Category Archives: cultism

Keep Your Chum Away From Me. Om Varunam Namah

 The_MG_1953Hil_new year's 2011_cropped_websize Chopra Center set camp on the grounds of my parent’s home by Encinitas at the La Costa Spa. I dropped in for a yoga class. I figured it would be Svaroopa style as that’s the last thing I knew about the practice Chopra had aligned himself with pre Tara Stiles. But I wasn’t there for the content as much as for curiosity so I took the class which, like all the classes there, was called the Seven Spiritual Laws. Chopra’s same named book was displayed for purchase at the room’s entrance.

There were only three people in the generous space including me and the teacher announced that she was a sub but would follow the general form. This is not a review of the class or teacher.

What forces my hand here is a mantra repeated toward the end of the class.  Though the class began with a different mantra set to a pattern of repetitive postures, I don’t remember much about that except for the awkwardness of asking three scattered spa people in an oversized room to repeat mantra without much discussion or connection or background.

It was the repetition of Om Varunam Namah which she repeatedly translated as; I am aligned with the universe that got stuck in my craw.

I am a patient person. However, this was nonsense and as we rose and fell again and again in a sun salute prompted by the mantra, I wondered what universe she was talking about and what I’m supposed to be aligned with.

Don’t throw your chum into the expanse of my ocean sister! You cannot bait me with a hook! If you want to say something about a universe or alignment you’d better bring your best game. This is just new age jargon that you forgot to pack up with the 70s and now you’re baiting an overactive mind.

I’m deep into the solid, no chance of subtle as I catalogue every question I’ve ever had about why I am here and what I am doing and what is this thing; this universe!

Whose universe, what universe!

Am I aligned with reality? Whose reality would that be! Am I aligned with the politics of the day, the business of the day, the social network? Am I aligned with you there in the universe or you there because you and you are not the same!  Am I aligned with the planets? Are saying go with the flow because lately the flow seems to be circling the drain. I’m starting to get bored with all my machinations.

Aum Varunam Namah, not.

 I am aligned with the universe:

Are we talking a shared vibration because I’m being shaken senseless by every blip beep bump crack crash shift slide and shimmy of the shit and I’m not looking to ride that out through the sun salute today. I need a break. Every hurricane, death, birth, shadow and sunray is using my ghostly sheath to shortcut through the next soul. Everything feels like my complicity in not fixing what is broken here, allowing myself to be as defenseless as an ice flow to stop the changing tides.

Aligned implies alliance. I don’t think that way. I am not aligned with the universe. I am inside the universe. The universe is in me.

JeffFarsaiPhotography.com

JeffFarsaiPhotography.com

Maybe she would have done well to offer a suggestion from the poet Rumi instead:

    “Stop acting so small,

    You are the universe in ecstatic motion”

On this day of December 9, 2012 I am claustrophobic with humidity lodged in my pores, frizzing my hair, closing my sinuses. Thunderous rain shook the house clammy with 70 degrees in what respectably should be freezing temperatures and a snow storm. There is a mosquito hovering in the corner and I was guaranteed a break from the miserable beasts by pitching my tent in a town that winters over.

Whether aligned or one with, the vibration is not comfortable these days.

There is a vibration of poverty of despair and yes the vibration too of love and birdsong and tree sway but if this vibration is what I’m to conjure up in my yoga practice I will devolve into a puddle of huddled masses  powerlessness cowering in the corner until the vibration levels, until the rainbows stay without rain and the earth’s fissures softly close to hold a humanity fed natural food, dancing to native song, holding itself and each of its people close but not too close; just close enough to find an infant’s new legs. This is not an alignment but a coming into oneself which is not just self but everything everywhere from all the times. And this is too huge to be tossed out like a Hallmark greeting in an un-tethered yoga experience.

 

Oh Chopra. You who gather so much useful information to share with others should realize how sensitive we have become and give your teachers careful invocations. But thank you for the class. You brought cautionary advice to me! Words have power. The powerful should remember to choose them carefully. I am careless too at times. Thank you for the slap on the wrist. But also, thank you for the yoga offering; it’s my opinion that any yoga is a good thing as there is always a pay off.

