Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Character Dis-armoring

When people are born they are soft and supple when they perish they are hard and rigid
--TTC ch.76

In this verse, rigidity and stiffness are associated with death while softness and suppleness are associated with life.  This comparison can be interpreted literally or metaphorically, as can virtually all of the TTC.  The obvious literal interpretation is that toward the end of his span, man is often physically rigid. Muscles, joints, and tendons are stiff from disuse. Bones have turned brittle, more likely to shatter than bend at a fall.  Certainly after death this is the case. 

We could likewise discuss spiritual death.  We could say that people are mentally or behaviorally inflexible towards life's end.  Their experiences have often closed them off from the ultimate variety to be found in life, and they dwell in the pain of the past errors or in the staid comfort of habit.  Near unto death, many humans generally will have ceased learning and growing.  Opinions have become fixed, attitudes and habits likewise ingrained. 

One might be inclined to infer a cause-effect relationship here.  Old age brings hardness, brittleness, and stiffness, and eventually death.  In the U.S., for example, it's fairly common to observe middle-aged citizens who can scarcely walk unassisted, and even with assistance, move rather slowly.  Contrast this with a common depiction of elderly Chinese citizens, who are often vital and active well into their twilight years, having practiced Tai Chi and Chi Gung.

One of the author's worst fears was once the long decline into old age, and the suffering that often result from progressive loss of health.  Since discovering yoga, I know that this is a foolish fear.  Stiffness, pain, and brittleness need not herald death's approach.  In fact, flexibility training will likely will do much to forestall death and the chronic suffering that often signals it.  Understanding this, is there any surprise that women tend to outlive men on average?

I've already written an essay about the great benefits I derived from adopting yoga into my fitness practice.  For most of my adolescent and adult years, fitness was predominantly geared towards strength training.  While I acknowledged decline in my ability to flex and bend limbs over time, I ignored the symptoms until they became too painful to ignore.  Yoga's benefit is that it requires limbs to act in concert with each other in equilibrium.  Some of the postures can be navigated for a time with strength alone, but this is rather exhausting. Moreover, difficulty in yoga indicates regions of the body where stiffness has taken hold.  When one experiences fatigue in yoga, the cause is often not weakness, but stiffness and unbalanced muscle groups.  This is a common affliction in the western culture, where one's ability to lift and push is prized, but one's ability to reach, stretch, and bend is generally not.  As a result bodily abductors are exercised more than the adductors; consequently,  yoga is difficult and wearisome.

Yoga taught me that I bear stress in the hips, back, and upper legs.  Through sustained practice, I've located several pockets of muscular rigidity in those regions, so I'm now in an ongoing campaign to banish such rigidity wherever I encounter it.  My practice has also made me more aware of any difficulty experienced in movement so that I am more likely to notice it whenever bodily movement betrays it.  In theory, the body should be balanced across its central axis, the spinal column.  I should have the same range of motion on one side as on the other.  Granted, the left and right halves of the body are not identical; practices and habits will have modified the natural balance between left and right hemispheres for better or worse.  I am developing a practice intended to bring the left and right halves of my body into closer balance and harmony.

The deeper connection is that evolution generally flows from within to without, and here is the reasoning:
     1) Our bodily condition is largely the sum of decisions, attitudes, actions, habits, and practices over a lifetime.  I've seen it written that the only true exercise of so-called "free will" is the object of one's attention.  At any moment, we are free to choose which objects to attend with our mental faculties, again for better or worse.  We are conscious of those objects to we we apply our attention, and we tend to develop and evolve "in the direction" dictated by our consciousness.  Our power of will is exerted exclusively on those objects in our sphere of attention.  We co-create our existence around those objects in our sphere of attention, and this is how we exercise our vaunted free will.  Consequently, it becomes very important to exercise some judiciousness over the objects we allow access to our power of will and sphere of attention.  Maintaining improper focus can have negative effects over a lifespan, as we might imagine.
     2) Any inflexibility or stiffness in the body therefore has its likely cause not in the body (barring congenital or acquired defect), but in our non-material essence.  Therapy is a long, drawn-out process aimed at locating the source of such internal causes and curing them through some sort of cathartive process/method.  What should be apparent, is that non-material causes cannot be remedied through material means.
     3) In quantum mechanics, there is a principle known as time-reversal symmetry (TRS).  TRS essentially posits that processes can be undone by reversing in space-time the process of creation.  I don't know how to reverse the flow of time, but I do know how to undo stiffness through the practice of yoga.  The logical consequence, is that by undoing the material effect, you can confront and dispel the cause of stiffness, which is ultimately non-material (mental/spiritual) in nature.

