jump to navigation

Satya: The Inherent Truth of Existence October 25, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Satya – truthfulness – is the second of the five yamas, or restrictions, outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Shri Brahmananda Saraswati translates, “When the yogi is firmly established in satya… he or she obtains the fruit of actions without effort” (2.36).

New Mexicans call places the darndest things.

Patanjali seems to define truth-telling as some kind of get-rich-quick scheme: accomplishment without effort. It’s a couch potato’s – or stoner’s — greatest dream. Telling the truth, after all, isn’t really all that difficult – it requires much more energy to invent and perpetuate a lie than it does to report that which you’ve observed as truth – and if the end result is satisfaction without effort, well, how is that not a practical no-brainer? Yet still, people lie and cheat, fabricate and obfuscate. So it can’t really be that simple.

For an explanation, I turned (as I have before) to Walt Whitman. “Great is the quality of truth in man;” he writes.

The quality of truth in man supports itself through all changes,
It is inevitably in the man – he and it are in love, and never leave each other.

The truth in man is no dictum, it is vital as eyesight;
If there be any Soul, there is truth – if there be man or woman there is truth – if there be physical or moral, there is truth;
If there be equilibrium or volition, there is truth – if there be things at all upon the earth, there is truth

O truth of the earth! I am determin’d to press my way toward you;
Sound your voice! I scale mountains, or dive in the sea after you.

Whitman doesn’t even conceive of a universe in which nontruth exists. After all, how could it? How could something be – and not be truthful? A lying politician is still, by nature and by definition, a politician. He is still alive, still human, still practicing politics; his words and actions cannot change the true fundamentality of what he is. It’s on this point that nineteenth century American poet and 2,000-year-old Indian sage intersect.

For Patanjali and Whitman, language doesn’t represent an act separate from existing; that is, saying and being are the same thing. I may be spouting a lie with my lips, but I – as a human being, as an object on this planet – still exist as me in my most fundamental state. I’m saying words that don’t represent the temporal reality of things, but the collection of cells and molecules and atoms that form my (lying) being still represent the reality of me. The “truth” of Simon at the moment during which I lie is that I’m a person who happens to be lying. In other words, the fact that I am a liar is just that – a fact, regardless of what I happen to actually be lying about.

Satya, then, is inescapable. You can’t lie your way out of truth. Short of suicide, it’s impossible to choose to not exist. And since one’s existence is inherently truthful, then the only effort one should ever expend while existing occurs when one is not being truthful to himself, or to his fundamental nature. Work, or effort, enters the equation not when we tell lies, then, but when we stray from our true identities.

So if you believe the yogic teaching, then, that divinity comprises all beings, then you’re only untruthful when you’re not divine. Since yoga teaches that the identities of all things are interwoven together into one divine essence, then it is only when one turns his back on this essence that one actually expends any effort in his existence. The pursuit of yoga – union – is thus a divine, effortless existence; and when one reaches samadhi, of course, everything – the fruits of existence — becomes available. You find your truth within your practice.

Your sadhana will, as Patanjali promises, bear you fruit without effort.

Today’s Playlist: 10/21, “Electronic or Electronica?” October 24, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Playlists.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Moon Safari10/21, Electronic or Electronica?

…In which I play ethereal music to determine whether the Electronic or Electronica genre reigns supreme. For reasons beyond me, Tracks 4, 9, 10, and 12, below, are Electronic. Track 8 is Electronic-a.

1. “Sense of Touch,” Mark Isham
2. “The Boss,” James Brown
3. “Lonely Town, Lonely Street,” Bill Withers
4. “Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday),” Moby
5. “Voo Doo,” Neville Brothers
6. “jaya shiva,” sistashree
7. “Amina,” Bombay Dub Orchestra
8. “New Star in the Sky (Chanson Pour Solal),” Air
9. “Sweet Tides,” Thievery Corporation f/LouLou
10. “Teardrop,” Massive Attack
11. “Tomorrow,” Salif Keita
12. “Distractions,” Zero 7
13. “Puja,” Krishna Das

Today’s Playlist: 10/14, “That’s right. World Music” October 13, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Playlists.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Bombay Dub, "3 Cities"10/14, That’s right. World Music

…In which I play lots of world music and determine not to let John Cusack’s line in High Fidelity bother me.

His music: Latin and Bulgarian, whatever world music was trendy that week.


