You have arrived at the inaugural post of “The Considered Kula.” Breathe, and Open to Grace.
From “About” this blog
“Kula” is a Sanskrit word meaning “family” or “intentional community” that has taken on the meaning of “community” within Anusara Yoga™, which I practice. It seems to be a distinctive characteristic of the style, evoking its emphasis on “heart opening.”
The project of this blog, the sense in which kula is “considered,” is that in addition to being an eager student of this style of yoga, I am by training a sociologist. I hope to write creatively about the tension of these apparent opposites, which are both a part of who I am.
I launch this blog now, because it has been about two years since I have been on the path of Anusara Yoga. I had two key struggles in my life at the time. One was physical and the other emotional. While I had been practicing yoga of various styles for more than three years prior, this style’s heart-centric approach was particularly appealing. It was only about three months after first exploring it that I began to consider Anusara “my style.”
But why launch such a blog at all? For one thing, I enjoy writing about and sharing the experiences of my practice, which have affected me profoundly. But that in itself is not a reason to consider kula. More importantly, I am a sociologist by training, and its habits of mind seem sometimes to run profoundly counter to the emphases of this style. Where sociology is critical, yoga, and Anusara in particular, is positive. Yogis of many stripes seem to articulate a view of life heavily oriented toward an “internal locus of control” in the assertion that one’s attitude may govern one’s experience more than external circumstance. Sociology, as it is often practiced, may overemphasize an external locus of control in which social forces circumscribe the individual’s experience. But many argue that this view eliminates consideration agency, which we may also observe in social life. By the same token, Anusara has this curious emphasis on the mutual aid inherent in the kula, which may be decisive in supporting the practice of the individual.
I have been very inspired by the comments of Ahmed Zawail, Nobel laureate in Chemistry, in the documentary “Nobelity,” which I show to many of my sociology classes. He suggests that the many identities he has, Egyptian, American, Arab, Middle Easterner, Mediterranean, and Muslim, represent within himself no internal “conflict of civilizations.” Similarly, the very different practices of Anusara Yoga and sociology need not represent a conflict, but a larger unity. Yoga, after all, means “union.”
In contemplating the fellow travelers I find in each of these circles I hark back to a poem I heard the famous Catholic anti-war priest Daniel Berrigan recite at a “clarification of thought” meeting at the Catholic Worker in New York City nearly thirty years ago. The poem described the peaceable people who lived in a “bell jar” into which the “elbow and knife people” were trying to break. In this allegory, the latter did break into the bell jar and the two peoples intermarried, producing a fiercely peaceful people. I think of the kula as loving and peaceful, and sociologists, particularly those still in dialog with the ghost of Marx, as trying, often forcibly, to change the world, or at least critique it unabashedly.
I have been both a scholar of and participant in various social movements, most recently in the movement against the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Being a part of any social movement involves some contention, and I argue this is a kind of paradox for the peace movement, being contentious for peace. I think the paradox may often make such movements less credible in the eyes of the general public. More importantly, I have seen this contention reflected internally, such that peace movement organizations may not always mirror the “beloved community” for which they so ardently strive.
In particular, I witnessed a particular harshness that arose from impatience with the pace of change among people within these organizations. Particularly in assailing the relative privilege of participants, some organizers began to lose members of their choirs. Familiar with the approach of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) I wondered if such organizers could benefit from an appreciation of the key dialectic of acceptance and change. Could we both accept people’s origins while encouraging change? Could we encourage their more active participation without alienating them from our efforts?
In addition to considering the importance of dialectics more broadly in philosophy and in the work of Karl Marx, whose sociology the discipline still claims, I was intrigued by their appearance within Anusara Yoga, owing to its basis in Tantric philosophy. There is in Anusara in particular, and often in yoga more generally a pulsation (spanda) between, and larger unity of opposites, like spirit-body, male-female, and sun-moon of Ha-tha itself. What could be gained, I wondered, by exploring these pulsations in my own path?
Toward the overall intention, then, of exploring such paradoxes, I set the intermediate intentions for this blog:
- to deepen my understanding of Anusara™ yoga
- to begin to intermarry the bell-jar and elbow-and-knife peoples
- to explore the dialectic of acceptance and change
- to explore a seva less averse to political action
- to explore the philosophical basis for Anusara™ as a basis for social as well as personal change.
- to articulate a dialectic of personal and social change
- to articulate a dialectic of spiritual balm and conscious politics
- to share a lifelong quest to understand my own pulsation between such dialectics.
I don’t know where this journey will take me. I know that “travel involves risk.” Specifically the risk is in alienating people in various communities. Scholars might say I lack critical distance. Activists might say I’m navel gazing. Yogis might say various things. Some might say suffering is an illusion. Others might view politics or social critique as too “worldly” a pursuit. Still others would argue that I should be “looking for the good.” If Anusara™ is a tantric path, it cannot but admit of engagement in the world. If activism is to be successful over the long term, I argue it must attend to personal as well as social change. If sociological scholarship is to be authentic, it must engage both subjective and objective modes of knowing. If people learned in anatomy and scripture can contribute to the kula, then so may a social scientist.
I cannot begin this blog without an expression of deep appreciation to all my teachers, including those in academia and in the yoga community. More than mere knowledge, you have taught me wisdom. More than mere affairs of the intellect, you have taught me affairs of the heart. May what I share here reflect what you have offered, and be worthy of the wonder of life.