We’re parents. Not that anything can really be summarized about having a baby, but when a friend asked me recently what my favorite part of parenting was, I thought about it for a long time and then said, this:
(Wilhelm Wundt is a German psychophysicist, which means someone who’s trying to do experimental psychology with a sense of the connectedness of body and spirit. 19th century Germany.)
Here it is in German:
„Eine Autorität wird aber von uns Modernen leichter geduldet, wenn sie ihren Namen verloren hat und man glücklich dahin gelangt ist, Meinungen von einer verhältnismässig kurzen Vergangenheit für so einleuchtend und notwendig anzusehen, dass man anfängt, sie für angeborene Ideen eines jeden denkenden Menschen zu halten.“ („Die Aufgaben der Experimentellen Psychologie“)
And my translation:
“But we suffer an authority more willingly if it has lost its name, and we are in the happy state of seeing relatively recent opinions as so obvious and necessary that we begin to assume they must be the innate ideas of any thinking person.” (“The Tasks of Experimental Psychology”)
and then he fell in love with time lapse photography. Here is our apartment, downstairs, overnight.
I find it really beautiful — the sinuous way the light moves. And the moment where there’s light but not quite enough yet, and the camera hasn’t found a way to focus, like it has good, tender things to teach me.
Or maybe what I want is a theology of competition. In particular: what kind of competition will there be in heaven?
Here’s what I mean: take stories. As the Lemony Snicket books so cleverly humorize, a book in which nothing bad ever does or could happen to the protagonist(s) is not a book anyone, generally speaking, is ever interested in reading. Stories (as far as I can tell) simply do not work without conflict; and conflict (as far as I can tell) always involves the possibility or reality of misfortune, or pain, or evil, or loss, or something else we wish (in our own lives) did not exist in the world. This doesn’t seem merely a question of verisimilitude, either; it’s not just that we find conflictless stories unrealistic — we find them boring. So what does that do for stories in heaven? My conclusion here has been that we won’t know till we get there, and that our fallen imaginations are part of what keep us from knowing — but there will be stories in heaven, and they will be interesting, and they will not depend for their interest on the presence of evil.
I need to find some kind of similar way to think about conflict in game-playing. Lately even chess has felt overwhelming and brutal (all that thinking ahead has always felt overwhelming, so I guess that part isn’t a change). But especially games like Risk, or other territorial games that have for their basic game-logic a version of the equation “scarcity + need = violence; violence + violence = a winner and a loser” have felt really difficult to enjoy.
And on the one hand, I think my feelings are right; the world is plenty brutal without our also killing each other in board games. But on the other hand, I feel like I am missing something. I don’t actually believe that in order to enjoy Risk (or chess, or Mafia), one must be a secretly homicidal maniac. Of course all these games can be played viciously and with intent to dominate and harm; but that’s not what I have in mind. I think they can also be played without that intent, and then I think they can be played with good aims, but aims that are still tied up in competition. So what are the good aims? What if competition is actually not about the high of winning, but about a process, and about learning that happens during that process? What’s that learning? How can we teach children (or forget children: how can I teach myself) to enjoy that in competing, rather than to enjoy the high of winning and dread the low of losing, and buy into the false belief that winning makes me more valuable and losing makes me less?
Welcome. My name is Stephanie. Before we start our practice tonight, I’m going to tell you some things about what I hope you’ll get out of this class, and out of yoga in general. One is an improved relationship to your body. That includes an increase in general physical well-being—I hope you go out tonight feeling physically better than you did when you came in. And if something hurts after class that didn’t before, don’t ignore that—pay attention to it, ask for help (I’m happy to talk after class, or during class). But more than just feeling better in your body, I hope that yoga will help you listen better to your body, to accept it exactly as it is and not to feel like you need to force it to be what it is not. Part of what yoga can do is help you practice that listening. It seems like something that should be obvious and natural but it isn’t obvious to most of us most of the time. So begin by accepting that listening is something you’ll need to learn, and practice, and grow into. And then start noticing. What feels good in your body? Where does it feel good? How does it feel good? What hurts? Where? How? And what are the things you can do, in long-term and short-term ways, to be kind and help your body feel good?
In this listening, pain is not an enemy but a friend. Pain is your body talking to you, telling you something that is true about it. One of the key skills in yoga is to learn to distinguish between two different kinds of pain. The first is your body saying “this is breaking me somehow.” Joint pain is in this category, most kinds of spinal pain, neck pain, lower back pain, wrist and knee and ankle pain. These need physical responses and adjustments—if you’re feeling them, reposition yourself in the pose or go out of the pose into child’s pose or downward-facing dog, or any other pose that feels good. Nothing I say should ever keep you in a pose when you are feeling this kind of pain.
The second kind of pain is part physical, but partly emotional. It’s the internal freakout, the “my thighs and shoulders are burning, I can’t possibly hold this, is she out of her mind, when will this end, this is completely unreasonable, why did I come to this stupid class, how is it not over yet.” The next gift yoga has to give to you, beyond increased physical well-being and a better listening relationship to your body, is an increased ability to deal with this kind of pain. Yoga can help you realize that things that feel impossible are not impossible. Yoga can help train the internal muscle that lets you stay in the places where what you want most is to get out, but all the attempts to get out are, in the end, only increased sources of pain. You know these places—places where you numb yourself with food or drugs or chattering or exercise or entertainment. Or places where you try to control your way out of the pain. Or fight your way out. Or run your way out. These are the places in your life that feel like quicksand, and the more you thrash the faster you sink. So the poses in yoga where it feels impossible, where your body is not giving you “I’m breaking” signals but it still feels impossible, unreasonable, unfair—those are places where there is an invitation for you. You may stay, and you may stay fully present, and learn to hold still in the quicksand, and feel how you stop sinking, and feel that your feet can ground you into the floor and your breath can keep you alive, and feel I can do this, I can be here, I can feel this and not die, because I felt like I was dying thirty seconds ago but I didn’t die, I’m still here.