Conference Notes

By on Mar 15, 2015 in The Unruly Ascetic

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I may have tricked you with that title… these aren’t conference notes the way you probably expected.

I almost asked a question in conference yesterday.

If you have spent much time with me in Mysore you have probably heard my stand up routine entitled “Don’t Ask Questions in Conference.”  It gets the standard laughs and usually leaves a couple eavesdroppers calling me a bitch (but that’s a story for another day).

But I really want to ask Sharath something and I want everyone to hear what he says.

The world is changing, and fast. Kino talks about her first trips to Mysore with no internet or hot water; I remember my first trip when we survived without smart phones.  Smart phones (and smartphone-like devices) are really changing the possibilities when it comes to recording our experiences.  I am not going to criticize (yet!) and say it’s bad and lament for the “old days,” but I do think it’s something worth consciously considering the repercussions of.

During that first trip to Mysore (back when I had a Nikon camera my Dad gave me for Christmas) I saw a man climb the coco tree in Sharath’s yard with nothing but a machete and proceed to cut down the lower fronds and excess coconuts.  It was impressive. I didn’t have my camera on me (because it’s not a phone yet, remember) and I lamented my inability to digitally record the experience.  When I complained to Tim he turned to me and said “I’ll guess we’ll just have to remember it!” and laughed.  I haven’t forgotten that 3 minute spectacle, despite my lack of a video, because of his well-timed perspective.

Conference is special.  The Boss always says and does a bunch of funny, inspiring, enlightening (and terrifying) things.  I can totally understand (if not relate to) the desire to photograph or video or record and transcribe every minute of it.  Considering the technology we live with daily, it’s no surprise we have programed ourselves to record everything we see as valuable (and everything else besides).  As I say when I’m making friends and being popular: “If you don’t take a picture, it didn’t really happen!”  Everyone always thinks it’s funny and appreciates the perspective, people never get insulted or find it patronizing.  People like me.

As far as conference notation goes, I want to ask Sharath what he thinks.  Our compulsion to record every thing of value comes from a genuinely good place, I think. We are driven by a desire to retain and share and really squeeze all the goodness out of each moment here, with this amazing teacher. But that doesn’t change that fact that he has told us, directly and indirectly, not to do this… and the fact that he doesn’t stop us when we don’t listen does not mean that it’s okay.

Getting back to my “Don’t Ask” stand up routine, one of my main talking (joking) points is that most questions can be answered with one of a few a one liners, the primary answer being: Parampara.  This practice, this experience of Mysore, what Sharath really tries to drive home, is the lineage.  But Parampara is not just lineage, it is the direct transmission of knowledge. More than the “take practice” answer, we are encouraged (ordered) to have a teacher and listen to them. In my 50 odd conferences I have heard every conceivable incarnation of the “you can’t learn from a book” lecture.

And thus I see a danger in the well intended recordings from conference.

The more time I spend in Mysore and around other people who have truly, humbly, inspiringly surrendered themselves to the experience of Parampara, the less patience (and granted, less interest) I have for the self-assured practitioner who thinks that youtube and vimeo and blog posts will provide them with enough information to really understand this Ashtanga Yoga. I am here (in all my popular, charming glory) to tell you that the internet is not enough.  Everyone has to find a teacher. No matter how hard it is, what it costs, or how infrequently one gets to see this mentor, we have to have a teacher.  The real work and surrender of the practice comes with this relationship. The shapes are a foundation for communication, not the real work, and we cannot trust our own mind (ego) to give us the right guidance. I can’t, at least.

This season verbatim conference notes were circulated on the FaceBook “Ashtanga Community In Mysore” page.  In previous seasons similar notes have been posted to personal blogs, easily googlable. This makes me a little queasy.  While I can appreciate one’s desire to be humble and not try to interpret Sharath’s words in a discussion of what was said in conference, I think posting a word for word transcription is every bit as dangerous. When we read someone’s musings on a message we get an unique and honest look at this person’s perspective. These conference discussions are a second hand telling of ideas that were not their own, but there is a level of honesty and ownership it in.  Unlike conference transcriptions, it is not spoken word, intended to have timing, facial expressions, gestures and laugher considered by the reader.

So what it comes down to is this:  The desire to share the experience and knowledge of Sharath’s conference lectures is generous and kind, but I think misguided.

I have seen a long-distance, misinterpreted awareness of Sharath as a leader breed a sense of entitlement and (confused) confidence in ‘teachers’ who do not see value in the the pilgrimage and the sacrificed required to come to Mysore (or even surrender to a teacher at home).  I have seen, in myself, that reading his words without his smile or his frown can create a completely different impression of his teaching, making him seem closed off or overly strict, even flippant and arrogant.

Maybe students who know what it is like to be in the room with this amazing man can benefit from a dry reading of his words (probably, definitely).  For the average student of yoga, though, Sharath is not their teacher.  His words, without the context of Mysore and the Shala and the practice as he presents it, will create confusion.

All that being said, I could be wrong. I’m wrong a lot.

I have a tender, loyal heart but a contrary mind that likes to pick fights that I think I can win. I want to know what Sharath thinks because I have confidence that he can clarify. I am often surprised when he condones (or encourages) behavior that I disagree with (rushing into led class anyone?), and he has always had more patience for our eager nature than I.  It’s the end of the season and I’m not sure I can find a way to ask that won’t sound leading (because asking a leading question in conference is more annoying than transcribing the whole shebang), but sometimes I don’t mind being a brat in front of 300 people, so we’ll see!

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