On the Conflicts between Selves

These days, I find my past and present lives intersecting.

With the studio settling more and more into a rhythm (businesses are like satellites: it takes an obscene amount of energy to get them launched, but once they find their orbits, they pretty much move on their own), there’s increasingly more space to return to long-abandoned pursuits: cleaning, cooking, corresponding, daydreaming, reading, studying, writing.

Of course, it’s not exactly the same. Owning a business, just like raising a child, permanently alters your existential borders. The self, once so satisfyingly impregnable, has been permanently breached. The struggle in parenting an enterprise or another human being lies in re-erecting and maintaining demolished boundaries. The effort lies largely in suppressing a most insidious and pervasive guilt: I shouldn’t be relaxing…There’s still so much to be done…There’s always more to be done…

Still, there is space—and my past lives are erupting into the gap, so that déjà vu assails me at odd moments throughout the day. I’m still figuring out how to navigate my way through these temporal collisions; how to arbitrate the demands not just of conflicting others but also conflicting selves. Nothing is urgent, but everything is important, and as everyone knows, it’s easier to address the urgent than it is to confront the important. Now, for instance, I have to choose between the following: (a) spending more time on this post, (b) continuing my studies of the Yoga Sutra, and (c) analyzing the studio’s attendance data for the last eight months.

I know what I want to do, but it’s not all about me now. In this particular instance, the present trumps the past.


On the Return of Leisure

It’s early afternoon, Sunday, and for the first time in a very, very long while, I’m actually home at this time of week, at this time of day.

The sharp, almost painful, sensation of delight at the prospect of a lazy Sunday afternoon nearly makes all the weekend-less months worth it. After I put away the groceries, I get into bed and start reading Donna Farhi’s Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness in earnest, pausing only to nap briefly before resuming my studies. At some point, I roll out a yoga mat—the better to explore the asanas featured in the text—until the sun’s rays fade out to twilight.

It reminds me of leisurely mornings spent at a neighborhood café while preparing for my advanced reflexive metaphysics comprehensive exams or frantic nights spent in my room writing short stories for personal consumption.

Why is it that some of my happiest memories are of solitary moments spent in economically useless pursuits?


On the Omnipresence of Laundry

(ENDLESS Laundry) At some point, it does get soothing. (Image sourced from Google.)

(ENDLESS Laundry) At some point, it does get soothing. (Image sourced from Google.)

It’s late Saturday night—and I’m doing my laundry.

Several years back, I encountered the Zen Buddhist epigram that I use to end all my email correspondence: After enlightenment, the laundry. There are many ways to interpret this pithy line, but what I took it to mean then is: the mundane business of life always goes on.

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself growing surprisingly resentful of this omnipresence of the mundane—especially when I have to literally do the laundry. Then, in the tiny, bulb-lit room that houses the washing machine, I’d stare balefully at the clothes as they spun in the washer, hating the fact that after the washing, I’d have to do the spin-drying, then the hanging, then the folding, then the putting away…and that two weeks later, I’d have to do the whole thing again (and two weeks after that, ad nauseum). It seemed to me in those moments that my whole life was being frittered away in the mere maintenance of things as opposed to their construction or improvement. What legacy was I leaving the world, I would ask myself crossly, in this meticulous sorting out of the whites and coloreds and delicates and not-so-delicates?

Then about two weeks ago, while washing my clothes yet again, it occurred to me that the vast majority of human endeavor is doing the laundry in one form or another (I call this episode “During the laundry, enlightenment.”). Much of our daily expenditure of effort goes into the “mere” perpetuation of things: our bodies, our appearances, our possessions, our cars, our houses, our businesses, our relationships, our ideas, our identities… There isn’t much that goes on by way of actual creation: death, decay, destruction, impermanence and transience define our existence so much that conservation alone constitutes a real victory.

In which case, there aren’t that many things I can do which would constitute a fundamentally better use of time than doing the laundry.

Thank goodness.

On the Rewards of Fidelity

Today, a student asked me about my themed Ashtanga Yoga classes. She’d tried Ashtanga before, she said, but quickly got bored with the tradition’s fixed sequences. She wanted to find out if my themed classes offered more variety.

It wasn’t the first time someone had told me that they found the repetition of Ashtanga monotonous. Besides the rigor of the discipline, the repetition is one of the things that turns potential practitioners off the most. What I tell these people unfailingly is that it’s the unwavering fidelity to the practice of the same that provides the most opportunity for growth. The performance of a pose occurs on many, many levels, and students often mistake its mere external execution as competence (if not occasionally mastery).

Nothing can be farther from the truth. Even after six years in the practice, I find many elements of the most basic poses still unfolding within me. I’ve had to re-engineer my Chaturanga Dandasana, my Adho Mukha Svanasana and my Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (my current flavor of the month) a number of times. Outwardly, not much seems to have changed; inwardly, there’s a world of difference.

Ironically, however, my fidelity to one practice on the mat didn’t translate to fidelity to one career off the mat—at least for a very long time. One of the biggest dramas I nurtured during my twenties was how I hadn’t managed to find my vocation despite having worked (sometimes simultaneously) in a variety of fields and industries. There were so many things I enjoyed doing; which one of them was supposed to be my calling?

