Just throwing out a few links:
Came across this series of commentary from More Intelligent Life on reading Herodotus's The Histories.
Just throwing out a few links:
Came across this series of commentary from More Intelligent Life on reading Herodotus's The Histories.
I'm not sure if it's just my imagination, but I'm starting to become more aware of a tightness around my legs lately. It could be my constant struggle in balance poses -- the way the muscles on the legs tighten and cramp up. I'm thinking I really need to incorporate some Yin poses to ease and relax the muscles. But the truth is, I really prefer the more energetic Yang-style yoga.
Tonight is a combination of gentle restorative poses and some yin poses. It counts as practice, yes?
Ashtanga class tonight was manageable. Strength-wise I wasn't at my best, but I was able to breathe with relative ease through most of the asanas.
But I've been feeling a tightness at the back of my left thigh recently, and my left knee hurt when I tried to straighten the leg in Boat Pose. I might have over-strained the joints and muscles on my left leg somehow.
I love the newfound strength that the daily practice has given me, as I have been working my way to move on to the intermediate Power classes. There is an intermediate Power class tomorrow evening that I had planned to take, except a part of me says: You need to take a Child's Pose for now. Ease off on the knees. You need to practice Ahimsa on yourself.
This means either an Yin class, Restorative Yoga, or a gentle home practice. That is fine too. It will allow me some quiet time to catch up on some reading.
Has it really been twenty-three days into January? Twenty-three days into daily yoga practice? The regular attendance at yoga classes this month means coming home late almost every night; this evening I had a Hotflow class and when I reached home, it was 9:30 pm.
Sometimes I have dinner, sometimes I don't. The odd thing is, I feel better eating less. Lighter. Stronger.
I am definitely feeling stronger this month, with the regular practice. I even came into an assisted Tripod Headstand this evening, and this is my first time doing it.
But I digress. I wanted to talk about something else that happened off the mat.
Last week I argued with someone whom I felt treated me unfairly. I have avoided the confrontation for a long time, but last week I did not feel like letting things go any longer. The negativity from that conflict seeped into my practice on Friday and the weekends. I would be in Plank Pose and suddenly I would be having that same argument in my mind. Anger and unhappiness reminds me of a tape set on loop. She wronged me. He betrayed me. -- We play the scripts over and over again, where we always stand as the victim. In our minds we plot revenge, we think badly of those that hurted us, we settle scores.
What a waste of time. Time is much better spent practicing yoga. Or reading. Or running. Or swimming. Or drawing. Or listening to music. Or writing in your journal.
Monday morning I was on my way to work and the negative thoughts started coming back. I felt the heat and discomfort in my chest and stomach arising from all that indignant energy. I felt maligned, and I wanted to be treated fairly by the other party. I didn't want to just let go. I wanted to stand up for myself. I wanted action.
Six years ago, conflicts like these usually set me down a spiral of self-destruction rage. I have difficulties controlling my fury and I would lash out at everyone in the office. But about five years ago I picked up a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Anger. It led me to meditation, the dharma -- and indirectly to yoga.
The miracle is, this week is one of my better week at work. I believe, unconsciously I had channeled my indignant anger into problem-solving and motivation at work. My colleagues remarked I was "hyper" this week. They probably don't believe I was "rechannelling anger" into positive energy. But I was.
I have not felt so alive at work for a very long time. The truth is, by telling myself to avoid confrontations all these time, I was repressing the better part of myself.
I am an intense, passionate personality. That is who I am. Yet, because a long time ago, I lacked the stability to control these powerful emotions, I made a lot of mistakes -- some for which I can never make amends. I had become so afraid of my own intensity that I smothered it. I was so self-conscious about my bad temper that I suppressed my passions -- even moments when I should have spoken up, should have challenged unfairness.
But this week was different. I realise I wasn't lashing out at people randomly. Maybe I have mellowed, or maybe I have found a better way of dealing with the emotional flux within myself. The negative loop in the mind has finally stopped. I handled a few stressful situations at work in a rational, professional manner. I look at myself now and I wondered how I got here -- because if you have seen the emotional trainwreck I was so many years ago, you would be surprised too.
After all these years of yoga and the dharma, I still feel like myself -- the girl with the same insecurities and quirks. But sometimes -- sometimes something happens and I find myself responding differently. It would suddenly catch me -- the realisation that something within me had changed.
I know it is yoga and the dharma that made the difference. Yoga can heal your life. I have felt it personally, and I am grateful.
This is about an urban hermit; Martha Ainsworth is a New Yorker who has formally petitioned the Bishop to be a solitary. She has chosen for herself a life of solitude and silent prayer, but not the usual sort we are used to:
But unlike a cloistered monk, who shares chores and helps generate a common income by making cheese or fruitcakes, Martha will arrange her prayer life around a schedule that looks from the outside like any other citizen’s. Week after week, she will encounter the din of the city. She will keep her apartment, shop for groceries, answer her phone, and earn a paycheck. She’ll have no abbot or abbess, and no sisters, owing her obedience only to the bishop. Martha will become, in effect, a contemplative order of one.
