Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A not-so-seductive wake-up call

It's said that by the time we're 75 years old, 22 years of our lives will have been spent in slumber. (I hope ya'll have pleasant dreams!)

But how much of that "awake time" are we actually awake, alert, present? There is a variety of ways we can be asleep. We can engage in "avoidance behaviors"--obsessive cleaning, watching TV, blogging, and indulging in our drug of choice that takes us away from the moment.

A friend and former (forever?) professor recently gave a great talk at our campus. He read from his book Tex[t] Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America. The "seductive" part of the equation is the collection of images and stereotypes present in the media that are unconsciously engrained in our psyches as we grow up.

We typically don't think of stereotypes and generalizations as seductive. But think about it: we see a representation of an Asian American as the class math genius on TV, or the hoop-shooting African American in the movie. Our brains tend to go, "well, that's just normal."

In this, we are dreaming--or nightmaring! Dr. William Nericcio explains what occurs as we drink in these images day in and day out:

"In my nightmare, Speedy Gonzales hands me his hat and calmly wraps his red bandana around my neck. And I like it."

He continues analyzing his nightmare, admitting he's drawn to it, before calling on us to "Wake up" (208-09). 

As Nericcio dreamily accepts the quintessential emblems of "the Mexican" from that "innocent cartoon" mouse Speedy, we typically accept the representations of culture, religion, race, sexuality, day in and day out without questioning. Generalizations and stereotypes help us "make sense" of our surroundings. They reinforce our world views. But they are also hallucinations because they're not real. Stereotypes are erroneous collections of assumptions that prevent us from connecting to the world.

So, how the heck does yoga figure into all of this? Well, I don't think I've seen a yogi blogger who hasn't touched on its power to strip away the layers. In the hot room, our minds' iron grip on what should be--even, I think, on gender, age, race, and culture--slowly melts away.

These hallucinations gradually disappear as we sit into awkward pose's uncomfortable chair. The expectations of what we should be able to do, of what the pose should look like, must be put aside. Or we go crazy, right? That's when we fall down. That's when we stop breathing. Been practicing for a year? Still can't lock the goddamn knee? The response to that should be "No problem." The "you should be able to do X" is just another seductive hallucination that needs the bright light of day to pierce through it.

Case in point: I'm 28 years old. I've been practicing Bikram yoga for almost a year now, Ashtanga for years before that. The seductive hallucination is an image of me, in perfect standing head-to-knee pose, knees beautifully locked, forehead rounding down. I dream that! That's what's "normal" to me. But it's not the reality for me. That's not the present.

The temptation is to use age, length of practice, etc as a scale for judging ourselves in yoga, in the same way we use race or culture or religion or sexuality to judge others after class. Yoga helps us strip away all those layers. It's hard. We resist. But we should continue working at it.

Maybe the connection here is tenuous. Today, I don't think so. We need to shine a bright light on those hallucinations. Otherwise, they will continue to have power.

We need to wake up!

For more information on Nericcio and his cool read, check out his blog here.

*If you wonder what the heck I'm doing referencing all this academic stuff, I blame The Dancing J's and Japanese Ham Sandwich's latest posts for opening wide that door ;-) How could I not waltz right through??  


poeticalsurfer said...

I think these generalizations/sterotyping are part of the "monkey brain" that you refer to in other blogs. It's a rote, really not-thinking, consciousness that chatters all day long and makes these instant judgements. Anything that'll take us out of this stifling thought is to be appreciated and utilized, be it yoga, meditation, prayer, etc. Folks, we aren't stuck in the monkey brain, but we do have to make the effort to quiet it, and listen to what I want to call a higher power; or a fuller, deeper, divine consciousness.

Yolk E said...

Nice! I agree completely. We aren't stuck! Thanks for your comment :-)

Chrissy D. said...

Awesome! I especially love the line, "These hallucinations gradually disappear as we sit into awkward pose's uncomfortable chair."

Glad I helped inspire your post. Once upon a time I was a PhD student, so it's sometimes hard to shake the academic out of me.

I have a lot of seductive hallucinations in my practice, mostly around standing head to knee and standing bow. As you so eloquently state, I need the bright light of day to pierce through them.

cirita said...

I agree. I don't see stereotypes and generalizations as seductive. That's why I always have a hard time completing the Site Census reports. I can't stand being wrongly categorized and standardized into a race.

Let's see. I am Spanish. No doubt about it. I am Austrian too ( I can cook spaetzel and jodel - hooray for the stereotypes. I had Austrian citizenship until 6 years ago). I am Cuban ( love moros con cristianos, platanos a puñetazos, Jose Marti poetry... here you go with more stereotypes). Soooo that makes me a ......there is no check box in the Site Census form for me!!

On the other hand, I've always felt that citizenship is in the country which has your heart. This makes me a truly New Yorker and Indian. OK, NYer is not a race know what I mean.

When I practice BY, I forget about all these stereotypes but new ones come to my mind. My seductive hallucination is an image of me looking like a perfect ballerina during standing bow pulling pose but that's not the reality. Love your posting. I should check out that book too!!!

Yolk E said...

Chrissy, former PhD student? Cool! I'm curious about what subject you studied.

You're right, Cirita. Great example of how these categories are a constricting force that prevents us from expressing who we really are! Humans are complex, not categorize-able :-)

Chrissy D. said...

I was a PhD student in Public Health Sciences, with a focus on women's health. It was almost a decade ago. I left after my first year and was suppose to return, but I still haven't. Maybe someday...