don't know, maybe because I happen to teach it? :-) And since philosophy and philosophical issues seem to be permeating my life, I suppose I'll talk about these here.

I've been reading a lot of Sartre's Being and Nothingness lately, mainly because I'm teaching Existentialism this semester. As I mentioned in this post, a quick-and-dirty way of summing up Sartre's view would be: "Existence precedes Essence." As one of the key philosophers in the existentialist movement, Sartre holds that we humans are born or "thrown" into this world. And once we are thrown into this world, we are then saddled with the absolute freedom and absolute responsibility for defining who and what we are. Thus, unlike man-made objects like chairs and tables, which came into this world with a predefined purpose or essence, we humans came into this world first, and then are forced to create and define our own essences or purposes. And human life is such that we always have to make life choices, and these life choices are such that in making them, we continually recreate ourselves. Thus, to be human is to continually and endlessly create our own essences and purposes.

But in order for this process of continual self-creation to be possible, there also needs to be a parallel process of self-negation or self-destruction. Why? Because self-negation or self-destruction introduces a nothingness into our lives, and this nothingness is necessary as the empty space within which we can then have room to create our new selves through our life choices. Without this nothingness, continual self-creation would not be possible. Thus, Sartre goes on to stress that this nothingness is the very condition for any possibility of being, or creation. Hence his famous saying: "Human being is the being through which nothingness comes into the world."   

But if we originally and continually create ourselves through our continual self-negation, then there would be no space and no need for God. The traditional Judeo-Christian conception of God holds that God is a self-creating being, a being that creates itself from its own nothingness. But as we can see from everything that I just said above, this conception also turns out to be a perfect description of human being as the being through which nothingness comes into the world. Thus, if there really has to be a God, then we are Gods! We are our own Gods! (Yay!...)

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I suppose I might owe you an apology for subjecting you to an unsolicited lecture on Existentialism. But there is some method to all this madness. I'm actually preparing you for a personal story. For some reason, I have recently been encountering quite a few people in my environment who have been asking me if I believe in God. I'm not sure why this is so; maybe I look like the sort who is in need of some salvation. In any case, some of these well-meaning people are Muslim students from the middle east (there is a sizable contingent of middle-eastern students on my campus). Some are also good Christian folk from the local community.

Which is probably not all that surprising, considering that this is Idaho. What is somewhat surprising is the way this question pops up sometimes. Yesterday, for instance, I was playing chess with this guy at the local Starbucks. Somewhere in the middle of our second game, he suddenly asked me if I believed in the Almighty. I'm still not quite sure why it would occur to him to ask me this question in the middle of a chess game; a game which he was, by the way, losing quite badly. Maybe he thought that my superior chess prowess might be the result of divine intervention. Or maybe he thought that invoking divine authority might cause me to succumb to a bout of Christian charity, and be merciful to him in his darkest hour on the chessboard.

I, of course, honestly answered no to his question. Upon hearing my reply, he paused for a moment, and then said, "I have noticed that many college professors do not believe in God. Well, to each his own, I guess." I smiled and left it at that. If this were a more appropriate occasion, I might have gone on to subject him to the above lecture on the Existentialist view of (non)God. But I suspect that that probably wouldn't have gone down well. Besides, who wants to be subject to a lecture on Existentialism in the middle of a losing chess game?

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But all these well-meaning recent inquiries about the state of my belief in the Almighty have also led me to ponder another issue. It occurs to me that many people divide the world into two halves: Those who believe in God or some kind of all-powerful creator, and those who don't. I think this is a very unimaginative and impoverished--not to mention divisive and polarizing--way of seeing people and the universe in which we live. And it's not only Muslims and good Christian folk who see the world in this way. Atheists and many supposedly free-thinkers do this too.

But then again, maybe we don't just do this with belief in God. Maybe we do this with many other things too. For instance, somebody else might see the world in terms of whether one is a Republican or Democrat, or whether one practices Ashtanga yoga or some other non-Ashtanga form of yoga. It is all too easy to see and understand the world in such ready-made divisions, isn't it?   

What am I getting at here? I don't know, probably nothing in particular. After all, what good is a blog for, if not as a space for going on and on (and on) about everything and nothing in particular?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Flow state, art, beauty, and yoga

One of the courses I am teaching this semester at the university is Philosophy of Art (a.k.a. aesthetics). Over the past couple of months of teaching this course, I have been trying to read more novels and listen to more music in order to get myself into a more... artistic state of mind. After all, if you only philosophize about something, but have no intuitive experience of the thing in question upon which to base the philosophizing, then the philosophizing becomes a bit fruitless, doesn't it? (Now, who was it who said that "concepts without intuition are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind"?...)

