Yoga Sutras for When Everything is F*cking Horrible

(Another remix of the first two chapters, in response to current/chronic events. I used Hartranft’s translation as a rough narrative template..)


Chapter One: Justice Equals Samadhi

  1. Now is the time for yoga. Unfortunately, the majority of humans don’t actually have time for yoga, because they’re too busy picking expensive coffee, or serving it all day, or trying to avoid getting driven from their land or killed by drones or by those shackled to higher rungs on the oppression ladder.
  2. Yoga will happen when the twisting chaos of injustice ends.
  3. Then people can feel at peace.
  4. Otherwise, people think injustice is their natural state, or at least the natural state of people who don’t have the time to do yoga because they’re picking expensive coffee, etc.
  5. There are infinite types of injustice; every type hurts more than the people who benefit from it can imagine.
  6. A highly selective list of the types of twisted mentality would include racism, misogyny, capitalism generally, neoliberal rationalization, and being a privileged dick.
  7. Racism arises from primal fears, ignorance, a sustained lack of empathy, and all of the structural inequalities that fossilize around these failures.
  8. Misogyny arises from womb envy, which leads to the pathologization of birthing and minimization of child-care labour, and patriarchal property laws. It is perpetuated when liberals justify porn.
  9. Capitalism comes from agriculture plus the human delusion that people can be islands unto themselves as well as own things and even other people. Good luck stopping that but we sure have to try because soon there will be nothing left.
  10. Neoliberal rationalization comes from thinking that capitalism is just the way things are because we can’t imagine anything different and it’s far less exhausting to turn a blind eye or even cheerlead than to resist.
  11. Privilege doesn’t make you a dick. Being informed of your privilege, taking it as a personal instead of a sociological critique and getting defensive about it does. Being a privileged dick comes from a toxic combination of luck, hubris, and intellectual dishonesty. It’s actually hard not to be a privileged dick: it requires patience, the hard work of self-inquiry, and developing a meta-view that doesn’t seem to evolve naturally.
  12. None of these things will be directly improved by posture, handstands, mindfulness, meditation, or the trappings of Indian culture. Education, emotional transparency, and accepting the paradox of knowing things must change while knowing they might not are among the practices required to end the chaos of injustice. Then one has to let that paradox agitate.
  13. Practice, more generally expressed, is the sustained effort to tolerate pain with enough hope intact to spread to other people.
  14. We’ll have to do it forever.
  15. Accepting the paradox means getting up in the morning and refusing to be distracted from the facts of injustice through the consolations of practice-as-self-improvement, because you know you’re doing well enough to form new priorities.
  16. When a high level of practice has been achieved, justice might see itself rise, independent of the endless cycle of twisted mentality.
  17. It’s a questionable tactic to mimic old yoga books through click-bait titles, especially when there’s a bunch of first-chapter sutras that Patanjali stuffs with abstract metaphysics that might keep academics busy and sustain dissociative daydreams for the leisure class, but won’t bring back Michael Brown, locate 824 missing First Nations women in Canada, or silence the echo of Eric Garner yelling I can’t breathe.
  18. Practicing now means realizing that yoga is only about self-development insofar as it compels work within the collective self and makes the individual more resilient while doing that work. The age of atomism has had its time and produced nothing but the comet trails of failed heroism streaking across the night sky.
  19. The end of injustice may come if we recite the many names of justice, like “civil disobedience”, “Ferguson”, strategic or cathartic “property destruction”, “hacking”, “not buying things”, “giving up power”, “physically attacking the infrastructure shared by genocide and ecocide”, “OM”, or “Fuck this shit”.
  20. Justice is a distinct, incorruptible form of pure awareness, caused by sacrificial effort that attempts to clear the karmic slate, but not by forgetting anything.
  21. Justice relies on deep insight; we don’t have to know everything for it to arise – that’s why we have each other to supplement our blindness. But we do have to know a lot more than we generally know to even begin. This is especially true for white cisgendered men like me, who know very little about being afraid just from walking down the goddam street.
  22. Justice can be represented by a sound, which you can hear when breathing grief in and out in honor of everyone who has been suffocated.
  23. Through breathing this intention, the path to justice might become clear, but if it doesn’t, you’ll have to do something else that probably doesn’t involve a neti pot or a rubber mat, unless it’s burning rubber mats along with tires on a barricade while chucking neti pots at the courthouse.
  24. Apathy, doubt, carelessness, laziness, hedonism, delusion, discouragement, the Koch Brothers, consumerism, Kim Kardashian’s oily buttocks, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), American exceptionalism and a dearth of critical thinking are all distractions from the still and burning resolve that justice requires.
  25. When these distractions strike, one may experience distress, depression, or the inability to maintain steadiness of posture or breathing. None of these symptoms are as painful as when someone made sociopathic by racism and bullying or more simply has had his insecurity or machismo provoked by cynical older mentors pulls you to the pavement and chokes the breath out of you until your heart explodes.
  26. We can at least try to subdue these distractions through educated compassion, curiosity, gravitas, humility, knowing when not to care about our own comfort, seeing the forest as well as the trees (or the deforestation as well as the logs), fasting from corporate media, creating alternative economies, and not giving in to the seduction of hyperindividualism which convinces us that if we personally can’t effect justice it’s not worth working for, even though justice cannot be generated outside of relationship.
  27. “I feel so small, what can I do?” is a common obstacle, fuelled by forgetting that one is always already doing something. Asking the question can simply add mirrors to the tunnel. Look for the light at the end and if you can’t see it, burn something you don’t need.
  28. You can also try pausing your breath, which may allow you to simultaneously imagine the sensation of lynching or black lung while feeling the calm light that justice could possibly shine. To oscillate between these two meanings can really stir up the shit and put you on the edge of realization.
  29. You can also steadily observe the unending parade of unjust acts, focusing on how each crime might feel in your own body, and then asking how that feeling-body wants to respond with its natural rage.
  30. You can also focus on the secret nausea held by all the shitty objects you bought but don’t need.
  31. You can also focus on the I Have a Dream speech, but not as an artifact in the museum of liberal education. You can focus on it until you imagine yourself as the very breath in that man’s throat.
  32. Or you can focus on the silver scales of fish who are going extinct.
  33. With clarity of purpose, you can focus on almost anything to clear the distractions of apathy etc. – the stories of survivors, the shudder of empathy in the spine, masses of people protesting, other peoples’ children, votive candles on the sidewalk, drawings of cargo holds from the Middle Passage, the writing of bell hooks, songs from the powwow, and the timbre of Coltrane’s sax in “A Love Supreme”, understanding that he’s doing the opposite of entertainment.
  34. When distractions are cleared, there are several layers of justice-impulse available: talking about justice, letting yourself really feel what you’re talking about, not being able to talk because the feeling is too intense, feeling an organic response to theft and murder, and acting with a just impulse without any certainty of the outcome.
  35. What will you do then? Pilot a safe spaces initiative in your workplace? Shame sexual harassers? Tithe to the Southern Poverty Law Centre? Go underground to sabotage fracking equipment or spike trees? Stay visible to offer support to those who can risk more? There are so many options to meditate upon for a brief period of time, and then initiate.
  36. The justice-impulse may well generate pathways that block the pathways of injustice. But we’re not quite sure – yogis have never consistently tried this because we’ve always been more narcissists than activists.

