The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Last year, in June, I organized a yoga challenge for academics (see details here). It grew from a yoga challenge I’d had with two friends for a few years running each June. This year, I was traveling and didn’t get myself together in time to arrange a challenge for June so I decided to do one of the ubiquitous Instagram yoga challenges. I chose one run by Carmen Aguilar of The Lab, a studio in Chicago. It’s called the #hipsummerhip challenge and focuses on deep hip opening. I can always use some hip opening (though you’ll see that the second half of the challenge is cray!).

I am hoping to write up some reflections on the challenge once I am done. This post is more thoughts on Instagram itself and some suggestions on who to follow if you’re interested. I am intimidated yet fascinated by the yoga/Instagram phenomenon. Last year this time I didn’t even know what it was and now I am posting daily. At least, I am this month. The pictures to be found here simultaneously challenge and support my faith in humanity. Yes, the level of narcissism is higher than I want to imagine is real (and just when I think I have a handle on this and accept it, some instagrammer pushes beyond that limit of my imagination). But, the sheer creativity and courage to be found on this social platform redeems it as a viable medium for me. Also, it’s part of my new research project, so some of this really is research. Really.

Ok, so the yoga part isn’t so much part of the research. But it’s hard to look away. And in watching those I follow, I found that the challenges inspired yogis to practice regularly, if only to be able to post a picture on time. Granted, one can spend the time allotted to practice looking at pictures of other people practicing, but that’s fodder another post. Continue reading The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Five Tattvas

Just before I started my year of no, I committed to joining a great group of yogis in writing for a new online project, Five Tattvas. As described on the site:

Five Tattvas recognizes the need for what we call embodied philosophical living.  Embodied philosophy is not philosophy of the intellect alone, but is an integrated, non-dualistic living wisdom. It is a decision to live with mindfulness, insight, attention and intention – one day at a time. Drawing on the perennial wisdom of the wider yoga and wisdom traditions – largely from the East – we seek to prescribe practices, activities, and modes of living that actualize liberating patterns of thought and behavior. These new patterns break us out of the habits that continuously cause us pain and suffering and reorient our lives in empowering ways.

I will be one of the yogis writing for the Five Tattvas “Embodied Philosophy” blog weekly. My first post is already up! It’s titled “I’m not there yet” and it focuses on lengthening the space between stimulus and reaction, something I’ve touched on here at calmstrength before (see “Brilliant Honesty”). Here’s an excerpt:

But the man who is self-controlled,
who meets the objects of the senses
With neither craving nor aversion,
Will attain serenity at last.
                      – Bhagavad Gita 2.64

I like this passage from the Gita. It’s aspirational in a way that seems out of my grasp, yet reminds me, at the same time, to not be so grasping. Even to “like” it, is to fall into the very response that it warns against: craving (raga) and aversion (dvesha). Just envisioning what this would be like is difficult for me. What would it mean to meet each sense object, each next thing, each past thing, with equanimity?

I’m not there yet.

Please head over to Five Tattvas to see the rest of my post and the other pieces by my co-bloggers. I’m excited about this new project, though concerned about blogging twice (!) a week. But since I’ll be saying no to so much else this year, perhaps it’ll all work itself out…. (If I think it will, it will…right?)

Banner from the Five Tattvas site

The Year of No

Hello, it’s been a while. Mostly due to a research trip I took to Jamaica. I thought I would be able to keep up with all my usual activities while there, including blogging, but soon found that for various reasons – archival research, family time, unreliable internet, heat, a wholly different pace of life – I had to start letting all non-urgent activity go undone. It was a good lesson for me in prioritizing, and also in facing the fact that I do too much.

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Way at the beginning of my trip, when I thought I had all the time in the world. Sadly, this was my one and only beach trip for two months.

Unfortunately, because I came back to all those non-urgent activities waiting for me, some of which had become urgent in the meantime, I haven’t had time to reassess my priorities while here. Often people say in such situations it’s sink or swim, but for the past two weeks I’ve felt like I’ve been in a perpetual state of floundering, neither sinking nor swimming and certainly not the easy float I’d come to know while in Jamaica.

An aside: Floating isn’t a universal way of life in Jamaica (much as the popular media may have you believe it is). It’s just that I was there for a single purpose and so didn’t have to contend with the distractions of real life during those two months.

So, I mention all the above not to brag (though, feel free to think more highly of me for what I could fashion as a single-minded dedication to research) but to bring up this question of how much we have on our plates. I am speaking even more specifically of how much work we have on our plates. Academics – active and productive ones anyway – tend to have several projects going at once. Most of them we do because we have some passion for the work involved and are invested in the expected outcome. A few (if we are lucky, only a few) we do because some force outside ourselves (the job market, the tenure track, the department chair) decreed we should. Let’s ignore the latter for a moment and look critically at the former. How much of your passion do you really have to pursue right now? Right this minute? How much of it can you pursue? That is, do you have the resources – time, energy and attention being the most important ones here – to do so many of them justice?

I’ve been on sabbatical for this past year, so I’ve had the luxury of indulging in primarily what I’m passionate about (including more yoga!) but now it’s summer and I can see the end of this freedom fast approaching. That imminent change, along with my experience while in Jamaica, has prompted me to declare June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016 “the year of no.” I plan to say no to as many requests for my time, energy and attention as possible.

“No” is a lot more difficult than “yes,” more difficult even than “no, but…” There’s so much wrapped up in “no,” so many unknowns, whereas yes seems paradoxically clear cut. I’ve already had the opportunity to decline a request this week and I opted for the “no, but…” escape. Baby steps. I still, however, have very high hopes of practicing saying “no” for the next twelve months. The hardest part, I have found in just the four days so far, is saying no to myself. Reminding myself that just because a project should be done, does not mean that I should be the one to do it. Wish me luck. I’ll occasionally let you know how I’m doing (because I’m still saying yes to blogging!)