I’ve been reflecting quite a lot this past month on the compounded meanings of community, gifts, capacity and The Seattle Freeze.
I guess I will always wonder what creates a community. For the past month I have thought a lot about the significance and definition of gift. In studying community and gifts, the factor of capacity came up over and over again. This all led me around to theorize the infamous Seattle Freeze is our focus on transactional life.
In 2016 I went to Boulder, Colorado for a teacher training. The first day in training, the first lunch break, the teacher and his posse insisted I join them for lunch. After that was dinner, and the following two days I was always invited to join this or that gathering- always included. Talking with my husband long distance, I recounted to him my amazement, “They invited me to eat with them- in 15 years at Seattle Yoga Arts, no one has even wanted to have tea with me!” John responded, “Now you know what the Seattle Freeze is.”
I work to retrain myself and our culture. I want to pass on what I understand has transformed me. Like (recently passed) Ram Dass’ Fierce Grace and Anna Forrest’s Fierce Medicine, I wonder if my teaching isn’t very fierce! That intensity of youth has not diminished. I teach that we must feel, breath and think, that we must know we are feeling (sensations and emotions), know we are breathing, know we are thinking. I teach that it is safe to feel, breath and think. I teach that our feelings (sensations and emotions), breath and thoughts are our corporeal reality.
The Economy of Gifts: “You give what is appropriate to the occasion and to your means, when and where your heart feels inspired. For the monastics, this means that you teach, out of compassion, what should be taught, regardless of whether it will sell. For the laity, this means that you give what you have to spare and feel inclined to share. There is no price for the teachings, nor even a ‘suggested donation.’ Anyone who regards the act of teaching or the act of giving requisites as a repayment for a particular favor is ridiculed (laughable, comical, amusing, absurd, ridiculous) as mercenary (motivated to take part by the desire for private gain). Instead, you give because giving is good for the heart and because the survival of the Dhamma as living principle depends on daily acts of generosity.” "The Economy of Gifts", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/economy.html
Your privilege extends only to the act, never at any time to the outcome. Do not be motivated by outcomes, nor should you commit yourself to inaction. Stand in yoga, perform the acts. Give away the avidity.” – Bhagavad Gita, 2.47, translation by Douglas Brooks
I feel so fierce about you experiencing this for yourself, I am not always sure where my ability to teach begins and ends. However, I do know where the function breaks down: when it is motivated by gain. When my teaching becomes fixated on the tangible - are you coming back, are you donating financially contributing, are you making progress, did you just suddenly stop coming, this “Economy of Gifts”, this “Stand in Yoga” has failed. "What's in it for me?" is what I understand the Seattle Freeze to be. With that interest, the “mutual compassion and concern as the medium of exchange” is lost.
When I left studio teaching and began Aspiration Community Yoga, I was guided by Parker Palmer’s life of “Creating Intentional Community”. As I look back and reflect upon the past 3 years, what I see is that I have done what I am capable of and must release my sense of “it must be me” for the current outcome of success or failure. You let me know whether we have community within Aspiration Community Yoga.
Write with honesty and ‘write what you struggle to know and understand. Everyone in the class struggled with pulling their experiences up and out, putting them to paper and sharing them with others”. Writing is ‘transformative’ therapy for Seattle-area veterans haunted by their experience
About that Yoga thing: those of you who have been reading and attending my classes the past month know that I returned to the Bhagavad-Gita in order to begin again in my practice of offering yoga classes. This is what I struggle to understand: Why another Warrior 2?
The translation I prefer begins with our protagonist, the Warrior Hero Prince Arjuna, desperate to understand, too. In Chapter One: “The Distress of Arjuna”, Arjuna asks Krishna, his friend, mentor, and creator incarnate of the universe, why fight? What good is it going to do? How could Arjuna doing what is expected of him be of benefit? It’s only going to cause everyone a lot of suffering, as he imagines the battle and aftermath.