1. “asatoma,” sistashree
2. “Light My Fire,” Al Green
3. “Spooky,” Dusty Springfield
4. “Life Goes On,” Angie Stone
5. “Shine,” Dolly Parton
6. “Spiral,” Bombay Dub Orchestra
7. “Papa,” Salif Keita
8. “Secret,” Madonna
9. “ganesha,” sistashree
10. “Hallelujah,” Willie Nelson
11. “Fall Aside,” Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions
12. “When I Die,” Sweet Honey in the Rock

Wednesday Bonus Class: 10/12 @ 12:00 noon October 11, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Announcements.
add a comment

In addition to my regular class (Fridays @ 12:00), I’ll be teaching a bonus class at Jai Yoga Arts, Brooklyn, at noon tomorrow!

NYCers: Take the L Train to Morgan Ave (6th stop in Brooklyn). Exit at Morgan Avenue and walk towards Thames Street. Turn left, and look for No. 47. It’s on the left side of the street.

I hope to see you there!

 

Fighting U.S. Reality with American Rhetoric October 10, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I’m not proud to be from the United States. The geographical accident that was my Corvallis, Oregon, birth, I feel, is nothing to brag about; historical happenstance rarely is. But I’m proud to be a part of “America,” the idealistic, non-existent place that we conjure up when we read, “We the People”; when we say, “That all men are created equal.” I believe in the promise of America; it’s the real-world manifestation of the United States that’s problematic.

It often saddens me that in yoga circles, “American” is seen as pejorative. It is, in fact, a quite neutral adjective, and it’s too frequently been my experience in yoga studios that ahimsic tolerance, acceptance, and amity extend only as far as the foothills of the Caucasus (or occasionally to the westernmost shores of the Atlantic). We forget that “America” stands for beliefs and principles as noble and virtuous as those of yoga. Admittedly, our political entity called the “United States” falls woefully short when it comes to putting these American principles into practice but, then, how many practicing yogis can actually claim to adhere to Patanjali’s sutras at all times, in all places?

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman writes,

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day — at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Whitman proposes a very yogic vision for “America.” Each American’s small self — the wood-cutter, the ploughboy; the mason, mechanic, and carpenter — exists as part of the larger Self that is America. Expressed completely, our nation’s realized potential is not the “United States,” but it is America. Importantly, we are not “Americans.” Instead, we constitute “America.” When we strive to express our greatest selves; when we “om” together; or help someone up the stairs of the subway, we are singing our “American-ness” with full throats. This America is the unfulfilled promise of the United States.

In Spanish, American citizens are called estadounidenses, a word with no equivalent in English. Hypothetically translated, estadounidense, then, would be something along the lines of “United States-ian,”—an associate of this nation-state, a person bearing the temporal political classification that we assign to people depending on where they happen to have been born (or “naturalized”). It’s important to realize that “United States-ian” is not the same as “American.”  The Western Hemisphere is, of course, populated by North, Central, and South Americans alike, and the term “American” isn’t solely the province of the those of us who happen to live south of Canada and north of everyone else (With apologies to residents of Windsor, Ontario—you know what I mean here).

Martin Luther King Jr. implied this disconnect between America and the United States in his “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. King opened his oration by discussing the idealistic potential of America. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he said, were but a

promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Aug. 28, 1963

By invoking the language of finance and credit, King refuses to deny American ideals of liberty and freedom their intrinsic righteousness. His “insufficient funds” trope implies that, were those American ideals metaphorically paid to its citizens in cash money, and not in flimsy checks, then they would actually be present in contemporary society, expressed and enjoyed by the people to whom they’d been given. It is, then, the United States’ callously expedient method of issuing “credit” instead of actual “funds” that leads to the corruption and collapse of American idealism.

Indeed, before he rolls into perhaps the greatest five minutes of rhetoric in American history, King states, “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” It’s noteworthy that Dr. King’s vision for the United States has as its foundation the “American dream.” He doesn’t seek a new promise, a new idealism for this nation; rather, he wants only for our present to parallel our potential. He doesn’t ask us to gaze across the ocean and replace American ideals with those of France, or China, or Russia, or India. Instead he asks us to work to turn the United States into America.

We can make Dr. King’s dream a reality, but we must remember that upon which the dream is based. It’s not radical, and it’s not new. It’s American, and it’s something in which we can all find hope, promise, and harmony.

