This Could Take Some Time. ~ Douglas Brooks

Via on Feb 23, 2012
This photo taken in my Appa's house in Madurai, South India with K. Subrahmanian, Appa's nephew, and my daughter Madeleine.

In the very first conversation I had with my teacher, I didn’t know what to ask for. He had sat silently, perhaps waiting for me to be done being busy.

It’s easy to be busy; it’s far more challenging to be engaged.

Finally, he said:

“What would you like from me?”

I paused, not sure what to say, and then without much calculation replied.

“I want to know everything you know.”

“That could take some time.”

~

This summer, it will be 35 years since we had that conversation. When I asked later that day what he meant by “yoga,” Appa said to me,

“Yoga is virtuosity in becoming yourself.”

I may have been only 20 years old when we had this conversation, but I realized I had a choice. If I was in this conversation, it was for a lifetime of learning.

I still awake everyday with this first teaching:

this will take some time.

Buddhist tradition invites us to Beginner’s Mind, that deep sense of openness and vulnerability that empowers us to welcome our unknowing, to release ourselves from the tyrannies of certainty. Rajanaka Tantra, Appa’s teaching, doesn’t presume to improve upon such a sublime Zen axiom—but we’re not too shy to add to it. Seeking “mastery” requires, at once, a beginner’s mind and a process of evolving growth in self-recognition. With the continuance of learning, we can stand in our accomplishments even as we recognize our business remains unfinished. Growth is not the opposite of Beginner’s Mind; it is the next beginning of Beginner’s Mind.

Accepting that productive human work comes through the processes of learning, we can accept the invitation to grow with unknowing and decide how we will assimilate what is valuable from the past.

Without traditions we reinvent the wheel; with them, we get to change the wheel. The closer we get to the sources, the more we realize our part in creating rather than merely adopting traditions. That too takes time. It’s about our commitment to our selves. What’s at stake is how we decide to learn, to evolve, to participate with time.

My teacher called this process “the fullness of time.” He meant that we create a powerful vision for the future when we have done the work of looking through the processes of history, receiving from the past rather than living in the past. Sometimes we discover less than we hoped to find; sometimes there is more than we could have dreamt possible. But look we must with eyes as wide open as our hearts.

For each of us, our own past must play a critical role in our evolution even as we learn from the critical process that invokes tradition as ligature of contiguous consciousness. Remaking yourself in every moment—being here only now—may sound swell, but it’s one short step from senility.

I am not motivated by the anti-present anymore than I feel compelled to deny that the moment invites our fullness in participation. Time needn’t be unwanted baggage; rather we can allow it to become a portal through which we find more.

As Appa put it,

“We don’t study traditions, even our own, so that we might only continue the past but so that we will change the future.”

I can hear him saying that in every now. But what of “timeless truths?”

The idea of participating in some form of “eternal truth” or “original” tradition complicates matters. Folks with such predilections must hold fast that the principles and ideas have proven their efficacy not only in time, but also without it. Anyone who claims a timeless revelation, truth that doesn’t change, or an enlightenment that relinquishes all attachments to the conditions of humanity is in the same soup here.

The matter is no different even if the claim is politically rooted. If we say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” it means that such concepts or values are understood by a given community first to be true and then examined further for their implementation so that such truths (or practices deemed as timelessly efficacious) can be brought into currency. Human beings assert their timeless truths because they need them, and the further test of our mettle is to ask how every kind of engagement that broadens possibilities also serves us. How do the things we like so little about life keep their spiritual promise?

The peril, of course, is that the very idea of questioning assumptions, much less confronting structures of power, may put the questioner in danger of life or livelihood or exile from the community. Even when we are encouraged to doubt or to question authority, are there not always undercurrents to conform when there’s a final destination? And what happens when we find out that the universe may not be really offering what we want from it?

Are we prepared to express our doubts? Surely there’s a difference between feeling vulnerable—the experience of learning when it is wisdom to defer—and feeling threatened, which causes us to default to more secure territory, like submission to another’s will.

There is such a fine line between vulnerability and intimidation,

between invitation and threat.

My own teacher used his considerable powers of persuasion to their utmost, to the very limits of my understanding. Of course, he wanted to persuade me because he believed that this was the very reason to engage in the conversation. What opinion is worth sharing that is not worth its weight in persuasion? At the same time, Appa spent as much time insisting that I find every vulnerability in his views, never submit my will, and never relent in practicing the arts of engagement.

Teaching me more meant I had to cultivate my own abilities to ask the next question, allowing uncertainty to become an ally as well as a motivation, and thereby enter the deeper values of conversation. Was this intimidating? Not on his part. His was an invitation, not a threat. This conversation, he said, was how we create more virtuosity in becoming ourselves; this is how we do yoga.

There are so many perils to doubting truths or questioning the authority of tradition if one wants to hold a place for oneself in community, no? We can’t learn without the past even as we must continue to learn from it, but perhaps even more: we must acknowledge that it will be just as difficult to learn with it. We will have to yoke ourselves to those perils rather than claim the safe harbors of an enlightenment that solves all our problems and culminates in perfection.

