Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A hive of yogis

I'm a bee! I'm a bee!

I was thinking of that yesterday when the teacher told us (as usual) that our collective breaths should sound "like a million bees buzzing." It was a packed, steamy Labor Day class, and there was so much energy in the room that despite the heat I was humming with it. Well... for the first part of class, anyway. I spent the rest of it feeling sorry for myself and then trying to talk myself out of it: "Oh, I'm just a bee. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Don't get distracted, Self. You're a drone without a thought. But it's hot in here. I don't have mat space today. The guy behind me is loud. Blah!"

Lately, I've been distracted by how being distracted seems to be my default state of being. Papers are pouring in, and grading requires so much concentration and time management that I'm conscious of how monkey-minded I typically am. I think if you could see into my head, I'd be less like a bee in a tightly-constructed honeycomb and more like a lazy bumblebee flying drunkenly about.

This realization has been reinforced by a recent American Scholar essay by Christian Wiman I'm currently obsessed about, "Hive of Nerves." The title itself makes me think of yoga (what doesn't?). The essay is so rich--if you're at all interested in philosophy, meditation, religion, literature, or just about why stress is part of the human experience, check it out. It's dense, but each paragraph contains is a treasure box. Or a rich, sweet honeycomb, if we're gonna continue with the bee theme ;-) 

In one passage, Wiman explores the nature of anxiety. Or, if you prefer, call it stress. Distraction. A deep questioning about the nature of life. Whatever we want to call it, we've all experienced it.

He beautifully describes our perpetual state of restlessness: "It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult indeed to learn to hear it as music."

Let's unpack that a little. Don't we all know what it's like to hear some weird music in the back of our heads? Maybe it's literally a song stuck in our heads. Maybe it's our anger at the driver that braked too quickly in front of us. Maybe, if you're like me, it's the slow and steady hum of our inner critic tapping us on the shoulder to point out, yet again, what we've done wrong.

Whatever it is, it distracts us from the moment.

I think that concept is familiar enough to us! We wouldn't be practicing yoga regularly if we didn't have a commitment to bettering our bodies, minds, and hearts, and when we do that, all of the music that typically distracts us is heard clearly.

What struck me about the Wiman quote, however, was the line about learning to recognize that sound as music. Rather than trying to put earplugs in and shut out the sound, the point is rather to really listen to it, to pay attention to what's playing in the background. Otherwise, we'll only be half-hearing life itself--trying to ignore the background noise, rarely being fully engaged in what's happening. And who knows? Maybe when we actually pay attention to what's going on back there, it won't be half as distracting (or scary!) as it is now.

Is this all too theoretical and pretentious? Well, thanks for reading anyway :-) All I know is that practicing yoga on a regular basis can help us get to the root of what's making that pesky sound. And check out the article if that quote resonated at all--it's just loaded.

Buzz on, you lovely hive of yogis, you!

The hive


hannahjustbreathe said...

I can't wait to download and read this article---sounds fascinating indeed!

I totally get what you're saying---and I wonder if the yoga translation of it all is the idea of staying in the moment and being present. Perhaps that is the equivalent of recognizing the sound as music and paying attention to it rather than trying to shut it out. It's like how our teachers say, "What you're feeling right now is absolutely normal. Just breathe through it." Rather than try to suppress the nausea or the pain or the dizziness...we're encouraged to acknowledge it, embrace it even, and then move on.

Such a wonderful post to read first thing this morning! Thank you! (I particularly like your usage of "Let's unpack that a little." Such a fellow editor/English major!!!)

belovely said...

I LOVE CHRISTIAN WIMAN! Man, that's awesome you just posted about him. Plus the yoga connection is right on :) You should totally check out some of his poems, too!

And yes, the distraction thing is huge all the time for me. Just this morning at an early class I realized I was completely judging myself next to others. And then I said (Bikram's voice in my head): "You let someone else steal your peace, and YOU LOSE!" It's so true, every time.

Thanks for this awesome post!
Rachel @ Alive in the Fire

PS I'm a total English nerd too. Just graduated from Northwestern in their creative writing (poetry) English program. :) Teehee!

Catherine said...

I read: "We wouldn't be practicing yoga regularly if we didn't have a commitment to battering our bodies, minds, and hearts."

Well, yeah. :) But I like your version better!

That Wiman quote absolutely resonated, and to me (but maybe only in a little, hidden way), dovetailed perfectly with the Pema quote for yesterday (I actually thought of you when copying/pasting!).

Another vote of love for "Let's unpack that a little." Go hive!

ellelove7 said...

I have to disagree with your last paragraph... It wasn't at all pretentious or simply theoretical... It's wisdom. (And maybe it was a typo but) I think practicing yoga on a regular basis can and does help us make sense of the noise and look deeper into our own lives. Its one of my favorite things about Bikram, is the clarity it brings. :)

Great post! Also, the analogy of bees! Love it... Mostly because bees are a symbol of life. :)

Lady J said...

I'm really excited to read this article too!

Lush said...

I *attempted* to read the article. :) Yup, "attempted" because to be honest, I'm not an English lit buff, though I do *love* to read and learn about philosophy, meditation, religion, literature... so I got the gist of it, me thinks. :) That "inner humming" sound can be interpreted by our own very perception, as you said, noise vs. music. I definitely hear those "noises" a lot lately, and that I sometimes get annoyed of that myself! You've a great point there. To learn hearing it as music takes practice, lots of good practice. Just like yoga. thanks for linking the article and thoughtful post! For now, I'm a yogi bee happily buzzing on... :)

Yolk E said...

y'all are brilliant. I love this little community of brilliant yogis! I will totally check out Wiman's poetry.

LOL @ Catherine. Initially, I worried that I made that oddly appropriate misspelling when I read your post!

I'm buzzing right along with ya, Lush! I hope we'll share a flower together in San Diego.