Today’s Playlist: 10/07, “Stand By Me” October 7, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Playlists.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

10/07, Stand By Me

…In which we celebrate themes like Love, Freedom, Peace, and Forever. Because you got to have your head in the abstract when you’re practicing… 

1. “The Sun Never Stops Setting,” Moby
2. “Sanni Kegniba,” Salif Keita
3. “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Barry Adamson
4. “Ex Factor,” Lauryn Hill
5. “The Face of Love,” Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with Eddie Vedder
6. “Set Me Free,” Dungeon East & Whild Peach
7. “We Got to Have Peace,” Curtis Mayfield
8. “Forever Came Today,” Diana Ross & The Supremes
9. “Memories of Gaia,” Alex Theory
10. “She Hangs Brightly,” Mazzy Star
11. “Free,” Thievery Corporation
12. “Border Song (Holy Moses),” Aretha Franklin
13. “Stand By Me,” Mavis Staples & Lucky Peterson

Today’s Playlist: 09/30, “The Long Road” September 30, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Playlists.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Beginning today, I’ll be posting the playlists from my Friday afternoon classes. September 30, “The Long Road,” is deliberately toned down because, well, my boss told me to tone things down. That being the inspiration, and because this weekend happens to be the sixth anniversary of my very first assignment as a journalist (Operation: Ceasefire in Washington, D.C., for URB Magazine), this list is loaded with D.C.-based Thievery Corporation, the hosts of Op: Ceasefire.

09/30, The Long Road

The Richest Man in Babylon, Thievery Corporation

…In which we honor Thievery Corporation, for granting me one of my very first interviews as a journalist six years ago this week; and give “The Long Road” the lead-off position, because it reminds me of Fall.

1. “The Long Road,” Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
2. “Blue Skies,” Willie Nelson
3. “Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” Thievery Corporation
4.  “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” Stevie Wonder
5. “Tower Seven,” Thievery Corporation
6. “The Power of Good-Bye,” Madonna
7. “La Femme d’Argent,” Air
8. “Sister Moon,” Sting
9. “Take My Soul,” Thievery Corporation
10. “Everloving,” Moby
11. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” The Staple Singers
12. “The Time We Lost Our Way,” Thievery Corporation
13. “Puja,” Krishna Das

Yoga and Politics: It’s the Reality, Stupid September 19, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
Tags: , , , , , ,
4 comments

Well, this is a bit much, but it's still a hopeful thought...

I would have liked for Monsta Yoga to stay above the political fray — in my experience, a rather nasty place where both civility and rationality are in short supply — but after watching more than a little coverage of the recent GOP presidential debates, I just can’t do it. So we’ll proceed into the Red-and-Blue, then, but armed with an open mind, some Patanjali, and an absolute refusal to take anything that anyone says — right or left — too seriously.

Yoga Sutra IV.15 informs us that, “Due to the differences in various minds, perception of even the same object may vary.” Well, this is one of those axioms that at first blush sounds kinda deep, kinda profound, but after a little critical thought becomes one of those “no shit, Sherlock” no-brainers. Because of course everyone is going to perceive an object differently, and not just in the man-sees-pile-of-trash, goat-sees-pile-of-food kind of way. Some regard paying their federal income tax to be a patriotic duty; others consider their 1040s to be unholy tributes to Lucifer himself. With my 20/god-knows-how-bad vision, I perceive billboards and buildings a bit hazier than my 20/20 best friend.

Now, variance in perceptions is a good thing. The world operates on perceptions of differences between things, and not on the actual things themselves (This is why a busy signal is more interesting to listen to than a dial tone). And indeed, politics (as an institution) works best when many different ideas and perceptions are brought to the table, examined, then reconciled.

The Three Bears

"But I'm hungry!"

But while these differences are the most appreciable aspects of the maelstrom of human activity that makes the world go round, they’re also, ironically, the least important. Nobody lives inside of a difference. Yes, variance in porridge-temperature and bed-softness provide the literary fuel for the “Goldilocks” story, but when all is said and done, the trespassing little brat still eats a real bowl of porridge, still goes to sleep in a real bed. Upon returning home, the Three Bears don’t fret over Golidlocks’s examinations of food and bed; rather, they’re upset because the food is gone and the bed occupied. While Goldilocks demonstrates that the perceivable differences between objects are excellent fodder for analysis, debate, and experimentation, the Three Bears show that the buck stops with reality — in this case the actually-missing food and the actually-unusable bed.

In yoga, we practice non-attachment, which means we don’t identify with these differences. We eliminate the word “too” from our daily evaluations, accepting bad weather as rainy, but not too rainy, scalding porridge as hot, but not too hot. What is, is. In a sense, yoga allows us to transcend fluctuations in perception, and we strive to envision a unified, whole planet in which the one-ness of all is recognized and made manifest.

