22 January 2008

Art stuff - not yoga

Even though I'm not real keen on Rohan's artwork (left) I felt compelled to post his artist statement below - the brutal honesty of this piece of writing is awe inspiring. Especially because it was written at the end of four years of full time visual art study.
The statement was presented to a panel of four external examiners two weeks before they were due to assess the student for the Bachelor of Visual Art award. Artists' statements serve to inform the panel of what underpins the candidates' body of artwork. The panel then assess both the candidate's work and their verbal defense of it before awarding a grade for their degree.
Read this...

"I am not an artist. I hate the institution of fine art, the lingo, the people, the galleries, and finally, finally I have decided that I hate fine art education. I’m not an aggressive, opinionated man; I have trouble arguing anything with real conviction. So I don’t use the word ‘hate’ lightly. The main thing that we must display as art students is ‘evidence of learning’ – a superior of mine has repeated this like a mantra. Over the course of this degree, in particular the last few years, I have tried to learn things, honestly I have. It hasn’t worked, I haven’t learned anything about my work - its context within the realms of art and thought, its very meaning, how it reflects upon society…

Oh, I have skimmed over texts, taken quotes that I could reasonably tack onto essays about subjects that I could claim have some bearing on my work, but it has all been sputum, lies upon lies digested and regurgitated until at times I believed it myself. I began to partake in the complex shared delusion of people in the art world, but I never did it well, because some part of me didn’t let my mind fall completely into the quagmire. I still became dismayed when I saw a shit artist become successful - that contradiction would shine like a beacon of rationality in the grim marshes of pretentious discourse and intellectual masturbation – and I will admit it, I am not intellectual. My friend on the dole in his dirty flat is much brighter than me. After five years in total, I realise that I am utterly incapable of academic thought. So yes, this venom is based on the deep dismay of my own foolishness, but that does not mean I can’t feel passionate disdain for the institutions I elected as the vessels for this fall.

People don’t take my work seriously, which used to upset me – that was when I was embroiled in the delusion. The penny dropped as my major essay was defecated upon for the second time – it was ‘bad’, ‘cute’, ‘very strange’… these are adjectives a student doesn’t want to hear about his major essay, his last hope of retaining some dignity after years of confusion and self-doubt. But truly, my critic was right. I can no longer attempt to cling to these insubstantial morsels of theory and construct some kind of ludicrous story for the way my drawings and paintings have ‘progressed’. In fact they really haven’t progressed at all, they are essentially the same as my angst-ridden high school ejaculates, only slightly larger and way more expensive to make. The claim that I have progressed is another of those fundamental lies that I have managed to choke on for at least two years, and to tell the truth would have been academic suicide.

I can see it all clearly now: I could stay on track, stick to my lies, maybe even give them more depth, and appear as a mediocre graduate at best. Or I could use the truth, and make a cataclysmic, heroic balls-up of the entire thing. So here is the truth. My work is self-indulgent and devoid of intellect. The paintings are generally conceived in moments of frustration, extreme melancholia or some other irrational state. They are essentially self-portraits; I am inspired in moments when I wish I wasn’t such a coward that I could beat myself to concussion, when I wish I could spit toxic bile at the wall and make it corrode. I’d refer to expressionism but I don’t have the intellectual authority. They are an alternative to an act of mutilation, and I’d refer to abjection but I wouldn’t know what on earth I was talking about. I could do some research to justify my paintings in an artistic, social or intellectual context, but as I have said, I simply cannot do that. It would be like punching a stranger in the face without warning, and then calmly explaining in a reasonable fashion your reasons for doing so. It would be like asking your girlfriend, mid coitus, if she would do anal and then citing a philosopher for intellectual backup. You don’t make an act of passion (or perversion) and then ‘display learning’ - it’s preposterous!

As for my drawings, well. The iconography and style is tapped directly from popular culture. It doesn’t ‘refer’, ‘appropriate’, ‘satirise’ or ‘make a comment’ on pop, it doesn’t have foundations in the pop art or any other art movement. It’s just pure vanilla coke, pokemon, converse sneakers, bubble-gum, porno, mountain dew, horror, sci-fi, red bull, lord of the rings, mainstream pop. It is the culture I was exposed to, the streets I walk in, the manga I fed on, the epic fantasy books I continue to tee up every night like crack, the heavy metal I bang my head to when I’m drunk. It’s my friends, my computer, and my pack of longbeach original. It’s my irritable bowels. It’s a stream of consciousness, yes like the surrealists (evidence of learning? No, I just got lucky and found a snippet of theory). I draw things exploding, vast landscapes of viscera and disembowelled electronic devices, and in the past I rattled about the sublime. But I hate Kant and I missed the point of Gericault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’, so I won’t attempt to discuss these things lest my ignorance be discovered.

I endeavoured to portray destruction, the human civilization gnawing on its own sphincter until it was raw and sore - hundreds of cartoonish figures, powerless and swept forward on a tide of progress, innocent as individuals and yet somehow accountable for some inevitable desecration that would challenge the foundations of love and beauty. I never said any of this, for fear of all the questions that would follow. I’m not into didacticism or Al Gore’s film about global warming. The drawings are just stories, narratives, mental flotsam.

In conclusion, I hate art and art school, but I hope that one day I will be able to love art again.

In a hollow, burnt-out hall, a wastrel dances amid green lasers and smoke, it is 5am and most of them have withered into mattresses, goaded by fatigue into cabs like hearses, but still he dances, clutching and spilling his beer, desperate in his intent, to deny waking life and cling to the ragged edges of night, the ragged edges of joy –
then through the black blinds and out onto the balcony which is drenched in sunlight, to his shock and wonder – the tops of buildings are painted in gold, the air is electric before the city is seared with the heat of a summers day – his senses suddenly sharpen like a blade, he witnesses life on the street below as people who have just woken emerge, as the street cleaner heralds the dawn with a steady beep and hum – the weight of lucidity threatens to topple him, he torturously pushes a cigarette between his lips and must clench his bowels as he feels a surge of excess –
there are others like him, pallid and frayed, equally as bewildered by the sun as if it were some scientific phenomenon, because for hours they have forgotten that the earth moves."

Rohan was awarded a High Distinction overall and he graduated with Honours...
Bravo!!!! Let Truth prevail.

8 January 2008

Yoga on the Beach

Saturday 5th January 2008

What started as a natural urge to stretch out under the hot morning sun turned unexpectedly into a yoga practice on the beach today.

We’d driven down the coast to our favourite beach last night, where the rapidly shrinking Murray River enters the ocean. For thousands of years, this area was inhabited by aboriginal tribes, predominantly the Ngarrinndjerri until white people arrived and took possession of their land. Needless to say the land was used, abused, farmed and almost ruined by a culture unaware of its primal energies and sacred beauty. What’s left of this region and its wildlife is now protected but long term drought has reduced the Murray River mouth from a torrent to a quiet outlet into the southern ocean about 50 metres wide.

We slept on the sand, quite mesmerised by the brilliance and clarity of the starry night sky which is only illuminated like this when you’re far from the city lights.

He woke up to photograph the 6am sunrise. I peeped out from under the sleeping bag to catch a glimpse of the pink-orange dawn breaking above shadowy sand dunes, before drifting back to heavenly sleep, half drunk from a whole night of breathing pure ocean air.

An hour later we were brewing coffee over the little campfire before setting off to look for some waves. The deep powdery ridges of sand only allow for 4WD vehicles down this stretch of the beach but even in a 4WD it’s still not easy driving. A particularly soft spot consumed our wheels in one gulp and temporarily bogged us. We had to let the tyres down and push the 4WD until it picked up enough speed for the tyres to grip, then we took off down the long stretch of beach again.
Looking out the window, the surf had obviously dropped off since yesterday – not worth going out we decided - so we left the surfboards on the roof and took a dip in the ocean without the protection of wetsuits and boards.

Not surfing is such an anticlimax to a surf trip, no matter how much I tell myself that a long drive through the country and a night on the beach is a complete mini holiday and enough to breathe new life into my spirit.

What is it about the ocean that’s so wild yet irresistable?
Even after a swim I feel cleansed, as if it has washed clean my polluted energy field.
And then there’s the sea air – both energising and calming at the same time – it pranayams us by osmosis.

With the sand softly yielding under the weight of my footsteps, I watched groups of seabirds squawking and fluttering, taking off together to soar on the air current, separating and rejoining within their invisible elastic skyweb.
For a while after towelling dry I was happy to sit beneath the sand dunes and observe the activity: endless rolling breaking waves, multitudes of sea birds, flimsy sea breezes ruffling the sparse vegetation; a small group of people leisurely horseback riding, coaxing their animals in and out of the shallows, fishing families and outdoor adventurers cruising up and down the beach in their wagons occasionally waving our way.

I laid down with my book and read another chapter but only half of my heart was in it – the other half was tugging me back to the beach.
I put down the book and returned to the present, gazing into the ocean for a while before stretching out into a long forward bend. My body opened up to the vastness of this timeless landscape, my entire back exposed to the clear blue sky, my nose nudging my legs in a quiet moment of stillness and receptivity.
Somewhere within the fold, I dissolved into my surroundings, sliding effortlessly into harmony with nature. Time just evaporated. I came to and laid back on my towel in Supta Baddha Konasana, relishing every luscious little mound of sand responding to the undulations on my back, every micro move causing a slipping and reshaping of liquid grains to caress my form like an underglove.

A few minutes laterI rose, gazing again at the waves and folding my legs into Padmasana. Twisting around, my eyes followed, travelling along the horizon of sand dunes to the left then the right, then I took hold of my feet and bowed forward in Yoga Mudra, fully alive and present in the moment. Each pose has a hidden gift, only revealed in moments of grace...with arms bound behind me I could feel the straightjacket of all our human limitations, handicapped and stuck in this earthly existence, struggling to ascend, and yet with my forehead kissing the earth I was overcome with gratitude and humility for being alive.

The triangular base of Padmasana became a magical vortex, I wanted to stay longer so I arched back into Matsyasana, my head finding a little sand valley to settle into. Eyes closed only to be filled with the luminous orange of sunray brilliance.
When the pose started to fade I simply unfolded my legs toward the sky, gracefully lifting my arms to the same line, arching my upper back (Uttana Padasana) and forming another natural and organic shape on the coastline of this ancient land. The arch in my spine was strong so I intensified it with Urdhva Dhanurasana, letting the soft sand under the towel engulf my two hands and feet.

The yoga continued on, more forward bends and some twists, a Shoulderstand, Urdhva Padmasana, a Headstand...whatever felt right in the moment. Each time the clouds parted the raw heat of the sun penetrated my skin and flowed into my body, melting it open. The poses ebbed and flowed in a natural synergy with the elements around me: earth, water, heat and air.

This impromptu practice was the most organic I’ve ever experienced. It reflected back to me my growing love and appreciation of our connectedness to the natural landscape. We have natural bodies made of the same natural elements as all the life around us: trees wildlife, wind, warmth, rocks, the flow of rivers into the ocean, the tides, the silvery moon, the brilliant colours of sunrise and sunset.

All of these things and more are Nature…as are we.

We must realise in our hearts, not just in our minds, that all things that live, breathe and exist in animate or inanimate form are the parts that make up the One.
The entire Universe is One Being.
With that realisation, how can we possibly harm or abuse anything on this earth; for in doing so, we are harming ourself. Ahimsa will arise naturally from this realisation.
Somehow we must each realise in our hearts that All is One, so that our small selves can dissolve away to reveal the origin and magnitude of our True Self.
And that every human being is both the created and The Creator.

New Year

1st January 2008

January 1st – the first day of the rest of my life – ho hum.

In the early morning of day one of the rest of my life went bushwalking before the heat of the day turned nature into a brown green crisp. It got to 41C degrees yesterday, today will be 38C. Full bushfire alert.
I did my first practice of the year today (that’s now 1 of 365), a strange mid afternoon practice – not strictly Ashtanga because the house was too hot and I was too tired. Will head to the beach this evening for a swim after sunset. Then tomorrow, it’s back to work.
A new year is born.

Christmas Day
I practised with Angie at the shala on Christmas morning – we were the only two there.
It was the first practice after returning from theVipassana retreat so how it would go was a complete unknown.
Turned out to be a good thing that no-one else was there.
I started gently, trying to listen to my body and take cues from it. Dear Angie had the music up loud, which normally doesn’t bother me, but today it pulled me away from what I was doing, diverted my attention and disconnecte me from my internal experience.
Still I practiced correctly up to Marichy A then did 2 rather stiff backbends and all the finishing sequence.
Something is always better than nothing.