In the end, circumstances chose for me (and I mean this in a highly nuanced sense that’s explained in the footnote at the end of this post) and my life now is almost exclusively focused on yoga. For a good while, I grieved the sudden loss of occupational diversity, the simultaneous closure of multiple doors, the abrupt termination of so many avenues of exploration. (What about my university teaching career? The intended doctorate? The foreign language studies? The marketing consultancy? The ghostwriting business? The life coaching practice? The travel photography?) I bitterly resented what I felt to be the telescoping of my life onto a single point.

Now, almost two years after the telescoping began, I find myself unexpectedly…happy. In the same way that the repetitive performance of the same poses produces the laborious but rewarding fruits of Ashtanga, my “forced” occupational monogamy with yoga has resulted in a laborious but unexpected contentment. My enforced fidelity to the discipline has led to a viscerally felt appreciation for its depth and complexity. Now, all the energies that I used to disperse among different fields of endeavor are being directed to a single channel—and I absolutely love how simple it’s made my life. As Cal Newport put it so well, passion is “the feeling generated by mastery” rather than the enthusiasm we feel for what often turns out to be a merely “superficial interest.”

So do I miss the diversity and novelty afforded by my previous life? Very surprisingly, not at all.

Thank goodness.

* Circumstances choosing for me is just linguistic shorthand for: I made a choice with consequences I neither anticipated nor desired and I had to confront those consequences whether I liked to or not.

On the Suspension of Belief

My tender courtship of the difficult has begun to bear fruit.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing more and more ease in yoga poses previously elusive, if not downright inaccessible: arm balances, backbends, hip openers, inversions and forward folds so deep they verge on leg-behind-head asanas. This slow and steady progression into the territory of the impossible continues to bewilder me. It’s not the first time (or even second time or third time) that yoga has surprised me with its capacity to coax new abilities out of the body; it’s just that my belief in the existence of limits to achievement is so deeply entrenched that it continues to persist despite being routinely contradicted.

So what I end up doing these days is to gently ignore the skeptical voices in my head and to go right ahead and attempt another impossibility. It’s a strange phenomenon as prior belief tends to exercise a profound influence on the ability to perform (what pop culture would refer to as the “self-fulfilling prophecy”). It’s not even that my prior beliefs about what I can’t do have been annulled by new beliefs about what I can do. The simplest way to describe it is: it’s the suspension of belief altogether—a surrender (perhaps a return) to the bright, expectant curiosity of childhood, when the dearth of experience made the anticipation of scenarios an impossibility.

Now, if I can only export this attitude to my life off the mat.



On the End of Silence

(BIRTHDAY Cake) My brother's football inspired cake. We made a football halter top out of it, and then a football onesie. (Photo taken by the author's sister, Elaine Tupaz.)

(BIRTHDAY Cake) My brother’s football inspired cake. We made a football halter top out of it, and then a football onesie. (Photo taken by the author’s sister, Elaine Tupaz.)

Hello everyone.

I apologize for the long silence. (Why is it that blog writers always apologize for long silences? Every blog writer I know apologizes for their hiatuses—or at least acknowledges them. There’s no such thing as just picking up where we left off.)

Anyway, musings aside, I apologize for the long silence. There were several instants between this post and my last one when I wanted to get a word out, but the need to address the demands of my life far exceeded the need to reflect on them. As a result of this reflective neglect, I no longer recall what these demands were, except that they were, um, demanding.

Some fragmentary recollections fortunately wrested from the dustbin of oblivion:

  1. My brother’s 33rd birthday: A successful ambush pulled off! (Apart from the first 30 seconds when the over-excited organizers jumped into the hallway yelling “Surprise!” before the celebrant had managed to turn the lights on so that he could at least see the perpetrators.) While ingesting obscene amounts of food, we played Taboo and Cranium (yes, sigh, I know) and had inordinate amounts of fun without drinking any alcoholic beverages whatsoever (yes, sigh, I know). These two things—dorky board games and zero alcohol—are defining features of my family’s life.
  2. My recent obsession with functional anatomy: No longer content with the basic anatomical knowledge acquired from my yoga teacher training days, I’ve been spending ridiculous amounts of time poring through functional anatomy textbooks. As a result, I now have an annoying tendency to insert the Latin names of muscle groups into my conversations whenever I can—erector spinae!—like a Tourettes sufferer with medical aspirations. (In my defense, this is how we expand our vocabularies: through the incessant and compulsive utterance of the polysyllabic.)
  3. My bottle-feeding adventure with Piero: Nearly five months and countless physical transformations after his birth, Piero is now a feisty little boy with a clear-cut preference for drinking his breastmilk au naturel. Abbey and I were entrusted with the task of bottle-feeding him while his mother T. secreted herself in another room. Forty-five minutes and a dozen Carpenter songs later (Piero seems to like the bass-like registers of my voice plus the sound “hoo, hoo, hoo”) we had managed to coax a stunning 1.5 ounces of milk into his system (for those understandably reticent of the non-metric system, an ounce frankly amounts to: not very much).  His mother T. told us with much seriousness later on that that was the most anyone had managed to get him to drink out of a bottle. Next time, I’ll try Tom Jones.

That’s it for now.

It feels good to be back.

Happy sigh.

On the Grip of Disorientation

For the nth day in a row, I’m brain dead and bone tired. If not for the fact that I miss writing terribly, I would have called it a night (yet again) and just allowed myself to fall headlong into the abyss of rank disorientation.

(Right now, to be honest, I’m just hanging by a fingernail. I’ve been staring at the screen blankly for the last ten minutes.)

So much for writing.