While I’d never expect, or even want, American politics to “ascend” to a yogic level of unity and harmony — dissent is vital to democracy and is, appropriately, Constitutionally enshrined and protected — it would be refreshing if politicians regarded policy differences more like the Three Bears and less like Goldilocks. That is, while the salient actions of Goldilocks are tasting and testing, those of the Bears are eating and sleeping (or not, as is the case in the story). GOP presidential front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry highlight the differences between their own candidacies and between their potential presidencies with that of Barack Obama, but these differences are not what feed and shelter a nation.

I expect Republicans to offer strategies and policies that run counter to those of Democrats. But too often these days, the offering trumps the actual problem-solving that these policies are intended to facilitate. Now, elections are all about deciphering difference, but we mustn’t let our country identify solely with these “political” chitta-vrittis (fluctuations of thought) that our politicians are wont to promote as their actual identities and actual personalities. Instead, we must recognize these margins without institutionalizing them. It’s fine to espouse “smaller government,” quite another to then determine what, outside of the fact that it’s not “big government,” that smaller government will actually be and actually do.

Politicians are canny and savvy (perhaps too much so). If we demand reality from them, they’ll provide it, and we can see differing perceptions for what they really are: invaluable tools that help us construct a better reality.

Philosophy Phriday: Yoga, Iyengar, & Seuss September 2, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Philosophy Phriday.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

There is a frequent misunderstanding of the journey inward or the spiritual path, which suggests to most people a rejection of the natural world, the mundane, the practical, the pleasurable. On the contrary, to a yogi … the path toward spirit lies entirely in the domain of nature.

— B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

You must never forget that, as a yogi — indeed, as human, as Homo sapiens — that you are a natural being! Your twenty-first-century, plastic-fantastic, yoga-practicing, New York City-living body is a precious, living thing. If I may quote Shri Seuss, “You are you!”

We often hear that as modern Americans, we’ve become isolated, distant, removed from nature. We’ve forsaken our “natural” roots for the pleasures and conveniences of pre-packaged and digital, man-made and artificial. Yet this perceived separation need not exist.

So while, yes, the flavor of a juicy, fresh-picked strawberry is better-tasting (and better for you) than its artificially-manufactured simulacrum (which comprises 49 different biochemical compounds; “cognac essential oil” and “orris butter” are my favorites), the fact remains that it’s still your being, your soul that’s enjoying that taste–regardless of its provenance. As humans, we could never completely turn away from nature because we are nature. We must embrace, not eschew, the mundane, the practical, the pleasurable. After all, it’s a maddeningly sterile world if you don’t; non-attachment doesn’t mean that everything does — or should — taste like watered-down instant oatmeal.

We must identify our bodies — and the thoughts and feelings and ideas and questions and fears of our bodies — as holy, as natural creations. We’re no better than a soaring spruce, and we’re no worse than a sliming slug, no more or less unfortunate than a three-billion-year-old fossil of sulfur-eating bacteria. Iyengar’s “journey inward” is a true journey, drawing us from one place, or mindset, or reality, to another. From one state of nature to another. We feel good after an asana practice, and as “spiritual” as a post-yoga high is, we have to acknowledge that our cells are performing some heavy duty chemistry to get us there. Creating that pleasure is natural endocrine behavior and certainly not something to be rejected.

When we practice yoga, we certainly don’t swear off urdhva dhanurasana or halasana because these objects — wheel and plough — are manmade devices! We don’t spend the entire class in tadasana because, after all, there’s nothing less artificial than a mountain! We bend and flex and stretch into these poses to remind us of our own innate nature. We use yoga, then, not only to “connect” to nature, but also to find it within ourselves, to recognize our divinity, our union with the planet.

So if you must practice in Lululemon Smash pants, then by all means practice in Lululemon Smash pants! It’s your nature. If you cannot put your head to ground in a devotional warrior pose, then by all means put your head on a block; again, it’s your nature! And if you’re vegetarian, then (naturally) do not like green eggs and ham! The beauty of nature is that it cannot be fought, cannot be defeated. It cannot be parsed from our identities without some serious philosophical and surgical intervention. Revel in your nature. Revel in yourself.

Don't like 'em? Don't sweat it!

If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.
Or worse than that . . . Why, you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you . . . You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!

