You think Times Square knows how to throw a happening? Well, you ain’t seen anything yet. The fiestas in Spain are a party worth attending. They generally take place in late summer. In our village life, August is the hottest time of the year and this celebration is a welcome respite from the dog days.
When I participate in the fiestas each year, I am reminded of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.18:
Prakasha kriya stithi silam bhutendriyatmakam bhogapavargartham drsyam, which translates as:
Life is here for us to enjoy, or to use for freedom from suffering…
Just before fall in Spain, the grapes require patience. They are not quite ready for picking and the farmer’s work comes to a halt until the harvest. The weather does its job of final ripening and villagers need to hang around or… have a party!
…The body, senses, brain, as well as our ability to feel peaceful, excited and sleepy are all here for our enjoyment, or for our awakening.
The festival is an old tradition in Spain. Ian Gibson, in Federico Garcia Lorca’s Biography writes about the poet’s fascination and immersion in village life:
“My whole childhood was centered on the village. Sheppards, fields, sky, solitude. Total simplicity. I’m often surprised when people think the things in my work are daring improvisations of my own, a poet’s audacities. Not at all. They’re authentic details… an approach to life in a simple, straightforward fashion. Looking and listening.” Federico Garcia Lorca
BKS Iyengar translates our Sutra 2.18 as follows:
“Nature, its three qualities (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and its evolutes (the elements, mind, sense of perception an organs of action) exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation.”
The organization of the typical village festival begins with the Festeras. Each year, a dozen or so teenagers and a few senior members of the community are selected. Being a Festera is a bit like being a homecoming queen or king. You spend the year planning, organizing, and creating decorations for the weeklong extravaganza called the fiesta. As I write, it is early morning (7 AM); the sun has not yet looked out over the edge of the mountains and the fireworks, boom, boom, boom, are going off. These explosions are lit by the chosen Festeras and they remind the villagers that life is short and the festival has begun. Everyone, the cherry bomb shouts, stay awake and love every minute.
The last line of our yoga teaching states that Nature is here for our enjoyment or our emancipation. Even though there is an “or” in the lesson, it is my opinion that one does not preclude the other. The yogic practice heightens our awareness of pleasure and pain. We realize through direct experience, that both sensations arise in our daily existence. For me, the fruit of a sustained yoga practice is the delightful ability to enjoy life when it is pleasurable and to free oneself from increased suffering when pain arises.
Iyengar, in his book Light on the Yoga Sutras, teaches us that existence has three qualities. In Sanskrit these qualities are called the gunas. There are three gunas and there names are sattva, rajas, and tamas. If I were to describe these qualities using the ripening grapes as an example, I would say:
The very ripest grape represents the state of sattva; it is perfectly sweet and ready to eat. This ripeness came about from the plants urge to grow, rajas. If the grape were to stay perfectly ripe for a sustained period of time, without change, it could not be a real grape; it could only be plastic. A real grape continues to ripen until the quality of tamas takes over and the sweetness begins the process of decay or transformation. The decay or tamasic state is integral to our lifecycle. Without the decay, the grape would never fall to the earth and make a fertile bed for its seed. The new plant would never be able to grow.
The qualities of rajas, tamas and sattva are also illustrated in the first three words of our sutra 2.18
1. Prakasha (brilliance or splendor) is an example of sattva.
2. Kriya (study or investigation) is an example of rajas.
3. Stithi (resting stillness) is an example of tamas.
According to the yogic philosophy of the sutras, life, and every aspect of life, cycles through the three gunas. Life regularly exhibits qualities of brilliance, self-reflection, and stillness. The festivals in Spain ritualize these three qualities so we can experience the entirety of ourselves in one big extravaganza. It is important to experience and be aware of all aspects of life. The practice prevents us from resisting change. Change may be uncomfortable but is part of our ripening and it is crucial to our lives.
The activities of the fiesta range from feasting to fireworks to bull running. Kriya (self-study) occurs during the races, performances, and in the organization of the intricacies of the festival. Prakasha (brilliance) is personified in the celebratory aspect of the party like fireworks and decorations. And stithi (silence) is palpable during the solemn processions.
The solemn procession is one of my favorite parts of the fiesta. To me, the barefoot walk creates a ritualized microcosm of the big picture that is life. During the procession, villagers carry a designated Saint out of the church and walk his or her image through the streets. There is candlelight and a most lovely brass band…. sort of New Orleans funeral style. The event is a mix of mythology, music, and walking meditation. I truly enjoy the dark streets, filled with silent friends. We use our bodies to reflect. I truly feel alive when I witness these old ways. They connect me directly to our small town, it’s medieval heritage and present day communal life.
opens and shuts
like a fan.
Over the olive grove
Is a sunken sky
And a dark rain
Of cold evening stars."