In the course of listening to a lot of great music, I have had the opportunity to witness (on Youtube) many beautiful performances by many wonderfully talented artists. As I do so, I can't help noticing that in many of these performances, it is not just the music being produced that is beautiful. The performer, being fully immersed in the music with her entire being (I suppose this may be what some people call a "flow state"), takes on a certain beauty in her facial expressions, and in the way she moves as she plays her instrument. To give you an example, have a look at this performance of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D by Sayaka Shoji. The whole performance is kind of long (almost 38 minutes), and you might not have the time to sit through the whole thing, but if you just watch the first 10 minutes, you'll know what I'm talking about:

  
After watching this performance for, like, the twentieth time, I still can't decide what is more beautiful: The expressions on Shoji's face, or the music that she is actually playing. But this much seems to be true: Being in a flow state (and if Shoji wasn't in a flow state when she was performing that piece, I don't know who is) is not just something that is experienced by the person who is in that state, but is also often something that we the observers can observe by looking at the person. And if Shoji's case above is anything to go by, it would seem that being in a flow state is not just a beautiful experience for the person experiencing it, it is also a beautiful and inspiring experience for those of us who get to see the effects of that state on the person's face and body. So... yay! More power to flow states! 

But since this is (still) a yoga blog, I suppose I should try to relate everything I just said to yoga. Well, many of us who have doing this practice for a while will readily attest that yoga practice in general (and Ashtanga practice in particular) is quite conducive for producing this flow state in us during practice. If nothing else, the very flowing structure of the vinyasa count ("Ekam, Dwe, Trini...") encourages less (over)thinking and more movement and flow. And I'm pretty sure many of us have at one time or other experienced this kind of flowing feeling of being at one with the practice in the moment of practice.

And this is a very beautiful thing. But at the same time, there is also this perception that yoga is different from the performing arts because yoga practice is somehow personal in a way that the performing arts are not. Perhaps it is because of this perception that openly performance-oriented displays of asana prowess tend to be frowned upon in the yoga world. As a result, there seems to be this tacit consensus among the politically-correct yoga public that if and when teachers or students do poses in public, it should be primarily for educational purposes, i.e. either to show students how a pose is done or to demonstrate a pose in order to educate the public about the benefits of yoga. Doing poses in public without such an educational aim in mind is seen as "showing off" and merely "feeding the ego" (and we know, of course, how bad feeding the ego is in the eyes of the yoga public).

But what if public performances of yoga, like public performances of music, can also have the effect of inspiring the audience with the beautiful sight of somebody who is in a flow state? Imagine if Ms. Shoji were to one day decide, "Hmm... I don't think I'm ever going to perform in public again, because performing in public is showing off and feeds my ego, which is bad for my spiritual development." If she were to decide this (and follow through with her decision), wouldn't the music-loving public be deprived of a wonderful source of beauty and inspiration? After all, we know that great art does not just consist in taking in the art with one of our senses; as we have seen, a big part of the beauty also comes from watching great performers immerse themselves in their art as they perform. In the same way, might it not be the case that at least part of the beauty of yoga comes from seeing your favorite teachers or practitioners perform the poses that they do? Speaking of favorite teachers, here's a recent video of Kino performing lotus handstand in public:


Actually, I don't know just how "public" Kino's performance is in this case, since there doesn't seem to be too many people watching (unless we include the Youtube audience as being part of the "public" in this case). But anyway, I think you get what I'm trying to say here...

But yes, I am aware that yoga and music are not the same thing. After all, yoga is spiritual in a way that music is not (But wait! Do we really want to say that music is not spiritual?...). So maybe public performances of yoga are "wrong" in the way that public performances of music are not. But still... oh well, what do I know? 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The onion and the hereafter

Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling emotions in a more intense kind of way. These feelings can be described as a sort of muted melancholic feeling that originates somewhere deep in the gut. It's not the "can't get out of bed" kind of depressed feeling that some people who are depressed report feeling. Rather, it's more like a deep melancholic feeling that feels like an undercurrent that is undercurrenting everything else that I may be feeling or going through. And honestly, the feeling is not entirely unpleasant. It feels like tapping into something deeper within myself, wherever "deeper" may be. I also feel a bit like an onion whose layers have been peeled away, exposing deeper parts of myself that I may not have aware of before.

