DG Interviews: BLESSED APATHY

Joy:  The other day I was about to go into a posture and it didn’t go well and out loud I said, “Oh I don’t care.” That’s been my reality for about 4 months. Extreme APATHY. And this amount of who cares is really a first for me.  Have you ever felt this?

David: I think we have to be more specific.  Apathy in practice, right in the moment right in the difficult asana…well the answer is YES. I’ve been there.

 Joy: So what do you do in the moment?

David: I was almost ready to agree with the statement that Ashtanga is for young people because of the amount of fire that you need for the physical asanas especially considering the number of asanas and the relentless daily return to it.   And it feels like it’s a very youthful energy that works well with doing asanas in that particular way.   But then I thought of a better word and the word is SACRIFICE.  It really is for those who are willing to sacrifice and for those who are willing to continue to sacrifice.  And in that way apathy towards that sacrifice is going to be a big obstacle.

Joy: Yes and I think that’s what I have.

David: But then I will say this and level the playing field of spirituality/creativity.     There’s nothing, nothing of value that does not requires the same level of sacrifice as ashtanga.  Do you see it?  Ashtanga is not arbitrarily difficult or demanding—no, the practice provides you with a perfect, explicit model of what it takes to come to the mastery of anything.    And the requirements of  Ashtanga’s sacrifice are so blatant, physical and explicit.    Hatha yoga contains a high component of physical sacrifice.  You have to come with quiet digestion—with an empty belly—otherwise you cannot get at the core of the asana position with the bandhas, breathing and the nadi work that is required.   But if you are a painter the physical requirements may not appear to be as strict for you.  But the point is that in order to get creative it requires everyone to be empty of this world.  Each artist or person on a spiritual quest must find a way to go into a daily renewal of emptying him/herself out of the mundane, material, physical/visible world.

Joy: What do you mean by emptying out of this world?

David: I mean the way that you ordinarily take in the world with your senses– your eyes and your taste buds and your hands.    You must learn to take in the invisible world, to look beyond the material appearance of things, you must take in the world spiritually.  And the only way to take it in spiritually is to empty yourself out materially.    Apathy or carelessness presents an obstacle to the process of emptying out.    To not care about that emptying out is costly to the maximum.

I want to back up for a moment and put some explicit thoughts out there for you.

1) Apathy is completely natural and is to be expected.  Whatever it is, an emotion or a lack of energetic feeling, you’re going to encounter apathy and most definitely over the course of a long term practice.

2) You have dvesa and raga. Those are two pairs.  So apathy falls on the side of dvesa. Its an unpleasant sensation, emotion. And so your response has to be a neutrality, an equanimity around that unpleasant sensation. So when you’re encountering it you are observing it.  The opposite is raga and its pleasant.  When you experience raga your reaction should not be, “oh I want more of that. I like that.” That’s not how you respond. You have to have an equal stance of how you observe both of them.

So to sum those two parts up…apathy is coming, no question, and you are observing it from an equal, neutral stance.  That’s what Samasthithi is: its observing from a neutral place.

3) Apathy truly is a strange condition and you have to be careful because you could translate apathy as vairagya (detachment) or indifference. Apathy can look like equanimity. You can subtly be pulled by apathy and go into not caring and believe that you are detaching in a positive way. DANGER. What you really need to do is reach a place of clarity, a more pure observation around the experience of not caring. That’s taking the stance of equanimity towards apathy.

Joy: Yes. I see what you’re saying and you got me!  I feel like I’m tipping over to the left side of DANGER zone.

tittibhasana nandi

In 2009 David and Joy toured around southern India to film A Guide to the Primary Series

David: Exactly. You said this to me the other day, which I thought was interesting…You said, ”I hope I can ride this through to the other side and that I can care about my practice enough until I can start to really care about it again.”

You can only get very limited mileage out of a statement like that.

With any any one of the 5 klesas (obstacles), and apathy being one of them, that you really can’t get to a powerful place with you will pay for and your practice will be compromised.  I’m saying you cannot be apathetic towards your practice for long stretches of time and continue to maintain the quality of your practice that you might presently enjoy. And what’s worse once you realize that you care again you can not easily get back to that level that you once enjoyed.

Joy: I read this Ted Talk on Apathy and the lecturer, Dave Meslin, was so clear in saying that humans are apathetic because of obstacles.  Which is what your saying but it means I have to really nail down what my obstacles are and partially its that the postures are really challenging and demanding so that leads me to think that I need to reconfigure how I approach some of these asanas so that I actually can get some pleasure or joy from them…but then I think I’m not supposed to get joy from them that I’m supposed to be getting something else…what do you say to that? Because the enjoyment level of Eka Pada Kapotasana is not too high.  Sorry I’m a hard student.

David: What am I supposed to say?  Argue for your limitations and they are yours. No one is forcing you to do those postures. So you either have to work it out and learn how to enjoy them more or decide that enjoyment is not a priority. Or stop doing it. Or find another way to enjoy it.

I want to give you this model that might help.

So you have the 5 sheaths.

1) physical sheath

2) energetic sheath

3) mind sheath

4) intelligence sheath

5) bliss sheath

Normally that model is used hierarchically.  Like you’re supposed to go from the physical to the bliss sheath.  Like that’s the progression of yoga.  You pass through each of them until you get to pure enjoyment…the stage of bliss…ANANDA.  But I’m giving you a totally different idea of how to look at them. I’m giving you the percent. What if it was actually a percentage…20/20/20/20/20%?