Federico Garcia Lorca
This year, when they opened the church for the removal of Saint Roch (the patron Saint of dogs and protector against the plague) from his niche, I noticed how similar this practice is to the daily puja in India. How similar it is to the Brahman opening the door of the temple so the god can be seen. The ritual provides an opportunity to dive into the invisible world of the imagination. The ritual brings a symbolic life into the statue. We can identify and merge with the qualities of the illustrated divinity, allowing for reflection, self-study, and ultimately the transformation that comes with a devotional life.
“I love the countryside, I feel myself linked to all my emotions. My oldest childhood memories have a flavor of the earth. The meadows, the fields have done wonders for me.” Federico Garcia Lorca
I can see how the solemn procession also reminds me of our sutra and how our skills on the mat are tools to free us. We can take ourselves out of our own niche, walk the streets, and come alive. The need for emancipation or freedom can be resolved simply by calling upon our beautiful practice.
Everyone in the village has a part to play in the fiesta. If you are not a Festera you might be the family of one: siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles abound. There are tourists, like me, who are welcome to join in; there are countless musicians, bar owners, policeman, and cleaning crews, all with a role to play. It is not uncommon to see wheelchairs, babies, teens, and middle-agers all together, all the time. The village works like an organism. It feels as if one lives in a castle with the stone streets that wind this way and that, housing the royalty that is you.
But unique to village life, the royalty is economically diverse. The barman lives right next to the physician and the schoolteacher right next to the police. There is no separation between the accommodations of the plumber, the lawyer or the hairdresser. I love this symbiosis. It creates diversity and an appreciation of ones contribution to the whole beyond the value of the paycheck. It seems to me, the most valued characteristics in a village are those associated with being loving, helpful, thoughtful and kind.
Here is what Lorca had to say about his first visit to New York
“It’s the spectacle of the worlds money and all it’s splendor, it’s mad abandon, and it’s cruelty. There’d be no use in my trying to express in words the immense tumult of voices, cries, people dashing, hither and dither, lifts, all engaged in the poignant. Dionysian exaltation of money. Here you see the typist with fabulous legs that we have all seen in so many films, the cheery bellboy winking and chewing gum, and your pale individual with his collar up to the throat timidly holding out his hand and begging for five cents. This is where I got a clear idea of what a huge mass of people fighting to make money is really like. The truth is that it is an international war with just a thin veneer of courtesy.” Federico Garcia Lorca
Going back to our Sutra 2.18, Patanjali reminds us that all of nature is here to serve the seer. How can I use this moment for enjoyment or freedom? When an experience of tension or a feeling of darkness arises, reaction can occur. As yogi’s we can bring mindfulness to the moment and avoid reaction, cultivating the skill of response. When we take the tools of our practice into hand we can:
1. Manage the feelings associated with the full spectrum of life. For example, this is a difficult emotion but like pleasure, I know it too will pass.
2. Liberate our actions from the habits we developed as coping mechanisms when we were still immature. These mechanisms include the proverbial fight, flight or freeze response.
Then the bulls arrive.
I don’t know exactly how I feel about the bulls, or at least I don’t think I can put it in a single paragraph. In America our treatment of animals is so corrupt. Bull-running in Spain originally began in the 13th century as a way of corralling beasts headed for the ring. They were run through the streets of Paloma, Spain toward their demise. Today, the running of the bulls is a time-honored tradition. The run conjures images of man against beast and the dominion of humans over nature. It includes all of the required characteristics: bravery, creativity, and agility without a fight to the death. Today the bulls are brought in from the countryside and they are set free in the streets. All of the houses are barricaded in cages and the people are behind the bars. The village arrives for the spectacle and the bulls are let out one at a time, taunted by the people while young men step out to show their bravery and skill. To me it is a bit cruel and antiquated. That being said, these bulls have been around the block and they would just stand there and chew cud if it were not for the taunting…. I try to keep an open mind to the value of cultural identity and it’s preservation... but I can’t watch for too long.
"To burn with desire and keep quiet about it, is the greatest punishment we can bring ourselves.” Federico Garcia Lorca
The tradition of the bulls goes back to a time when there was no television, fast cars, or any other adrenaline pumping activities we safely enjoy today. This was a way to come face to face with fear and overcome that fear in front of your community. No bull is killed and from what I hear, other than August, where they are carted from festival to festival, the bulls have a pretty good, long life. So it is what it is. Everyone gathers to watch and in a sense the bulls are the grand finale…except of course for the fireworks, right over-head, loud, and with a bang we finally sleep.
“As I have not worried to be born, I do not worry to die.” Federico Garcia Lorca
Nature is here to offer us experiences of pleasure and pain, always changing, coming and going. Our nature too, is to rise, peak, and fall away. This is described in the yoga sutra and illustrated in the village fiesta with its insistent celebration after a long year of toil before the final rest of winter. As yogis it is good to remember that we can enjoy pleasure when it comes. We can spread our joy to others in neighborly endeavors like the fiestas and we can know, at the same time, change will come, change will come.
According the yoga sutras, life is here for us to enjoy or to use as a to release from our own suffering. And one does not preclude the other.