I think the occurrence of these feelings has something to do with my second series practice, but I have no objective way of proving this. It may, of course, also have something to do with the fact that I am reading existentialist writers (Sartre, Heidegger, Camus) very intensively and closely in the course of teaching my Existentialism course. But again, I also have no objective way of proving this.  

Anyway, these intense episodes usually occur off the mat and at seemingly random times. For instance, I was in a restaurant a few weeks ago, and the in-house TV was playing a documentary about the 1994 attack on the figure-skater Nancy Kerrigan. I suddenly found myself feeling very sad (and yes, I will even confess that I felt a lump in my throat...) for Kerrigan, even though I normally don't feel too much for the trials and tribulations of celebrities, being the normally cynical person that I am.

I have communicated with a couple of my teachers about this phenomenon. They have encouraged me by telling me that this is 100 percent normal, and that I should continue with my practice. They also suggested that I learn to appreciate and love these moments, and to see them as windows into a deeper place within myself (probably somewhere in the liver... just kiddin').

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Recently, I have also been struggling with a very simple question: Is there life after death? Or, more specifically, do we need to believe that there is some kind of existence after death in order to be an effective Buddhist or yoga practitioner? I know that Buddhism and yoga are two very different things (whatever clever new-age-ists out there may say), but this much at least seems common to the two traditions: Both traditions seem to presuppose that this worldly existence is not all there is, that something, whatever that may be, persists after our earthly bodies have expired and decomposed.

Of course, none of this should be any concern to you if you practice yoga simply for "stretching" or to stay in shape. But if you take any of the accompanying spiritual mumbo-jumbo (karma, purusha, the five koshas, to name just a few) even a little bit seriously, I simply cannot see how you can then call yourself a yoga practitioner and not believe in some notion of an existence beyond this one.

So what's the problem here? Well, maybe there isn't a problem. One could simply accept the minimal amount of metaphysical baggage that your community deems to be kosher, and continue to merrily do one's asana practice as is. You know, maybe believe in some kind of afterlife, just don't commit yourself to too many specific details, so that when you die and go to wherever you go, and find out that the details are not quite what you thought they were, you can quickly adapt and be on the right side of the fence :-)

The problem arises if you have a slightly more rationalistic bent of mind, like me, and if you have always had the suspicion that any talk of the hereafter (even if it is packaged in cool-sounding shit like karma and purusha and emptiness and whatnot) is a kind of intellectual opium designed to pull the wool over your unsuspecting eyes and make you more likely to listen to people who want to control your life and tell you what to do. The problem is also compounded by the obvious fact that nobody (at least nobody that I know) has actually been to the other side and seen what is actually in the hereafter. So if you tell me that there is karma and purusha and a bigger purpose beyond the ken of our intellect that can guide us to a better place, my first question would be, "How do you know this? Have you been there?"

Oh well. I really don;t know what else to say at this point. This is really just me talking my head off, as you can see. If you have anything to say, feel free to comment. If not, I hope you have fun reading and thinking stuff through with me. It's all good, one way or the other.     

Monday, February 3, 2014

Floating pigs, (eating) shrimp, ducks, and progress in Karandavasana

Warning: This post contains descriptions of dead animals being chewed to bits and then burnt. It also contains what is commonly referred to in the blogosphere as food porn. If you are offended by any of these things, read no further!

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Over the weekend, I made a trip to Boise with a couple of friends from work. While there, we decided to go on a Vietnamese food binge, because there are no Vietnamese restaurants in Pocatello, where I live. Everything went well on Saturday, not-eating-animals-wise: We went to this nice Vietnamese bistro in downtown Boise for dinner, and I had a really flavorful tofu dish, and my meat-eating friends got to indulge their share of pho and boiled beef.

But things took an interesting turn on Sunday morning. For brunch, we went to this hole-in-a-wall Vietnamese place in a more... industrial part of town. I took one look at the menu, and knew that this was going to be difficult: There were no tofu or other meat-substitute dishes listed on the menu. Still, I decided to try my best to find something that does not have meat in it (we needed to be somewhere immediately after brunch, and I did not think it appropriate to make an issue by alerting my friends to the apparent absence of vegetarian options on the menu). Under "Appetizers", I saw something called "Spring Rolls". It doesn't say anything about the presence of meat in it, so I ordered it. Then under "Noodle", I saw something called "Noodles with Egg Rolls" which, again, does not say anything about the presence of meat. I asked the server about whether there was meat in any of these two items. In halting English, she told me what was in them. I couldn't really understand what she was saying, but whatever she said did not sound like any kind of meat. Just to be sure, I asked her if there was shrimp (some Asians do not consider shrimp to be meat) in any of these dishes, and she said no.

