Monday, March 26, 2012

Ashtanga blogging, practice, and language as the house of Being

The recent discussions over going to Mysore (or not) have brought up a lot of interesting perspectives from lots of people in the Ashtanga blogosphere regarding what might be called the Mysore Question. But in addition to all these interesting responses to the Mysore Question, all this intense discussion has also brought to the surface certain fundamental questions about the purpose of blogging. Why do we blog? What is the relationship (if any) between our blogging lives, our practice, and our everyday lives off the mat? Is there supposed to be any coherent relationship between these things in the first place?

These questions are especially significant for Ashtanga bloggers. As we know, Guruji famously said that "Yoga is 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory." There are many ways one can interpret this, but one way to interpret this is to understand Guruji to be saying that too much theorizing/discursive thought takes away from the practice, which is essentially something to be experienced and felt, not overly discoursed about.

If this is true, then there seems to be an inherent tension between being an Ashtangi and being an Ashtanga blogger: One is basically writing and discoursing about something that is not meant to be written and discoursed about (at least 99% of the time). So what should somebody like me do? Shut down this blog? Well, I'm not quite prepared to do this just yet...

But here's a slightly different way of approaching this issue. It is an undeniable fact that human beings are beings of words and concepts. We make sense of the world and find our way in it by comprehending and manipulating words and concepts. So perhaps we can think of words and concepts as signposts that guide us in our interactions with the world and with one another... wait! Actually, this is not correct: Words and concepts have to be more than merely signposts. I mean, can you even begin to imagine what a world without words and concepts would be like? I don't know about you, but I can't: It's like trying to paint without brushstrokes, trying to conceptualize without concepts. Thus, the relationship between words and concepts, on the one hand, and the world, on the other, cannot be like the relationship between signposts and the things that they signpost. It's not like you can just wake up one day and say to yourself, "From now on, I'm going to live in a word-free and concept-free world!", and then set about removing words and concepts from your life in the same way in which you might remove all signposts from a place which you already know very well. You can't do this; Just try it, if you don't believe me: It's not just that you would have to stop speaking to anybody (that is the easy past), you would have to totally stop thinking, because it is impossible to think of anything without framing what you are thinking of; and you can't frame anything in your mind without concepts.

What all this means, I think, is that words and concepts are not just things that signpost a world that is otherwise word- and concept-free. For us humans at least, there is a very real sense in which words and concepts are our world, so that any world without words and concepts would simply not be a recognizably human world.

Okay Nobel, you may be thinking, but what has any of this ruminating on word/concept/world to do with what you started off talking about (Ashtanga blogging and practice)? Well, my apologies for the digression (although, as you will presently see, this digression is actually necessary). Let me just start (again) by making a rather prosaic observation: The Ashtanga practice is an activity that is done in this world. Which means that doing the practice is a way of being in the world, as Heidegger might say. At any rate, as something that is in this world, the practice is something that we cannot make sense of without words and concepts, even if many of those words and concepts are in a language that is quite different from the language of our everyday industrial world. Actually, this underscores the importance of words and concepts all the more: The words that we take so much for granted in our practice (yamas, niyamas, tapas, samadhi, to name a few) refer to concepts that constitute a different reality from the sort of industrialized model of physical movement that you find in gyms and other places of recreational movement. At the risk of sounding like the Ashtanga Fundamentalist which I actually am, this is why if you try to strip Ashtanga of all its "yogic" or Sanskrit trappings, and try to present it insipidly as a form of "exercise to invigorate the mind, body and spirit" (think Power Yoga), you lose something very vital to its identity: The Sanskrit words and concepts that we use to talk about our practice are not just signposts for things in the practice; signposts that we can discard and replace with other signposts. There is a very real sense in which these words and concepts are the practice. As Heidegger would say, "Language is the house of Being." I'm no Heidgger scholar (actually, I'm no anything-scholar, but this is something for another post :-)), but I can't help feeling that Heidegger may well be talking about the practice here: There is a very real sense in which the words and concepts that describe our practice are structures which house the practice. Without these structures, the practice would have no home, and would be condemned to roam the wilderness of unintelligible primeval chaos. Ha! You didn't know that Guruji was a Heideggerian, did you? :-) (I hope I'm not being disrespectful here.)

Okay... I see that I still haven't gotten to talking about Ashtanga blogging and practice. Damn, I do digress, don't I? Okay... let me just bring your attention to another prosaic observation: Guruji did not say, "Yoga is 100 percent practice, 0 percent theory." Why didn't he say that? In my humble opinion, I think it is because that 1 percent theory is a small but not insignificant part of the practice. If I am correct in saying that the words and concepts of the practice constitute a home for the practice, then a yoga without theory would be... homeless! Which brings me (finally) to Ashtanga blogging: Insofar as blogging involves using words and concepts to talk about and describe the practice, Ashtanga blogging can be seen as a sort of housekeeping: In judiciously using words and concepts to clarify and reflect on various aspects of the practice, the Ashtanga blogger is maintaining and keeping the "house" of the practice in good shape. In so doing, he or she is helping to provide and maintain a sound and safe structure for others to maintain their practices.  In this way, the Ashtanga blogger contributes to both her own practice and those of others. Actually, approached in a certain way, there is also a sense in which Ashtanga blogging is a practice in itself. In my opinion, skilful and effective blogging often demands creative insight, a certain willingness to be vulnerable and to open oneself up to whatever the universe/blogosphere may throw at one, a certain love of oneself and one's fellow beings, and a certain amount of fearlessness--all qualities which we associate with Ashtanga practice. Actually, Owl said something in a comment on her most recent post that really expresses what I am trying to convey here. So maybe I'll end this post with her words:

"Blogging is dangerous. We can just face the fear of having one’s “self” compromised. No big thing. The only reason I delete comments at all is when community - a more fragile unity - gets strongly compromised."


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