By Ali Valdez
Yes, and thus, the names of two of my favorite people at last appear ensconced in bold type on the blog. I should just retire now, but I cannot resist finding analogies between these two cultural icons that most would deem ill-suited side by side, awkward and almost offensive bedfellows, and some of the challenges besotting the increasingly ugly turning topic of our times. But thus are the days of the acceleration of dualistic thinking and action across this egg-yolk sticky hybrid of Yoga and West.
For my Facebook friends, you all know that I have been combing fantastically through the book Autography: by Morrissey, the erstwhile lead singer of eighties Mancunian zeitgeist, the Smiths, and equally appealing solo artist with a career straddled across more labels than Madonna on the laps of her respective boy toys. Wow, how not yogic, Ali. Too bad: now buckle in.
It was with profound awe at the genius Dickens’ Bleak House meets 70’s England that I read in lieu of heard about the hardships of his childhood. The irresistibly catchy turns of phrase found in his songs were not hyperbole, but real slices of life cut from the lonely pie of humble and confused beginnings. Tragedy after tragedy, disillusionment after disillusionment continued as leitmotif to this boy turned man with a thorn in his side. Music was his outlet and healing balm, a ministry for himself, the battleship cry for a lost generation of searching souls, a man’s pursuit of meaning when none presented itself as readily obvious.
Know of any yogis who started from a place of humble beginnings, loved being liberated in the practice, lived through some hardships but alas now, at the end of the day, it’s about how many Twitter followers and bikini clad photos on a beach can get clicked as LIKE. You cannot keep the pace of a celebrity and actually be a yogi: the demands pull you in opposite directions at every turn. Take Morrissey off the streets of Manchester, extract him from the Salford Lads’ Club and what do you have, ruminations about desert rats scurrying on the roof with the casual mention that Johnny Depp was once your neighbor.
I haven’t finished the book and I expect it to end strong, but by page 333, the book rages on through a court case so petty and unfortunate I wondered if its bewildering length is a weak tie in to the absurd but tragic trials of the Marquis of Queensbury against his own icon of icons, Oscar Wilde. Two thirds into the book, we are no longer in heart connection, aligned to Morrissey’s vision, but marauded with statistics of billboard debuts, chart toppings, and whose tracks deserved to be number one. The soul now reads circumvented by the luxuries afforded by fame and in a way, we have lost him.
Morrissey embodies celebrity; he cannot avoid this and we do not fault him. But now yogis want to be famous, too. Celebrity has its place in our society. I love celeb yogis doing cool stuff advocating a kinder, gentler place in the world through promotion of compassion towards animals (like SPM), serving humbly in the margins, and mostly helping get the message of yoga out into the world so that through some circuitous path, I get the trickledown of the curious that might, after thumbing through Vogue, want to walk into their local studio and experience what this ‘yoga’ thing is all about. But for the charlatans and fame seekers, the memento moris are there through the weaving of karma to which none of us are immune. In his usual perfected lyrics, Morrissey sums it up beautifully in a way I cannot, so I bow to the master and quote him directly, “Fame, fame, fatal fame; it can play hideous tricks on the brain. Still I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy: any day, any day any day.”
Those that seek to perpetually boast their greatness, make their days solely about aggrandizing themselves (From Instagram, with love), and demonstrate no daily concern for others, are also the night keepers counting rats on the roof instead of sheep when they settle down to slumber. But I don’t think there are many like this, as others might suggest. I just think the temptation is there.
Now let’s head inward to my other icon, the blessed Mother Teresa. There is nothing really about that woman that promotes the mentality of “I”, a heart too abundant and mindful of the desperate needs of others to not sacrifice the filling of her own spoon. The churning gyre of the “I” crisis happens silently in a dark room on her knees wrestling from heart with her Almighty God. By day, she was serving food, serving humanity as gestures for serving God.
Ahamkara of the “I” vs. the bhakti of Ishvara Pranidhana.
There is tremendous beauty unfurling in her simple writings: words flowing from a stream of such purity can remain few and yet powerfully effective. Nothing came easy, not even her faith, but then she employed discipline(tapas) and focus (eka grata) to make it through those days; her smile never hurt. Everything about this woman shows the heart of the yogi, its inexhaustible flame, the potential of authentic transformation.
Too bad we didn’t get a picture of her in pincha mayurasana before she passed. I don’t think she got a YJ cover either or 20,000 daffodil-flinging fanatics at the Odeon.
“So within, almost remains unseen” but whose legacy will be greater? I think both have a fair shot for vastly different reasons and vastly different people. But at the end of the day, what’s it going to take to make everyone great at the one thing they choose to do in their life? The discipline of yoga sounds good to me.