Having thus ascertained the absence of meat (and shrimp) from what I took to be a reliable authority, I went ahead and ordered the spring rolls and the noodles with egg rolls. A few minutes later, the noodle dish came. I bit into the spring roll, and felt this stringy, slightly rubbery texture which had to be pork. Ha! Do Vietnamese people not consider pork to be meat (or is there some place on this earth where pigs grow on trees?...). But I ate it anyway, because not to do so would involve either eating nothing of the dish or eating only the noodles, and I really did not feel like loading myself with only empty calories in the morning.

A couple of minutes later, the spring rolls came. They looked something like this:



 [Image taken from here]

As you probably notice, one does not need x-ray vision to see that there are shrimp present in these rolls. But I decided to eat them anyway, because, what the hell, I have already eaten pigs, so why not shrimp?
And besides, these shrimp (who probably don't have central nervous systems in the first place) are apparently already dead, so they can't possibly suffer any more from my putting them in my mouth, chewing them to bits, and then burning them in the inferno of my digestive fire. 

I should also report that both the pork and the shrimp do not taste half bad. So if you are a meat-eater and love Vietnamese spring rolls, Boise isn't a half-bad place for Vietnamese food. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of this particular restaurant... I know it has "pho" in it, but that's not terribly helpful, is it? I mean, there are probably like a million Vietnamese restaurants with "pho" in their names... 

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So, to sum it all up, yesterday morning, I (knowingly) ate meat for the first time in, like three or four years. And I don't even have a particularly good excuse for violating ahimsa, beyond the rather prosaic fact that I don't want to have to not eat what I have ordered, and possibly insult the good people who run that little Vietnamese restaurant in Boise, Idaho. 

Naturally, I was very curious about what effect eating meat would have on my practice this morning. Quite surprisingly, the answer is: Not much. The vinyasas were floaty as usual (not to brag or anything, but people have said this about my vinyasas, so I am just reproducing their compliments :-)). Which is proof that even if pigs can't fly, they might at least be able to float when ingested by an Ashtangi. What's even more surprising was this morning's Karandavasana. For maybe only the second time in my not-so-long Karandavasana career, I was actually able to lower the lotus to my forearms with control: Rather than simply crash down onto my forearms, I was able to kind of slowly, with control, move my knees from the apex of the pose to my forearms. But coming back up is still not coming. But that's alright, I'll take what modest progress I can make.

Hmm.... this is intriguing. Could ingesting shrimp actually help me to better impersonate a duck (as you know, "Karanda" means "water fowl" or "duck")? What is the relation between shrimp and ducks/water fowl? Do they, like, love each other in nature? Hmm... well, here's a question for you second series practitioners out there: If scientists could somehow scientifically prove that eating shrimp would improve your physical performance of Karandavasana (like they would care, but you know, this is purely a thought experiment), would you start eating shrimp? This question assumes, of course, that you are a vegetarian. If
you aren't, well, then it is moot. No judgment or anything. Just curious. I already kind of know what the answer would be, anyway. But just for the sake of sheer curiosity (and fun), I'm going to set up a poll for this
question in the right-hand corner of this blog. Come to think of it, it's been a very long time since I ran a poll here. So if you are (1) vegetarian, and (2) practice Karandavasana regularly, think about taking
a second to answer this poll. 

Oh, and just so you know: I have reverted to my non-animal-eating ways. The only thing that might possibly tempt me into eating shrimp again would be, I don't know, dim sum (ever heard of shrimp dumplings?)? 

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Speaking of (not) eating animals, below is a very recent music video from the person who first inspired me to stop eating them. I studied with PJ Heffernan at his shala for a year when I lived in Milwaukee, WI. PJ's practice and teaching are both awesome (as you can see from the video), and his fierce devotion to Sharath and Guruji is even more awe-inspiring. Enjoy!     


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Being 38, the almost-unbearable tackiness of being

Warning: If you are the sort who may be offended by hypothetical (but not actual) Barhmacharya violations, I suggest you skip this post, and read no further.  

Hello everyone, I understand that I have not posted anything here for more than a month now. Well, I'm still alive and kicking, and am still working on my Karandavasana.