We have often assumed a city life is unsuited for the spiritual life. But here is someone who has challenged that assumption. I love what Martha Ainsworth has to say about prayer:
Most of us think of prayer as asking God for something: Let the surgery go okay, keep the kids safe, let Matsui get on for Posada. We’re praying for peace of mind; it’s a means to an end. But what if we prayed until we couldn’t think of anything else to ask for—and then prayed some more? Contemplatives attempt to reverse the direction of prayer’s flow, to listen instead of ask. If you approach prayer this way (and pray enough), Martha explains, it leaves the dimension of words altogether, and the distractions—even the unceasing stimuli of New York City—drop away.
To listen instead of ask. This is what silence truly means: Not merely to not speak -- instead, it is an active listening.
Sorry, but I'm still on a Suzanne Vega high after the concert on Saturday. The following video is Suzanne Vega performing "The Queen & the Soldier" back in 1997.
"The Queen & The Soldier"
The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door
He said, "I am not fighting for you any more"
The queen knew she'd seen his face someplace before
And slowly she let him inside.
He said, "I've watched your palace up here on the hill
And I've wondered who's the woman for whom we all kill
But I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will
Only first I am asking you why."
Down in the long narrow hall he was led
Into her rooms with her tapestries red
And she never once took the crown from her head
She asked him there to sit down.
He said, "I see you now, and you are so very young
But I've seen more battles lost than I have battles won
And I've got this intuition, says it's all for your fun
And now will you tell me why?"
The young queen, she fixed him with an arrogant eye
She said, "You won't understand, and you may as well not try"
But her face was a child's, and he thought she would cry
But she closed herself up like a fan.
And she said, "I've swallowed a secret burning thread
It cuts me inside, and often I've bled"
He laid his hand then on top of her head
And he bowed her down to the ground.
"Tell me how hungry are you? How weak you must feel
As you are living here alone, and you are never revealed
But I won't march again on your battlefield"
And he took her to the window to see.
And the sun, it was gold, though the sky, it was gray
And she wanted more than she ever could say
But she knew how it frightened her, and she turned away
And would not look at his face again.
And he said, "I want to live as an honest man
To get all I deserve and to give all I can
And to love a young woman who I don't understand
Your highness, your ways are very strange."
But the crown, it had fallen, and she thought she would break
And she stood there, ashamed of the way her heart ached
She took him to the doorstep and she asked him to wait
She would only be a moment inside.
Out in the distance her order was heard
And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
And while the queen went on strangling in the solitude she preferred
The battle continued on
Glad to report that I've been keeping up with WoYoPracMo: Twenty days and counting. (That sentence feels a little like Alcoholic Anonymous. Hmm.) This explains why there was a bit of blog silence for a while. I also had to work on Saturday, and later that evening I was at the Suzanne Vega concert.
The Suzanne Vega concert was wonderful -- and way too short. I was smiling and tapping my foot throughout the performance, thoroughly enjoying myself. Vega has a casual, easeful kind of stage presence, and she was funny when she told the audience about the stories behind some of the songs. I adore her for the simplicity of her delivery; for some of the songs she just sang accompanied by only a guitar, or only her bassist.
As Vega told us about the stories behind the different songs, it stuck me that this is why her music is so accessible. Her stories are observations and speculations of different lives. She is interested in the stories of people's heartaches and yearnings. While a lot of songwriters write about themselves, their heartbreaks, their loves -- Suzanne Vega is interested in the story others have to tell of themselves. That is why her songs have a genuine quality about them.
One of my favourite is the story behind, "Pornographer's Dream". What kind of dream would a pornographer have? she asked. Suzanne Vega believes that people dream of what is out of their reach.
So, he would dream of a woman -- fully clothed, she replied. And mysterious.
I felt like quitting my studio at one time because B. left and there was no one else certified to teach Anusara Yoga. I guess I was caught up with the cult of my teacher.
But along the way I did learn the lesson on accepting changes. Teachers who inspire and whom you connect with are hard to find, but they will come and they will go. Our practice is ours alone, which is why it is so important to develop a personal home practice.
If we can find the motivation within ourselves to practice everyday at home, we are set for life.
Not that a teacher is a bad thing. It's wonderful to have someone experienced to guide us. But there was something I read once, where the Buddha said, “Don’t mistake the finger for the moon.” The teacher, and the teachings, are only the finger that points to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon itself. Instead, one has to see the moon with one's own eyes.
I thought that was a great lesson on the importance of self-mastery, and taking responsibility for our spiritual practice.
It is something I have also learned from WoYoPracMo, reading the trials and tribulations of everyone who have posted and committed to the 30 days practice. For me, on the days I skip class, I had to improvise a few home practices either through DVDs or just going with what feels right at that moment. I used to think I couldn't do home practice, that I didn't know enough about yoga to do proper sequencing, that I always cheat by skipping the poses I hate most. But since WoYoPracMo, I have come to believe it's possible for me to develop a regular home practice.
So for today, I skipped class. I came home to practice instead.
I went for an Ashtanga class last night. Missy, my yoga buddy said to me as we were entering the studio, "So, you're still alive?"
Yes, it has been 15 straight days of yoga and I'm still alive. In fact, I feel VERY alive, thanks to the rejuvenating Power/Ashtanga classes I have been doing. I even feel stronger – which amazes me because 15 days of practice couldn't make that much of a difference, could it? There's more spring in my steps these days –- probably because there's this great reserve of energy that have built up from the practice, but I have been trying to remind myself to slow down and move in a more mindful manner.
Last night was my third Ashtanga class of the year. I first tried Ashtanga back in 2006, and I still remember how my body ached for 4 days after that first class. I had never done so many vinyasa in a single class ever before -- all that chaturangas, upward-dogs, downward dog. It took me a while before I went back to another Ashtanga class.
It was a fond memory, because my body no longer ached that badly anymore. One always like to see some tangible progress for all the effort made, and it is comforting to know I have grown a little stronger and more flexible since that first class. I still have problems with the Marichyasana binds though, and I still need to work on my standing balance poses.
I noticed something during my Ashtanga class last week. I am still trying to figure out the mula bandha, and often I would forget about the root lock while moving from one asana into another. But that night, as I attempted to maintain the mula bandha diligently, I felt a significant lightness in the practice. I breathed more easily, I felt more strength in my body – most of all, a greater awareness of my core. I wondered if I was imagining all of these – but the practice felt wonderful.
One of my teachers once said, "In the beginning, we work with the grossest level -- the body. As we progress, we start to look into the more subtle levels of the practice." Is this what she meant?
Think of this. The most distinguished graduate college at Oxford is All Souls, founded in 1438 and popularly alleged to number among its Fellows the cleverest men and women in England. Once in every hundred years this eminent company celebrates something called the ceremony of the mallard, when it commemorates the fable of a wild duck supposed to have flown out of the foundations when the college was being built. After a good and vinous dinner those academics perambulate the premises looking for the shade of that bird, carrying sticks and staves, led by a Lord Mallard in a sedan chair with a dead duck on a pole, climbing to the roof and singing a gibberish song—Ho, the blood of King Edward, by the blood of King Edward, it was a swapping, swapping mallard.
When in 2001 they celebrated the ceremony of the mallard for the umpteenth time, they printed a booklet about the occasion. On its cover they quoted a contemporary commentator (me, as it happened!) to the effect that no event in Europe could be sillier, "not the most footling country frolic or pointless Anatolian orgy."
Inside the booklet, though, Oxford being Oxford, the Lord Mallard of the day confidently looked forward to the duck's resurrection "in future centuries."
Makes Oxford feel like the Unseen University. :)
Since today is Sunday -- the day of rest, I decided to do a short home practice instead of going to class. I did about 30 minutes of core-work with a Shiva Rea DVD. Now I'm wondering how this counts as a restful practice? My abs are so going to ache tomorrow.
A while back, I wrote about my insomnia, and how it has affected my regular practice. Well, for the past week I have been showing up for the vigorous Power and Ashtanga classes. Somehow my body managed to keep up with my intention and it was a good solid week of practice. The most amazing thing is: I slept very well this past week. My friend Missy, who joined me for Ashtanga class last week, was also surprised at how deep her slumber has been.
Amazing how it always comes back to the practice. Just practice, and things will sort themselves out.
I've just finished reading Into Thin Air, an personal account of the May 10, 1996 Mt Everest expedition which resulted in 12 deaths. Krakauer included photos of the mountaineers, and it was eerie looking at the pictures of some of these people, knowing that you are reading about how they died.
Krakauer was sent on the Everest expedition for a story for Outside magazine. This book is an expansion of the 17,000 word essay eventually published. The book was written quickly, as a kind of cartharsis -- or exorcism. The deaths at Mt Everest haunted him.
It was a harrowing read, as one tragedy just followed another. It is a human instinct: as I was reading the book I started looking out for what went wrong: Was it human error? Could anything have been done to prevent it? In his own way, perhaps Krakauer wrote this book to make sense of the tragedy that he had been a party to.
Krakauer included a Joan Didion quote in his book:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live … We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative live upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
We write, to impose some sort of recognisable order unto the universe. And sometimes our narrative requires certain parties to fill the roles of the heroes and the villians.
But this is not a story that has easy heroes or villians. The truth is, in an oxygen depleted environment at above 24,000 feet, at sub-zero temperature -- no one was thinking straight. Everyone made the best decisions they could under the circumstances. It is the living that are allowed the luxury of accusations and blame. It is also the living that have to defend themselves for the choices they made.
Anatoli Boukreev was one of the guides on the 1996 Mt Everest expedition. His book, The Climb, is his rebuttal to Jon Krakauer's accusations that Boukreev left the summit ahead of his clients, before the brunt of the storm.
In the translated transcript Boukreev did for an interview to Men's Journal, the Russian mountaineering guide said in his own defense:
I stayed [on the summit] for about an hour ... It is very cold, naturally, it takes your strength ... My position was that I would not be good if I stood around freezing, waiting. I would be more useful if I returned to Camp Four in order to be able to take oxygen up to the returning climbers or to go up to help them if some became weak during the descent ... If you are immobile at that altitude you lose strength in the cold, and then you are unable to do anything.
It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how some may misinterprete his decision as selfish. Yet it was Bourkreev who rushed up with bottled oxygen the moment he heard about the lost mountaineers. When it mattered, he was the only one with the strength left to do a search-and-rescue, as he had preserve his strength by coming down to a lower altitude and warming himself earlier on. Everyone else, including Krakauer himself, was too worn down to be of any help. Truth is never convenient.
But I am only writing on hindsight, in the safety of a by-stander who has never even attempted the feat that Krakauer and the rest of the mountaineers did. In short, I am in no position to judge anything.