If yoga practice means to refer to more than the physical benefits of asana and other very recent innovations, we must become bent upon an authentic provenance. Become an archive for yourself and take the time to create a reservoir of memories worth sharing. Experiences don’t become experience without honoring Time, for this goddess asks from you more than you’ve yet considered. It’s always that way because She is also More.

So long as we are authentic to that determination to move forward, we’ll gather the past rather than steal from it, we’ll remain authentic to our vision because we have not forgotten how we got here.

As Appa said,

this will take some time.

 

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 Douglas Brooks is a scholar of Hinduism, south Asian languages, and the comparative study of religions.  He lived in India with his teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, studying and practicing Srividya, Auspicious Wisdom, and the modern traditions of goddess-centered Rajanaka Tantra.  A graduate of Harvard University, he has been Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester in New York for the past 25 years.

If you would like to know more about the traditions of Rajanaka Tantra or to engage in studies of yoga philosophy and the history of Indian spiritualities, visit rajanaka.com and srividyalaya.com.

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30 Responses to “This Could Take Some Time. ~ Douglas Brooks”

  1. hillary says:

    love this… and yes it will take some time which only makes it sweeter. savor the process. xo

  2. Tara says:

    Thank you Douglas, always for your wise council!

  3. Douglas, Please post this article:
    http://rajanaka.blogspot.com/2012/02/yoked.html

    I've actually been formatting it for posting, and, realizing you are on here, it would be great if you did.

  4. This was wonderful and timely for me too, Douglas. I think I need to read it several more times and let it sink in. It will take time!

  5. [...] about the Anusara evolution, Douglas Brooks offers a reflection in Elephant Journal, “This Could Take Some Time.” Without traditions we reinvent the wheel; with them, we get to change the wheel. The closer [...]

  6. Excellent, Douglas. Full engagement in the conversation of life. And not in a hurry. I'll chew on that for a while. :)

  7. In reading the article, I will state this is exactly why I do not care one iota what anyone thinks of me. I will question and I will punch holes in "reverent truths" when I see their failing.

    Though slightly too positive for my tastes, as I feel sometimes people need to experience the negativity they have caused others, so they can "get it", I really do appreciate the intention and substance of this article.

  8. benjywertheimer says:

    Douglas, I thank you so much for posting this …you address many important topics in your usual inimitable fashion.

    Two things in particular that I'm grateful for: first, there's the recognition that reinventing the wheel, while exhilarating at first, has its obvious limitations, and that "changing the wheel" – often a frightening task, especially in bad weather ;-) -involves an understanding of past tradition as well as the courage, having assimilated the lessons of that tradition, to move forward in an ever-changing world. Moving forward with the strength of the convictions you've cultivated through the practice of yoga as Appa defined it.

    My teachers in the world of Indian classical music tended to, broadly speaking, fall into one of two camps … they were either protectors of maintaining the tradition as they understood it, or they were dedicated to skillfully shaping the future of the music from an understanding of what they had learned from the tradition.

    The other element of your post I so appreciate is the way in which you invite us to look at yoga not just as the (comparatively recent) practice of asana, but the art of living skilfully and with discernment … an adroit means of committing yourself to becoming yourself – with consistency and determination, day after day … thanks again.

  9. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  10. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you!!

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  11. [...] Pomeda and Douglas Brooks—along with many thoughtful Anusara practitioners – may object here, and rightly so, perhaps. [...]

  12. Scott Newsom says:

    Douglas,

    It seems to me that one can and should learn from the past, but that the real bind comes about when we start to identify with the tradition (or authority figure, etc). Doesn't that immediately limit one to what is "inside" a tradition, no matter how progressive the tradition might be? That identification is what leads to the situation where you have to believe or think in a certain way in order to remain in the "in" group. Of course some traditions use this dynamic to drive in-group cohesion, which, given our social nature and tribe-oriented societies (all over thge world) is quite powerful. Shouldn't we be teaching about this dynamic in order to prepare our students to resist this when it is used to disempower the members of whatever group they belong to? Maybe that is exactly what you are doing.

  13. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Nothing wrong with my previous post, but I do understand if folks who’ve been burned can’t appreciated irony and humor!

    Sometimes pulling back entirely and finding a form of humble penance – becoming the neighborhood garbage man – is called for, I think it is here.

    Actually, we should all aspire to becoming as anonymously useful to our neighbors and communities as the men and women who pass through our streets removing our refuse, without celebrity or fanfare.

    Don’t you think?

    And besides, isn’t a good yoga teacher, in fact, just assisting you with your personal psychic trash removal?

    “I’m not a miracle worker. I’m just the janitor.”

    George Clooney, in the film, MICHAEL CLAYTON

  14. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Does anyone who posts here or anywhere else – really want to make the current American yoga culture

    Safer — in terms of less physical and psychological risk?
    More authentically grounded, spiritually?
    Less competitive and divisive, by "brand" and by community?
    Less susceptible to crass commercialization?
    More transparent and accountable to the public and "consumers"?

    Pick any one of these areas, or come up with your own?

    What concretely would you suggest in the way of reform? How would we achieve such reform?
    How would we constitute the proper "authority" to achieve and enforce new standards, and a new ethos?

