Not Minding.

Via on May 31, 2013
Kevan Gale, used with permission
Kevan Gale, used with permission.

Do you mind?

Kevan Gale came to Playa del Carmen, Mexico recently to give a weekend course. Among other things, he told us a story. Want to hear it? It seems that a long time ago, in a velvety land, far east of here, Krishnamacharya rose from his many-blanketed perch and asked the adoring disciples:

“Do you want to know my secret?”

Photo: Margo Pfleger
Photo: Margo Pfleger

A hush fell over the crowd. You could have heard a fish fart. But wait, let me give you the context, okay? Hang tough. We are pretty spoiled in Playa del Carmen. We’ve had great teachers come to town.

Baron Baptiste rolled through once. He even bowed! Otam Yoga Shala pulled off some jungle marketing genius and brought Bryan Kest, David Williams and Sri Dharma Mittra here. We’ve had our share of yoga luminaries.

Hey, it’s no Tulum, but Michael Gannon the Ashtanga wizard lives and teaches here. Coco, his student, even teaches at our studio. I’ll use a photo of her instead of the aforementioned greats, because look at it.

So we’re not lost in the yogic cultural woods here. It’s the jungle, thank you very much.

coco!
Coco! Used by permission

I count Kevan Gale as one of the best. He came here before, and just returned under the architecturally perfect grass roof of “Yoga By The Way.” This little yoga school, brain child of Ellen De Jong and David Campos, clicks along on all eight cylinders, and was the perfect location for “Fluid Mind,” a weekend on yoga, with emphasis on meditation.

Kevan is a ninja on the mat. His asana instruction is enormously helpful. The community where he teaches at Stil Studio in Boston are lucky to have him. One of the reasons I attended this weekend was that when he came two years ago, five people in his master class achieved poses they had not been in before. Happily.

That impressed me.

His asana work is above reproach—and then, alongside that, he’s a decent guy. Talk to him, and he’s not gonna look over your shoulder for someone more interesting to show up. Know what I’m sayin’? Hey, I’m talking to you.

None of the hierarchical nonsense. No snobbery. Kevan is a bendy friend, welcoming you to share the practice. We had fun, mind-blowingly difficult morning classes, then a few hours of meditation instruction. That’s where the Krishnamacharya story comes in.

As you know, Krisnamacharya taught thousands of people the practice of yoga. He taught Patabi. He taught Iyengar. According to causes and conditions, he taught you. So Kevan told us the story, which I’m sure you’ve heard, of the day Krishnamacharya offered to give away this secret to his followers.

He even asked them if they wanted to know it. I mean, what are they gonna say, “No thank you”? They nodded their heads yes so fast that one guy’s simply rolled right off his shoulders into the craggy stones below. Always wear your hoodie!

I’m gonna leave it to you to insert your own suspense-building relevance amplifiers here, okay? You guys are yogis, you can manage that. The delicate moment was poised to arrive, and eagerly awaited: snow slowly melted and inexorably dripped down the mountain’s edge. That kind of thing. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. Clouds covered the intrinsic moon, and dissipated in anticipatory silence.

Here was one gift. Kevan put it across, like the rest of his teachings, without drama. Unlike certain unspecified writers, he declined the temptation to continually bait our wisdom-hungering minds. He said that K said:indianmandala

“My secret is, I don’t mind. This is different from not caring.”

Krishnamacharya essentially gave the world his blessing, to do what it would. Because folks, the world is gonna do just that anyway.

I need that more than Monsanto needs government subsidies. I need sanctuary, inside. I need refuge.

There has to be, for me, a realm of equilibrium. I bask there, grateful and essentially un-poleaxed by life’s events. The realm is abstract, and of course accessibility to this realm fluctuates more than self-accelerating massive gravity. If that’s the metaphor I’m after.

We all need to let go. That is something we can grasp.

All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say.
All that you eat
And everyone you meet
All that you slight
And everyone you fight.
All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

~ Roger Waters

I know this. But I’m me. No choice. That means I can get worked right up if the bagel is served wrong. It’s like that. I am by turns at peace and livid at Icelandic whaling captains. I do think they should all get eaten by whales.

But there is this place within where even those absolute jerk jerk jerks (one wasn’t enough) cannot gainsay my freedom to allow. That place informs and even creates a sense of serenity.

I forgive the dumb jerk whaling captains.