So when you said, “enjoyment.” There’s confusion about enjoyment.  What if its 20% enjoyment or bliss?  It puts it in perspective. What if only 20% of bliss is of value?

So Eka Pada Bakasana A. That posture makes you strong. Whether you are successful at it or not…you get strong physically.  And when we talk about strong we are talking about physical benefits, digestion, skeletal, muscular, respiratory benefits.  And so in some ways you can go right through the 20% of each sheath and find reasons to care about the asana.  You can care about it at a  20% physical level. Maybe you don’t have to get any mental benefits, intelligence, bliss, etc…its just pure physical asana.

And what a glorious posture!

Because if you really try in Eka Pada Bakasana A YOU WILL BREATHE!  And in that sense prana will flow. Nadi channels will be squeezed, juiced, opened and cleansed.  Or think of what happens when you apply mental energy to Eka Pada Bakasana A? It takes a tremendous amount of mental power to hold it together and try it. Again benefits.

Joy: This helps.

David: That’s good. There’s a certain intelligence required from a student to comprehend this model of the sheaths, to synthesize this kind of network of possibilites, to understand what each asana gives you. And you need to be able to reason with yourself. To say, “This is hard. This is hard in general for my body or the left side is even harder then the right side. Or seeing that you’ve had a full tank of gas up until Natarajasana and now I don’t want to do this posture!”  You have to notice and then you have to reason it through and keep a perspective on it.

Joy: I think one of the hardest parts for me is to really let go and be honest with whether or not I’m really trying my best.

David: Clearly you don’t think you are.  In fact you think you don’t care.

I’ll tell you something Joy. Partially it comes down to being a tough son of a bitch and exerting your will over your emotions.  Daily.

I do think its why the BKS Iyengars’ are so few because there are so few people who resolve the stage of apathy without losing half or more of their practice because by the time you realize that apathy stole your practice permanently you have more limits to work with now.  That is not entirely negative.

Joy: How is that not entirely negative?

(Joy’s eyebrows are fully raised at this moment.)

David: I read the TED Talk article too.

And he brought up the myth of the hero and how unrealistic the model of the hero is and how ineffective it is for us to really draw upon and use in our lives. Its not realistic that we are going to be the hero, overcome all the odds and get all the good stuff in the end.  And what the article says is that what victory really looks like…is messy and full of compromise.

What I want for myself, for you and for all the other students to understand is that to come through your life with some core practice in place, some kind of mature expression in practice, is beautiful and enough.

It won’t look like the storybook hero’s journey.

It can lack advanced asana and yet have so much value and play such an important role in your life.  And it can positively influence your life on every level.  Because stay with your wobbly version long enough and eventually you do win through to the essential aspects of hatha yoga.  Your practice can give the 20% of all of those things I mentioned in the 5 kosha model–, physical, mental, pranic health, intelligence, and bliss…those things can happen even if you aren’t doing 2nd, or 3rd or 4th series when you’re 75 years old.

Joy: Okay. So then here’s my tactile question.  There’s a specific pose where all of this apathy comes up.  So what do I do to overcome it? I need more skill.  To the wall? props?

David: Maybe to the wall—ie to the steps in the progression.   Its interesting that klesha is called affliction and egoism is one of the kleshas. To me the wording of it-to be in an afflicted state is significant.   There is an implication of possession, as though you are ‘not yourself’, you are afflicted, clouded.    And this means that you have to pull yourself out of being possessed or afflicted by egoism, or attachment to pleasure, fear, etc.

To be subject to activated kleshas means that you are robbed of a skillful response to the situation.   This is true for each of the five klseshas-  Egoism or dvesa or raga.  If you are robbed of a skillful response,  you can’t think properly about how to approach doing the posture—you are robbed of logic, reasoning and creativity.

Joy: That’s interesting because that’s what happens. I freak out.  I panic. There is no clarity.

David: Yes so you have to refuse to go to that place, pull back and reclaim your equanimity so that you can problem solve creatively and rationally.   And then you go to the asana principles, your check list comes out and you find out where does your work breakdown…you start at the very beginning and find out where it doesn’t work.

At some point during one of our practices I heard you say, “I’m getting impatient. I’m getting ahead of the steps.”  Even with the most advanced asana if you go through it step by step, you will find that every step is satisfying—even the most basic, beginning step that is the farthest from the final expression of the posture.    You will find something engaging and valuable at each step if you are not falling into a deflated or inflated ego . If you are really present you will enjoy that challenging posture at every phase.

You know what I’m talking about right?

Joy: No.

(David raises his arms. He points. He stamps his feet into the earth.)

David: Joy!! It’s a return to the amazing study of Samsthithi, the single asana, and all the principles of the foundation, central axis, the art of extension…and us humans are so fortunate that we each have these asanas that present formidable puzzles for us to tackle.

Joy: Yes and what you said to me the other day in the car helped and I know this is true for all persons working on their own specific challenging, impossible series…You said, “Joy this series was designed to show you apathy.”  And that helped me. And its true and that’s what I’m in battle with right now.

David: And to come up against something so hard that the automatic response it evokes is to give up and not care and to not care that you don’t care. That has the potential to show you a lot about yourself.  And just think about this—- how many things in your day are truly so difficult that they throw you up against your own apathy so explicitly?  We are blessed.

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