This is still a work in process, so I can't sell you a DVD yet, but let's determine if it makes sense from a logical perspective.  Let's suppose that somewhere in our consciousness, there is a bastion of rigidity, based in belief, attitude, habit, or practice.  It acts in such a way to diminish our physical capacity to act/move (i.e. pain).  We do not need to know the precise mechanism by which the illness acts.  What we do know are the features of our experience which attempt to inform us that we are suffering.  In response, we engage in activity to counteract the effect of the purported illness.  The question we need answered is whether the activity performed is sufficient to remedy the effect of the illness  -- not simply to negate the effect, but to eradicate the cause.  The root cause was clearly sufficient to create a physical manifestation of pain.  Can our response defeat the cause?  Not directly.  Our response in this case is physical, corresponding to the effect.

Pain is a signal of an unhealthy condition, it can be understood as a cry for help or attention, which as you may recall, is the source of consciousness.  By stimulating the pain response, a phenomenon attempts to enter your consciousness and receive attention.  By engaging in measures to alleviate the pain, you answer the call for help.   By performing behaviors to address the pain-effect you now demonstrate self-compassion or self-love.   By sustaining those measures, you move toward wholeness and health.  The decision to change behavior is a non-material response to address the non-material cause of the pain.  So long as the behavior persists, reason for the pain has no longer cause to persist.

In the film, "The Matrix" is a scene where a young adept is bending spoons with the power of his mind.  He admonishes Neo, "You cannot bend the spoon, it is impossible.  Instead try to understand the truth that there is no spoon, then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."  Reflecting on this and the opening quote I now suspect that "bending the self" is not metaphysical advice but practical counsel.  We all enter this world soft and tender, pliable and supple.  It is only through experience and our response to it that we acquire the attributes of death.  Perhaps all we require is sustained training to return to the primal state of suppleness and softness in order to cultivate life and greater power as suggested in the film.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jewelry Ensemble

"Book of Changes"

An hexagram from the Book of Changes consists of an inner trigram superposed by an outer trigram.  Each of the hypercubes comprising the sculpture represents all eight discrete trigrams.  Thus, the sculpture simultaneously depicts the 64 hexagrams.  The jewel at center represents the querent.

"Pieces of Eight"

"Heaven's Heart"

"Three Faces of the Cube"

Vesica Piscis features prominently on this representation of the Tree of Life superimposed on the Flower of Life depicted in cubic form.

"Jörmungandr" (working title)

One strand, formed into a loop, re-formed into three orthogonal loops, thus creating a sacred space or consciousness.


"Therefore there is in the Changes the Great Primal Beginning. This generates the two primary forces. The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams. The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action." (Commentary on I Ching, tr. Wilhelm and Baynes 1967:318-9)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011



how deep is your water?

how hot burns your flame?

how far range your heavens?

how curves your terrestrial frame?

how empty the void within, which contains?

Inspired by Tao-te Ching verse 54

Big Bang (femto-seconds later)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tantric Pilgrimage

She is as Mecca, an enticing, engaging, enervating journey at which destination comfort and solace are found and passion sated. Hers is a delightful temple of splendor at which priestesses submit to every fantasy as I attend their Goddess.

Her lacquered talons clutch and tear at my flesh with every rapturous wave, shudder, and pulse of Her taut, muscular, dewy, mahogany form. Whispers, whimpers, wailing, flailing, commanding, demanding, pleading. Then...silence, as She receives my entreaty and releases Her blessing, and I am awash in the light of Her glory.

Opaque pools of calm strength and wisdom gaze upon me with approval and satisfaction, and bated desire. We then abide wordlessly, Deity and devotee, each affirming commitment. Communion renews my devotion to Her, as it satisfies my soul and restores my essence.

Original Handcrafted Jewelry

Fashioned from copper, hematite, obsidian, amethyst, hemp, and wood; they combine naturally-occurring organic and inorganic materials that together are believed to harness Prana -- life energy.  
(reference Wilhelm Reich (late) on Orgone for more information)

Metals act as conduits for Heaven's ethereal, electric energy.
Crystals, wood, and hemp channel Earth's energy of magnetism, gravitation, and formation.
Hand-fashioning supplies Human energy and power of creativity.

