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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Jul 29, 2010

The Disembodied Discourse of Popular Culture

I am fresh back from a week long retreat with Paul Muller Ortega. We did a lot of practice (asana, pranayama, meditation, etc.) as well as a lot of study and discussion. I spent the week practicing and studying with excellent company. And so.......

It was a little disheartening to come back to an e-flurry regarding the article in the New York times about John Friend. Several people have already written excellent response to the article. I'll link some of those responses at the end of this post.
Here's the link to the article itself.

I knew this article was coming and was cautiously looking forward to it. It's no small thing to be part of a Yoga method that merits a 5 page article in the NYT.

Here's my 2 cents worth.

The article is a fine example of the disembodied discourse of popular culture that focuses on brand and image, that elevates mediums like Face Book, Twitter AND Blogs to the level of Real. And ignores what is really going on at the level of body and bone, community and relationship.

disembodied discourse sketches in and then projects upon, the surface and virtual elements of a person, practice, community or spiritual path. For example, in this article, the whole language around cult is just ignorant. A cult is a culture. It is easy to comment on a culture that you are not part of in a way that is incomplete and therefore ignorant. Limited knowledge is ignorance. And while I'm on the subject: Cynicism is a cult too – to which people simply don't admit their membership.

The article doesn’t account for experience at the local level. You can’t generalize longing of the Heart. The article does not even mention the mystery of embodied consciousness or the tragedy of suffering and yet these are the essence of what we are looking into and practicing into with Yoga. We are aiming to see more clearly, think less superficially, stay steadier and more open in body and emotion even as we face increasingly paradoxical and challenging circumstances.

It is why it is so easy to disrespect Yoga at the abstract, generalized, pop culture level. Love, Grace, and Bliss – these all sound so flaky when spoken outside of the context of practice, relationship and community.

The closer to body and bone we keep our work and practice the less vulnerable we will be to the
disembodied discourse of popular culture - which is truly a sort of virus that feeds on our attention. As one of my meditation teachers put it, we must stay "warm hand to warm hand" in our community of practice.

I asked Chris what he thought about the article. He is both brilliant and possessed of great heart, so I often ask him to "help me think". Here's some of his comments:

  • Underneath the surface of the generalizations of an article like this lie the problems of culture, paradoxes of discrimination and diversity, gender, the problems of living in the paradox. And these can only be worked out and lived out and practiced out at the local level of community and body and bone.
  • Looking at JF’s trajectory from the perspective of the present- you can’t see the grace in it. It looks like an ambitious hustle. But you (Karen) saw this whole phenomenon of Anusara Yoga grow from when you were in John Friend's class with 10 other people. You know in a way that a journalist looking backward can't know, that it was never a "business plan".
  • It's a problem of scale. John Friend is working at a level of scale and is open to that kind of analysis – like it or not."
In the moment to moment experience "grace happens". John Friend caught the wave – and stayed with it – stayed in incredibly hard working service to it - from the get-go.

It is in this moment that grace is actually arising. That's why I'm going stop writing and go practice and prepare to teach the lovely, small, class that will meet at noon -- Real people, who are open and intelligent, and who have found in Anusara Yoga's principles and philosophy a coherent and beautiful method for growth and transformation - a way to become kinder, gentler, more capable of love, more generous of spirit. That's what happens. I've seen it over and over and over, in myself, my family and my students.

So there!

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