This was re-posted on elephantjournal as Om Varunam Namah. You Are Aligned With the Universe, Yes?

7 Comments

Filed under cultism, new age enlightenment, satire, social commentary, yoga, yoga wisdom

Yoga: A Stretch of……Faith?

_MG_1953Hil_new year's 2011_cropped_websizeReligion Is Not Just a Hair Trigger Word

 I wrote this piece and posted it on Elephant Journal in 2010. I never put it on bitchin. I am posting it here today  because the discussion of yoga and religion has made headlines in my family’s home of Encinitas. As the discussion is still relevant, I’m giving it a place here.

The day we moved to our Nashville home our elderly neighbors came out to see who we were. The first question they asked was “What church do you go to?”

Aside from the fact that it was a rude question from the part of the country where I come from as our spiritual pursuits are personal and shouldn’t matter to anyone else, I was taken aback because they assumed we went to a church. We don’t and I was a little uncomfortable telling that to people I’d met for one minute because to my mind they were assessing me the way people around here size you up according to where your kid is educated. 

They meant no harm and for this culture it is not rude and church is their community and they were probably wondering if we would be part of it and hoping we were. As I hesitated with a shake of my head, they asked if we worked in the area and I said I was a yoga teacher.   “Oh, yoga”, the wife quietly said with a confused and forgiving smile.” Did that excuse me from the religious question?  Was yoga my religion?  It didn’t matter. We have been the best of neighbors but what I thought was a silly misinterpretation of my job was maybe more my misunderstanding of yoga.

About fifteen years ago I had a woman in class who said that she had a son with colitis and was looking for ways to teach him to relax. She came back to tell me that though she enjoyed the class she couldn’t come back because it seemed antithetical to her religion. She said she was a Christian.  People here introduce themselves as Christians and think nothing of it but identity by religious beliefs was new to me. She impressed me as narrow minded and trapped and I wondered if her son’s condition was exacerbated by moral strictness or guilt. I never thought that her perception of yoga or my class was correct.  After all yoga is a system of energy management, a philosophy that holds no God as king, a direction for moral and ethical conduct that veers down no particular religious path.

Or is it?  Wikipedia describes religion as a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. It is also described as a communal system for the coherence of belief in a highest truth.

 Webster defines yoga as a Hindu theistic philosophy and theistic means belief in a single God and the popular guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, makes references to the ‘Lord’ in his description of yoga.

 It seems the view of yoga as a religion would be correct. It seems that it was my mind that was too narrow. I’m considering my place in this religion.

Reflected in the media, household publications and the internet, yoga looks like a phenomenon that deserves attention.  Is this country embracing a philosophy or a faith in its runaway yoga mania? I envision how bhakti yoga looks to the eyes of on outsider. Here is chanting, and  prayer shawls flying; eyes rolled up in ecstasy.  A foreign tongue recalls an ancient language invoking the name of Krishna in all his incarnations. Hands form for  prayer in Anjali mudra.  Statues of Hindu gods and strange symbols sit at a shrine. The word “goddess”is  resurrected.  Women lead the dance, hair blowing in the wind.

 An off balance nation searching for answers is a great opportunity for ambitious life-coaches and sales people.   Zen collides with Dale Carnegie as Tony Robbins and Werner Erhard- like yoga gurus gather numbers like Joel Osteen in the mega-church. The term principle, previously enjoyed by polygamists and Moonies, has found a home on the banner head of a fast growing yoga community.( This was John Friend’s Anusara banner which is now defunct.) Yoga isn’t just yoga anymore it’s a kind of yoga and yogis with business heads are marketing names and promises and manifestos like the many divisions of the church.  Come to us, come to us, says the number crunching preacher luring us in.  Cleanse your toxins and free your soul. The yoga studio becomes a franchise. The teachers are independent satellites. They are salaried employees.