These days, the practice is something that I do in the morning, and then I shower and go to school (after putting some clothes on, of course!). I feel that the practice is now part of the background machinery of my life. I do it to keep my physical and mental and spiritual life going, but this is also probably why I haven't had much to say about it. I mean, would you blog about the state of your AC or heating unit at home everyday? I'm guessing the answer is no; I mean, we should all be grateful to have AC and/or heating, and offer thanks for that. But blogging about every little sound and vibration that it gives off is just a bit... much, don't you think? This is kind of what I feel about yoga blogging right now.

But after getting an email earlier this afternoon from a friendly reader (you know who you are) who pointed out to me the lack of posts on this blog, I suddenly felt guilty enough to actually write something today. But what should I write about?... Oh okay, here's something: I turned 38 yesterday (January 24th). Yay! Happy Birthday to myself (Cue cheesy music: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...). What did I do on my birthday? Well, I didn't actually do anything on my birthday itself. But the day before (the eve of my birthday, if you will), I went with a couple of friends to the local brewery, where we had a few too many glasses of beer and wine. We stayed there till midnight, and my friends wished me a happy birthday on the stroke of twelve. And then one of the bartenders had an offer for me: Would I like to go on an all-expenses-covered trip to the local... (what's the polite term for this?)... gentlemen's club?

As freaking intoxicated as I was, I actually said no to the offer! Now, before you get any exaggerated ideas about my supreme mastery of Brahmacharya, I'll like to politely inform you that my refusal of the offer had less to do with my mastery of my baser desires, and more to do with my aesthetic tastes: I simply find the very idea of going to a gentlemen's club on one's birthday to be supremely tacky. Why is it tacky? I can't really explain, it just is. It probably has something to do with the idea of gawking at a female stranger's lady parts on the anniversary of the very day on which I came out of another lady's (i.e. my mother's) lady parts! If this isn't tacky, what is? And moreover, due to some funny clause in Idaho law (this is a red state, remember?), the gentlemen's club is not really a gentlemen's club, technically speaking: Idaho law actually requires the ladies to keep their lady parts covered! So it should probably be more properly referred to as a lingerie club...

But why quibble over semantics? Hmm... is this story even appropriate for a yoga blog? Well, I haven't been blogging for so long, I no longer even have a sense of what is yoga-blog-appropriate and what is not. But what the hell is yoga-blog-appropriate, anyway? Do we yoga bloggers inadvertently censor ourselves in our writings? Hmm... something to think about, no?       

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I am officially an intellectual masturbator

At a party a couple of days ago, I got into a verbal/intellectual sparring match with a colleague from political science. I'm not going to bore you here with the intellectual/philosophical details of the exchange: Suffice to say that he is a postmodernist, and I'm not (if you really want the details, email me, and I'll try my best to reconstruct our exchange).

The exchange did not last more than 15 minutes, but given the passion with which he and I both held our respective views, plus the lateness of the hour and the effects of a few drinks, the whole thing quickly became intense, in a not-so-good kind of way. From the beginning of the conversation, I sensed that he was pushing my buttons, and my grad-school training kicked in. Grad School 101: When somebody pushes your buttons, push back, and find a way to draw some intellectual blood. As you can well imagine, passions flared quickly. Objectively speaking, I was way out of my depth; the last time I read postmodernism was in grad school, when I read a little Deleuze, and maybe a little Derrida, so I am not exactly in the best position to go into a debate with somebody who actually wrote his doctoral dissertation on these guys.

But I wouldn't give in without a good fight. So I tried to play a game of intellectual aikido/taichi with him; whatever I didn't understand (which was a lot), I simply rephrased in terms of what I do understand (phenomenology/existentialism), and then threw back at him as intellectual projectiles. And whatever I couldn't convert into intellectual projectiles, I simply dismissed with a stockphrase like, "Well, it is all very well to talk about this, that or whatever, but you really don't understand that such-and-such-and-such..." and then quickly moved the exchange back to familiar terrain.  

An artist's impression of me throwing intellectual projectiles... well, just kiddin'
[Image taken from here]

As silly as the above strategy sounds, it must have worked, because I succeeded in seriously annoying him. I must have struck him as a seriously arrogant and pompous ivory-tower academic, because it got to the point where he simply pronounced everything that I was doing as intellectual masturbation. At this point, a friend who was standing by and observing the whole exchange must have sensed that things were on the verge of getting ugly, because she came up to me and said she was tired, and asked me if I could give her a ride home. I had to agree to her request, because I was the one who gave her a ride to the party earlier in the evening. So I turned to my interlocutor, told him that it was a pleasure speaking to him (was it, really? Hmm...), and that we should continue this conversation. He simply looked intently at me, and then pronounced, "This is not necessary. I am willing to stake my PhD on this."

