"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
Unlike certain bloggers whom I greatly admire, I have yet to master the skill of alluding to a sensitive issue without speaking about it directly. Nor do I seem to be able to camouflage the issue I wish to speak about amid layers of descriptions of things that are unrelated to the issue at hand. Since I lack these skills, I'll just have to speak about what I wish to speak about directly. Perhaps you'll bear with me; if you won't... well, then just don't read the rest of this post :-)
From reading certain blog posts about the recently-concluded Ashtanga Yoga Confluence and communicating with certain Ashtangis, I have picked up on an interesting phenomenon that has arisen of late within the Ashtanga community. It appears that quite a few people who attended the Confluence have perceived a certain undercurrent within the Ashtanga community. Very simply put, the issue concerns a divide between those practitioners who have been to Mysore (and who implicitly or explicitly acknowledge Mysore as the Source of the practice) and those practitioners who haven't, who have no interest in going, and who presumably do not see Mysore as the Source of the practice. InsideOwl, who has been to Mysore several times and who also attended the Confluence, describes the issue this way:
"When I told people in Mysore that I got to attend AshtangaCon, only a handful had heard of it. Of the 600-odd practitioners I brushed past during December, January and February, most are way outside the AshtangaCon orbit. So I told them about it. Every single person I told expressed excitement and envy—how inspiring to meet all these teachers in the tradition. And you’ll see a lot of old friends. What a great time. To put it lightly, this was not the attitude of many people in San Diego when I mentioned I’d just spent the winter in Mysore with Sharath.
So… in Mysore, people imagine their counterparts across the ocean and express delight, curiosity, inspiration and respect. In San Diego, the vibe toward Mysore is very different."
Owl, whom I greatly respect, is coming at the issue from a certain perspective (which I also greatly respect). But being somebody who has neither been to Mysore nor attended the Confluence, I want to try to reframe the issue in language that is as neutral as possible. Yeah, I am aware that there are lots of very smart people out there who believe that value-free, "neutral" observation is a contradiction in terms and therefore an exercise in futility. Fair enough. But I'm going to try anyway (and then you smart people can tell me where I've gone wrong :-)). So here goes:
It appears to me that there is a certain antipathy on the part of certain Ashtangis at the Confluence towards the idea of going to Mysore. Or maybe the antipathy is directed not so much at the idea of going to Mysore, but at the place itself; perhaps it is directed at the idea that Mysore is or should be the Source of the practice ("Why should this place halfway across the world, which I've never even been to, be the Source of this practice that I do everyday? What has this place to do with me?"). Or it could even be that the antipathy is directed at certain individuals in Mysore.
I don't know which of the above possibilities is the case; maybe it's a combination of two or more of these possibilities? Actually, I don't even know if "antipathy" is the right word to use in describing this feeling. Is it too strong a word? Or too weak? At any rate, I think that "antipathy" would at least be a less biased--and hopefully, more neutral--word choice than "negative": I'm quite sure that the Ashtangis who have this feeling have very good reasons for feeling this way, and I don't want to give the impression that there is a clear-cut "right" or "wrong" side to take in this issue.
So, if it's okay with you, let us proceed on the hypothesis that "antipathy" correctly and aptly describes what these Ashtangis are feeling about Mysore/going to Mysore/certain individuals in Mysore. This being the case, I suppose the next question to ask would be: Why do these Ashtangis feel this antipathy? I'm going to take a cue from Owl again here. She has this to say to these Ashtangis:
"Do whatever you want, but for godsakes don’t miss the good stuff out of misplaced skepticism, fear, or for the sake of other peoples’ battles."
If Owl is correct, this suggests that the feeling of antipathy is motivated by a certain fear, distrust, and/or skepticism, although it's still not entirely clear at this point whether or not the fear/distrust/skepticism is misplaced. What is it that motivates this fear, distrust or skepticism, assuming it's there? In other words, fear of what? Skepticism about what?