And the guys who sell them their fuel, so they can feed their families.

The people who buy whale meat for high-end dog snack treats. (This really happens.) I forgive them.

I don’t mind.

 Do I care?  Well, define “care.” I guess that’s my job. New Oxford American defines it as:

verb

the teachers didn’t care about our work: be concerned, worry (oneself), trouble oneself, concern oneself, bother, mind, be interested; informal give a damn, give a hoot.

Am I going to fly to Japan and picket the high-end vet’s office retail section where whale meat is sold as dog snacks? No. I’m not even headed to Iceland to sabotage the whaling industry through methods too devious to commit to print. I have prayed for the whales. Written about them. I think we are going to lose them, guys, in our lifetime. Yes. I care.

If you are going to get out a slide rule and try to calibrate, to search for a line, maybe start with the activity.

This chat about the whales is of course about your very soul.

Substitute whatever moves you, my love.

Am I caring about whales when I refrain from buying whale meat dog biscuits? Yes and no. I don’t have a dog. Do I take action by refraining from buying whale meat, now available at Walmart? Yes. No. There isn’t a single animal product I buy as is, so no whale credit there.

Am I caring when I pray for the whales? Yes. When I ask that all sentient beings be free from suffering? Yes. Does that amount to anything?

There are gradations of care, some make a difference, some simply help us to live. I care, but not enough to take concerted, life-altering action. I do not like the situation the whales are in. At all. But I don’t mind it. I have relinquished my control over what the captain will go out tomorrow morning and hunt.

The captain does not have my approval. Nor does she need it.

I am writing a story about the whales, redemption, and human capacity for raining harm on life while calling it sacred. Will it do anything? Will it be read?

Is this apathy, just dressed in a sparkly outfit? Is it discernment, a matter of choosing your battles?

Impermanence flew into our weekend like an unwelcome dove. Kevan and Betty Riaz run Stil Studio together. Betty was in Playa with us, along with three other members of their community. Saturday morning, we heard the news that Kristin Diane Sinclair, a huge-hearted member of their community, had passed away, at age 28. Cancer.

I gave money today to “Bodhi and Mind” her fledgeling group, which is attempting to give free yoga to women with cancer. Is that okay to do, when whales, arguably more substantive than us by like, tons (see what I did there?), are hunted down like dogs? (By the way, is anyone hunting dogs? And if so, why?) Should my money, little gesture that it is, have gone to an anti-whaling group? It’s altogether troublesome.

And there is merit in finding some distance from this life. Hey I need it, I don’t drink or smoke or indulge in any escapes. I need a practice that works like a well-oiled machine, and I need it like last year.

kevan
Kevan Gale, used with permission.

So as Kevan took us through brutal/ awesome asana and then the foundational basics of Tibetan Buddhism, I smiled and basked. I loved this window into purity. This little group of people learning, listening. It was my only chance at fixing this unbroken life. It was our weekend-long ashram in a thriving tourist beach town.

It was an alligator with a crumpled brown hat on. It was a mud-grown lotus, with chrome handlebars. It was an otherwise nude woman in worn hiking boots and goggles, offering ice water in the desert at Burning Man, miles from town. It was the very panda bear himself, if you take my meaning.

I study Tibetan Buddhism and have a meditation teacher who is a Lama. When I have time, I stay in monasteries. Not a whole lot of what Kevan said was new to me; this was a foundational level course. All of it was interesting to me, though. All of it planted seeds. We learn from our teachers when we choose to learn. Am I right or am I right?

Perhaps the most valuable lesson Kevan had for me personally was impermanence. I may never catch the clue on that one. You think you’ve got a handle on impermanence, and then suddenly, everything changes. (Bwaaaa haaa haaaa!!) I asked Kevan about this inane thing that happens to me very occasionally 24/7.

I delight in the environment of many people meditating. I drink the dharma like a little goat at a mountain stream (perhaps  less cloven-hoofed). I remember that the real activism of our time is the journey within, and I am content. I am inspired. Which shifts to insipid 30 seconds after I get home. Okay, 20, and bam, I’m watching Arrested Development for no reason, feeling like a shmuck.

He said, and this is a gem: “Don’t think of that as who you are. It is not fixed. Think of that as something you are dealing with.”

That was it for me, that was the gem. I had been defining myself as my shortcomings again.