The yogi’s guide to ‘Jersey Shore’ August 22, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

In honor of the upcoming Jerz-day, I bring you my Yogi’s Guide to Jersey Shore. Granted, most of my yogi and yogini friends don’t watch J-Shore, which is in my view a detriment to their enjoyment as citizens of Earth, but I’d like to think of today’s dharma as an attempt to bridge this seemingly deep divide between asana and asshole.

What wisdom might they have in store for us tonight?

1. Your favorite character is…

While I recognize that non-attachment is central to our practice, I have to concede that Jersey Shore is nothing without preference. It’s simply more enjoyable to watch The Situation pick up, get down with, and say goodbye to women if you think he’s a loudmouth jerk. And watching Deena fall ass over teakettle over the slightest topographical difference is all the more gratifying if you decide she’s a sweetheart who’d be fun to hit the bars with. But the yogi’s favorite is easily Vinny. Animalfair.com calls him an “ethical paragon,” and he explains:

We actually just became famous like a year ago … so we are lining up with charities now and you know I would love to line up with a charity that helps rescue pitbulls or dogs that are just left on the street and that may have bad reputations. Anything to do with animals. My whole life I’ve been adopting animals, I’ve always told people that if they find an injured animal to bring it to me, my house is like a zoo anyway. So if I could do that on a larger scale now that I have a little bit of a platform I will.

Now, there are some who’ll say that, somewhere between Season 1 and Season 2 — after Vinny went and got himself a new tattoo – he started acting as misogynistically and aggressively as his other roommates, but still, Vinny’s the one you want to root for. He’s the only one who bothered to learn Italian before decamping to Italy, and he’s the only one who’s turned down sex with a roommate because he foresaw emotional complications (Okay, he’s not batting 1.000 on this, but no one’s perfect)—about as close to satya and brahmacharya as you’re going to get on the Shore.

2. Your least favorite character is…

I hate to cast aspersions on someone, but from a yogic standpoint, it’s pretty easy to single out Ronnie as the least endearing member of the octet. Here’s a guy who, upon finding out that his ex was dancing with other dudes, proceeded to trash all of her personal belongings, including her eyeglasses. Sure, he’s had some tender moments, and I’m sure he’s got enough upper body strength to deliver a truly great shavasana massage, but let’s face it, the guy’s just not really that likeable. Ronnie’s commitment to his health is suspect because of copious circumstantial evidence of anabolic steroid abuse, and his insistence on walking around the house without a shirt is clearly demonstrative of his inability to produce the tapas—heat—necessary to soothe his troubled soul. Basically, you can’t count on Ronnie’s commitment to the eight limbs, and he’s not someone you want to see grow frustrated with Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, variation A or B, if he’s on the mat next to yours.

3. You’d rather watch (at least on Thursdays at 10)…

Nothing! For the yogi-as-renunciate, well, fine, there’s no reason to enjoy a solid hour every Jerz-day night. But for those of us who aspire to change and engage with the world, you have to know what (and whom) you’re dealing with. Jersey Shore is the most successful series in the history of MTV, and whether or not you think the network’s gone downhill since it peaked artistically in 1983 with the “Billie Jean” video, the channel nevertheless broadcasts truly absorbing, pertinent content. You don’t see Teen Mom or True Life: I’m Addicted to Crystal Meth on Disney-owned ABC. And it was The Real World: San Francisco, that brought Pedro Zamora’s AIDS activism to suburban living rooms across the country. If you need to take a core sample of American pop culture, regardless of how much you feel you need to hold your nose to do so, you could do worse than MTV.

As a student, I’ve often been taught that, by virtue of my commitment to yoga, I’ve either superseded in valor and sincerity the American culture in which I live; or that American culture has superseded me in vulgarity and artifice. An hour a week of Jersey Shore, though, reminds me that even as a yoga teacher and yoga practitioner, I have far more in common with DJ Pauly D and J-Woww than I do with, say, Amma, or the late Shri Swami Nirmalananda.

Embracing my culture does not mean loving it, and criticizing it certainly doesn’t mean eschewing it. As a yogi, I find myself with a perpetual mission of maintaining one foot in each realm — mudane and sublime, material and astral — in order to comprehend and to find my place in each. As a yogi, I recognize that I am both in and of all of humanity, whether I like it or not.

That we only have one planet is not a clarion call to fix “our half” of it, nor is it license to chastise those whom we think have destroyed “theirs.” Rather, it is a call to find the one-ness and wholeness of the entire project, to seek out instances of yoga and figure out how our cultural fissures — like the perceived one between asana and asshole — can be stitched together and celebrated.

%d bloggers like this: