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:
Photo: Margo Pfleger
“Do you want to know my secret?”
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! 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:
“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:
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 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.
“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.