On the Hazards of Walking

Some avenues and streets are conducive to reflection.

Katipunan is not one of them.

I realized this earlier today while walking back to the studio from National Bookstore. I’d covered more than half the distance when it occurred to me that I hadn’t taken my eyes off the sidewalk since I’d exited the store.

(In the concrete ecosystem that constitutes Katipunan’s supposed sidewalk, a safe traversal requires vigilant navigation through such obstacles as pits, potholes, puddles, sewers, errant tricycles, swerving taxis, double-parked sedans, triple-parked SUVs, and a number of itinerant bakeries, fishball vendors, coconut juice hawkers and Japanese corn stands. A moment’s distraction can mean either falling into a pit or getting hit by a truck or falling into a pit after getting hit by a truck.)

Such unflagging attention to details that can determine one’s physical survival means that one isn’t left with any space to think.Thinking while walking requires the safe monotony of evenly-paved roads and the absence of sudden movements within one’s peripheral vision. This is probably why the Philippines is such a mess. We don’t have the kinds of roads that support thinking. We don’t even have the kinds of roads that support walking. What we have, instead, are miniature boot camps and survival thoroughfares.

One day, I’ll think about all this at more length. But not now. Not while I’m in Katipunan.


On the Pleasures of Barrett (Part 3)

By Tom Barrett

In the quiet spaces of my mind a thought lies still, but ready to spring.
It begs me to open the door so it can walk about.
 The poets speak in obscure terms pointing madly at the unsayable.
The sages say nothing, but walk ahead patting their thigh calling for us to follow.
 The monk sits pen in hand poised to explain the cloud of unknowing.
The seeker seeks, just around the corner from the truth.
If she stands still it will catch up with her.
Pause with us here a while.
Put your ear to the wall of your heart.
Listen for the whisper of knowing there.
Love will touch you if you are very still.

If I say the word God, people run away.
They’ve been frightened–sat on ‘till the spirit cried “uncle.”
Now they play hide and seek with somebody they can’t name.
 They know he’s out there looking for them, and they want to be found,
But there is all this stuff in the way.

I can’t talk about God and make any sense,
And I can’t not talk about God and make any sense.
So we talk about the weather, and we are talking about God.

I miss the old temples where you could hang out with God.
Still, we have pet pounds where you can feel love draped in warm fur,
 And sense the whole tragedy of life and death.
You see there the consequences of carelessness,
 And you feel there the yapping urgency of life that wants to be lived.
The only things lacking are the frankincense and myrrh.

We don’t build many temples anymore.
Maybe we learned that the sacred can’t be contained.
Or maybe it can’t be sustained inside a building.
Buildings crumble.
It’s the spirit that lives on.

If you had a temple in the secret spaces of your heart,
What would you worship there?
What would you bring to sacrifice?
What would be behind the curtain in the holy of holies?

Go there now.

On the Unexpectedness of Delight

It’s the end of yet another long day and I’m physically exhausted (as I’ve been several times these last few months). Tomorrow promises to be another long one, with the list of things that need to be done remaining cheerfully immune to diminution.

Despite all that, I can never wait to get to the studio. It baffles me that it got to be so pretty (in the same way that some parents will look with bewilderment at an unaccountably well-turned out child). Every single nook and cranny, every single surface and texture, was planned and known in advance. But I still never expected it to turn out the way it did.

And that, I suppose, constitutes much of the reward.

Not surprisingly, it’s more than enough.

On the Advantages of Obliviousness

One of the top reasons why I make a very good receptionist: my obliviousness to celebrity identity (and therefore status).


7:00ish pm at the White Space Mind and Body Wellness Studio…

Peripateia (cheerfully): Good evening!

Male Guest: Hi, I was here before.

Peripateia (nods gamely): Yes, I remember.

Male Guest: This is my wife.

Peripateia (brightly): Hi!

Female Guest #1: We just wanted to see the place. We used to do Yoga in _____ but now we’re looking for someplace closer.