Impermanence in your face. We are defined by our thoughts and actions and they are ever changing.

The architecturally perfect grass roof opened a portal to emit sunrays. Wes Nisker was there, like Captain Random, smiling. He had just finished Be Here Wow, his delightful riff on causes and conditions, and he was telling me his meditation’s most fruitful message to him:

Kevan Gale, used with permission.
Kevan Gale, used with permission.

“Who I am is not my fault.”

I repeat it 150,000 times a second, humming.

I drink in Kevan’s truth, and the reminder it gives me of the great forgiveness embodied in that message from Wes.

We are the ceaseless products of our environment. We are a whirlwind of process. No part of us is fixed or unchanging.

Yesterday, teaching without thinking, I took it a step further. Kevan and Wes and Dharma Mittra, Alon, Kristin, Tao and Roger Waters had all been creating steam inside me. I told them the distillation of that particular second while we were in child’s.

“Who I am is not who I am.”

We are a process. We are the end result of all our efforts to date. All the efforts of our teachers.

We are the embodiment of a million and seven processes, none of which need our permission.

Iyengar said, “We are all subject to impersonal forces. Like traffic.”

We float on the best thinking we can find. Life supports us abundantly, without question, showering us in 24/7 blessings. Sea. Smoothies. Junk TV. The ability to bend forward.

The freedom to not die. For a moment.

And given that, I certainly don’t mind.

 

 

 

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About Karl Saliter

Karl is a circus artist sculptor yoga teacher writer miscreant gypsy, living in Mexico. He often feels as if he was born under a silver whale of a frisbee moon in the back of a red cartoon pickup truck, careening down route 66 at speed, that he somehow took the wheel, stuck his baby elbow out the rolled-down window, and decided to roll with it, and that though the truck had awesome chrome mirrors, he never looked back. He hopes you sometimes feel the same.

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8 Responses to “Not Minding.”

  1. Karl Saliter says:

    For yoga points and free coffee when we meet, where is this article completely, utterly wrong? I heard from Kevan about this error. Can you spot it? Hint: it is integral to the piece.

  2. Oh I want yoga points and free coffee but I'd have to re-read the article far more thoroughly than I just did. Instead, I just cherry picked what I needed – the idea that I don't mind doesn't mean I don't care. It's dropped something into place for me… something I was tussling with. Now you're telling me something else in the article is totally wrong and that one statement may not therefore stand up? Dang it all – will have to… re-read.

    • karlsaliter says:

      Nope Kara, it all stands, its just there's a huge bigass whopper error. But I don't mind.

  3. Cece says:

    Karl, I reread the article and slept on it. While I love the concept of not minding, I have to take issue with the statement, "Who I am is not my fault." The word "fault" is what's tripping me up. I'm not sure what you were trying to say, but to absolve yourself of all responsibility or accountability for who you truly are doesn't seem to be your style. Think about this: Substitute one of the following words for "fault": responsibility, success, concern, joy, idea. Then ask yourself whether who you are is not a result of the conscious decisions you make about who you want to be (vegan, peace- and whale-loving, whatever), and your decision to place yourself on the path that will take you to that destination. Who I am may not be entirely my "fault;" however, I am certainly the product of countless choices I have made, and that's no one's "fault" but my own. Namaste.

    • karlsaliter says:

      Hi Cece.
      Cece, thank you so much for your response.

      I like this. A lot. To read that you are engaging that deeply with what I've written: imagine how fantastic that feels to me, as a writer. Everything you say here is not only true, but also "right". Wes Nisker, when he claims "Who I am is not my fault" is offering something insightful and valuable as a mental springboard. Take away the need for congruity to get the most benefit from it. As Maude once said in Harold and Maude, "Consistency is not really a human trait."

      What you say is right. What he said is right.

      Of course I am all of the things you list above. I am also none of those.

      This meditation is valid as an access. Assimilating it, there is momentary freedom from identifying with the self. Exactly as you posit, a game of fill in the blank serves. I've substituted "Who I am is not my Accomplishment" with similar results; a moment of freedom waits just on the other side of the release.

      It is the abdication of a false throne. It is an invitation to a different level of awareness.

      We are absolutely the product of the choices we make, and we are inextricably the product of causes, conditions, and impersonal forces. We are all of this and none of it. We stand in the sea and claim correctly, ludicrously, to be separate from the sea.

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