Trials of a Yoga Cynic.

Via on Apr 8, 2011

The purpose of the yoga teacher training at Kripalu, they said, was not so much learning as unlearning. The author unlearned so much he hasn’t been sure what to write, since.

A version of this article appeared at Yoga for Cynics some time ago. The author might still agree with it.

Knowledge is a good thing—of course it is. I’m all for spreading knowledge. Hell, I’ve been a teacher, and a tutor, and a writer of informative articles in which I hardly made up anything.

And yet…maybe…not knowing can have its value as well…

If they had a king of fools then I would wear that crown
and you could all die laughing because I’ll wear it proudly.
~ Elvis Costello

Guess I can be somewhat of a contrarian—that’s kinda the opposite of a chameleon—in blue surroundings, I turn red—not so much politically—at least not in the current “red states” and “blue states” sense—though, admittedly, back in the late ‘80’s when I was at the Evergreen State College—one of our nation’s most celebrated granola schools—its proud alumni including Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, and the founders of both Sub-Pop and the riot grrrl thing, as well as countless organic dope growers—prevailing local winds of academic Marxism, acid-burnt utopianism, and the ceaselessly compassionate lifestyles of the granola fascists at the co-op did manage to blow me safely away from the far left I’d idealized until then…though the icy gusts of Reagan and Bush I’s nuclear winter blew me right back.

Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without. There may be courtesy, there may be even temper, and talent, and sparkling conversation, there may be good will even—and yet the humanest and divinest faculties pine for exercise.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Here, though, I’m more concerned with the spiritual end…to which people I hang out with generally respond with either blissed out gooeyness or withering contempt.

When kicking back with the theoretically atheistic academic crowd—to the extent that people on the death march toward tenure ever “kick back”—I’m likely to irritate the hell out of people by indulging in the mysteries of cosmic consciousness, experiential awareness that goes beyond reason, and the possibility of some kinda something for which the big G could be a workable metaphor. If I really wanna get antisocial, I’ll argue that to negate takes as much a leap of faith as to believe, and that, anyway, if absolutely forced to choose, I’d probably trust the sages of the ages before the likes of Derrida and Foucault….

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God….Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us….Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
~ Pema Chodron

Then, when hangin’ in the yoga crowd—to the extent that one can “hang” with people who pay such careful attention to their posture—my perspective changes markedly…especially when people start getting into fake Native American spirituality, unspeakably self-serving evocations of karma, and romantic illusions about how incredibly free and open traditional village life in India is.

When friends ask my sign—and won’t let me change the subject—I say “I’m a capricorn,” to which the answer is inevitably a smug nod and  “just as I thought…” to which I reply “actually I’m a libra,” eliciting an “I was just gonna say that,” “but I’m really a virgo,” “okay, I knew you were either a virgo, a libra or a capricorn,” “except I’m a scorpio,” “of course…”…

…when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.
Margery Williams

Three years ago was on this yoga and writing retreat in Mexico where we did these writing exercises, which were then shared with the group…one of them with a prompt of something like “what surprises you at this point in your life?” and, after a couple of days of wondering if there was truly a place for a yoga cynic in such mellow touchy-feely environs, I went off : “I’m surprised I’m here. I don’t believe in crap. I hate that all that new age shit. I hate positive attitudes. I hate people who have positive attitudes. I hate beliefs. I hate people who have beliefs…” for 12 minutes. Hell, it wouldn’t be the first time I had to eat lunch alone.

As it turned out, though, people liked it. Told me they appreciated my honesty and sense of humor. Hugged me and shit.

What’s a contrarian to do?

About Jay Winston

Jay S. Winston, founder and proprietor of Yoga for Cynics (http://yogaforcynics.blogspot.com), has a PhD in English, making him the kind of doctor who, in case of life-threatening emergency, can explain Faulkner while you die, is currently (semi-)(un-)employed as a freelance writer and editor, teaches creative writing to homeless men, tutors recovering addicts in reading, was recently certified as a Kripalu yoga teacher, gets around mostly by bicycle, is trying to find an agent for his novel, resides in the bucolic Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, State of Mildly Inebriated Samadhi, U.S.A. and, like most people who bike and practice yoga, used to live in Boulder.

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11 Responses to “Trials of a Yoga Cynic.”

  1. Love this, Jay, and your vivid description of be caught in "no man's land", Jay.

    Welcome back. If you haven't been around for awhile you'll notice that you have a lot of good and even distinguished company on Elephant now. In particular I call your attention to all the yoga 2.0 blogs http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/yoga-20-lab… , but also newcomer http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/04/spiritual-… and others.

    More please. Much, much more.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Esther Liberman Esther says:

    Hilarious! I wish I could hear the rant (or at least read a full transcript!).

  3. I love me some Jay rants, good stuff.

  4. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Dr. Jay… a man
    who rants? …one who believes(?)…all
    good. …esteemed yogi…

  5. it's all a part of the 'process', right? :-)

  6. Lisa says:

    Have you heard the one about how god/the universe/one's karma got someone a parking space yet?

    I wish you were there when someone said that to me the other day – I coulda used a good rant right then :)

  7. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. ARCreated says:

    If I really wanna get antisocial, I’ll argue that to negate takes as much a leap of faith as to believe, and that, anyway, if absolutely forced to choose, I’d probably trust the sages of the ages before the likes of Derrida and Foucault….
    :) I used to be a contraian too Jay…it's fun to read :) I have acquisced a bit to the spritiual side although my doubting thomas will scream from the bleachers at times. I still contend our job is to question so please don't stop doing so in such a hilarious manner…OH I would have so guessed Libra :p

  9. [...] * related matters are discussed in my latest post at Elephant Journal…Trials of a Yoga Cynic * [...]

  10. [...] now realize that in taking notice of these things, I was in my dark. Maybe I’m a cynic. I am, after all, a New Yorker at heart, despite the fact that I’ve called Boulder County my home [...]

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