The sister of Scott Fischer (one of the guides who perished on the expedition), Lisa Fischer-Luckenbach, wrote this letter after Krakauer's story was published in Outside magazine:
What I am reading is YOUR OWN ego frantically struggling to make sense out of what happened. No amount of your analyzing, criticizing, judging, or hypothesizing will bring the peace you are looking for. There are no answers. No one is at fault. No one is to blame. Everyone was doing their best at the given time under the given circumstances.
No one intended harm for one another. No one wanted to die.
We should just count ourselves lucky that we may never have to be in the situation such as they were, being called to make the kind of decisions in that kind of extreme circumstances. Could we really claim to be able to do better?
A few days before the blizzard that caused the death of the mountaineers, Göran Kropp, a 29 year old Swedish soloist attempted the summit without the help of Sherpas or bottled oxygen. Kropp had reached 28,700 feet just below the South Summit, with the top just 60 minutes above -- but then he turned around, believing he would be too tired to descend safely if he climbed any higher.
Rob Hall was Krakauer's guide, one of the many who perished on Mt Everest. He was an experienced climber, having reached the Everest summit in 1990. He has also helped put 39 climbers on the summit of Everest. When he heard about Kropp's descent, his response was interesting:
"To turn around that close to the summit ...," Hall mused with a shake of his head on May 6 as Kropp plodded past Camp Two on his way down the mountain. "That showed incredibly good judgement on young Göran's part. I'm impressed--considerably more impressed, actually, than if he'd continued climbing and made the top." ... ... "With enough determination, any bloody idiot can get up this hill," Hall observed. "The trick is to get back down alive."
Climbing is a sport that takes determination. It attracts men and women who are not easily deflected from their goal.
Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you're too driven you're likely to die.
What Göran Kropp has shown admirably is this rare balance of drive and awareness. In that crucial moment right before reaching the summit, he is able to step back from his ego and his desire, and see the bigger picture: that he does not have the energy to make it down safely. And so he turned back. In that wisdom -- that remarkable sense of restraint, he lives to climb again. It just seems to me that there is a lesson here to be learned, that need for us to look beyond the object of our desire, so that we do not lose perspective.
In the words of David Robert:
[T]op climbers ... can be deeply moved, in fact maudlin; but only for worthy martyred ex-comrades. A certain coldness, strikingly similar in tone, emerges from the writings of Buhl, John Harlin, Bonatti, Bonington, and Haston: the coldness of competence. Perhaps this is what extreme climbing is about: to get to a point where, in Haston's words, "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end. If your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its forfeit."
This is the brutal reality of mountaineering: you train and you push yourself closer to the edge of death. When the test comes, you either survive, or else, "nature claims its forfeit" for the transgression.
Michael Dirda has to be one of the most well-read human on this planet. He will write a thoughtful, enlightened review of Terry Pratchett today, and tomorrow you are just as likely to find a sensitive analysis of the latest A.S. Byatt novel. I love the breadth of his essays, his expansive attitudes towards all literature. Unlike some stuffy, self-important reviewers, Dirda has no prejudice against fantasy. He understands fantasy is just another medium where the writer uses to tell their story.
The overarching theme of both Little, Big and Aegypt is yearning, the desire to fill the emptiness within that nearly all of us experience, more or less, as we make our way through the life of this world. Why, in fact, do men and women feel so unhappy, dissatisfied, incomplete? Crowley’s general answer, if only in his fiction, is that we have lost something that we once possessed. Our souls hunger after meaning.
Do I dare add this onto my TBR pile?
We interrupt our recent series of yoga posts for a report on forthcoming books that has caught our attention.
Laurie R. King, (author of those utterly winsome Mary Russell novels) was blogging over at The Rap Sheet last week. She wrote a little on The Language of Bees -- the new Mary Russell in progress (scheduled for Spring 2009). It is set back in England in the summer of 1924, after Mary and Holmes have returned from India (The Game) and San Francisco (Locked Rooms and Holmes’ tale in The Art of Detection):
So, currently I’m writing a story about a hive of bees that has gone berserk, and why. I am also researching the subculture of Bohemia, and not the sort of Bohemia that had a scandal solved (more or less) by Holmes. I will also deal with several pieces of unfinished business from some of the other novels, and bring in a major plot and at least two subplots, one about love.
I feel as if I’m holding the reins of a four-horse team that is in a fractious mood.
It's always reassuring to know your favourite author is hard at work. ;p
Also getting some blog coverage, is the forthcoming English translation of Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It's a memoir of a sort, about his running experience, his writing, his passion for music -- another contribution to the mystique of Haruki Murakami, I guess. The US edition will only be available in July 2008, while the UK edition is scheduled for May 2008.
On a sidenote: A couple of colleagues and I were looking at the original Japanese version of the book yesterday, trying to acertain the content of the book. As I observed the conversation about the book, it occurred to me that no one else caught the Raymond Carver reference on the title.
Somehow that saddens me a little.
I'm sorry if the recent string of yoga-related posts bores anyone. I've been trying to keep to my WoYoPracMo commitment. So far, I'm still on track. The funny thing with yoga -- what keeps bringing you back to the mat is showing up in the first place. It's a paradox my friend Missy and I talked about recently.
Missy has been feeling rather low on energy during the Christmas period. She skipped a few classes, felt bad about it, but couldn't quite find the energy to turn up. Then one day Missy just forced herself to show up for practice. The next day, she felt better. She told me it was the practice from the previous day that gave her that bout of energy to make it through practice the following day.
I understood what she meant, because I have often felt it myself, when things are not going well in my life. The chaos and stress of life can be draining, and it becomes difficult to find the energy to turn up for class. Much easier to just go home, lie in bed, close your eyes and hope everything will just blow over. But usually what actually helps me most is pushing myself back onto the mat. When I am upset, I need a class with lots of heart-openers poses and backbends. Perhaps that is why I love the Wheel. Nothing lifts you out of a flunk like yoga.
Anyway, I believe I have stepped out of my holiday lethargy, thanks to WoYoPracMo. I turned up for a LED Ashtanga class today -- my second Ashtanga class in the last eight (?) months since my previous Ashtanga teacher left. I first tried Ashtanga in 2006, when I signed up for an Ashtanga Workshop on Christmas. I liked the Ashtanga teacher, and started turning up for regular Ashtanga classes -- but she soon left the studio. I didn't feel as comfortable with the other Ashtanga teachers, and around the same time my interest in the Anusara practice was growing. Anusara soon became the focus of my practice in 2007. I admit, when I first started Anusara, the principles of alignment sounded pretty technical. But slowly they began to make sense. And once I started being able to apply the principles -- I felt the difference.
For tonight's Ashtanga class, I am still challenged by the balance poses and the more advanced binds, but on the whole, I felt strong.
Well, something non-yoga related, but it's something that made me smile.
The black-and-white picture above is a shot of a postcard (sitting on my laptop) I received in the mail today. It's from a friend who is travelling in France right now, who made the "obligatory literary pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co". Knowing this would be the sort of thing I would like, she wrote me a postcard from Shakespeare & Co. (sorry the picture couldn't be clearer -- I had no access to a better camera). The postcard shows the interor of Shakespeare & Co.
I'm smiling because it's a postcard of a place full of books. But most of all, it tells me my friend is all right and she thought of me when she was backpacking in France. :)
I had some difficulties commenting on many of the Wordpress blogs recently. It seems Wordpress doesn't recognise my blogger account, (or whatever. This is not the first time it has happened). Because I am not the sort to allow system glitches to censor my banalities, I have resorted to logging on with my Wordpress account. The last few I have posted on Wordpress blogs appear to have gone through.
There's nothing on my Wordpress account though. Just a link that send you back to this blog.
I really wanted to skip yoga practice on Saturday.
Well, it's the weekend. It was raining. I slept late the night before and woke up around 1 pm. I had chores to do around the house. I have library books that are due. All the excuses in the world to skip practice, yes?
There are moments it seems like yoga has taken over my life. I have less time for other things -- and sometimes it bothers me. Sometimes I "rebel" against this feeling -- this loss of control; I skip practice just to hang out with friends, or just to do something frivolous like lying in bed and reading, listening to music.
My friends know by now that any dates with me have to be scheduled around my yoga classes. I used to go clubbing with my friends, but I've stopped because I no longer drink and I hate staying out late. (Anyone who has ever practiced yoga dehydrated, hung over and lacking sleep knows how awful it can be.)
My friends find it troublesome to ask me out for dinner, because I am vegetarian and a lot of restaurants are not vegetarian-friendly. People have stopped inviting me to BBQs, well, because it would be cruel to starve the vegetarian. :p
A teacher once said to the class: since he started practicing yoga, he has become more "disciplined." He joked that "discipline" sounds boring, like something they do in the military. But then he explained: discipline, is really about "knowing what you want" -- and working towards it.
There are only 24 hours in every day; there is never enough time to do everything that we want. Which means we have to figure out what is truly important to us, and focus on those things instead. The less important things, we may just have to let them fall away.
Anyway, around 10:40 on Saturday evening I was wondering if I really wanted to skip yoga practice. I found myself slipping one of the Shiva Rea DVDs into my laptop and I did a gentle 30 minutes practice.
Saturday ended with a practice afterall. :)
I'm missing an important element in my practice -- sleep.
I've been missing my morning practice and meditation for a while now. It started a few months ago when I was having insomnia. I have chronic insomnia since I was a teenager. The condition improved a few years ago when I started yoga, but I still have problems sleeping sometimes when the weather is warm.
With my insomnia, I just could not fall asleep before 5 am. It was torture, especially during workdays where I had to show up for work with barely 3 hours of sleep. So I skipped morning practice, because I just couldn't find the energy to practice or meditate. Then gradually I skipped a lot of my evening classes at the yoga studio.
It wasn't until last November when I started attending M's classes that I resumed my regular evening practice. But the morning practice is still difficult.
I'm still trying to get into the swing of my morning practice, because the mornings are the only time I have for a home practice.