Every Friday, as I write out my weekly class plans, over and over again I struggle with why are we doing warrior poses? Why do one or two or three? Is it just because Krishnamacharya taught it to Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar, Srivatsa Ramaswami, A.G. Mohan and Indra Devi, who then passed it on to us Westerners? Is it my own conscience that tells me, “if there isn’t a ‘yoga pose’, they will think this isn’t a ‘yoga class’ and go somewhere else?” Or, is that the party line politics and marketing of American Postural Yoga messaging me?
“Arjuna contemplates what it means to stand on the field of Dharma and ancestry and his own conscience at the brink of what will most certainly be fight to the death. Arjuna has never shrunk from a battle, has an unquestioning capacity to take the lead. What value will his actions have long after he is gone?” – Douglas Brooks, CC 102, History of Yoga, Lecture Nine
I’ve been teaching yoga for 10 years now, practicing asana for 18. I can say with honesty that my own Virabhadrasana Dwi- Warrior 2 has been very different day to day, year to year. As I have learned more about my own physiology and grown into introspection and interoception, I find Vira 2 sometimes monotonous, sometimes eye-opening. Lately I’ve noticed that if I do six sets of 15 reps or 30 second holds each side, (yes, that’s 90 Virasana 2 repetitions, yes, it’s a bit of a battle), about the 75th, it gets VERY interesting: everything engages. I find out what I wanted from the practice, and the last few are to see what I can do with what I find.
I wrestle with thoughts of leading you through a yoga practice like this. I don’t know if you too would be interested in experiencing the process, in investigating how it becomes a whole being practice, or if you would give me dirty looks, complain and ultimately quit.
The Bhagavad-Gita offers three principal strategies for the practice of yoga- loving devotion (bhakti) knowledge (jnAna) and action (karma).
You will let me know, I'm sure, through your actions whether another Virabhadrasana 2 is devotion to, knowledge of or the action of Yoga for you.
Of late, the Tuesday evening and Saturday yoga classes have lost a committed, robust attendance. To put it plain, they appear to be “failing” One to two attendees remain. The schedule shows plenty of late cancels and a few classes no one signed up for at all. The Monday and Wednesday, Sunday classes are chugging along, with the regulars pretty much making and keeping their commitment to themselves and their community.
Why are the yoga classes languishing while the Practice for Injury and Pain classes are thriving?
I’ve had this conversation with students, and my mentor, even my husband. We postulate many theories:
“The posture is a mirror to help you see something. So, people tend to think of asana as some kind of external thing, but it's not at all.” – Gary Kraftsow in conversation with Georg Feuerstein
“सत् sát : that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent."
To be honest, there is no one agreed upon meaning of yoga. Even if you look up the Sanskrit, or ask a master teacher, go read The Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavatgita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or The Hatha Yoga Pradipika; depending upon which text and who translated them, the “What Is Yoga” will be different.
What is the failure? The failure is I have simply smiled and welcomed you to class, asking if you have yoga experience and leave it at that. The failure is I don’t communicate to you as you try out Aspiration Community Yoga that the poses and breathing are methods for your awareness of This-Now. The failure is you come to yoga because you believe it might help, but you don’t come to be aware of This-Now. And you it needs to be convenient, when you aren’t busy.
Where’s the deception? We are vague with each other. When you show up at yoga class saying, “I heard this will help me feel better”, neither of us clarify what doesn’t feel good or your concept of “feel better” entails or the timeline you envision. I do not disclose, “I will design a program for you to experience This-Now and you will ‘feel’ different when you are aware of it.” I don’t even ask if you want that. Because you want your hip or your shoulder to stop hurting and that’s a clear and easy goal, no matter your priorities.
[Martin Buber] was lecturing at Columbia and I raised my hand and said, "There's a word being used here this evening that I don't understand. He said, "What's the word? I said, "God" You don't understand what God means?" he replied. I said, "I don't know what you mean by God.” - Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p 60.
And so, as Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita instructed, “Begin Again”. I want to ask you the awkward, no-short-answer-question, “What do you mean by Yoga?” You may be flustered at my question. Don’t I know what Yoga means? After all, my bio states I was trained within the lineage of a particular yoga school starting in 2002. But I don’t know what YOU mean by yoga. By understanding each other, you may make a more informed choice whether my offering best matches your search.