We’re seeking new practices, and a proper space in which to meditate, as churches and temples were for our ancestors. My grandmother prayed before statues. She built a stone grotto with a statue of Mary, and across from it a stone bench on which to sit, in a corner of her backyard. Hers was a magical world full of prayer beads, statues, jewelry, and shrines. She attended Catholic masses. I wish to honor her memory by creating a sanctum of some sort — a space akin to the meditation room at my previous home. I should try sitting in the loft above the garage, or outdoors, or in the sun room. Either that or I’ll just continue to recite mantras and prayers silently in bed each morning (as I have each morning since the move). Perhaps I should read some Thomas Merton. Or just observe His Dark Materials, with its magical, pluriversal cosmology mapped out Game of Thrones-style in its opening credits.
A friend guides us for a second time through a sunny afternoon gathering, a weekly Saturday afternoon event we call BODY SQUAD. We sit on blankets or mats in the yard for yoga, bodywork, and guided meditation. R. “scripts” or choreographs the gathering. She guides us through exercises. We sit and stand and stretch with friends and partners. During the guided meditation, we concentrate on our chakras: aspects of a body-model involving centers of energy. It involves a practice of “visualizing” or “imagining in the mind’s eye” a ladder of colors, points of light along an inner totem pole of the body. At each point, one is asked to visualize a flower that blossoms to reveal a jewel of a similar color. One becomes a student again, learning experientially by trying and doing. One explores and develops one’s awareness of one’s body, as Esalen Institute Gestalt psychotherapist George Downing recommended in his contribution to Anne Kent Rush’s Getting Clear: Body Work for Women. “At the deepest level if we are bound to roles,” Downing writes, “it is because our bodies bind us. […]. Any real transformation must ultimately include transformation of the body” (227).
A multi-talented translator / Reiki instructor / musician friend of ours guides a group of us through a sequence of physical exercises: stretches, poses, celebrations of embodiment. We stand and sit in a circle in the driveway. (If we do it again, we might consider the grass. Or does it not matter? When we sit, we sit on yoga mats.) The exercises are body meditations aligned with particular limbs, joints, and muscles. At the end we lie on our backs together enjoying a lovely, sunny afternoon. Frankie played and sat among us on her blanket / happy, pleased to be with us in companionship with others. More of that, please! It feels wonderful to be present, nerves stimulated by “Chi” again in our legs and feet and arms and fingers and toes, in our hips, our backs, our butts and pelvises. The group concentrates together, bodies held through lengths of breath through guided exercise. The trees stand in their tallness and majesty beside us, their autumn leaves lit by the sun.
Video-friends team up for a live performance via Zoom and Twitch. Double-click and one is there, listening and watching with others. I depart for a time, enter the phone zone for a talk with my mother. If it’s not one zone, it’s another. This morning, though, I stood in my yard, my eyes meeting the eyes of a deer.
It’s been several weeks since I last sat before the window for morning meditation in the room above the garage, facing outward, to the street to the trees to the sky. Meditation has instead become a yoga integrated into everyday life. This is election season, wealthy billionaire politicians throwing their money around to fill the air with lame signage as our cars and bodies zip around through outer space. Enough is enough! The time has come for change. Jerry Farber spells it out, tells it plain in his essay “The Student and Society: An Annotated Manifesto.” “Students can change things if they want to,” he writes, “because they have the power to say ‘no.’ When you go to school, you’re doing society a favor. And when you say ‘no,’ you withhold much more than your attendance. You deny continuity to the dying society; you put the future on strike. Students can have the kind of school they want — or even something else entirely if they want — because there isn’t going to be any school at all without them” (17). The problem, however, is that students lack consciousness of themselves as a class. They’re divided. Some of them continue to see school as a privilege. Hence the need for teachers — those outside voices who, like the character in Socrates’s cave allegory, return to the cave to free the others. If only I could assign Theodore Roszak’s book Sources, described in its subtitle as “An anthology of contemporary materials useful for preserving personal sanity while braving the great technological wilderness.” Roszak’s introduction points the reader back to Dwight MacDonald’s earlier book The Root is Man. These are important works within a largely forgotten strain of postwar thought: a kind of radical Marxist Humanism.
A crouched cat, rustling leaves, the blinking lights of a distant plane: these I encounter on a chill night as I walk about the earth beneath a large moon. The planet’s surface bathed in its light. I stare up at it in wonder (oh mysterious thing, so lovely!) before returning to the house, baby feeding hungrily at Sarah’s breast. The three of us go on a date: ice cream for mom and dad, while baby sleeps beside us in her car seat. F. wears a hat her aunt knit for her. As she and Sarah quiet and settle down for the evening, I enter the basement and listen to a recording of a guided meditation led by Chuck Pereda & Natalie Szendro, featuring music by Pulse Emitter. Time to practice Yoga Nidra.
I wake in the cabin of my brother-in-law’s boat, docked for the weekend at Watch Hill on Fire Island. It’s still early — not yet dawn, in fact — but I can hear birds chirping outdoors, so I climb aboveboard as silently as I can manage, so as not to disturb my companions, all of whom remain asleep below. A wonderful fog has settled over the bay, a saving grace obscuring from sight the many ugly neighboring yachts, flags already hoisted in preparation for the day’s festivities. I perform morning meditation sitting cross-legged on a cushioned bench. Afterwards I walk the short width of the island from bay to ocean and stare out at the Atlantic. Time dilates, water line waxing and waning with the tides. As the day progresses, I lie on my back, eyes closed, and become one with radiant energy.
I deem it wise to sit outdoors when possible. Pull out a lawn chair, listen to London-based Afrobeat 8-piece KOKOROKO, preferably later in the day, after lazing about dipping in and out of several texts midafternoon, testing the waters of each as if they were pools or oceans.
Perhaps I should jump right in. Practice Svadhyaya. But I prefer to pause now and then, take leave, retire into the alternative fictive domain of a backyard garden where shadows interact with light across bursts of Gaian majesty. Don’t ask me how it happens; I don’t know. The story of the Secret Garden, the story of the expulsion from an ancient leafy bower: these are mythic accounts, folk memories of dispossession, primitive accumulation, forced separation from the land.
Time to go somewhere and sit beside a tree. Tomorrow if possible — perhaps in a calm, relatively secluded part of campus. Imagine oneself, however, in one of the campuses of yore, where students lounged among trees strumming guitars and tapping bongos. “Peace, brothers and sisters. Anyone wanna join me in some fugitive study on spontaneous theater?” That used to be a thing: people gathering, barbecuing, chilling, passing a frisbee back and forth. Back before the privatization of cultural memory. Perhaps I should settle in and read Hardt and Negri’s Assembly. Despite its flaws, their earlier book Empire contributed mightily to my formation and development. The question they attempt to answer is similar to the question posed for us by Hippie Modernism: how do we assemble in ways that endure while rejecting traditional, centralized forms of political organization?
Sleepy — inhaling and exhaling in a kind of trance. When I went for a run yesterday evening, same deal. I concentrated my attention upon the timed repetition of the sound and act of breathing. Speculations about AI seem flawed in their ontological assumptions — particularly their dualism. Something else happens when we go nondual and imagine ourselves at one with a stream of becoming. The self-presentation of being depends in such circumstances on an act of hermeneutics. It’s always a movement between dreams and their interpretation. Ease up, I tell myself, take a break, cook dinner for oneself and one’s partner. Time to dip into Lara Lee’s Modulations: Cinema for the Ear. Part of me remains convinced, though, that “to believe in this living,” as John Prine sang, “is just a hard way to go.”