[Painting above: "Streams and Mountains with a Clear Distant View", by Xia Gui. Click to enlarge. ]
I pored over books of Sung and T'ang dynasty painting. The painters and writers of the time were often victims of political turmoil, and their inked images of remote valleys and deep forests stood for the way the natural world soaked up their anguish, disillusionment, bewilderment, sudden losses, and consequent solitude. Their paintings were emblematic. In those spindly mountains and etched valleys, lines of trees and bamboo forests, and tiny human-made pavilions there was a hallucinatory balance, a clear track out of reckless exhilaration and despair. I too had withdrawn from the world and turned my energies towards ink on paper--both painting and writing. Semisuicidal and unable to sleep at night, I'd peer at those landscapes by flashlight. Though stylized, they emitted a fresh sense; they were places to which I could go in my mind's eyes. They never failed to save me.
~ Taken from Future of Ice by Gretel Ehrlich
[ Painting on the left: "Early Spring", painted in 1072, considered one of the masterpieces of the Northern Sung monumental landscape tradition. Click to enlarge.]
As you guys may remember, I'm currently absorbed by Cyteen, the Hugo award winning novel by C.J. Cherryh (I'm starting to sound like her publicist, aren't I?)
What's a "Hugo"? Well, I googled it, and the Hugo Award, also known as the Science Fiction Achievement Award, is given annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). The distinguishing characteristics of the Hugo Award are that it is sponsored by WSFS, administered by the committee of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) held that year, and determined by nominations from and a popular vote of the membership of WSFS. In general, a Hugo Award given in a particular year is for work that appeared in the previous calendar year. [source]
Now, don't you feel informed? J. K Rowling was one of the past Hugo winners -- though that was something of a fluke and a lot of hardcore SF fans were not too happy about that.
On a curious whim, I decided to google the past Hugo Award winners and just see how many of the past Hugo winners for Best Novel I have actually read.
For the Hugo Best Novel alone, I have read the following:
Eleven. Is that good or bad?
You know, somebody can make a Reading Challenge out of this.
The Golden Compass movie has been screening for a while now, but I have not watched it. Mainly, all the reviews I have read are screaming it's a watered down adaptation that sucked the essence out of the story. I like His Dark Materials, so it's a question of how I would react to a traitorous adaptation.
Really -- why spend the money to buy the rights to a good story, and take out the parts that made the story great in the first place. The Vatican was not happy anyway -- watered down or not. So, now you have a lesser film, and you alienated both the religious authorities AND the Pullman fans.
However, if it proves to be a slow weekend (not likely, since I'm working towards the best parts of Cyteen) -- I might give in. Or I might catch The Warlords instead.
Why watch it? Because I want to watch Nicole Kidman's malevolent serenity. Because I read what Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times:
Ms. Kidman has rarely looked more beautifully and exotically alien. When she first appears, she pours across the screen like liquid gold, her body provocatively shifting inside a shimmering, form-fitting gown, her gilt-blond hair and alabaster skin all but glowing. She’s the film’s most spectacular special effect (her wonderfully vicious little daemon-monkey runs a close second), and for once, the smooth planes of her face, untroubled by visible lines, serve the character.
But this has to be one of the funniest lines in a film review and ironically, makes me want to watch it for the murderous polar bears:
Among other things, I would have liked to spend some quality time with Lyra’s friend and protector the warrior bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Mr. McKellen), a gorgeous creature whose ferocity is, alas, tempered by his resemblance to some familiar cuddly polar bears. It is, I discovered, hard to keep your mind off the concession stand when you are waiting for Iorek to offer Lyra a Coke.
The Coca-Cola jingle is running through my head right now.
I was looking through the new release for 2008 the other day. I came across news on the forthcoming English translation of Jose Saramago's Death at Intervals -- to be published by Harvill this February.
Synopsis from Amazon UK:
On the first day of the New Year, no one dies. This understandably causes great consternation amongst religious leaders - if there's no death, there can be no resurrection and therefore no reason for religion - and what will be the effect on pensions, the social services, hospitals? Funeral directors are reduced to arranging funerals for dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots. Life insurance policies become meaningless. Amid the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration: flags are hung out on balconies and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity - eternal life. But will death's disappearance benefit the human race, or will this sudden abeyance backfire? How long can families cope with malingering elderly relatives who scratch at death's door while the portal remains firmly shut? Then, seven months later, death returns, heralded by purple envelopes informing the recipients that their time is up. Death herself is now writing personal notes giving one week's notice. However, when an envelope is unexpectedly returned to her, death begins to experience strange, almost human emotions.
It sounds slightly morbid, but also funny. I think I might pick it just to read about Death and her "strange, almost human emotions." It's kind of Terry Pratchett-ish, isn't it?
I should be saving money, but I just received my order of the Yoga Journal's Great Instructors DVDs Box-set and I am thrilled.
My home practice has been something that has been bugging me for a while, because it's inconsistent. I don't really know how to plan a proper yoga sequence, so I'm hoping the DVDs would help.
All else fails, I can use the DVDs to inspire me to practice.
Cate Blanchett as Agent Spalko in the "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". [Photo from Vanity Fair, by Annie Leibovitz]
Who's her stylist? Anna Wintour? Gawd awful!
Indiana Jones is one of my childhood heroes. Yeah, as a girl you're not supposed to like stuff like Indy, but I do. I wanted to be Indiana Jones -- I bet you lots of girls do too. I loved all the Indiana Jones movies, with their exhilarating action and humour. I love Indy's signature battered fedora and I get a tingle sometimes when I hear the Indy theme song. Harrison Ford really made the character. He seems to have a knack for playing those roguish heroes with a noble heart. In all the Indy movies, Indy ALWAYS gets beaten up, but he still manages to rise again to save the day.