(Each of the photographs in this post depict original artwork by the author)
Triple-stranded, triple-loop ring
Nested hypercubic pendant, obsidian crystal,
wooden beads, hempen cord

Choker necklace of 20 hypercubes,
hematite spheres,wooden beads, on hempen cord

Detailed view of choker necklace

Triple-stranded bracelet

Small hypercubic pendant, hematite sphere,
wooden beads, hempen cord

Complete ensemble

Release Your Psoas

The author is an avid inline skater, and has skated inlines since 1991 both indoors and street, after having learned to skated indoors on quads in childhood.  Around 2006, however, I noticed that certain skating moves were difficult-to-impossible for me to perform -- namely any movements involving deep squats and kneebends.  In recognition of this dis-ability, I began doing stretching exercises (yoga--though I didn't realize it at the time) on my bed at night to loosen my hip muscles.  Though well-intentioned, my efforts were unfocused and clumsily executed. By that I mean that there were easier and more effective ways to achieve what I had set out to accomplish, but I wouldn't learn that for several years yet.  Skating was not the only activity that betrayed my dis-ability; physical intimacy often entails movements and positions that utilize the hips (go figure), and full effectiveness was hampered by this.  Beyond that, vigorous sexual activity would sometimes produce back discomfort and pain a day or two later, as men will reluctantly attest.

I can recall the origins of chronic intermittent lower back pain, experienced primarily in the right lower back.  In the early '00s (after the dot-com collapse) I was on a date in Midtown Atlanta, and had used my company's controlled-access parking garage to avoid being overcharged for parking.  After the event was over, I realized that I'd left my parking pass in the car and that my date and I were locked out of the garage.  Without going into a lot of detail, I entered the garage at the 2nd-story level and was able to get to the car so we could leave.  I believe that the pain surfaced on that night.

Some time in 2007 I made the personal acquaintance of a physical therapist.  On informing her to the pain in my back and the dis-ease in the hips, she recommended a series of stretches to enhance flexibility and alleviate the pain. The stretches did provide some degree of relief, but I was not completely diligent at performing the exercises due to the lack of structure and the lack of a clear connection between the exercises and relief.  Sometimes the pain would subside, other times not.

A motorcycle was my primary mode of transportation during the years I was a graduate student (2007 - '09).  On multiple occasions, the back pain flared-up after a ride. I mistakenly attributed the flare-ups simply to wearing a heavy knapsack while riding.
In the summer following grad school, I resumed skating but was still plagued by inflexibility through the hips which prevented me from free motive expression.  Skating was starting to become routine and less-satisfying than ever before.  I sensed that my skating, understood as performance art, was "trapped in a box."  In response to this, I thought of different ways to make it fun again.  Toward this end, I endeavored to master a particular skating maneuver called "side surfing" whereby the skater moves with feet pointing at 12 and 6 o'clock, with respect to the direction of motion.  I practiced flexibility exercises using the lines on the linoleum floor to align and space my feet.  I also used a wood plank in the same way, with the added benefit of it serving as a platform to simulate the dynamic balance required during skating.  

I reached a crucial juncture when I began to use online resources (Wikipedia, etc.) to study the musculature of the hips.  In this way I learned that the source of my discomfort and inflexibility was in the hip flexor muscles.

Arguably, the most important (as it regards this discussion) of the hip flexors are the iliacus and the psoas major, collectively termed the iliopsoas or 'inner hip muscles.'  Flexors are responsible for pulling the knees toward the chest; without the iliopsoas, it is impossible the raise the knees above the hips from a seated position.   Here, I achieved a breakthrough because illustrations on the website depicted how the psoas major connects from the hipbones to the 5 lumbar vertebrae and the last thoracic vertebra.  At last I'd located the source of my back pain. Knowledge of the mechanism of the pain encouraged and empowered me to seek targeted solutions for dispelling it.  
I also learned that the specific type of muscle fiber composing the iliopsoas was particularly prone to pathological contraction often resulting from from disuse.  
Persons engaging in a largely sedentary lifestyle (office workers, e.g.) will need to exercise their flexors regularly to prevent this muscular shortening.

In the process of searching for exercises to lengthen the flexors, yoga quickly and inadvertently surfaced as the clearest path to returning to health. Per Yoga Journal, "The psoas, a bridge linking the trunk to the legs, is critical for balanced alignment, proper joint rotation, and full muscular range of motion."  Several skeleto-muscular pathologies can emerge from a shortened iliopsoas:

If the iliopsoas and other hip flexors are tight, they pull down and forward on the pelvis, which tilts the pelvis forward and compresses the lower back. Picture a man standing with the front of his pelvis tilting forward and his tailbone lifting. To stand upright, he has to overarch his lower back. Anatomically, this is called hyperextension; commonly, it's called "swayback." Prolonged standing or sitting in this position increases pressure on the facet joints of the lower spine, which can contribute to arthritis in those joints.

