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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).

Sep 12, 2012


It's been a long time since I've posted. My "summer fallow" was over a while ago, but I didn't know where to start with posting. As Rilke puts it with his typical brilliance: "It is a tremendous act of violence to begin anything. I am not able to begin. I simply skip what should be the beginning." 
OK….me too. I will dive into writing about where my head and heart are dwelling right now, which is a contemplation on Elegance.

Elegance - a teaching of Lee's and a focus of the chapter our study group is on right now - is skilful means with the use of energy and attention, a rasa or context that can happen at every level of being - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Physical elegance is the level of Elegance that is most obvious at first. It is what I see when I watch someone doing skillful vinyasa transitions in Yoga asana practice, or when I watch a T’ai Chi practitioner or an athlete.  No movement is wasted. Aim is entirely clear and focused.  The lines and the movements are clean. There's no clutter.

To be "clean" in the spaces of my life, and in my movements, actions, attitudes and habits is saucca - which is a necessary element of Elegance. Saucca sets up an open path and pattern of direct energy movement.  On a very practical level I see this at work when there’s clutter. I sometimes have to work around and move around the clutter in my closet or my car (which is my closet / office on wheels). And my body sometimes has to work around a clutter of toxins and stagnation (ama -in Ayurvedic terminology).  Which brings me to.........

Chris and I are doing an Autumn cleanse right now. We're using a template that I used with clients in Boise (when I still practiced Asian bodywork and Chinese medicine). But for this one I added in some ayurvedic components. It's going well - except that occasionally one or the other of us feels like we have nothing to live for.  That's kind of a joke - and kind of true. We are practicing a pretty strong form of pratyhara - withdrawal of the senses and their usual reach outward towards our favorite foods and drink – and we are doing it for a full month. We are also fasting from videos.  So the question arises - "what IS there to live for, when my usual pleasures are curtailed?  Obviously this is “the great question” –the basis of the examined life (the one that’s worth living – as they say).  But let me get back to the mundane and talk some more about our detox........  

As usual - when I get into a detox regime - I sooner or later feel a compulsion to clean house.  This time I thought I would not feel this - or at least not respond to it - because I don’t have time to clean house.  But my body got a majority vote. My body knows what is most important but does not always get majority vote but this time it did. So this morning, instead of … [insert my long list here]…… I thoroughly cleaned the bathroom. I am moving on to the bedroom and closet after I write. And the kitchen is next. 

Elegance and its related concept of saucca relate to simplicity and simple living. “The urge to acquire is a neurotic expression of the loss of one's center” (study manual) and is neither elegant nor beautiful. Lee recommended simplicity - not as an ascetic practice - but out of the recognition that our own center is what is Real. Natural simplicity is one of the things that the body knows.  Moving from the natural simplicity of what the body knows reminds me – again - of Yoga and T'ai Chi and of all sorts of movement, in both formal practice and  daily life, that is beautiful to feel and to see.  In contrast, I remember seeing and feeling the inelegant straining for a “finished pose” – the not-graceful movement from a grasping at the periphery instead of a movement from the core. 

Onward from physical elegance in the spaces of my body, my home, my studio, etc., there is also mental and emotional Elegance.  Lee says that mental-emotional elegance comes from "draw no conclusions" mind, or at least draw no conclusions until all the information is in.  Instead, rest on what the body knows.Thanks to the fact that I am considering Elegance – the field has opened and given me a couple of great opportunities to see just how disturbing a lack of Elegance in my mental-emotional self can be. (I think that in AA they call this AFGO – another f---ing growth opportunity.)  For example, yesterday I instigated a very inelegant interaction with someone I love and respect.  It was a brain-lock-head-butt that served no purpose. The after-effect – having to sit with the roughness and “not-gracefulness” of it - was like sitting with an indigestible meal in my stomach - definitely not an example of energy having moved freely or smoothly – either at the time or afterwards.  And what a waste of time, energy and attention it is to be cleaning up after my inelegance.

Gracefulness arises from simplicity - and is truly a way of being that is Elegant. When I drop the complexity of my reactivity, drop my conclusions, and clear away the clutter of unconscious or distracted activity, I move freely and smoothly. Then - as Lalitha Thomas puts in in her teaching and in her outstanding book Waking to Ordinary Life, "All obstacles are removed. No resistance remains".

Finally - Spiritual Elegance. I could contemplate Elegance on all the levels of my being for the next 18 lifetimes, but for the moment - as I contemplate Spiritual Elegance - it seems to me that it is an alignment with the Light of my heart and a remembrance that this Light is the same Light that shines in every heart. This remembrance will give rise, naturally, to service which is -  well  -  elegant in its clarity that everything is connected to everything else. Service is no longer “I am serving” but becomes “what is needed is getting done”. And what is being done is done as an efficient, simple, graceful and elegant gesture of devotion to the Work – to the Sacred. 

Elegance is a form of food for those who live with it and around it. And it is a form of food for God.