Among all the Indy films, I have a special fondness for "The Last Crusade" which has Sean Connery. Who can forget the way Connery goes: "Junior?"
Be sure to catch the Vanity Fair feature on the set of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". I don't know the plot. I don't care. I'm watching the movie anyway. ;p
I had planned to kick off 2008 and WoYoPracMo by showing up at the new kundalini class that was supposed to start 1st January. I thought: new year, new yoga class, new teacher – great start. As it turns out, kundalini class was postponed.
And I'm having my period.
(I promise this will not be an in-depth discussion of my menstrual cycles.)
I usually take a break from practice when I have my period, especially during the heavier first few days. But on the 1st of January I was a little upset – because I had made a commitment to practice for 30 days. Am I going to break this commitment on the very first day?
Later the irony of the situation hit me (I am an ironic sort of person): how we can plan all we want in life, but nature always takes its own course. So I thought about what I could do that is yoga, but not vigorous.
So for the first day of WoYoPracMo I just sat on my mat and did my meditation and pranayama – something I have often neglected in my usual practice. As I was meditating I recalled the lovingkindness meditation a Buddhist teacher taught me a while back. I called up the faces of my colleagues, friends and family and for each of them, I sent them lovingkindness. For all the wrongs I have done them, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I asked for their forgiveness. Then I offer forgiveness in return.
It didn't feel like such a bad first day. Certainly it wasn't what I had planned, but this spontaneous Plan B felt right. This too, is yoga.
Anyway, I was back at the yoga studio the next day for Hot Flow. I've also drawn out a series of regular morning poses I intend to practice to strengthen my core. I extracted them from a series of core-work recommended by Ana Forrest – who totally inspires me with her strength and grace.
I'm still a beginner, still have lots and lots to learn. Because I am arrogant, I actually enjoy the humbling aspects of my own yoga practice – how it feels okay not to have to pretend to know everything all the time.
There comes a time when you know you have to throw in the towel on a challenge. From 1 September 2007 to 28 February 2008, participants for the Unread Authors Challenge are supposed to read six books by authors they have never read before. So far, I've only managed Italo Svevo's A Perfect Hoax from my list.
This is one challenge I will have to say I did not complete. Oh well. On the whole, I did complete most of my other challenges for 2007. So it's not so bad.
|You Are A Cypress Tree|
You are strong, adaptable, and striving to be content.
You're good at taking what life has to give - even if you don't like it.
A passionate lover who can't be satisfied, you are quick tempered at times.
You hate loneliness, want love and affection, and need to be needed.
A bit of a live wire, you love to gain knowledge any cost... and you can be careless at times.
<------ Oh yeah. Try to out-stare those cute kitty eyes. I dare you. :)
I heart CuteOverload!
Happy New Year, Everybody!
Did anyone stay up for the New Year countdown? If you were at a New Year's Eve party or something, you would probably be doing that.
This year I was counting down to something else. At 12:10am on the 1st of January 2008, I finally started reading War and Peace (translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). The Russian Reading Challenge has officially begun, and this year will be the year I try to read War and Peace -- again. I think I'll take Danielle's advice and read it as though it's 4 books. I've only just finished the introduction. I was a little surprised to stumble unto so much French on the first page -- the last translation I tackled translated all the French. Pevear and Volokhonsky kept the French in the dialogue, keeping the translations in the notes.
I've also been reading Cyteen the past few days. I am still barely 100 pages into the book and it seemed I missed a lot of the more subtle politics and exchanges the first time I read it. It is a heavy, complicated book, and I am constantly in awe of the mind that could write something like this.
All these were done listening to Jacqueline du Pré. Since I finished The Spanish Bow I've been on the look out for cello music. Sometimes, a book has that effect on you -- long after you close the pages, the story -- or the music in this instance, is still playing in your head.
Meanwhile I have a few new library books sitting at home: Orhan Pamuk's Other Colors, Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. I doubt I will be able to finish reading them before the end of January. Argh! So many books, and so little time.
Has anyone else started a new book just for the new year?
Damn! The big-eyed kitty is cute!
It's a new year, so what else is there to do but sign up for the Short Story Reading Challenge?
Hosted by Kate S., this reading challenge may yet prove to be my undoing -- because the short story form is something I seem to have difficulties with. I'm not sure why. I just don't take to it as well as the novel -- and writing about the short stories I've read -- I'm practically handicapped here.
I'm opting for a more relaxed approach, which is to read (at least) 10 short stories by 10 different writers for 2008. With the Russian Reading Challenge coming up, I suspect there will be quite a lot of Russians on the plate.
I have nothing definite planned -- as all my previous reading plans for short stories have come to nothing. I'm going to list a few stories from books I already own, and add to it as time pass:
Meanwhile, maybe you would like to visit the Short Story Reading Challenge Blog for more.
Cross-posted at Outmoded Authors
In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, there was a minor character—Fiddler's Green, who was written as a caricature of Chesterton. It was Gaiman's tribute to this man of letters who wrote some of the best detective stories with his Father Brown mysteries—mysteries that went beyond the usual whodunnit into the murky realms of theology, philosophy and psychology. There were also moments of rousing Chestertonian lyricism that are just joy to re-read.
