What is and what is not

An artist comes into one of my classes each month to sketch the students in their asana practice. She’s a yogi herself and is learning to draw the human body in movement. We have some great conversations about how to read anatomy in the way we each need to. She told me that in life drawing you’re taught to begin with the places in between, where there is an absence of stuff. She showed a sketch of me in V2 and said she started from my armpit, the square space between torso and underarm. That was the place that drew her eye.L0013277 A. Scarpa, After that she commented on the curving surfaces of my arm, the shapes created by my muscles. It reminded me of my teacher talking about ‘spirals’ of energy in the muscles. The way she drew my arms looked like that — full of movement and three-dimensionality. Even though the limbs formed a straight line the drawing was anything but linear as she perceived what was not visible, the energy within.

Perceiving what isn’t there as much as what is strikes me in other ways too. I become aware of some of my habits and tendencies not for what they are, but for what they are not. I am this way, because I am not that way. It’s not a sense of deficit or a reckoning of what’s missing, nor a judgmental comparison with others; to me right now it’s more a realization of what is available, the richness of my practice, the fullness of my being…. Instead of feeling inadequate, I notice that many of the things that my practice is not are, in any case, not the things or qualities I value. It wouldn’t serve me better if my practice filled up all these empty spaces.

I was talking with one of my teachers after class recently and she commented on the practice of the group overall. Not mindful or precise, caught in old habits, unable to listen to her with open heart and mind, full of ego and overly striving. “Well… I do my best” she concluded. And in the space behind her words I heard the implicit message that my own practice is not these things. Instead my practice became defined by the failings that it doesn’t, in her eyes, exhibit. But I sense that the conversation about what she does perceive as lacking in my practice will come another day…

For now she offered simple advice: practise Dhāraṇā more. My mindful practice tends towards being a mind-full practice, intellectual questions threatening to sabotage my body’s natural sense. I would do well exploring the silence that waits behind the demanding questions. Even her call to Dhāraṇā amused me by what it isn’t: not a beginner’s guide to meditation, not a gentle or patronising exhortation to try maybe sitting for 5 minutes a day. Instead it was a jump straight into Patañjali and the 8 limbs as expressed in Sanskrit. Dhāraṇā. Our conversation was a serious one, where my commitment and knowledge were not deemed lacking, simply that my intention needed a little steady guidance to help settle my self-doubt.

अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः ॥१२॥
1.12 abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyāṃ tan-nirodhaḥ

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feature image: http://www.chattanoogasciencefair.org/yoga-art-prints/best-25-yoga-art-ideas-on-pinterest-meditation-art-art-of-yoga-art-prints/

anatomical sketch: https://blog.wellcome.ac.uk/2011/12/20/bites-arms-length-research/l0013277-a-scarpa-sull-aneurisma-1804/

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