The Body of Light


This is a print I made in Provincetown in August.  It is Ursula, but I’m afraid that she might not recognize herself here.  I’m a complete novice at printmaking but I was very pleased with this image.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of Isvara pranidhana, the 5th Niyama of Patanjali’s yoga sutras which means, roughly, turning towards god/ light/ energy of the universe.

I know nothing, absolutely nothing.  It’s a train wreck.  We could be kind and call it beginner’s mind.  I get up in the morning and chant the opening mantra, honoring Patanjali and all the teachers who came before me, illuminating the path.  But attention and focus are still scattered.  It is much easier in the classroom to achieve the meditative precision that a good practice requires.  What would it take to achieve that focus in my home practice?  What difference would that make in my life?  What if I hone in on that instead, clarify what nourishes and detracts from that.  Isvara pranidhana might happen of its own accord, like experiencing the body of light on the acupuncture table, finding that clarity.

Angela Jamison writes this on her Insideowl blog:

“Either way, here’s a secret. Even if you experience torrents of compulsive internal talk, your verbal-analytical stream really can grow quiet. Why do you think the ancients bothered with this stuff? Practice can give you a fully functional off-button for the sound of the voices in your head. And not just by accident. There are purifications and techniques that summon stillness.

I’m not sure how many yoga practitioners actually know this. It takes strong concentration, a long attention span, and people who can tell you what to do because they’ve been there. There is not intermediate series. Oh sorry, advanced series. Come on, dear hunters of pigeon, duck and that mythic pair of one-footed-crows. EXCITE ME. Is it not time to get some pose santosha and kick the mainline practice up to the next kosha?”

So there are purifications and techniques that summon stillness, but it requires concentration, attention and a teacher.  Angela herself is a dedicated practitioner with what she describes as an above average fascination with asana, so none of this is dismissive of devotion to the physical practice.

Of course.  How silly of me.  I’ll get to work on that now.  Just as soon as I quit a few minor addictions and learn how to focus on my mat, at home alone.  It starts with turning off the external distractions during practice, but there are internal distractions aplenty.  I am afraid.  Afraid to change, afraid of what the cost might be, not sure I want to pay it.  But what of the cost of not kicking the mainline practice up to the next kosha?  Last year I wrote that the body of light that I envisioned on the acupuncture table would have to wait  for now.  My excuses grown thin.  Here I am chasing the jump through, the elusive binds, the handstand, and all of those things are lovely and worthy goals, but in the long run they are child’s toys.  There is larger quarry to hunt.

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4 thoughts on “The Body of Light

  1. The print is lovely! …I had also read Angela’s post and been smiling a bit over the call to kick the practice up a notch. My excuses have grown thin as well so it was good to feel called out on that. Nice to know I’m in good company with the ups and downs of home practice though!

  2. First off, beautiful print! I am loving the surrender of backbends lately, and this print perfectly captures, for me, the balance of strength and surrender.

    Home practice is ridiculously hard, and in my humble opinion, it’s very healing for the rest of the practice universe that you’re willing to put out such a candid energy about internal distractions. Being able to pinpoint fear of change is huge.

    I have a blog post in the works based on things I’ve been experimenting with, when it comes to home practice. But the bottom line is that what has worked most for me — and I am lucky to have Angela as my teacher (even if I live too far away to see her six days a week), so I have a guiding light in all this experimentation – can be boiled down to two main things: (1) dristi (2) moving slightly faster.

    Dristi: I practice in the morning, and time is an issue (which is why I am trying to practice earlier, so that time is less of an issue). Perhaps the most distracting thing for me inside a yoga room is a clock. I am pretty decent at keeping my gaze on my mat – being really really near-sighted helps, it turns out – but I don’t have the focus to fight a clock. So in the room where I practice, I have no clocks. But still, I practice in the morning, and I have to make sure I don’t get carried away to some other plane that run on a different timetable  and miss all my meetings and whatnot, so I bought a cheap but decent-looking hourglass from Marshals. It tells me when an hour has passed. So if my gaze slides off my nose to the hourglass, at least it’s an hourglass, and not a clock. My anxieties over the workday don’t get kicked up with the passage of time as described by an hourglass the way they do with the passage of time as described with a digital clock. Finally, of all the dristis, tip-of-the-nose in up dog has been the most critical in my practice. There is something about hitting that gaze in pancha in the sun salutations that tells my whole body and mind: Hey. We’re here. Stop talking, stop resisting, stop fiddling around, stop wishing you were still asleep, because it’s too late now. We. Are. Here.

    Moving slightly faster: So picture a practice train going at a compassionate 15 miles an hour – leisurely inhales, nice room for exhales – and now try to picture a practice train moving at a compassionate 20-25 miles an hour. That’s the rough speed change I’ve played with. I’ve learned that if I go too slow, all my little anxieties in life have room to wiggle in during transitions, and *plenty* of time to seep in during those five breaths in each pose. If I go slightly faster – and by no means am I saying that I speed through practice, I’m just saying I used to practice quite slowly – there’s less room for tristana to get thrown off balance by internal bubbling up of stuff.

    I think for me, blockages to practice have had more to do with tamastic energy. Not so much fear, for me, but resignation: Guess this is it; if 1,000 other things had been different, maybe I would be one of those practitioners keeping their life on the straight and narrow and practicing in Mysore right now, and maybe if that were the case, everything else would have been different too, and I wouldn’t have made all those less-than-stellar decisions, and maybe right now I’d be somewhere else and someone else. Too bad, oh well, maybe next time…

    So, just as we all need adjustments in our asanas, it’s amazing how much adjustments we need for those other energetic lines.

  3. Hi Rose. You are lucky to have Angela close enough to practice with. I feel fortunate enough just to be be able to read her writing periodically, she has quite a gift for it. I can completely see how it could potentially be much faster to be able to practice in a mysore room several days a week. But here’s hoping we develop some quality in working on our home practice that will turn out useful. Self discipline perhaps? Thank you for your comments, I’ll look forward to your next post.

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