Wow. Really? So after all this intense passion and name-calling, all he was willing to stake was a paltry piece of paper? Well, this shows us a few things, doesn't it? Ah well, what do you do?... As for me, I am now officially an intellectual masturbator. You know, come to think of it, this is not such an insult, after all: At least I get to orgasm...        

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Death, suicide, and the time of the year

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer."

Albert Camus

A few days ago, I learned that the local mechanic to whom I usually bring my car for oil changes and other routine repairs had died; he had taken his own life. Yesterday, I got together with a few friends who also were his customers, and discussed the circumstances surrounding his suicide. One of them told me that she had heard that his business had not been doing well lately, and suggested that as a driving reason behind his suicide. I didn't say much in response to this, but mulled over this for a little while. For some reason, this just didn't strike me as a satisfactory reason. I mean, sure, many people have taken their own lives because of financial or business problems, but there are also many others who have suffered similar problems in life, who have nevertheless found ways of coping and finding reasons to continue living on this earth. So looking to external circumstances to try to explain why somebody would decide that continuing to take the trouble to stay alive simply isn't worth it anymore simply doesn't shed light on this issue. I believe that Camus is expressing a similar sentiment when he remarks on the act of suicide:

"An act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. The man himself is ignorant of it. One evening he pulls the trigger or jumps. Of an apartment-building manager who had killed himself I was told that he had lost his daughter five years before, that he had greatly changed since, and that the experience had “undermined” him. A more exact word cannot be imagined. Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. Society has but little connection with such beginnings. The worm is in man’s heart. That is where it must be sought. One must follow and understand this fatal game that leads from lucidity in the face of existence to flight from light.

There are many causes for a suicide, and generally the most obvious ones were not the most powerful. Rarely is suicide committed (yet the hypothesis is not excluded) through reflection. What sets off the crisis is almost always unverifiable. Newspapers often speak of “personal sorrows” or of “incurable illness.” These explanations are plausible. But one would have to know whether a friend of the desperate man had not that very day addressed him indifferently. He is the guilty one. For that is enough to precipitate all the rancors and all the boredom still in suspension.

But if it is hard to fix the precise instant, the subtle step when the mind opted for death, it is easier to deduce from the act itself the consequences it implies. In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it... It is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, the uselessness of suffering."

I think Camus expresses a whole bunch of things about this topic in a much more eloquent fashion than I ever could (at least in the foreseeable future), so I shall not offer too much commentary on his words, but allow them to speak for themselves. But I would like to relate something else that happened last night. Last night, I got together with some colleagues for some drinks. For some reason or other, the topic turned to suicide (there is no correlation here with my earlier conversation with my other friends; besides myself, there is no overlap between these two groups of people). It turns out that among the group of us (there were five of us in the group), everybody except me had thought of taking their own life at some point or other in the past. When I raised the only "dissenting" view, and said that I have honestly never contemplated killing myself before, even in my darkest moments, everybody else was really surprised.

After a brief silence, somebody in the group who knew his Camus quoted the above passage about suicide being the one truly serious philosophical problem, and not-so-subtly suggested that perhaps the reason why I hadn't thought of killing myself was because I hadn't thought seriously enough about my own life. I responded by biting the bullet (no pun intended), "Yeah, maybe that means that I haven't been taking my life seriously enough (big fucking deal!)..." I think the group was rather stunned by my non-attempt to rise to this challenge, because there was yet another brief silence. After about thirty seconds or so, another person (probably for lack of something else to say) simply blurted, "It must all the yoga you are doing!"

Well, honestly, I do not think that yoga practice is an automatic suicidal-thought-suppressant: If you want to kill yourself, you probably will, whether or not you do yoga. I can only say that, so far, I have been fortunate (?), in that even in my darkest hours, there is always this strong undercurrent of something (survival instinct?) that moves me along, so that the thought that living is more trouble than it is worth has never crossed my mind; or if it did, I only entertained it as a hypothetical intellectual possibility, and never with the existential force of a real life possibility.

 But then again, maybe I really shouldn't be jinxing myself by talking about such things so cavalierly. For all I know, tomorrow, or even the very next hour, may be the first time I ever seriously think of killing myself. Ah, morbid thoughts, morbid thoughts... There must be something about this time of year that brings such thoughts into the minds of so many. Well, but I can at least say that this is probably more authentic and less shallow than all that forced holiday cheer that is so prevalent in so many other quarters...

Anyway....