One possible answer is that the fear is a fear of being judged. Perhaps an Ashtangi may have, at some point in her practice career, received some less-than-favorable response when she admitted to her Mysore-returned colleague that she has never been to Mysore: In the words of one commenter on Owl's post, the Ashtangi in question may well have "seen eyes drop away, or looks of barely hidden disdain, have felt the hesitation to connect, and observed frozen smiles" when she said, “No, I’ve never been to Mysore.”
If this is correct, then a big part of the antipathy may well be a kind of backlash towards an earlier antipathy (intentional or unintentional) on the part of those who have had the opportunity to go to Mysore towards those who, for one reason or another, have not made the trip. In this way, perhaps whatever antipathy that is presently being felt towards Mysore by these Ashtangis is well-founded and justified.
But what if being justified is not enough? At the risk of sounding like I am speaking from a yogic moral high horse (because I probably am), I'm going to say something really obvious here: Being justified is not the same as being... happy. Is it possible that in the midst of feeling this antipathy (and being totally justified in feeling so), one might be missing out on some "good stuff", as Owl puts it? What might this "good stuff" be? I don't really know; having neither been to Mysore nor the Confluence, I'm probably the least qualified person to say anything about this. But think about it this way: Could it be that in having this antipathy and allowing this antipathy to guide one's choices and decisions with regard to the practice, one may be unwittingly allowing this antipathy to shut oneself off from a certain other way of seeing things--one which could possibly open up an entire other universe of possibilities?
Maybe all this sounds very vague and abstract. To make it less so, perhaps I'll say something about how I personally feel about this going or not going to Mysore business. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that (a) I have never been to Mysore, and (b) I really want to go someday (hopefully sooner rather than later). I have great respect for those who have made the trip and for the great sacrifices that many of these folks have had to make in order to keep returning there. But on the other hand, I do not feel any the less adequate or "legit" as a practitioner just because I haven't been to Mysore, and I definitely do not think that one's practice is somehow less complete just because one hasn't been there... Actually, come to think of it, this may be the sticking point. I often feel that many of us in the west have this sort of all-or-nothing mentality regarding many things in life: If you have done something or gone somewhere, then you are IT. If you haven't, well, then you're NOTHING. At the risk of over-simplifying things (although, I suspect, not by much), I have this suspicion that this kind of all-or-nothing thinking may be a big driving force behind this feeling of antipathy that so many feel: Perhaps the antipathy is a sort of defense mechanism, a response to some consciously- or unconsciously-held feeling that if one hasn't been to Mysore, then one's practice is NOTHING. In order to counter this nagging feeling of nothingness, the Ashtangi in question erects a line of defense against it: "But look, we have this wonderful Ashtanga community in San Diego/New York/Boulder/[insert your favorite big city] led by senior teacher so-and-so. Who needs Mysore?"
I'm not saying that anybody out there actually subscribes to this defense mechanism: I'm just thinking aloud, as always. In any case, as with the fear/distrust/skepticism factor, this defense mechanism may very well be well-founded and justified. But again, is being justified the same as being happy? Consider the following alternative: What if there were a way of holding the feeling of not having been to Mysore, or even the feeling of not ever wanting to go to Mysore, without having to justify this feeling by erecting any kind of fear/distrust reaction or defense mechanism (and the accompanying feeling of antipathy)? Perhaps if one could just sit with these feelings without erecting any further justificatory reactions or defense mechanisms, one could be just a little less... antipathic (is this even a word?) and maybe, just maybe, a little more... happy?
Maybe all of this is a little too easy for me to say; after all, although I have never been to Mysore, I also have never had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of eyes dropping away, looks of barely-concealed disdain, or frozen smiles. I'll even confess that I may be speaking here about things that I know little about (since, to repeat for the umpteenth time, I haven't been to Mysore, nor was I at the Confluence). But I love talking and thinking about things, especially things that directly concern the practice and the evolution of the practice. If you have any thoughts about any of this, I'll love to hear from you.