Continue reading “Yoga Sutras for When Everything is F*cking Horrible”

The Yoga Sutras and The Red Violin: a review of David Gordon White’s New Book

Canadian director François Girard’s 1998 film “The Red Violin” tells the fable of a miraculous instrument, crafted by one Nicolo Bussotti (a character modeled on Antonio Stradivari) that passes through the hands of several virtuosi over four centuries and three continents. Its rapturous tone beguiles generations of listeners. Several of its players die in ecstasy while playing it. Don McKellar’s chronologically labyrinthine plot sweeps the violin towards a fateful auction in the present day, concealing to the very end the source of the violin’s deadly mystique. Spoiler alert: We learn in the final minutes that the blessing and curse of the instrument is apparently soaked into the very grain of its soundboard. Bussotti had been crafting the violin for his unborn child. As he’s finishing the final sanding, he is summoned home to find that his wife has died in labour along with the baby. In abject grief, he bleeds her corpse to create a final vermillion varnish for the instrument, before going mad. The violin’s power is rooted in this single terrible, revelatory night: so say these storytellers, who in uncovering the mystery play the taut strings of our yearning for an essence we dream we could rescue from the vrittis of history. Continue reading “The Yoga Sutras and The Red Violin: a review of David Gordon White’s New Book”

How I Teach Yoga Philosophy

Well first of all, as with Ayurveda, I don’t really teach. How could I? What – do I know something? Not really. Even less as I get older. But I have gathered a ragged bouquet of question techniques that range from musings to proddings to provocation. Gentleness is key, because the discussion has to explore and penetrate belief, which is sometimes all a person thinks they have in defense against despair. Musings are good icebreakers for where we are frozen; provocations require familiarity and trust. Continue reading “How I Teach Yoga Philosophy”

The Unbearable Distance of Belief: Notes on Icons, Appropriation, and the Second-Order Religiosity of Modern Yoga

I’m willing to bet that I’ve crossed the thresholds of a hundred or more yoga studios across the Americas and Europe. Most spaces play on the post-industrial vacancy of their former purposes: studios spring up in converted warehouses, old factory lofts, and now, I hear, in several abandoned malls of the Rust Belt. The first yoga studio I opened was in a vacant building on the riverfront of Baraboo, Wisconsin, in a bright open room where B-grade maple floorboards still bore the scars of the tool-and-die cutters that had roared there a generation before. Continue reading “The Unbearable Distance of Belief: Notes on Icons, Appropriation, and the Second-Order Religiosity of Modern Yoga”

Negotiating the anxiety of influence (threads of yoga ephemera)

An excluded section from threads of yoga.

There is a Oedipal subplot to this book that I would like to make transparent. It’s been fuelled by a subconscious drive: by definition, I won’t be able to tell the whole story. But I think I have some idea of how I’ve loved and hated Patañjali, how I’ve wanted to steal his fire, strip his book down for parts and bury him – but then, still dream of him in my bones. I’m at least partially aware of how this desire is but one shade of my general feeling within the grip of history and language. Continue reading “Negotiating the anxiety of influence (threads of yoga ephemera)”