If yoga is a religion then who amongst us is qualified to teach it? It’s a complicated religion which makes it even harder. It’s almost impossible not to happen upon a pathway to things unseen when doing a physical practice done with integrity. Even if we aren’t teaching a religious aspect of yoga but doing asana and breath, students made need guidance beyond anatomy. Through the body comes the awakening of yoga. Then what? Call your shrink and your priest and don’t ask me or do you assume the character of either?  You could be playing with fire. And what if you describe the poses and the names? There is talk of sages and deities. And what about when the first strain of a mantra comes over the loudspeakers. We cross into something beyond the body. What are we responsible for? How many yoga studio advertisements casually toss the words body, mind and spirit into the menu? Are there skills to back that up?

I once took a class from a new teacher who told me that my knee hurt in a pose because of unresolved past life issues. Noooo, my knee hurts because I have a fallen arch which caused a strained medial crucial ligament and partially torn meniscus. But thanks anyway. Maybe she would think that my arch had fallen because of unresolved past life issues but I hope she would get to know me before mentioning anything about it.

I took a class in which we were held hostage in a backbend while being read a description of animal torture from a PETA pamphlet by some ahimsa (nonviolence) preaching visiting yogis.  I, who run screaming from the room if I see a suffering animal on television, left feeling sick and violated.  I later read a quote by the same empire building offender saying that the secret to life was to take things lightly.  Thanks for the laugh.

We use the word consciousness.  Has it become just a word without content? Are we just conscious of what’s convenient to see?

The Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner did an early experiment with pigeons. They got rewarded if they made figure eights and hit tennis balls. That’s funny and awful but Skinner was proving that even natural beings will do weird things for immediate rewards.

What bigger reward is there for a new yogi than to be part of the group?  It’s human nature to want to be accepted by the pack. A couple of students from a local studio which follows a highly stylized practice took class with me recently. They moved through the postures by rote. They paid no attention to my instructions, they finished every vinyasa sequence with anjali mudra although I wasn’t teaching that and jnana mudra, the seal of wisdom, appeared at every opportunity.

I asked one of them what those gestures meant.

She answered, “I don’t know.”

I said, “Then why are you doing it?” and she said again that she didn’t know.

“If you don’t know what it means and you don’t know why you’re doing it, then it’s just jewelry!  Do what you need to but you ought to understand what you’re doing.”

 Tennis playing pigeons remind me she’s been trained to mimic for the reward of membership and the uniquely human bonus of pride in emulating a popular teacher’s style that was borrowed from an even more popular yoga teacher’s style.

The sign on the church across from my house which has maybe the worst sentiments ever once said, We like Sheep.  Do we like ‘sheep’ in yoga too?  Are we raising sheep? Not for me, thanks. Raising two kids has been all I can be responsible for. And that crowded barn just feels claustrophobic. I’m not crazy about hanging out waiting to be fed and watered on anyone’s schedule either and I expect my students feel the same way.

Are we supposed to be missionaries spreading light into the darkness?  What are we part of? Who are we accountable to? Who are we kidding, could it be ourselves?  What about the aim of yoga to uncover the veil of illusion that covers the universe, how’s that going?  What about for profit and power? Religion tends to be entwined with society and politics.  We need to make a living at our work and power may just be handed to us when people follow. Are we fit to manage that? How many times have I been ignorant? Have I done any harm? Those are hard questions but they have to be considered on a regular basis when you’re dealing with so many personalities; when some may want to find in you their physical therapist, psychotherapist and priest.

I’m driving down a country road on a moonless night and the street lights are suddenly and briefly gone.  I’m driving blind. It’s just a stretch of darkness, I think.  It’s a stretch in the dark; a stretch of faith.  I don’t want to hit anyone, any animals and I slow down and tell myself, “I can’t see anything but I won’t hit anything. I refuse to hurt anyone.”   “I’m on a stretch of faith.”

©Hilary Lindsay 2010, all rights retained

2 Comments

Filed under cultism, new age enlightenment, social action, social commentary, Uncategorized, yoga, yoga and religion, yoga wisdom

Yoga Home: A Fairy Tale

Untouched by time in the middle of the South lay a swathe of land called the Bible Belt and in the buckle of that belt, known to some as the heart center, was a province devoted to church and family and tradition.

