On the Travails of Hyperconnectivity

(IMPERMANENCE Toolbox) Verily, I say, this is all that we need.

(IMPERMANENCE Toolbox) Verily, I say, this is all that we need.

I’ve finally hit that point where what’s left of my social life is dominated by weddings, baptisms and funerals. These kinds of milestones don’t feature all that much in the years leading up to your twenties, and after your forties or fifties, it’s the funerals that begin to predominate. But in your thirties, you’re almost constantly exposed to, if not actually immersed in, the most defining moments of the cycle of existence: births and deaths; endings and beginnings.

Of course, living in an era of hyperconnectivity only amplifies the experience. Just a few decades ago, people moved in small circles defined almost entirely by family, neighbors and colleagues. When something happened to someone, it happened with the irregularity of a true event. These days, it’s not rare for someone to have at least a thousand “friends” on Facebook, and if even only a fraction of these friends got married or gave birth or suffered a death at any given period in time, it would still be enough to leave one with the overwhelming impression that there’s just too much that’s going on. The significance of events recedes—what’s left is an endless torrent of constantly updating phenomena, with posts on gourmet meals or wedding revelries jostling with images of fetal ultrasounds and travel escapades.

It used to be that followers of the Dharma traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism would meditate in charnel grounds—above-ground sites where corpses were left to decompose uncovered—as a means of profoundly confronting the impermanence of existence. Now, we just need to log on to Facebook and stare at the ever-changing stream on our home page wall to get that, yes, nothing stays the same. If you stare too long, you sink into a nihilistic haze that trivializes all the shifting phenomena, and then to extricate yourself from its discomfiting claws, you indulge in a narcissistic spree of selfie-posting because few other things besides the ego possesses such reassuring significance.

At the end of the day, although the gender insensitive cliché “no man is an island” is true, I doubt that the corollary “every man is an archipelago” holds true as well. Our ability to maintain a healthy perspective of what’s momentous and what’s not depends on a certain amount of tribalism. The magnitude of our concern for another reflects the depth of our affinity, and for better or for worse, we can only love a few. For the rest of our supposed friends on Facebook, let’s do what we can with the generous kindness of “likes” (or the patient forbearance of silence).


On the Necessity of Kindness

(WORN Smooth) It's the same as being worn down, except it's more...perky.

(WORN Smooth) It’s the same as being worn down, except it’s more…perky.

So yes, I disappeared again.

I’m slowly getting  the hang of being picked up and whirled around by life. The centrifugal force doesn’t upset or disorient me as much as it used to. The chronic frustration has given way to a kind of resigned wistfulness that manifests as a nostalgia for predictability and routine—a yearning that’s remained immune to all the practices of letting go and letting be.

(If anyone bothered to do a content analysis of this blog, they would find a multitude of variations on essentially the same themes. We spend our lives working on the same things—what some of us would call the same “issues,” though I hesitate to use the word as it’s so negatively fraught—and the work constantly evolves. It’s less about moving in circles as it is about moving in spirals: we find ourselves in the same places but at slightly different altitudes. The minute elevations in height afford an increasingly larger perspective, which makes all the difference at every turn.)

Another metaphor I’m fond of is the image of a stone being gradually worn down by water. Edges get chipped away and resistance wears down. It’s not that the water stops rushing, but that time and erosion whittle away the causes of turbulence, until eventually the stone itself disappears and there’s just the water rushing, flowing, and endlessly streaming.

The point is: everything that comes up in life is an opportunity to work on softening our edges. The work is seldom easy, rarely lyrical, and all too often just b—-y inconvenient. Which, I suppose, is why we have to be kind to each other. Only kindness softens the softening. Only kindness makes the endlessly rushing water a cool and merciful balm.

On the Proliferation of Selfies

(NON Selfie) My Zen Buddhist spin on the selfie-nomenon. May my tribe increase.

(NON Selfie) My Zen Buddhist spin on the selfie-nomenon. May my tribe increase.

So today, my good friend Joey sent me the link to an article criticizing the phenomenon of the yoga selfie.* It’s the latest in a series of increasingly articulate denunciations—which I suspect will only grow more strident as members of the Yoga Selfie tribe overrun the planet.

Honestly, I don’t feel very strongly about the issue. I don’t take selfies—yoga-related or otherwise—but it’s not because I’m looking down from the peak of any moral high ground. It’s more that I’m hiding in the pit dug by my absence of pictorial qualities, so I don’t deride the habit in others who do tend to be appallingly photogenic. I do get why the proliferation of yoga selfies upsets others though, especially those who see the selfie as the antithesis of what yoga is supposed to cultivate. (Seeing the opposition requires no subtle philosophical insight. Selfies celebrate the self. Yoga is supposed to annihilate the self. Justifying the combination of both is where subtle philosophical maneuvering comes in.)

Perhaps my indifference comes from giving too much credit to the average social media consumer. I tend to assume that in our media-blitzed, marketing-savvy and camera-saturated society, people have a fairly robust notion of what’s realistic and what’s not, and more importantly, how fast shutter speeds and high light sensitivities can immortalize the serendipitous achievement of a split second into a picture of effortless stasis. And even if the photo does convey genuine power and skill, decades of exposure to genuinely rail-thin models on countless ads and billboards have, I think, led most of us to realize that the genuine article is not necessarily the predominant one.

