I chanced upon this video montage and it really struck home. I need to remember its message. It’s inspired by Carl Sagan, one of my intellectual mentors from a distance, and the Hubble space telescope.
I have always been amazed at yogis (and yoginis like Ana Forrest) who can accomplish amazing feats of balance and strength even though they do not appear to be overpowering in strength. This morning I chanced across a YouTube video of an example. I had seen Mark Giubarelli’s website years ago when he just had flip cards of poses. Big difference now.
I am running into more and more videos of yoga online, from highly polished productions to the equivalent of a webcam pointing to the back of a room. Just put Ashtanga into a YouTube search, and it brings up scores of video on which you can waste your time instead of practicing yoga. Then again, when you’re trying to crack the secret of getting into handstand from crow, it’s great to have a video demonstration because it so immediate, direct and palpable. It would take hours of reading instructions to understand it. On the other hand, the written word is great for revealing things that are not evident to the eye — where should your drishtri be focused.
Last month, Teresa and I took a long postponed vacation, five days in Orlando, Florida. For two days, Teresa kept me running to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts so that she could satiate her thirst for the ocean — white sands, waves and sun. We stopped at the Kennedy Space Center for a couple of hours, not long enough to take the whole center in. We also spent one full day at Epcot Center, Disney World and also another day shopping for gifts and bargains at the outlets that tempt the tourists to delay their return to the Magic Kingdom. Teresa complained that we had waited 15 years too long: we should have brought the kids to Orlando when they could have enjoyed it. Of course, in those days, we couldn’t have afforded it.
For me, the highlight of the trip was the Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian ultra-circus, had a resident show, La Nouba, at Disney World. I had seen Cirque du Soleil on television and was intrigued by the concept. But TV or phtographs could never capture the electricity and scope of the performance. First of all, the Disney World show is presented in a custom-built freestanding theater so it is a magical setting. The lighting, the set and wings were exploited to increase the impact. The audience was seated in the round and the actors frequently ventured into the audience. I thought the music was recorded but there was a full musical band seated in the elevated wings and the singers roamed the stage.
House Troupe, Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at Disney World
© The Walt Disney Company
Costume credit: Dominique Lemieux
Once the lights came down and the show got underway in earnest, I gasped. It was overwhelming; I felt as if my senses were insufficient to take it all in. My eyes were darting back and forth trying to catch all the action. As the performers soared through the air, danced across the stage, balanced on the edge and tumbled, it suddenly occurred to me that I was seeing something that I aspired to in my own yoga practice. The grace and strength, the imagination and dexterity, the playfulness and wit that drove the performance were the essence of my intention when I stepped onto the mat. Not that I could ever aspire to the sheer athleticism and skill that the Cirque du Soleil cast displayed, but that joy and courage could propel my own body as it flew out of downward-facing dog to forward bend or balanced in crow.
Teresa in front of the Big-Tent-style theater where we saw La Nouba
A week later, I was in Barbados at an evaluation for a new online education program that CICAD, my employer is sponsoring. After our last session, I went back to my room and did a yoga practice on my balcony — maybe it was something magical about Caribbean seas, winds, sand and sun. As I stretched out in side plank, my top arm reaching high and my shoulders arching back, my vision just took in the blue sky above the railing and it felt if I were balanced precariously on a high wire, and in a daring flourish, I lifted my top leg into tree position, resting my foot on my thigh. It was all an illusion, a trick of tunnel vision and concentration on my practice, but it was also a seed of intention.
For purposes of clarity, I am adding the explanation of the term “La Nouba” because there’s no way of know what it means. I stayed through the entire show and I did not get. Of course, I did not buy a program.
La Nouba originates from the French phrase “faire la nouba,” which means to party, to live it up. It transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, engaging the imagination from beginning to end with opulent sets, brilliant choreography, theatrical lighting and provocative music.
