Archive for April, 2010

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Lady Bugs and Lady’s Bug

April 22, 2010

Some of you know I was on retreat last weekend up in the Catskills.  I was particularly excited for this retreat, because it was to be on the intersection of yoga and Buddhism.  Having struggled so much during my training with a general disregard for Buddhism at my particular studio, I was really looking forward to what the presenters – Robert Thurman, Richard Freeman and John Campbell – would have to say on the subject. I hoped to find some clarity and some integration with my two practices coming out of the weekend.

<<Cue game show “wrong answer” sound effect here.>>

So. The first major issue with the retreat was no one’s fault, but still set me up for a rough time.  Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson from my last retreat, where I didn’t spring for a single, and was placed with a woman who was awesome, and snored as loudly as she was awesome.  But this weekend’s  retreat center is a particularly expensive one, so I took my chances with a quad.  And I was placed with 3 lovely women…

…one of whom got violently ill the first night of retreat.

I mean, getting up to vomit/wretch/dry-heave/whathaveyou every 15 minutes or so from about 9:30 at night till about 3:45 in the morning.

Guess who had the bed right next to the bathroom…

Now, in case you don’t know this about me, I’m a vomitphobe.  Like. HUGE.  I hate vomiting, will fight it tooth-and-nail when I’m ill (to very negative effect, believe me).  So my body went into panic mode.  As a yoga teacher/anatomy nerd, I was sort of fascinated to watch all the symptoms of the sympathetic nervous response I had read so much about manifest in my body every time the bed squeaked and she went running for the Loo.  Point being, I was in a 6 or so hour panic attack, and only managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep the entire night.

It happened that the area of the Catskills where I was staying had had an explosion in the lady bug population, so our rooms were all covered with them. I found a few in my tea mug the next morning, and I honestly don’t know how they could have gotten in there.  Thankfully, they went to sleep when we went to sleep. Unfortunately, when the lights of the bathroom went on, it was ladybug party time.

I will now forever associate the sound of bugs hitting walls and racing for light sources with that of acute stomach flu…

That said, my first full day of the retreat was… rough.  But the retreat itself was incredibly frustrating.  Bob, Richard and John didn’t seem to have anything prepared for the weekend. They would sit down together, and Bob would head out on one of his typical academic Buddhist tangents, and they’d sort of make it up as they went along.

I didn’t pay close to a thousand dollars for them to make it up as they went along…

But what was more difficult to handle, was the fact that of the 65 or so participants, only maybe 5 of us were non-Ashtanga practicing yogis.  For anyone who doesn’t know, Ashtanga is a very specific form of yoga with set sequences or “series”, and with a built-in ladder system, where you are only allowed to advance to “second series” when a teacher deems you do so.

I won’t go into my issues with this system here. But… I got issues.

What was so unfortunate was that I felt like an outsider. I felt invalid, isolated, and like what I practice – what I TEACH – isn’t real yoga.  I felt like the weekend was not on the intersection of Yoga and Buddhism, but that of Ashtanga and Buddhism, and the lengthy, esoteric, confusing lectures made me question why I bothered with all this any way.  Why do I practice, why do I teach, if all this mythology and gods and “kidney wings” (yeah… kidney wings. What the fuck is a kidney wing? Beats the shit out of me. Ask Richard Freeman) leaves me not just cold, but frustrated and irritated.

My therapist, thankfully, reminded me of a sentiment Buddhism and AA have in common: “Take what you want, and leave the rest.”

I’ve discussed this here before, but somehow I need to keep typing it, keep talking about it so that I stop forgetting about it.  When the Buddha first began teaching, one of the most important points he made was that nothing he said should be taken at face value.  Every teaching he produced shouldbe tried, tested, experienced for the practitioner on their own, and anything that does not work should be discarded and disregarded completely.

AA basically says the same thing – something those of us in the Agnostic groups take to heart.

But somehow I keep forgetting this. I keep getting into situations like these – whether it be this retreat, or my training, or talking to certain yogis – and I can’t just let it go. I can’t just take from the experience what I can and ignore the rest.

It’s made me question if I were truly comfortable with myself, truly secure in myself as a teacher, as a practitioner, and as a person, would I get this frustrated around concepts I don’t find useful? Clearly, the answer is no.  So what is it that I’m uncomfortable with myself in these lineages that makes it so hard to relax? What prejudice am I holding against myself for being involved with these practices, and can I let them go?

I’m in one of those periods again where I feel like every corner I turn I see a new overwhelming brand of self investigation that needs to be done, and it makes me want to crawl into bed and go to sleep. But, as a friend pointed out, to call that investigation “work” – I had said to her I feel like there’s so much work I need to do – is to assume that there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed.  Is the answer, then, to completely relax? Stop caring that I have these hang ups and let the hang ups be? Easier said than done.

There was a whole other issue this weekend, as well, that Ashtanga practitioners have a tendency to share very particular physical features. Most notably, they are angular, muscular, broad-shouldered, have piercing eyes, and, in general, are quite thin.  And up popped the old wall I’ve been running up against (beating my head against?) year after year after 29 years… devaluing my body type over theirs.

At least now I have some awareness around this pattern – that I can recognize how my ego tries to assert its intellectual capacity over people with lean bodies in defense of ultimately feeling incredibly subordinate to them.   As GI Joe said… knowing is half the battle.  The problem is Joe didn’t tell us that the other half of the battle is a whole hell of a lot harder.  Shifting the thought patterns that have been ingrained over decades, and being willing to see what life would be like if I just let that prejudice go… well. Good friggin luck.

What’s begun to make the process at least seem approachable, is its implications outside of myself.  That me being comfortable and loving toward my body type is not only vital for my own mental and emotional health, but that as a yoga teacher and performer, my authentic comfort can help other practitioners in a similar position to no longer be stuck in this thin-favoring mindset our culture has beaten into us.

I guess if you want to get a Metta-studying Buddhist to do something, tell them it’s in the name of compassion, and you’ll see results more readily…