Re: Fire & Nectar

David Rush


Christina Sell recently published a piece on her blog titled Fire & Nectar, and I really wanted to engage in a little discussion with it. Its a good piece, and you really should read it before you continue. Go ahead, I’ll wait...

So first of all, I was vaguely aware from other appreciators of the yoga tradition that Guru Purnima had probably just happened. I’m actually pretty keen on it, but frankly, I have a hard time keeping watch on the wheel of the year and any holidays either more precise or less obvious tend to get missed. Interestingly, I have been using the Guru mantra rather a lot lately, and have also been thinking somewhat about the teacher/student relationship and its effect on our community.

Christina’s first thoughts were just comforting to read: she is an established yoga teacher, and I am just some guy, who also happens to be scared silly over actually getting up to teach at this point of my life. It’s a fear from having been around long enough to understand just how much you can screw things up for someone else. In another life, I’ve been both perpetrator and victim. Hearing Christina’s frank acknowledgement of the role that even “idiosyncratic behavior, personality differences, deception, failed expectations and broken promises” play in our growth is really helpful. The times where we are purely victims are few and far between; so much that I’d venture many people never really have that pure experience. But even more important than “the blaming” is the choice of how to carry the experience forward.

But I mostly want to talk about Christina’s next paragraph, where she takes a brief, sideways glance at the issues of community and identity that western practitioners of yoga face. “I am very clear that I am not an Indian, a Hindu and these days I am not even sure if I am a yogi...” Well what are you? For that matter, what about this whole tribe?

Oddly enough, even as I am in the middle of writing this, the latest Jivamukti focus of the month essay from Sharon Gannon is also talking about issues of identity, but on an even larger scale. In it she contrasts self-realization (as preached and practiced by modern psychology) and Self-realization (as is at the heart of many streams of yoga). I think there is some middle ground worth covering, though, and it is that middle ground with which Christina seems to be grappling.

One of my more interesting 40th birthday presents was an evening’s chat with a philosopher friend of mine. Ingrid and I covered a lot of ground that evening as the first rumblings were being heard in the foundations of my christian fundamentalism. What stuck with me was how Ingrid laid out the relationship between meaning and identity; and how both are only knowable from the context of relationships: in the first case the relationships between words and their correspondences to ideas in a text, and in the other the relationships we have between us all.

Which, interestingly, makes who we are to be defined by who we relate to at least as much as by any special inward knowledge. There is an interesting parallel to the tension between dharma and karma as it appears in the Hindu epics, but is only given a passing glance in the Judaic traditions. But that’s a digression for another time, I think.

So to get back to the labels one might be willing to use for the community in which we practice asana (and deeper matters of realizing purusha and prakriti), I find myself in a similar position to Christina. Most people associated with my former position in the Evangelical community view me as somewhere on the spectrum from back-slidden through apostate to (possibly) demon-possessed. So if I am to claim any identity from them, it is overwhelmigly negative, even if I experience no dissonance with Jesus’ teachings and christian values. Yet in yoga I also find a very effective guide to the phenomenology of the spirit, with a practice that is more grounded in daily experience while being more comprehensive in its theory of the unseen world. Since that theory is also experimental, it is nearly irresistable to my scientifically-trained mind, so the term yogi works well for me when it is understood from its Indian context.

But of course, the problem is that people that we meet understand the word in its western context; where it means, broadly, “new-age fitness nut”. This is a pretty poor approximation of what hatha yoga means, but I can live with it. A lot of people in the tribe qualify by that term, and those that don’t, generally get off the bus at “new-age”.

And since it is really very late as I write this, as well as the article having run rather long, I won’t digress about how communities (and their labels) look different from the inside and the outside. I’ll just leave with this: Christina Sell qualifies as an elder in my tribe, and I hope that she would count me as a member of hers. As for the rest of y’all...


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