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.