Peripateia (enthusiastically): Sure! Feel free to take a look around.

Female Guest #2: Do you have air-conditioning in the rooms?

Peripateia (frowns pedantically): Not in the asana rooms. It’s counterproductive because people need to be warmed up sufficiently for the practice.

Female Guest #1: Do you heat the rooms?

Peripateia (frowns pedantically): No. We haven’t found it necessary to apply artificial heating.

Male Guest: Alright. Thanks much for your time.

Peripeteia (chirpily): You’re welcome! Hope to see you again!

Guests leave. Abbey enters.

Abbey: You do realize that one of the guests you spoke to was ____________.

Peripateia (after a long pause): You’re kidding me. I didn’t recognize her.

Abbey (blithely): That was her.

Peripateia (after a long pause): That’s why I’m perfect for this job. I don’t recognize people.

Abbey (sighing): I have no idea why you even think that’s a good trait for this job.

Peripateia (with conviction): Because it means I get to treat everyone in the same way.

Abbey shakes her head and exits.


Honestly, that’s the nth celebrity I’ve met and didn’t realize that I’d met.


On the Occasions for Hubris

So, after three weeks of almost complete abstinence from my nearly daily Ashtanga practice (a rhythm I maintained religiously for the last five years), I finally managed to squeeze in the full Primary series for the last two days in a row.

(It’s amazing how fast ability can deteriorate. My legs were angled at least 30 degrees lower in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and my thighs were cramping by Virabhadrasana II. It was a good reminder of how difficult the practice can be and how much beginners can suffer in their first few encounters with the discipline.)

At any rate, after I peeled myself off the mat to get a cup of tea, I found our Chen T’ai Chi instructor Karl looking at me with a faint expression of disbelief.

“What?” I asked him.

“You were doing stuff I don’t think I can do,” he said. Then he added: “That was amazing!”

I looked at Karl with incredulity. “I haven’t practiced in almost a month. Whatever I was doing, it wasn’t that amazing.”

He shook his head. “It was awesome.”

Now, for me to hear that from Karl, who’s one of the most kinetically-gifted people I’ve met, and who’s from the lineage of a master from Chenjiagou (the birthplace of T’ai Chi), well, it was cheering, to say the least.

Which is not to say, given the soreness in my hip flexors tonight, that more practice is not necessary.


On the Occasions for Humility

One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered from running a studio is how…highly localized fitness ability can be.

The realization was particularly acute today, starting with observations shared by triathletes who attended a morning Pilates for Athletes workshop (all of them easily distinguished by the fact that they wore cycling shorts).

“We were massacred,” one of them told me while shaking his head in resigned embarrassment. “I thought I was pretty fit, but now I have muscles hurting that I didn’t even know existed.”

(From there, the conversation shifted to how important it is to correct your form as a swimmer, where the best places to put a mirror in a pool could be and how Michael Phelps has multi-jointed knees and shins.)

The observations were confirmed later in the afternoon, when upon leaving the office, I found a 23-year-old arnis practitioner who had just come from his first yoga class seated glumly on one of the benches.

“What happened to you?” I asked him.

“I just got my ego whipped,” he told me morosely. “I’ve been doing martial arts my whole life. I’ve got pretty strong core muscles and decent flexibility—this yoga class should have been a walk in the park.”

I laughed. “Welcome to the club,” I said.

Because the thing is, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, fitness ability seems to be peculiarly localized. As an Ashtanga Yoga practitioner, I’ve also had my fair share of hubris about my physical ability—until encounters with Plana Forma and T’ai Chi reminded me about how much I still have to learn.

Which, I suppose, is the beauty of occasionally taking classes in disciplines besides one’s own. It’s one of the best possible ways to remember how far (always) we have yet to go.

Which, I think, was the same thing my newly-made friend, the arnis practitioner, realized.

“This yoga thing is a lot harder than I thought.” He paused. “I think I’m coming back next week.”