    Here's one just area: yoga teacher training

    Should American yoga, through an expanded Yoga Alliance, or another body or set of bodies, establish new and higher standards and guidelines for yoga teacher training, much like other disciplines like martial arts do? With the power to license and certify – and also de-certify – individual teachers, as well as schools?

    Either schools that everyone must attend, regardless of yoga orientation, or studio-based or brand oriented schools that
    would still have to be formally accredited?

    Should the government be involved – they would like to be involved – which means we would have to mesh our training with existing vocational training guidelines and pay taxes and fees, and allow for public enforcement

    If not, how would we create an improved self-regulating system that actually enforces standards and guidelines on our own?

    Right now, yoga's answer to these questions is no, no no. We don't need interference and we don't need
    self-regulation, and as a result we have the bare minimum standards of training – 200 hours, though sometimes less – that don't even qualify yoga teachers to be good fitness instructors, let alone yogis.

    Yoga Alliance has maybe 15,000 or so yoga teachers registered at this minimum level? Out of an estimated 75,000 yoga teachers currently operating

    What other teacher training requirements might make for better, wiser, more grounded and effective teachers?
    For example:

    Prior experience, including academic training, and spiritual training
    Breadth of life experience
    Self-awareness through therapy
    Curriculum scope – not just asana and anatomy, readings of the classics, but other fields including psychology, social psychology, non-yogic wellness disciplines
    Length of apprenticeship before actual teaching
    Marital/relationship status (yes, if you haven't learned to "yoke" in your life, you don't know how to teach "yoking")
    Age (yes, 25 is too young to teach, sorry)
    Physical flexibility (does it matter?)

    What problems, if anything, would new teaching standards of this kind – or any kind – and formal "licensing" solve?

    What new problems might they bring?

    I could make this into an article but don't have time. SL

  15. AnOldTimer says:

    "I could make this into an article but don't have time. SL " —— Well, you may want to make the time. I'm sure it would be a damned good article. One I'd want to read.

    But posting it under someone else's article and trying to hijack the discussion and make this yet another discussion about Anusara yoga (I'm gettin really tired of hearing about them to be honest) or American yoga training or to use it to rock your favorite horse — I mean, it's a bit unfair to the author of this piece and, to this mother's son, a bit rude.

    • Stewart J. Lawrence says:

      Not trying to hijack the discussion anymore than someone who posts their own article is. Douglas Brooks says "this is going to take some time," and I simply intervened with one item in particular that it might take some "time" to think about – and act on – or not. That's all it is.

      You make it sound like there's a "proper" intervention or reply to Douglas' article. That's my intervention – let's move from reflection to action and use that "time" to discuss a reform agenda – and here's one element of concern.

      The issues involved aren't about Anusara at all, but apply broadly across the industry. But, sorry to have offended
      you. I take it if Douglas Brooks is offended, he'll let me know.

  16. [...] like to keep up to date with the ever-increasing yoga trends (whether I like them or not). Continual education is important to both students and myself. It helps to keep my class [...]

  17. [...] letter from Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks (who I interviewed recently here and who just published this on elephant, here) was posted today on his public Facebook page, and elsewhere. It seems Mark Zuckerberg, and not [...]

  18. [...] we continue to view yoga from the vantage of its origin and don’t offer the opportunity for evolution, we remain steadfastly in the futility of the past and we continue to hold the future [...]

  19. [...] highlight of my day was the fire ceremony this evening led by Douglas Brooks called, “Agni, the Fire’s Inside [...]

  20. Thanks Douglas. I will definitely join your community.
    And, as Kate noted, they are very happy to reprint as long as it's reformatted. I feel that it's one of those things needs to be read, so I will now reply to Kate. :-)

  21. Peter says:

    What do you gain, SJL, by crafting such fine clothes for your bad manners?

  22. NEO says:

    Stewart-
    Conflating Douglas Brooks with Anusara and its recent troubles reduces your comments to trollish vitriol.

  23. elephantjournal says:

    Stewart's an awesome guy, I think he was being humorous…ish. Try reposting with more humor or criticism with less invective, if not meant to be funny…either way, I won't delete your comment. We have a comment policy, and like the Huffington Post, we offer a moderated comment section. We don't do trolling.

  24. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    He was present at the creation of AY – indeed, at the creation of its creation myths. Who are you kidding? His comments here, while couched broadly, are a response to the current crisis, and a plea to keep the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. Whatever you might think of tha one way or the other, to suggest that I am "conflating" anything is absurd.

  25. benjywertheimer says:

    I have a feeling that a lot of people who are posting trollish comments are COMPLETELY awesome individuals … and, often, understandably angry. Sometimes, too, I find that many people (American society especially, it seems) seems to view trashing people (in this last case, having seen the comment earlier, literally trashing them) as humorous … again understandable, particularly if the audience has a bone to pick with whomever is being trashed.

    I'm interested in seeing take 2 …

  26. hya says:

    Seeing how he is regularly trolling his own comments on HuffPost I would never say he's in any way awesome. He just likes to get a rise out of people.

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