Sunday, January 14, 2007

13 Possibilities: Inspired by a Joel Kramer talk

Joel Kramer, a thinker and yoga guy, came by Sonoma last night. He let himself wander all over the place under the title of Yoga and Self Transformation. This was a delightful discussion, bringing up many of the same issues that this ongoing series of essays has been exploring: What are we to do with our lives? How to help the mess that the Earth and her people are in? How can we become better and happier people?

Actually, I don’t know if Joel talked much about happiness, but the idea, the flavor was underneath.

Then I came home and glanced at a book Marlie had just got at a girlie swap gathering, mainly clothes were swapped around, but books and videos, too. The book is good, I’ll talk about it day after tomorrow in the taichiyoghealth blog, but the hint for today’s essay is that the author likes the natural rhythm of thirteen moons, and in each of the thirteen chapters gives a list of thirteen food ideas from around the world. Having been born on Friday the thirteenth, I too am quite fond of the number thirteen. I’ve an earlier essay, called Thirteen Ways to Have a Wonderful Relationship, from October 23 of 2005.

So today’s essay is going to be 13 thoughts/ possibilities inspired by Joel Kramer. In honor of his honoring of the meandering principle of water and good gardening and nature in general, these will meander. So, with that rather long, foreshadowing (partly to avoid getting to the “hard” part), here we go.

1) Yoga is about the mind as well as the body. The body is conditioned and had certain limitations which can be explored, and if explored kindly and without force and pain, these limitations can be learning pathways to not only more flexibility but more awareness of how to change. In the mind, gad oh gad, do we have conditioning. We have so many filters up about how we see the world, that, hey, guess what, we usually don’t see the world, but only prebaked unclear idea of the world. In yoga, we have lots of tradition, which is nice, as a stepstone, but not as another filter/demand structure.

2) This conditioned thinking, combined with the human ability to create and invent, has led the world into a sorry mess. We have old ways of thinking, as in “All those guys are bad, we’d better go kill them,” and this is combined with brand new sparkling zippy wappo weapons. (Note: this is my rather loosy goosy paraphrasing and taking off from Joel. He sets a much higher tone than this, so don’t judge him by me. I’ve added him and his lovely companion Diane to my links, so go to their website ( and buy their books or listen to their pod casts. AND: what I am saying is very, very much in his spirit of everything is up for grabs and the new clear and fresh way to see things, which is what all these essays have been about for the last couple of years.)

3) These weapons allow us to be disconnected and supremely inhumane in our killing. Back in the spears and clubs days, if you were wrecking and wounding someone, you knew it. From a plane two miles up or a missile launched from hundreds of miles away, the killing is quite antiseptic and clinical. (Joel didn’t talk about, but for me, one of the most amazing images from Fahrenheit 911 the movie, was the kids, and they were just kids, in the tanks, with their rock and roll music, blasting humans and buildings as if they were in some hot nightclub video game). Which is to say: our brains our way ahead of our hearts.

4) Humanity is at the edge. We could lose the game and extinguish the species. AND this is when evolution tends most likely to happen: when it has to happen. So we’ve got two things going: a race to the edge of the cliff, and a chance to use the knowledge that as a species we could perish, to figure out how to co-operate and learn and shift ourselves to a better level of being.

5) This shift has a lot to do with getting out of our narrowness of identification, of our little group, or tribe or country. We have to learn how to identify our deeply selfish interest in identifying with the Big Picture.

6) Many of the conditioned ideas about opposites aren’t so worthwhile, if you get honest. For example, the cooperative vs. competitive thing. A bunch of people get together to raise a neighbor’s barn. All cooperative and cozy and no competition. Except, the competition with whatever trees had to be chopped for the barn, habitat destroyed to make way for the barn, and so on.

7) Joel had some fun comments about the competitiveness in yoga, and how we try to be good and not be competitive and can’t help ourselves, because we look over here and over there. He stated, and this I’ve brought up for from the Gurdjieff work, our brains are meant to compare. That’s what they do. So we can’t help it.

8) What I’ll add to that, and this is all me, is that the Feldenkrais work is often far more useful than many other systems, because it makes hugely explicit use of this comparing as a basis for learning. The comparing starts at the beginning of a group lesson, when you lie of the floor and compare your left leg to your right, and the left side of your ribs to the right, and so on. And then, throughout the lessons, most of the time with eyes closed, since on the floor you aren’t going to fall over, you are comparing: what is the difference if you turn your head to the right while turning your shoulders to the left and if you turn your head to the right while turning your shoulders to the right, or what is the difference to the right shoulder if you push up through the left foot and side of the pelvis, and so on and on and on. In the Feldenkrais work, learning is defined as discovering a difference that makes a difference. Brains compare because that’s how they learn; and this comparing thing gets shanghaied by our judgmental part. (Joel had a fun thing about the phrase: Don’t Judge, being a judgment.)

9) In real yoga, the goal is to learn about yourself and your conditioning. In relationships, we are in minefields of conditioning, and often stymied by myths that require us to pretend to be “gooder” than we really are. The yoga of relationships helps begin to lift us out of the sort of self absorption of yoga, the privileged permission to spend this time getting me, me, me in better shape, with better energy and freer and sexier body. (Again, this is me coming along, making fun of the Look Better Naked idea of yoga, which is explicitly part of the Bikram advertising.) Anyway, Joel did bring up how yoga was a privileged luxury, and part of the deal was how to go from this to, well, Saving the World.

10) Over the ages, we get caught up in the idea of evil. And what is the idea of evil? It is that there is a continuum of violence and when you go beyond a certain point you are evil. Joel was going somewhere with this, but I don’t know where. All I’ll say, is that it’s clear from history, that people love to deal with what they call evil by the Final Solution: Wiping it out. Be it modern agriculture as war with insects, or dumb bell politicians dealing with Fundamental Moslems, the primitive tendency is to clear the slate of the Bad Guys.

11) Children these days are being deprived of a connection to nature, and there are huge pressures on parents that make it hard to raise their children decently in the onslaught of all the crappy food and media and the rush of modern life. Which is part of the World is a Mess theme, and also part of this theme: real community seems to be almost gone. If it takes a village to raise a child, where are our villages. Both in our families and in our world, we need ways of real relationship that are not only satisfying for our lives, but will.... Save the World.

12) In the face of all this mess, the best inner place to be is one of optimism. Factually, “realistically,” this might not make any sense. But internally, to thrive and be effective and to enjoy our life on this crazy planet, to be optimistic is the only realistic option.

13) Too much avoidance of the real world, and real problems and real opportunities and real needs has been the hidey hole of a life after life, heaven, the next life, some sort of immortality gizmo going on. If we come back from that unknowable possibility, to the world as it is, there are chances all over the place to make a difference. The fun is in finding them.

(If you read this Joel and Diana, I hope you enjoy this, and please straighten me out on what I missed. Anyway: it was a fun ride.)

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