Curing Back Pain with Yoga: personal testimonial

I'd already identified the hip flexors as a longstanding problem area for myself, and that the right hip was noticeably tighter than the left.  In early February, I found myself doing yoga poses to loosen my hamstrings and groin muscles.  Additionally, i was working on loosening the hips muscles.  Over the previous month or so I'd noticed some improvement in mobility in my skating.  Just before the yoga one evening, I'd warmed up my lower body in the bath.  
There is a posture called Child's Pose, fairly easy in physical complexity and rigor (photo courtesy of Yoga Journal): the magic of this position is the extreme passivity of it.  Gravity does most of the work here; all the practitioner need do is breathe rhythmically and relax; alternately, the arms may be raised to rest on the back for more downward force.  I entered this and remained in it a minute or so, enhancing the stretch by leaning and rocking from side to side.  I started to feel significant discomfort from my right hip.  The discomfort built, peaked, and plateaued at a manageable level.  It was then that I realized that the hip was open!  Opening a joint like the hip largely means that you have flexed or extended it fully.  Believe me, if this sounds insignificant, it is not.  This is merely the beginning of a healthy relationship with a joint.  After a series of other poses, I reclined on the couch for a breather.  On a whim, I pulled my right knee into my chest and felt the sensation of full flexion without the resistance and pain that had long accompanied that kind of movement.  
I remember saying joyfully, "My hip is back!" as I wrapped my arms around my right knee as I held it to my chest and hugged myself.  What followed was absolutely amazing.  Words don't fully capture the spectrum of emotion I experienced in the next moments.  Grief, loneliness, guilt, sorrow, and more rushed out of me like a faucet, and I heard myself say "Where have you been?  I've missed you so much!"  It was like recovering a long-lost relative.  The tears began to well at the corners of the eyes and my heart soared with the force of its newfound buoyancy.  Again, this description does the experience very little justice.  The only way I can describe it meaningfully is to say that in an instant I felt reconstituted and whole, as though a vital piece of myself had abruptly returned from long hiatus.  I was overwhelmed by the lightness of my being, and wracked by the force of the sobs that tore free from my breast.  Then, after a time I was at peace again, though confused by the power, unexpectedness, and power of the experience.  As I struggled for ideas, thoughts, and words to describe what had just happened, it happened again, but differently.  The first time was a release of pent-up pain, fear, and loneliness and the lightness of being that immediately ensued.  Then, it was the complete feeling of joy and gratitude for what had just occurred; and that feeling, dear reader, is completely ineffable, beyond description.  It was like an orgasm in its intensity and the feeling of release, but completely devoid of any sexual feelings or thoughts.  When it was over, I felt brand-new, reborn.

Now that I've had time to reflect, I submit the following hypotheses and explanations:  
A hip muscle had been locked, to various degrees, in a contracted state over a period lasting several years, limiting mobility and causing discomfort and pain through skeletal misalignment.  Clearly, this was the source of the back pain I had learned to tolerate and accept as part of my experience.
There is a mind-body connection, and it is bidirectional.  Psychic/mental inflexibilities can manifest as stiffness (refusal to bend, stretch, or extend in certain directions) which produce pain.  In turn, the body's physical inflexibility, it seems, can also entrap mind, hide, or disguise it, thus separating it from the whole.  Refusal to confront the source of pain amounts to tacit acceptance of it, thus locking one in a cage from which only one may free oneself.

The mind can repress affect (feeling), thus manifesting it in flesh as illness or pain as in the case of my hip.  Pain is not inherently bad; it is a signal of un-wellness or dis-ease .  When we respond to pain in such a way to alleviate it, we engage in active self-love.  Conversely, ignoring pain or suppressing it leads to suffering, which is altogether unhealthy because it does not promote self-love.  Suffering pain over a long period is like living in a prison.  The pain profoundly affects the mood and psyche in ways that we may not discern directly.

Another idea is that a facet of the psyche had been dislocated when i experienced my head trauma accident at 13 years.  I remember complaining of hip/pelvic pain and having been X-rayed but diagnosed non-conclusively.    On impact, the fractured aspect of psyche had retreated into the injured hip to recuperate, and had perhaps gotten trapped there, struggling to be found and freed.  While far-fetched, I must appeal to the distinct senses of return and wholeness I experienced, and a noticeable change in mood and countenance (as reported by a witness of the event) for substantiating this intuition.