H.Lindsay

Into that province came a stranger and she brought them yoga. It attracted a small group who became like an island in the sea of the province. One woman designated the back room of her modest home as a yoga studio and declared it The Yoga Center. Not long after and spitting distance away, another tiny home no bigger than a room became the property of her friends who called it The Yoga Room.

And a society was created to teach the others about yoga and the society declared that yoga was good. The people had differences and arguments despite the love of yoga but the society and the teaching of yoga kept them together in practice and perhaps it was the circle of community apart from the others that kept them a family.

And there was no need to declare yoga space Sacred, Sanctioned, Sourced or Shiva, Hot or Cold or Works or Plus. There was no yoga market so there were no yoga names and there were no yoga clothes and there were no yoga games. Well, there were games but they were games humans play in the unavoidable way of a species tasked to figure it out. They were small games compared to what would later transpire.

Yoga was the religion or an adjunct to beliefs already held dear. It was a physical and spiritual practice done with intention to follow the steps provided by its creators. It suited the devout.  It took itself seriously.

A decade later another stranger came to town. Though she did not know it, she would be the forerunner for something called Modern Yoga. She came from the East Coast and then the West Coast full of dance and fancy and hippy drenched yoga love and she wore flowing clothes to yoga.

The first stranger was gone on the dark wings of cancer. But her yogini daughter befriended the new stranger who was introduced by one who had just created something on the West coast called Power Yoga that would change the yoga world.

The island of yogis in the Bible Belt Sea were kinder than kind but some of them bristled at the stranger who muddied yoga with music and dance and merriment. They resented the intrusion, looked askance at the medium. They did not see the writing on the wall or maybe they did.

H.Lindsay

The stranger who came from the East Coast and then the West Coast had found a home amongst dancers. She had no dreams but to raise kids and share her passion but the island of yoga had successfully attracted the sea of the town and in a rare moment of synchronicity, it heard her music and her laughter and it stormed her doors.

Ten years later and yoga strangers would change towns all over the country. Yogis would be competitive and name their business and name themselves and open retail stores to create more wealth. They would add music and bands and videos. Keeping pace with consumption, yoga would become a bottomless pit.

The Bible Belt was no longer provincial. Business saw opportunity in a virgin ready, waiting to be delivered and devoured.  A steely entrepreneur from afar looked at a map and judged that place to be the ripest in all of the country for a moneymaker called Hot Yoga. I know because she told me. It was the first time yoga would be sold for cold cash.

The Yoga Room had become the first school of teacher training. Who knows if the owners, long gone, knew what that training program would herald. Perhaps they were the first to grow big pockets from the dreams of zealous pioneers who wanted to make yoga their lives. Soon every studio in town would have its own teaching program. Soon every teacher would be in competition with the next and studios would mark themselves in name and battle lines.

It was rumored that the stranger from the East Coast and then the West Coast’s students wild with jealousy and greed finally threw a hood over her head, tossed her in the back of an Audi and hauled her away. With her gone from the light, a new empty room with an empty name would surely fill with their own students. Money can buy so many things. Some say she was never heard from again and in truth it seemed that way.

The Yoga Center became a holdout and laboratory for a quiet and tenacious group of traditionalists who once a week continue to sit at the feet of its original owner, a now 80 something matriarch who could still kick the ass of every yogi in the region when it comes to physical prowess.  She carries the mantle of a thoughtful and truthful path.

The one who was harbinger of things to come appears in a ghostly transparency on Sunday mornings, harkening back to the place where yoga blossomed in her adopted town.  In a little one room house untouched by time in the neighborhood where yoga was begotten; in that place still simply named The Yoga Room she teaches yoga while others are in church. Her solidity manifests as the music rises.

Yoga Devis from Rebel Yoga Calendar 2001; A Celebration of Students. copyright Rob Lindsay

If you trust the storyteller, believe her that her evolution heralds another shift in the evolution of yoga. It is unfinished business becoming true right now.

