On the Absence of Urgency

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with the absence of the urgent.

For the last year-and-a-half, my life’s been dominated by the dire, the imperative and the pressing. If I haven’t imploded (and I’ve come perilously close on several occasions) it’s only because I make a living out of practicing and teaching a discipline that’s superbly effective at calming down the mind-and-body system. But the fact of the matter is, the last several months have turned me into a seasoned firefighter, and now that there aren’t any fires to put out, I spend most of my days imagining smoke.

It’s not that there’s nothing to do. As always, there’s an obscene amount of work to be done: I just don’t know which to do first in the absence of an externally-imposed deadline.

And here I was thinking that I was the type to flourish in an “unstructured environment.”


(Goodbye cherished illusion #1006.)

I still don’t know what I’m going to do. But I’m pretty clear about the upside to all this, which is: there’s actually space. There’s actually room to mull options, room to debate possibilities, room to argue priorities.

Let the next round of chaos begin.



On the Urgency for Compassion

(BOSTON Marathon) Dedicated to all those who suffer. (Image sourced via Google.)

(BOSTON Marathon) Dedicated to all those who suffer. (Image sourced via Google.)

Today, the world mourns the Boston Marathon tragedy.

While an unfortunate number of catastrophes have marred the news headlines since I began this blog, I’ve almost always chosen to remain silent, partly because everything that can be said is always already being said; partly because saying anything doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

The silence is a memorial to a cowed and helpless sadness.

In this instance, however, I forego my right to remain silent. It’s occurred to me that there is something immediate that can be done—besides the articulation of grief, outrage and despair—something in fact that must be done, which is simply: to feel the pain of every tragedy afresh, to nurture, as Pema Chödrön calls it, the profound compassion known as the “tender heart” of boddhichitta. When distance bars the communication of our grief or the expression of our support, we honor another’s pain by sharing it: by understanding that this pain—any pain—will touch us all; by realizing that suffering is the common legacy of everything that exists.

We cannot alleviate suffering until we allow ourselves to be pierced by it. Until we feel another’s pain as our own, we will never comprehend the urgency to stop inflicting pain ourselves. And these unrestrained impulses to cause harm—including the countless, tiny acts of violence perpetrated in our minds or whispered under our breath—when given a unifying cause and an opportune moment, are precisely what lead to tragedies like the Boston Marathon.

We are like those who died, those who got hurt and those who lost their limbs.

But, and more importantly, we are also like those who planted the bombs, those who killed and those who maimed.

It is precisely what we share with the latter that makes it so terribly urgent for us to awaken our compassion, to feel the world’s grief, and to allow our experience of suffering to strengthen our resolve: to be good, to be kind, or failing that, to at least do no harm.

On the Dearth of Irony

For a couple of days now, I’ve wanted to write something funny. There was a time when I wrote nothing but funny things: dry and droll mockeries of the sort best exemplified by Umberto Eco.

Now, I can’t seem to write anything funny. It’s ironic because I’m so much mellower now than I was in my younger years. I think it simply has to do with the fact that I’ve lost my appetite for derision. Somewhere along the way, using humor to vent an implacable, inexplicable anger has lost its appeal.

Besides that, one of the results of the drastic simplification of my life is the loss of subject matter upon which to train withering scorn. It’s occurred to me time and again to satirize yoga—and there’s a lot to satirize, as with anything that’s taken seriously by millions of people—but I genuinely worry about being misunderstood by fellow practitioners and instructors. For better or for worse, I have to live with the consequences of being in a position of some consequence: my words carry the significance of someone held to be an authority to a certain degree.

Also, it smacks of a certain ingratitude to mock the very thing which provides one’s living (unless it’s precisely one’s living that requires one to make a mockery of things—the sort of living best exemplified by Umberto Eco’s).

So until I can find something else upon which to direct my irreverence, I’ll have to stick to these solemn, reflective little pieces.


On the Futility of Vigilance

Over the last few weeks, things at home and at work have settled into what can only be called a “comfortable rhythm.” If I’ve taken so long to report it, it’s because the ups and downs of the last two years have made me singularly suspicious of any stretch of time marked by the, well, unremarkable.

This particular stretch though has stretched on for quite a bit. I know I’m getting comfortable again—but not enough to relax the psychic vigilance that’s developed as a response to all the uncertainty of the last several months.

On the one hand, I’m happy about the vigilance. It speaks of a certain interiorization of the basic (but oh so discombobulating) fact that everything that exists is impermanent. On the other hand, it’s also obviously a method of protecting myself, and while there’s nothing wrong with emotional self-defense per se, it is—in yogic language—an unnecessary expenditure of effort based on ignorance.

A more commendable approach would be to practice gratitude instead.

So this is me being grateful.

(And vigilant.)

(And defensive.)

We do the best we can.

On the Obesity of Hearts

One of the things I love most about running a studio is being the recipient of a distinctive type of maternal kindness. Almost every week, one of the moms will come bearing food items of one kind or another: chocolates, fruits, jams, nuts, pastries, rice cakes. These spontaneous gestures of affection and generosity still take me and Abbey aback; the embarrassed moms, on the other hand, always downplay it as offloading excess larder.

But honestly, they have no idea how much nourishment we derive from their gifts—and I’m not even talking about physical consumption. A Filipino phrase comes to mind, nakakataba ng puso (literally meaning “fattens the heart”), which is hugely appropriate because, well, one’s heart does swell (as does one stomach too).

So to all our gift-toting moms: thank you. You really do make our day, again and again and again.

On the Need for Withdrawal

Yes, I know. I disappeared again. And this time, for no defensible reason. The Easter holidays meant that even I managed to sneak a break (a short one, but a break nonetheless). So I can’t claim lack of time, energy or even subject matter. Lots of things happened. Lots of things worth thinking about. Lots of things worth writing about.

Except. Except—

Writers know this. Every so often, the need to withdraw strikes urgently. There are things germinating and growing underneath the surface—in the damp, fertile darkness of the semi-conscious. To expose them prematurely to the harsh light of explication would mean risking an entire harvest of thought.

Even now, I can feel it: something germinating, growing, tendrils curling through cool, rich soil. Over the last two years, I’ve talked at length about the upheavals of my life; about the absence of the soothing, stabilizing routines that characterized the years of my twenties. Without my realizing it, without my intending it, there were things happening underground; call it an existential “taking root” if you will—a quiet, imperceptible consolidation of strength. While I railed and ranted and resisted aboveground, this entrenchment into some indefinable solidity came into its own. It’s not rooted in any certainty—the last two years have robbed me of that—it’s likely just a survivor’s joie de vivre: the calm and cheerful confidence that grows from enduring one crisis after another.

It was only in the last two weeks that it finally came to my attention (very likely triggered by a massive program of self-study that furnished the necessary vocabulary for the inchoate to erupt into articulation). The phrase self-study is massively appropriate: I was both studying by myself and also studying myself. And just like that, more than a week went by.

I might disappear again. Who knows. But somehow, this silence feels right. It’s a pregnant silence, which is almost the best kind.