Debra Perlson-Mishalove told me that she had read that many cast members of Cirque du Soleil practice yoga. It wouldn’t surprise me. Yoga Journal has a mention of cast members in a yoga class.
Well, just acceptance, pure and simple , really — acceptance of myself and the world around me as a starting point for movement to change. Last year the intention that I repeated before each class was awareness. Acceptance is key for me now because I recognize that I frequently overreach, try too hard and generally act as the diligent student as a method for manipulating the world. That usually means that ease is not a predominant characteristic of my practice. Initially, I thought of the intention of acceptance as a short-term solution because I was in my first January class and could not think of anything else. But the more I’ve lived with the intention, the more I think that it’s a worthy principle to lead off each session.
I’ve shaved off all my head hair. It was a minor piece of hair styling since I’ve been wearing my hair as a buzz cut for the past six years, but it was for a big cause, at least for my family.
My younger brother, Richard, was diagnosed with lung cancer in December. This came as a shock since he has never smoked and always had a healthy life style. He got married in October 2005, and cancer is not a good way to start of a marriage. Fortunately, Susan, a neonatal nurse, took the news in stride and has been a tremendous support for Richard throughout the whole process. He underwent surgery to remove about a quarter of his left lung and is now receiving chemotherapy (now getting over his second treatment, which sent him to the hospital for a day because of an adverse reaction). His hair has started falling out and he’s shaved it all off. I told him that I would keep my head shaved until he had recovered completely.
More importantly, I believe, I reminded him about the value of meditation in getting through pain and suffering. As a Christmas gift him, I sent him a copy of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He had done a research project on biofeedback and was familiar with the idea. He even had some meditation tapes, which he dug out of the boxes remaining from his move to a new home. He says that the meditation has helped him a lot when he’s feeling the worst side effects of the therapy.
I hope my karma is not reduced by my liking my new Kojak/Michael Jordan look, which I may keep for good. And it also begs the question of whether it means anything if most of your hair has already turned gray and fallen out.
Washington Post The Writing Life: “There’s a mystery about creative writing, but it’s a boring mystery unless you’re interested in this one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It’s a scruffy little thing with fleas and often smells of whatever nasty mess it’s been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-domesticated and isn’t exactly known for its loyalty.” I have never been a big Stephen King fan — I have never read one of his books, which must make me a minute minority in the first decade of the 21st century. But I respect him a lot as a writer because he has produced, because he writes because he has to, because it’s his life force.
I chanced across this article on the Web by accident, but something made me read it. I have a hard time getting into this piece that appeared in the Book World section of the Sunday Post. But once I got passed the fourth paragraph, his message hit me square in the butt. And done with such deceptive ease and self-deprecating humor. I got up, hunted down the weekend’s stack of newspapers, found the hard copy and clipped it. It will be hung on the wall above my computer monitor. Hopefully, I will remember its core of truth each day that I try to write.
I am not going to summarize King’s ideas here; just check it out yourself if you are interested in being creative, writing, digging deep. At least, this glimpse of truth made me put together these few lines, and also start writing about some other ideas that had been nipping at my heels for weeks.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882)
When the expression “Survival of the Fittest” gets thrown around in conversation, we usually interpret that phrase to mean that only the strongest, the meanest, the most ruthless will come out on top in the end. But that is not what Darwin was saying. Fittest means the organism that could adapt to an ecological environment or niche — in other words, it fits in, not that it was in the best physical shape. It also implies that survival implies a capacity to listen, to adjust to the environment and to take fullest advantage of the conditions.
American novelist William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950:
I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.
Tip of the hat to another novelist, John Grisham, for using it in his New York Times op-ed piece about the natural disasters of Katrina and Rita and the spirit of humankind. Words on which to found my daily practice.
I am going to have to find a place to hang this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson somewhere I can remember it:
“To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;
to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden
patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…
this is to have succeeded.”
I came across this quote recently, and it’s stuck in my mind:
Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. — Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)
Tip of the hat to WordSmith — no relation.