7 Comments

Filed under allegory, cultism, fable, new age enlightenment, satire, social commentary, yoga

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Thirty some years ago I began a life in Manhattan.  I don’t remember how we were friendly or even why but a couple of folks dragged me to a mysterious meeting. They said it was a cool group of people who got together to create prosperity or something vaguely like that and suddenly I was shoeless in a spacious, barely furnished living room sitting in a huge circle of undernourished looking folks who reminded me of the Macrobiotic crowd from my old Aspen days.

I went just once and I don’t think I continued that friendship as I have no memory of the faces or names of the people who brought me but the bulk of the evening centered on an unforeseen event which was the seemingly ceaseless chanting of “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. The reason for chanting was money. You could chant in cash. It was a sure thing. There was proof. They said so.

It was my first encounter with what looked to be Buddhism. It didn’t seem too appealing. I can’t pretend I remember any details but I’ll take writer’s license to say that I thought it was a real turd fest.

I had forgotten about that until I read this piece in the New York Times about the Buddhist folks who decided to retreat to huts that looked like crypts and tombs including a couple of them who appeared to have lost their minds and died.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, it turned out, is not a chant for money but roughly translates as a call to devotion from the Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist sect in hopes of attaining happiness and fulfillment. I am no Buddhist scholar so forgive me if this is not accurate or complete. I guess the folks running that group years ago narrowed the meaning of the chant for their own purposes; probably because they needed money and they believed it worked. I don’t think that sounds reasonable but someone reading this does and you may or may not be right.

It seems there may have been some tweaking of the chassis of reality within this recent Buddhist group and I don’t find it surprising. They were free.  They made a choice. Perhaps they narrowed the field to accommodate the vision or desires of the group. It’s nothing new that people stretch or mold what the larger population calls the truth to make all the pieces of their own puzzles fit.

Is it cliché to talk about the surprise of someone who was “such a nice boy, such a sweet girl, from such a good family” going wrong? Sometimes there is no apparent reason; no abuse, no poverty, no divorce, no chemical imbalance or disease, no obvious thing that would point to a person’s reactions. I think reactions before behavior because isn’t our behavior usually a reaction to something even if it’s not something immediate?  What that is may be a result of something we can’t fathom. That’s the crap shoot of humanity. You just don’t know.

      Where did that come from!

     But I raised both of them the exact same way and ….

Any kid on the playground has seen what happens when one kid becomes a self proclaimed leader and a break out group follows. But what they see is in the eye of the beholder and there it is.

Now people have joined another cult of their own free will as they have before and will again and things have unsurprisingly gone wrong. Get rid of the cult and you eliminate the symptom of human confusion but not the cause so that cause may just slip in the back door to stir up something else, somewhere else.

If we had genetic markers for harmful behaviors like we do for diseases, we might prevent behavior from surfacing as symptoms. The symptoms are many but they all beg the same question; why and how can we prevent them.   There is a common genetic marker for humanity that says there is a pre-existing condition for confusion.  We keep coming up with methods of sobriety and reasonableness to prevent us from doing harm to ourselves and others.  They are not infallible. And there is a choice not to use any of them. And there is chance that they will be reinterpreted. There is Yoga is among them.

11 Comments

Filed under Buddhism, cultism, new age enlightenment, Uncategorized, yoga

The Pants Seller’s Circus; A Fairy Tale

The Pants Seller’s Circus

  A Fairy Tale

written in 2010;  the author was inspired by Lululemon and  the fiefdom of ambassadors

Long ago and far away a small group of sages designed a system of actions (SOA) that might save people from themselves. They called it yoga but that name had since been forgotten.

SOA lasted throughout time in a quiet fashion amongst a small group of people and it was too small a group to change the world but then the SOA spread to the land of America. Like all things in America it took root and prospered.

In SOA this was written: Do no harm, do not steal, do not covet, do not lie and do not overextend yourself as to make yourself self righteous or make others weak.  They called this part the first Limb with five branches and it was the first step towards the beautiful universe. This step had to be built to gain access to the next step or the next step would crumple.

A group of hawkers got hold of the system.  They were part of a universal tribe of hawkers who made a living by selling goods all over the world.   The hawkers came to each village and sought out the most influential and successful entrepreneurs of the SOA and knighted them. Those who were knighted were given gifts of gold and promises of glory in return for advertising the hawker’s wares. They became corrupted and shills for the hawker industry.  And the hawkers sang the leaders praises while selling high ticket gear that appealed to the leader’s people.

