Saturday, January 21, 2006

Where and when

Anticipation is what I do for a living.

I anticipate what others will do or say, and I recommend actions for today to shape how events will occur tomorrow.

I’m hardly the only one who does this.

It’s one of the few faculties that shaped and preserved the distinctive evolution of humans. Our ability to anticipate future events and to alter present conditions to shape future results is our principal survival tactic. It manifests itself in agriculture – planting seeds today in anticipation of a harvest in the autumn – in construction trades, in manufacturing, in stock markets, in education, in the military, in religion.

But does it have a place in yoga? Isn’t yoga a “right here, right now” sort of thing?


But here’s the thing I strive for most in yoga – to perceive clearly my existence. And today, my existence includes anticipation of the start of my yoga teacher training regimen on Wednesday. I am committed to this path. Today and for the last twenty-five years of my life, my basic priorities are and have been family, work, and my religious duties and community. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I didn’t really see how a ten-week addition of twelve or so hours per week would ever fit in. But my teacher’s note caught me at a saddle, the top of a pass between the mountains. And it pushed me in a direction, into a new basin that I hadn’t conceived of before.

A month later, I’ve carved up each of my basic priorities to make this work. I’ve carved back the time I’ll spend with my family. I’ve cajoled my boss into letting me leave work early on Wednesdays. And, for the first time in my life, I’m going to stop attending my congregation for reasons other than illness or travel. Tomorrow, I’ll teach my last Sunday class for ten weeks.

It all feels vaguely like an ending – though I haven’t consciously intended to end anything. Certainly not an ending of family or work – indeed, I neither want, nor can I even envision such a thing. But an ending, nonetheless, of the scene I’m acting in. Perhaps what lurks in the back of my skull is the change of priority – from weekly attendance in the context of life-long-permanency of a demanding religious tradition, to yoga -- to an exploration of a non-religion that seems more central to my life today than the religion that has always been part three of my personal trinity. I don’t consciously intend to end my religion. Likely, I’m over-dramatizing a bit, as is my wont. Whatever the explanation for it, today, it does feel vaguely like an ending of a sort.

But it’s not that sense, alone, that keeps pointing me toward Wednesday. One of my favorite yoga instructors returned to teach class today. Last week, she was at a conference of yoga teachers in San Francisco. Today, her instruction bore the insignia of her recent training. She paused us in several places to refine the poses, to focus our attention, to sharpen our awareness. Her instruction included less of cant and more of herself. Seeing the changes in her, I wonder: "Will I change like that? Or like something else? Not at all?"

Also, before class began, another yogi whom I see every Saturday drew me aside, asking if I was going to do teacher training. I told her I was. She said she was thinking about it, too, not certain whether she’d be able to manage the rearrangement of life that would be required of her and her family. Her dilemma seemed familiar.

Despite the anticipation – the not-here, not-now focus of my musing mind – the three dimensions of space framed by the two of my mat drew me back to here and now.

This week, I’ve been reading Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, a book-length essay comparing the teachings and implications of physics and quantum mechanics on the one hand, with teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism on the other. I’ll leave the highlights from the book for another day. For today’s yoga, one of Capra’s points suffices: modern physics teaches that particles are concentrations of energy within a field. Neither the energy is without the field, nor the field without the energy. Matter does not exert influence on space to curve it. Instead, matter and space are different manifestations of the same field.

As I flowed from virabhadrasana I to virabhadrasana II to reverse warrior to chaturanga dandasana, Capra’s point seemed quite sensible even at the macroscopic level: the space of the room and the motion of the dancer are not separate, but rather unified, differing manifestations of the same substance. Nor are the teacher and the student separate objects, but rather a relationship. I didn’t visit the San Francisco yoga conference last week. But I am the student of a teacher who did. She was changed by it. And as she changed my poses today, I was changed, as well.

And, despite the esoteric abstractions of physics and eastern philosophy, I could feel the connection, the identity, the flow. And it drew my attention from the day after the day after tomorrow to the sensation of a right-angled leg in crescent pose, a curled coccyx in standing warrior, a drop of sweat emerging on my brow.