Tom Waits reads “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski
Image by waltarrrrr via Flickr
This is chocolate in the peanut butter of your heart. I personally can’t believe this amazing bit of revery came out of Bukowski, but I’m overwhelming delighted that it did. “The gods wait to delight in you.” And in Waits’ voice.
Lately we’re having our awareness raisedabout the damage that unwise practice of yoga postures and obsessive pushing of
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ourselves can create, or “How yoga can wreck your body.” People are surprised to learn about yoga injuries, I think, because yoga is supposed to be a “healing” art. Who gets hurt from healing? Lots of people: ask the 19 people who survived from the sweat lodge incident with injuries, or all the people who’ve been on the receiving end of medication errors in hospitals.
I damaged my rotator cuff pushing my limits in Ashtanga with a teacher who told me the pain in my shoulder would go away if I just kept doing what I was doing. I stress fractured my femur – twice! – running barefoot in my late teens. Clearly, I learn slowly. And that’s really the point. How can we be surprised that in a culture of harder, faster & more, the very people who are most likely to sacrifice comfort for goals – the fitness geeks and perfectionists – push themselves past the limits of their bodies to achieve postures and feats once reserved for the decades-honed master? Really? What’s surprising is that it took so long.
The status poses have been inching further and further from the core of how yoga cultivates well-being, poise and wisdom and closer and closer to playground antics reminiscent of boom-box days and circus acts. Don’t get me wrong: if the pursuit of these body folding feats brings you joy, then more power to you. But let’s not pretend that your Astavakrasana or Tittibhasana is what makes you wise or a good yoga teacher (unless you are specifically teaching others to do those poses, in which case it is technically essential). And let’s not pretend that extreme accomplishments are without risk; it’s a simple equation in any endeavor. But let’s also not equate status poses with yoga, enlightenment or wisdom. They’re fun, gorgeous, interesting and difficult, among many other things. But the basis for human value and worth, for reverence or teaching wisdom? That’s a mistake that can only be made in culture that sees adrenaline as the hormone of enlightenment.
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Anne Sexton reads “The Truth the Dead Know”
Evidently I need to upgrade to embed video, and I haven’t yet. Inevitably I will, but not now.
So, until I do, I offer the link above. The text of the poem available on the web is so different that my favorite line, the one in the title of this post, ends “No one is alone” and so I include no text of the poem here.
It’s better this way, anyway, because it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful to hear her read it. I wouldn’t have gone in the hearse, either.
- Something from Anne (doitagaindreen.wordpress.com)
- Words, a poem by Anne Sexton (thefindingplace.wordpress.com)
For years I’ve struggled to articulate the purpose of yoga in my life, a struggle that only intensified when I became a Registered Yoga Teacher. I wasn’t any more wise the day I received the certification than I was the day before. I was more wise than I’d been a year before, and 5 years and so on, but was that yoga? Well, yes… and no. Insofar as yoga was an integrated part of my life, it contributed to that growth. Would it have happened in the absence of yoga classes at a studio? Assuredly. In the absence of any practice? Perhaps not, but then I would have been a different person all together.
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Yoga is a form of exercise, a form of meditation and a form of joy. Is walking self-help? You can make it that, but you can also just really dig it (I do). Hula-hooping now has its advocates for entrance into the woo-woo pantheon. Are all children who waggle their hips in a big PVC circle tube now being inducted into a cult of hoop? Of course not. And we’re mistaken if we think that “doing yoga” is a gateway to anything but joy and flexibility. Joy and flexibility can feel a lot like enlightenment, and yoga – like sitting, walking, hooping or standing – can be used as a pathway to enlightenment, sorority, belonging or a certain physical aesthetic.
If you think you require help in an area of your life, then by all means seek: read, research, consult, adapt. This is power. We all need help, and part of embracing change as the M.O. of life is seeking it rather than pushing it away. But filing yoga – or any other art – under “self-help” underestimates the beauty and joy of simply being, studying and engaging. Doing so also underestimates our own value, worth and struggles: self-help implies not only that we’re broken, but that we can be fixed and then return to some supposed normal.
What if there is no difference between the mind and body, spirit and mind? What if the things we experience as obstacles, problems and brokenness are paths to meaning, grace and beauty? What if there is no point in doing anything except that it enhances the beauty of life? What if the solutions aren’t fixes but facts, and support is just the air we breathe when we’re taking joy in our lives, in all their maddening mundanity? Then yoga isn’t self-help, it’s nothing more or less than joyous activity. Is there anything else?