SOA had eight limbs all together which were intertwined with one another. Step by step, limb by limb, the devout could move from the outer to the inner realm.  But if one step was missing, one had to go back because no one could stand on the next step without sinking if the one before was missing.  The steps were not just steps. They were actions that took one from the gross to the subtle. Like a wooden Russian doll with smaller and smaller dolls inside it, one had to uncover the surface to attain the doll beneath. The last limb, the last little Russian doll was called Bliss. Everyone wanted to get to it. Some were in a hurry.

There were some priests and priestesses among the leaders and their flocks who feigned knowledge of Bliss at the center of the system. They spoke quietly or in song cloaked in shawls and turbans. They did not have the patience to step limb by limb. They were desperate to have Bliss right away. They spoke knowingly of Bliss and the virtuous path to Bliss but they had bored a hole in the outer shells, in the outer limbs and crawled into the belly of Bliss like fruit flies and there hid out laying waste to all the outer layers that became porous as rotting wood.

The knighted leaders of SOA were lost souls.  Their attraction to it was fragile, born of a love of attention and an attraction to power.  They disseminated the SOA for their own means and they did not live by it. They fought amongst themselves and it was even whispered that a photograph was taken where they lined up with arms around each other striking a pose like hapless Rockettes but had knives to each other’s backs like Brutus to Caesar.

To get to the second Limb of five branches the people had to answer questions: Do I feel  pure of heart, do I have a desire to press on, do I have a desire to learn, am I ready to confront myself, am I capable of acceptance? It was easy to answer yes because they were delusional but it was the third Limb that kept the leaders’ purses full.

It was the third Limb that the hawkers could market to. It was the body. The body needed gear. The body had a mind and the mind could be manipulated. Though the human form might follow the thought of the first limb and the second limb it didn’t have to. All one could really see was the form itself. No one would know the difference.

SOA was in danger. Co-opted by the hawkers it would live on as an accessory to the high priced gear.  All the hawkers needed were its name and its form.

Seers and sages cloaked in the garb of modern folk started leaving the cities.  The planet was in danger. It was used up and angry. The cities were claustrophobic with frightened people who had lost their purpose. The seers went forth seeking space to focus on ways to sustain and replenish the earth and waters. They went to the mountains and plains to make peace with the planet. They carried SOA in their hearts. They carried the books and their notes and journals and they lived like Renunciates honing their skills of intuition tuning their minds to love.

Left behind were still hundreds of teachers who were also students of the SOA. The people didn’t notice them easily as their spirits were cloaked in such a way as to make them invisible except to those who sought them out.  Some say their vision was clearer in the shadows away from the glare of celebrity and fortune but I for one know that glare does not eclipse anything except in the eye of the beholder or judges. One can do both.

Life began to slowly change because jobs were scarce and money was more precious and the people began to appreciate that life could be good without so much stuff but the economy was predicated on buying stuff and it began to fail.  The leaders of the SOA were affected too and although they still had power and some fortune, it was dwindling. The leaders began to notice that the people were getting weary of the leader’s swagger and bored by the hawkers’ gear. The leaders began to fight amongst themselves. America’s success was predicated on selling systems and gear. There were the Great Marketing Wars. SOA was renamed and repackaged in hundreds of ways all over the country and much of the free market got involved to support that with gear and cheap labor and materials. There was no other way.  The people were distracted and anxious. They had so many choices and so much to buy.  Meanwhile the country was being decimated, torn to pieces by partisanship. SOA was just part of the chain of partisanship that was running through the desperate country.

The people supported the hawkers of every system whose advertising assured them of their inadequacies. They could benefit from the hawker’s wares.  They could benefit from the system of religion. They could benefit from SOA.  The people were insecure, broke, and emotionally bankrupt and the wars waged on exhausting their resources ever more.

Not the end: Just the beginning.

9 Comments

Filed under allegory, cultism, fable, new age enlightenment, satire, social commentary, yoga, yoga and politics