The dualistic nature of the acts and lives of Morrissey and Mother Teresa as laid out by me, meet us at our crossroads. I feel the yoga community is starting to suffer because of the division arising from the authenticity of the yoga experience and how people are making money using it and its notoreity. In the West, it is reasonable to expect to study something, learn it well enough and make living from doing it. There is currently a constant bashing of teacher trainings (I complain, too, sorry…) and putting down young people exploring yoga in their way.
I have had a contemplative seated practice for almost the majority of my life and brahmacharya (sex, but not donuts) for most of it as well. I did not start integrating asana with my spiritual practice until my late twenties. I cannot think of how much farther in the practice I could be if I developed both simultaneously for well over three decades.
Props to the young that jump on this train; they practice daily and post how awesome it is (hashtag #yogaeverydamnday) This beautiful group of people are yoga’s greatest advocates, cheerleading for yoga of the coming age. They bring in their friends, some of whom unfortunately shuffle around the lowly Living Social circuit, and poof! now every yoga studio has glow stick night (one of my students leads it and I still totally love her). Everyone wants a piece of the yoga pie and I don’t want to be angry about that; why waste energy? I just want to serve the yoga community in my Sattva way. Period. So please come, and come as you are. I will greet and love you.
Who am I to freak out when people don’t see the world of yoga the way I do? Are there a lot of Christian, middle aged, Mexican, Syrian, English, Irish, Lebanese single mother, well educated, former high tech executive, novelist types on the yoga circuit these days? If so, let’s grab tea. I think that the illusion of distinction and differentiation is part of life, so maybe it’s best to reserve judgment and just focus on being the best you can be to the vision you have for the world, and not just yourself. Pure hearts and authenticity are the two things I won’t compromise on but I’ll let karma sort out the rest while I work on my own.
In a conversation with my beloved teacher, Andrey Lappa, who is from the East and is flummoxed at how people do hot yoga which is not yoga in his opinion, the analogy I give is this:
“you cannot be standing at the finish line of a marathon getting angry at the guy who is at the shop still trying to pick out his running shoes.”
The fads will tire; perceived profanations will break off into their only lithe enchantments, but the epically eternal flame of yoga will outlast them all. Some of the currently standing yoga studios however will not.
Much of what yoga is today is not my thing. I don’t want to take a class with hardly any teacher, preferring my own practice at home. This is not a slight to the often criticized younger generation of teachers. Are they going to make the world’s best teachers? Today? Probably not. But someday? They are probably just about like the new guy freshly minted with a college degree. They bring energy and enthusiasm to the job but require onboarding, mentoring and a commitment to expand their learning, practically and academically. Two hundred, five hundred, now two hundred, three hundred and five hundred are so arbitrary and fault should lie on the shoulders of YA alone for the three headed beast everyone is seeking to slay with gilded pen. But YA is now demonstrating leadership (arguably too late in some circles) but that’s not my problem.
But just like there are community colleges, state universities and the venerable Ivy league, education remains education and people go where they can when they can. Granted, the quality of education across the span of yoga teacher training offerings range from community college to Ivy league, it’s what the student does with it, the integrity and rigor they apply to their craft, becomes their prerogative. Why focus all your energy pointing fingers at everything around you that is wrong while holding yourself apart from it? Dualistic thinking creates suffering or kleshas.
Study ancient yoga, a male dominated practice, and respectfully, tight ass Lululemon pant wearing or not, none of us would be invited to that party. I am only a disconcerted malcontent about the yogic state of the union when I take the world view that somehow something is wrong: as if packs of Bikram protégés are single handedly undermining cosmic consciousness one dolorous :90 script speak at a time.
When asked the question: if you could invite any three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be? I would love to invite Jesus, but apparently, according to someone somewhere, that is a sign of something not positive. Whatever. Let’s take the obvious out of the equation and here sits Steven Patrick Morrissey and Mother Teresa, and an empty chair to the unknown specter. I am not sure what to serve (it has to be vegetarian) but who would be my third guest. Maybe I should be open to receiving anyone who wishes to come and join the conversation; holding firm that there is something new to learn, to celebrate the art of respectful debate when disagreements arise. It’s my party, and I have duties as hostess to make it meaningful and memorable. So please, you are invited. Come, take a seat at my yoga table. The flame remains lit and all are welcome.
NOTE: All songs quoted or referenced are written by Morrissey and Marr (Rough Trade/Sire) and are as follows (plus available for download). “Frankly, Mr Shankly”, “Cemetery Gates,” and “Boy with a Thorn in His Side” all appear on the “Queen is Dead”. “Reel Around the Fountain” from the eponymous, The Smiths.
Morrissey’s excellent autobiography is available on Penguin Classics and can be ordered on amazon.com