Friday, December 3, 2010

Telling stories

The blogosphere has been a hub of activity and lively debate in the last few days. First, quite a few bloggers have posted about the recent debate over who owns yoga (if, indeed, yoga is even something that can be "owned"). And then there is that always tendentious and troublesome question of the relationship between money, commercial motives, change, and the practice of yoga. In particular, Claudia's recent posts (Maybe It was Shiva that brought us JoisYoga and 5 billionaires/millionaires who practice ashtanga) have seen many impassioned comments (of which a couple were hastily written by yours truly) about this matter.

Such matters are very delicate and tend to incite much passion on the part of the various parties. And it might very well be that in the end, all we can do is to agree to disagree, as Claudia has quite wisely pointed out in one of her comments. Here, I would also like to thank Claudia for having the courage and the bigheartedness to host these discussions, and for putting up with my not-always-well-thought-out comments (at least I hope you are putting up with them, Claudia; I can't see your face when you are reading my comments!)

Having said all this, however, I still feel that there is something rather unsatisfactory about agreeing to disagree. In most conversations, people reach the  point of agreeing to disagree when both parties realize that they have arrived at a place where they both hold very strongly to their own viewpoints, for whatever reason, and it might be too tedious or even painful to try to look further into why they hold the views they hold. Perhaps there is also the fear that if I look too closely at why I hold the view I hold, I would discover that my reasons for holding the view were not as valid or maybe not as high-minded as I thought they were. Since it is usually considered impolite or in bad taste to look too closely into why your conversation partner holds the views he or she does (if you wish to continue to remain on at least civil terms with him or her, that is), people usually agree to disagree when they reach this point in the conversation. But in doing so, both parties lose a valuable learning opportunity, since most of the time, knowing the reasons somebody has for holding a view (however unfounded or ignoble those might be) can contribute much to our understanding of the view itself.

The trick, then, is to find a way to continue the conversation while navigating and managing the passions and emotions that arise, so that the conversation remains "real" without degenerating into some kind of exercise in name-calling or label-slapping.

Perhaps the thing to do is to find a way to look at the same kinds of issues while maintaining a certain emotional distance between the exchange and me. Is there a way to do this without sacrificing the depth of the discussion? I think there might be. I think that telling stories in an interactive way is a good way to get a point across without directing it at any person in particular. In such interactive storytelling, the storyteller tells his or her story, listens to the feedback from the audience at the same time, and then weaves his or her responses to the audience into the subsequent development of the story. In this way, the story serves as the medium through which an entertaining dialogue takes place. It's a little bit like those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I used to read when I was a kid, except that you don't go to page such-and-such to continue the story. The audience needs to have some faith in the ability of the storyteller to respond to their feedback in a creative and honest manner.

This is what I propose to do on this blog. In the next several weeks, I am going to post installments of a story that I am in the process of writing. This is a purely fictional story with many elements of fantasy; however, it also borrows heavily from real-life individuals and events (in particular individuals and events in the yoga community), although the names have been altered in order to "protect" the innocent (not that I think anybody actually needs to be protected, but you get the drift...).

It is my hope that, through writing this story, I will be able to express my views and musings about certain things without possibly stepping on the toes of real-life individuals. On a more selfish level, I also get to indulge certain fantasies I've also had about yoga and certain elements of popular culture. At the same time, I am also open to developing the story in response to whatever feedback/comments readers might have. As I said, this is a work in progress; I have no idea how the story will end, and I think it will be fun to see how the story grows and shapes itself in response to the thoughts and perceptions of the storyteller and his (I'm a guy) audience.

I will be interspersing installments of the story with other posts that I will continue to post on this blog. But for the sake for consistency, I will post at least 2 installments of the story each week. I have decided to name my story "Gatashan: A Yoga Story" (why "Gatashan"? Think, my dear reader, think...).

I hope we have lots of fun weaving the story together.



  1. Gatashan, OK I am thinking, I am thinking...

    I am never perturbed by any of your comments at all, I really welcome them, I appreciate rich conversations and I have to say that your 3rd paragraph here is the most courageous thing I have read in a while, here is bowing to you...

    thanks for the linking :-)

  2. Gatashan is an anagram of Ashtanga!!

  3. Claudia, I'm really happy that you like my comments and my words in general. I will continue to work to write more words that are (hopefully) insightful and encouraging.

    Danielle: Hush, hush! We need to preserve the mystery of Gatashan...