In life, Chesterton really was a jolly, rotund man with a romantic, chivalrous streak—and he really did walk the streets in a cape, with a sword-stick.
Chesterton wrote in a breezy, often whimisical and humorous manner that belies the philosophical thoughtfulness of his writings. He was fond of paradoxes, something personified by his unworldly priest, Father Brown—who reveals that his secrets to solving crimes is that in each case, he committed the crime himself. (Someone may have to help me out here—I'm relying on memory writing this and I can't recall the exact quote) Here, the priest does not literally mean he "did it." Rather, as he explained it, in each and every case, he truly placed himself in the position of the culprit, he thought as a murderer did, understood, and empathised—and that was how he arrived at the solutions to the mysteries—the greatest detective, is in fact, the greatest criminal.
Chesterton wrote poetry (whose I can't really claim to love), religious texts, including a biography of St Francis of Assisi. He also wrote essays—on anything that interested him—which means he wrote a lot of them.
One of my favourite essay is "A Piece of Chalk"—collected in Tremendous Trifles. The essay is thankfully available online —which allows me the pleasure of re-reading it for free, and sharing it with everyone.
What began rather unassumingly—Chesterton looking for some brown paper because he wanted to make his way to the countryside, where he intended to spend an afternoon drawing with brown paper and chalk. A chirpy but discursive narrative on the mundane soon emerged as a rumination on colours, especially white, and its associative symbolism of virtue—of theology and our assumptions of good and evil:
But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.
From the simplicity of chalk against brown paper he discerned a fundamental truth: it is not a dry, dull thing to be good and decent. A good man is not simply a man lacking in vices or weaknesses—he stands glorious as a monument, someone to aspire to, as proof of God's work. We just sometimes forget to see that—"In a word, God paints in many colours; but he never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white."
Chesterton is a humanist, yes, and he is Catholic. Some might object to that. But for me at least, his writing upholds simple truths like goodness, beauty—and humour—because Chesterton too believed God created laughter.
Alan Moore possesses such a mythic status among English comics readers that one is cautious about saying anything negative about his books. Yet after reading The Black Dossier, my feelings are at best -- ambivalent.
I enjoyed the previous two volumes in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and I have been waiting for the long-delayed The Black Dossier for a couple of years. I turned out not to be what I was expecting though.
As the story begins in the year 1958, and we arrive at an alternate England that has been battered by the war against Herr Hynkel's Germany. Two former members of the clandestine "Murray Group" -- Mina Murray herself, and the mysteriously rejunvenated Allan Quatermain (now posing as his own long-lost son) steal the Black Dossier, the folio containing all known intelligence on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They did that by outwitting a egoistic young agent known only as Jimmy, but who may turn out to be James Bond. (So I've been told.)
This main story frames the narrative, as Mina and Allan, with Black Dossier in tow, attempt to elude their pursuers. Meanwhile, Mina reads The Black Dossier -- and so do we.
The whole graphic novel feels too much like Alan Moore's project on self-indulgence. He is not even making an effort for a stronger plot to string together the disparate voices within the Black Dossier. What you have is more like a scrapbook of past LOEG members and their escapades -- all of which may hint at future LOEG stories to come. Stories within stories -– through time and space and featuring iconic characters from all genres and medium –- there's also guest star Emma Night -- who will later be known as Mrs Emma Peel from the 60s TV series, The Avengers. Alan Moore's knowledge of culture is far and wide –- in fact probably better than most of his readers. He recognises no distinction between literary and pulp fiction. All are fair fodder for his tales. And apparently, the first LOEG was founded by Queen Gloriana, led by Prospero.
My favourite tale within The Black Dossier is the story of "The Life of Orlando", who transgenders through Greco-Roman, Celtic/Fairie, Arthurian, and Lovecraftian mythos/history/stories and always coming up unscathed. I don't think Virginia Woolf ever quite imagined Orlando as such an adventurer. Alan Moore does have lots more fun with the characters than their original writers, I give him that.
In spite of all my reservation, I will admit it showcasts enough of Moore's literary virtuosity to deserve a second-look -- the man undertakes the task of writing a Shakespeare style play for his LOEG characters, he mimicks Orwellian Newspeak and throws in his eosteric Occultic interests - (ala – Promethea). Plus, Moore added some fun porn (the continuing adventures of Fanny Hill, rendered in sketches) in a Tijuana Bible insert, and The Black Dossier itself concludes with a chapter rendered in 3D art. (The graphic novel comes with a pair of 3-D visors for your viewing pleasure. One would appreciate it more if they did the porn in 3D. I'm just saying.)
It's fun, but it may not be the book to start with if you're new to comics. And if you prefer a more straightforward story line -- go check out Volume 1 and 2 instead.
The Objective: From 1st January 2008 to 31st December 2008, to (re)read anything Russian, or Russian-related - from any genre, any subject, any period, any author, any length.
Why? Because it is fun - because it is the only worthwhile reason for doing anything for its own rewards.
Visit the Russian Reading Challenge blog.
Dark Orpheus's A Year Of Russian Readings 2008:
Just a little disclaimer -- this is an aspirational list -- this means I hope to finish as many titles on the list as possible, but life and other commitments makes it impossible to read everything. Still, just going to try to read as much as possible.
2008: And So It Begins
2007: The Warm-Up