“In modern art you do not play by the rules, you play with the rules.” Kurt Vonnegut
For me spending time in a small village in Spain provides a sustained opportunity to live simply. This year for the first time, I notice how similar village life in Spain is to the Yogic Discipline of living in Mysore, India. This simple life includes time to read, see, and practice. These are my tools and after years of learning from the worlds’ best yoga teachers, I feel the comfort of going inside to the inner world.
“Gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force.” Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
Siddhartha is the last book we read in the teacher training. Many students have read it previously but the book often hits home after one has practiced the lifestyle required to maintain a sustained yoga practice.
Though Siddhartha and his friend Govinda both find and follow Gotama, the Buddha; only Govinda finds happiness through the Enlightened One's path. Siddhartha like so many of us, needs to find his own way.
My own path is my unique way. I must be able to see the dominant culture from a distance in order to recognize where I am influenced and where my soul longs for something other.
Walter Brueggemann in The Prophetic Imagination says: “…. My accent on imagination has turned out to be exactly correct, for what is now required is that a relatively powerless prophetic voice must find imaginative ways that are rooted in the text but that freely and daringly move from the text toward concrete circumstance.”
Herman Hesse, Siddhartha's author, puts forth many spiritual tenants held within the yoga tradition. In fact, as he was finishing the second half of the book, Hess spent years living in semi-seclusion with the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads in order to know the truths he was trying to share in the story.
His solitude allowed him to use his imagination. The result offers realities that lie beyond the prescribed way of being our culture offers.
Chris and I walk through the village each night. I notice there is no 7-11, no Walgreens, no Starbucks; there is nothing to buy. One is drawn back to nature and as a result to the self. The prevalence of consuming as a way of life is not present in Lliber. Mostly Chris and I read, see, and practice.
“When a person's effort was converted to wage earner, a person became an object. An object of cost and efficiency, an asset…When the public good is replaced with concern for private rights, we substitute a contract for what was a covenant. When this happens we become ordered for scarcity instead of abundance. Time is contracted and we become concerned about speed. Certainty replaces mystery. Perfection replaces fallibility. Individual rights trump the common good.” Walter Brueggemann, The Other Kingdom
In Spain, everyday from 2 -5 PM, it is nap time.
Siddhartha had three skills that sparked his imagination. He treasured and pointed to these tools throughout his life:
1. I can think
2. I can fast
3. I can wait
In the evenings the vineyards are filled with villagers walking their dogs, or one another, arm in arm, silent as the sun sets behind the western mountains and the moon rises in the east. It is simple here. The market comes to town once a week. There is a honey shop, a bodega, a butcher and the bread man. If you do want to buy something new you can. There is a special place to go and purchase it and you really have to think about whether or not you need this new thing because a 21% value added tax increases the cost and goes for the common good.
“Siddhartha listened. He was now listening intently, completely absorbed, quite empty, taking in everything. He felt that he had now completely learned the art of listening.”Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
We listen a lot in the village. The church clock chimes every half hour, twice, in case the farmer in the fields missed a sound the first time around. We hear the birds, the hoopoe, the rooster, the martin and the sparrow. You can hear a donkey bray and the occasional on & off of the pool pump. There might be a car-whir or a voice in the village offering friendship, information, or warning. I find reading to be a kind of listening, listening undisturbed to words, to letters, to the alphabet and giving space to the imagination. There is a biography of Lorca here in the house. I read it almost every time I come.
“He had often heard all this before, all these numerous voices in the river, but today they sounded different. He could no longer distinguish the different voices - the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish voice from the manly voice. They all belonged to each other." Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
Each day here is similar to the next or the last. We practice re-performance of the simple joys in life. We rise, share coffee and silence. I write, he plays guitar, meanwhile the birds come to the pool, the shadows are filled in with sun, the bodies move into the vineyard and across the valley and the ever-changing landscape reveals its unique beauty for the day. One only has to turn to the senses to be freed by them. Liberated through moving into the body and recognizing the magnificence of what is.
“ The lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of indignation, and the groan of the dying. They are all interlocked and interwoven, entwined in a thousand ways.” Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
Each day I practice yoga. The commitment to listening take me on a journey; to use Siddhartha’s language, it takes me to the rivers edge. The place where sensation, emotion, and thought, as they arise, become part of the sound of being.
Tantra, the study of beauty in the yoga tradition, is often described as a tapestry. Just like Hesse talks about the sounds of the world, this rich weaving belies the prevalence of 5 easy tips to make your life better. It implies a sustained presence that can embrace all of the mystery, as when one looks at a finely woven cloth. We wonder how it could have possibly been created and we appreciate the weight, texture and final form of the work. But anyone who weaves, or even crochets, knows that the final form reveals a unity that can only arise as a result of the interlocked and interwoven strings.
The Mat I use in Spain is old, the rug and bag from Mysore and a bygone era. Krishna was the tailor and rugs were 50 rupees, I'm talking way back. Here, like nowhere else in the world, there is no teacher. Just the valley, my mat and me. I notice I am afraid, when there is no class, no group, and yet I begin. The valley spreads out before me and I breathe in.
“ And all the voices, the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil. All of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.” Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
I become more and more fluent in the restraint required to refrain from labeling these arrivals as good or bad, childish or manly. I simply continue to practice the art of listening, of paying attention.
At the end of this passage, Siddhartha hears the entirety of the sound coming together in the sound of Om, which he calls perfection.
Brueggemann continues, “Imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable - a culture in which social order produces enough for all…
I am grateful for this time to slow down. I am grateful for the opportunity to depart from everything and enter myself.
Brueggemann continues, “Acceptance of mystery opens the door to a set of communal disciplines such as time, food, silence and re-performance. These disciplines lead us on a path that begins and ends in mystery. Believing in mystery is the initial act of departure and the doorway to an alternative future. Its an opening to creativity and imagination”
Here is a list of some the books I read last year, I recommend them all.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Tell a Thousand Lies, Rasana Atreya
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
Mislaid Nell, Xink
The Subtle Body, Tias Little
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm
The Shiva Samhita, translated by James Mallinson
The Master and Margherita, Mikhail Bulgakov
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanthi
For the time Being, Annie Dillard
The Other Kingdom, Walter Brueggemann
H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
Delicate Edible Birds, Lauren Groff
The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff
Agnes Martin- Her life and Art, Nancy Pricenthal
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, Amitav Gosh