Yup, it's true. When it comes to yoga, asana practice is like the tail wagging the dog... or really, the tail wagging a very cute, mixed breed puppy mistakenly thought to have descended from a long line of wise, noble yogi-wolves. Of course, discovering that the puppy tail is far from pedigreed and actually connects to a much larger body doesn't make it any less worthy or lovable.
tribe [traɪb] n 1. a social division of a people, defined in terms of shared descent, territory, culture, etc. 2. an ethnic or ancestral division of ancient cultures 3. a. a large number of persons, animals, etc.; b. a specific class or group of persons; c. a family, esp a large one
Tribe. In recent years, I’ve met a growing number of modern-day tribe enthusiasts at business meetings, dinner parties, and beyond. There are tribe-seekers who express their deep longing to belong to a group of like-minded people. Others adopt the word to claim and affirm their belonging in their group’s particular version of “us.” Business leaders extol the virtues of cultivating tribes—mass movements around brands that amplify meaningful connections between groups and ideas. Fashion-forward friends tell me that tribal trends even hit the runway in 2011 (my knowledge of fashion is so last year) and continue to inspire Spring 2012.
There's no doubt that the savvy marketing guru, Seth Godin, and the popular reality TV show, Survivor, have heavily influenced the current tribe vibe in American culture, although I suspect that globalization is the underlying culprit in this trend toward tribal identification and cultivation. As collective identities get stretched and homogenized beyond traditional boundaries and comfortable recognition, it makes sense that people would seek to redefine their identities and their sense of belonging by assuming and adapting the cultural accouterments of here, there, and everywhere.
However, I personally don’t get the appeal of “tribes.” I mean, I get the appeal of the word. "Tribe" is undeniably cool and fun to say. It sounds like something I should want to belong to. It suggests ancestral roots and sacred rites, a gathering of half-naked people drumming, dancing and frolicking around a fire. And of course, I get the appeal of belonging and meaningful connections.
It's just that I don’t associate these with the often simplistic, contrived, and romanticized notion of tribes. Growing up "global" all over the world and experiencing various traditional tribes (you know, those based on more than shared interests and a way to communicate) probably undermines my ability to understand this contemporary tribal revival as something beyond a trendy reframing of affinity groups of friends, fans, cliques, customer segments, and good old-fashioned communities.
I'm sure that living in apartheid South Africa tainted my appreciation for tribes with the bloodshed of tribalism. (Tribalism, divorced from humane compassion and infused with fear, like all isms, can be brutal and fatal.) Then, there's my aversion to the superficial appropriation of indigenous customs beyond the occasional use of talking sticks, incense, and tingshas (wait, does that make me a hypocrite?). Plus, as a writer, I’m pretty darn picky about words, especially those I choose to inhabit.
I can’t help noticing that the word “tribe” is actually based on division. Divisions, though perhaps meaningful, are divisive. I don’t want my belonging based on division.
Yes, I realize that it's just a word and probably a matter of semantics. And yes, I recognize that there are those who use the term because it authentically and aptly conveys some deeply held personal meaning. Still, unless one is deeply rooted in indigenous culture, I prefer the use of community to tribe. After all, communities commune—they come together to share a life in common.
Moreover, my community is both local and global—like the stars we organize into meaningful clusters and constellations of brilliant light, some near, some far, visible and invisible, and yet all intimately and infinitely connected within the dark night of this world.
If I must belong to a tribe, I choose the planetary one that includes us all, which is far too often more inspirational than actual, but nevertheless, the only tribe that really appeals to me: the One World Community, All Living Creatures, We, Us, Earthlings Tribe (we're still working on the name). I guess you could say that I agree with the Black Eyed Peas and the Dancing Wombat on this one.
What about you? What words do you choose to inhabit?
Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 93-year-old yoga teacher and dancer, shares a bit of her yoga philosophy (while graciously enduring the inept and silly commentary from her interviewers). For more of her inspiring story, read Tao's recently published book, Reflections: The Yogic Journey of Life.
"Chronic ecstasy is a learnable skill." Rob Brezsny
Recently, a friend published this quote on FB. Chronic ecstasy. Chronic.Ecstasy. A strange juxtaposition. Chronic, often associated with the less healthy form of constancy—as in chronic pain. And ecstasy, often associated with the less healthy form of drug-induced high—as in rave culture drug of choice.
My initial response was one of both affirmation and caution. Yes, chronic ecstasy is indeed a learnable, even valuable, skill, and yet, chronic ecstasy without discerning engagement is simply self-indulgent escapism.
This is especially true with regards to meditation. If you’re a meditator, then you probably already know that ecstasy is a pleasant part of the territory. At some point in a meditation practice, we usually experience some extraordinary states of bliss—natural highs beyond any drug-induced ecstasy.
And if you’re not yet a meditator, you’re probably thinking, drug-free ecstasy? Yes, please, I likes me some drug-free ecstasy. After all, who doesn’t want some ecstasy?
The trouble is that the drug-free ecstasy can be just as addictive as the drug-induced kind, leading to more escapist than enlightening meditation, causing us to seek out a particular euphoric experience instead of embracing the whole truth of what is. It’s kind of like a meditative drug-induced stupor. It can feel good, but we’re not really all there.
After such ecstatic experiences, we often find ourselves mistakenly judging the quality of our meditation by how we feel during our practice. We get attached to “achieving” ecstatic states, becoming disappointed when we don’t “achieve” particular ecstatic states during or beyond our meditation, as if ecstasy (or achievement) paves the path to enlightenment.
Yet, if we habitually seek out, or simply slip into ecstatic states readily and repeatedly without full awareness, our meditation practice begins to look more like blissing out than blissfully being with the truth of experience. We begin to inhabit the murky territory of good sits as good trips. In so doing, we mistake the transient effects (ecstasy, discomfort, restlessness, etc.), for the practice (sitting and being with what is, focusing attention on the breath, etc.), and the long-term results of practice (greater awareness, equanimity, contentment).
Lacking discernment or more discriminating awareness, some meditators even conflate the repeated experience of ecstasy with enlightenment. Unfortunately, as long as there is an “I” getting high, there’s only false en-lie-tenment rather than any genuine awakening. Chronic ecstasy, thus, becomes merely the ignorance of bliss rather than the eternal bliss of being fully present and alive with the nature of who you really are and what is.
After all, just because you can access a light show in your mind doesn’t mean that you’re enlightened. It just means that you’re enjoying some good trips along the way. The purpose of meditation is to realize who you are and what is. Genuine bliss arrives when we learn to be just as we are rather than as we think we should be.
If you meditate merely to take the bliss-trip, you just end up in Lala Land, chronically ecstatic without a care or a clue.