But, but, what about the misguided aspirations and unrealistic expectations these selfies cultivate? What kind of inspiration can they possibly provide? What kinds of messages do they inculcate? To which I would answer: If you’re looking for meaning and inspiration on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter, then you’re looking in the wrong place to begin with.

At the end of the day, everyone’s too busy looking at their own image to see anyone else’s. Let the Selfie Takers do what they will—the number of likes their photos generate have no bearing and will never have a bearing on your practice. And if it does tempt you every so often to look at pictures of perfection—unrealistic or otherwise—use their contemplation as an opportunity to practice santosha (contentment), inspire tapas (discipline) and cultivate ishvara pranidhana (surrender). In that way, everything—even the Yoga Selfie—becomes a means to wake up.

* You can view the article About Time: We Stopped the Yoga Selfie here http://www.abouttimemagazine.co.uk/think/about-time-the-yoga-selfie/.

On the Challenges of Parenting

(IF Only) Sigh. This came sooo naturally to me too.

(IF Only) Sigh. This came sooo naturally to me too.

So yesterday, on the occasion of White Space’s birthday, I decided to make a new set of resolutions to usher in the studio’s “new” year. I suppose parents are often provoked to be better persons on behalf of their progeny, and I’m not particularly original in this regard.

The first resolution was to temper my increasing tendency to be hypercritical. The more overwhelmed I feel (by traffic, by work, by the sheer business of living), the less I’m inclined to be magnanimous. And when I don’t make an effort to be kind, literally everything becomes a target for my withering scorn.

So I decided that while I couldn’t curb my thoughts (just yet), I could curb my tongue. In effect, if I had nothing else to say apart from censure, condemnation or criticism, then I would simply hold my tongue.

The result, rather unsurprisingly, was that I was uncharacteristically quiet for most of the day. At one point in the afternoon, while sharing a car ride with Abbey and our good friends Peter and Tria, Peter looked at me in the rearview mirror in the midst of a spirited discussion on Filipino driving foibles and observed: “You’re surprisingly silent.”

Somewhat miserably, I replied: “I have nothing good to say in this particular conversation.”

Abbey added, somewhat gleefully: “It’s her new resolution. She can’t say anything nasty and now she’s mostly quiet.” And just like that, I became the target of their provocations for the remainder of the evening.

And so the challenge of parenting continues.


On the Celebration of Milestones

(FIRST Class) Abbey and I attempting to take a selfie after the first yoga class we taught together nearly three years ago. At that time, the studio we envisioned was a simple one room affair. Funny how things work out.

(FIRST Class) Abbey and I attempting to take a selfie after the first yoga class we taught together nearly three years ago. At that time, the studio we envisioned was a simple one room affair. Funny how things work out.

White Space turned two today, and although Abbey and I chose not to mark the occasion in any overt way, the milestone’s been weighing on my mind for the last two weeks.

Truth to tell, I have a complicated relationship with the studio. On the one hand, I’m a proud co-parent, bewildered half the time that this impulsively begotten brainchild has managed to flourish in its own way in the face of so many obstacles to its growth (not least of which is the fact that it was impulsively begotten).

On the other hand, I’m also its resentful progenitor, aggrieved the other half of the time by the sheer amount of sacrifice required by the task of parenting—by the seemingly endless forfeiture of identities, freedoms, hobbies and indulgences entailed by being responsible for another entity’s survival.

If I managed to stay sane the first year, it was because of the fervently-held hope that at some point, things would get easier. Time passes, children grow, and with that growth comes increasing autonomy.

But things don’t feel like they’ve gotten easier. Every time I learn how to address a particular difficulty, a new challenge comes along (most times, it’s two to three new challenges at the same time). While I’m a veteran at tying up loose ends, it doesn’t help that I’m surrounded by perpetually fraying ropes.

Which is why when the studio’s anniversary began looming around two weeks ago, I found myself in a very strange space. Two years had gone by, just like that, and while so many, many things had changed, so many, many things had also stayed the same, in particular: that sense of never arriving, of never having everything in place, of never having all the loose ends tied, of never (finally) getting my (new) act together.

It took a while staying in that space, mulling things over (or allowing them to percolate), before it finally occurred to me that I’d gotten my objectives wrong. After seven years of on-and-off meditation practice that included both intellectual and existential reflections on impermanence, groundlessness and uncertainty, here I was, still trying to get everything together, still desperately looking for permanence, predictability and security, and still outrageously indignant that the universe wasn’t giving me what I wanted.

And while I was busy sulking, I’d overlooked the many quiet miracles that my unpredictable “little” child had been pulling like rabbits out of a hat—not least of which has been a growing community of friends and like-minded spirits who’ve made the studio their neighborhood sanctuary and wellness hub. (I owe much of my sanity to this community too.)

And so, now that White Space has turned two, I’m going to stop hoping that things get easier, stop trying to get my act together and just learn to play with whatever arises. After all, I’m already here. There’s nowhere else to get to, and frankly, nowhere else I’d rather be.