Intense periods of meditatation will always cause some kind of change deep in the psyche and its not easy to identify exactly where this is and how it will manifest once the initial dramatic effect of the retreat wears off.
Each time I do a Vipassana course I’m awestruck at the profound wisdom of the teaching and theoretical basis that underpins the actual meditation technique.
Vipassana could easily pass as a technique of psychotherapy - we look into the mind itself – and to do this we are taught how to disidentify with it’s thoughts through a very clever process: observing the string of mental processes objectively and the habit of reacting to external stimuli and events, getting caught up in what is negative and impure in our minds and eventually seeing through it to another way of being in this world - one where our words and actions originate from a positive and loving source.

Foggy Mind

Thursday 13th December

A late night and not enough sleep sometimes results in a surprisingly strong, focussed practice which always seems like a miracle when it happens.
Unfortunately it didn’t go that way this morning.
Getting up was easy enough because I was too foggyheaded to think myself out of it. But foggymind for me is the worst one to practice with – fog is the opposite to focus and clarity.
Focus and clarity bring a precision to consciousness and when they’re present in my practice I can more easily generate and direct energy. And the energy itself is focussed and clear.
A foggy mind usually means a dull, lifeless practice, with precious energy leaking out all over the place.
A foggy practice might start off OK but the leakage of unchannelled energy will quickly lead the body to a lazy exhaustion.
I made it to the end of the standing poses with breath, bandhas and reputation intact, but the Foggy monster overpowered me – suddenly I could imagine nothing sweeter than laying down on my mat and falling asleep.
I summoned all my forces, gathered my consciousness and decided that foggy mind was a test of all my years of Buddhist and yogic mental training. Much too easy to give in, lay down and acquiesce to this powerful competitor…VERY difficult to confront one’s own mindstate, apply will and turn the mind around.
This is the real yoga – flexing some spiritual muscle. Yoga is not just physical gymnastics but the purifying and reprogramming of hard wiring in our brain – mental gymnastics.

Here I was in Dandasana, how to proceed. It was pointless to continue jumping around, my energy wasn’t clear or strong. I slowed down the physical practice so I could focus my energy reserves on the mental practice. Eight breaths in every pose from Paschimottanasana through to Marichy C with vinyasas only between poses.
The sleepy fog eventually lifted, but only through an extraordinary process of observation and determination.
I used each pose to bring increasing clarity to my mind, applying my dull, foggy focus to working a particular part of my body in each pose – like the simple action of pressing thighbones down in all the seated poses and catching myself when this action faded, reapplying the mental and physical muscles over and over to re-engage the action – this one simple command repeated throughout the seated poses was enough to gradually cut throught the thick fog and by Navasana the fog had lifted and my mind had become clear and precise.

I’ll miss yoga next week, 8 days on a Vipassana retreat may set me back a little in my physical yoga practice but I’m hoping it will clear out the accumulated mental rubbish that is blocking my spiritual yoga practice.

Reflections from the Mat

Tuesday 11th December

Shortcuts creep into practice don’t they…I plead guilty to more than occasionally skipping Supta Kurmasana, and sometimes even Bhuja Pindasana. Tackling the poses that poke into my lumbar/hip problem area needs a strong resolve and I can be easily persuaded to take the easy way out.
There are a few other poses on my ‘disposable list’ that I can skip if time is short or if I’m just feeling too lazy to practice properly.

Today wasn’t a lazy day so it was an almost full primary practice, skipping over Kurmasana, Supta Kurmasana and Urdhva Paschimottanasana. But I made up for these in other ways so I don’t feel quite so guilty – I did 6 Surya B’s by mistake and spent extra breaths in all the Ardha Padmasana poses, Janu Sirsasana B and all the Marichyasanas to give my stiff bits extra time to release their grips.
And all other poses had my full attention and application, I didn’t miss any vinyasas, and I did 9 perfect rolls in Garbha Pindasana and all 5 Navasana with ALL the Lolasana lifts in between. My latest investigation is how to stay in the same place for the Lolasana lifts instead of inching back on my mat after each one.

Urdhva Dhanurasana
The first of my standard three backbends was a painful stretch but for the remaining two, I prepared better by pressing up just onto my head then walking my hands in quite deeply before pushing up into the backbend with heels high off the ground. After a couple of breaths straightening my arms, I slowly lowered the heels down, maintaining the full arch of the spine.
Urdhva Dhanurasana means ‘upward facing wheel’. The name of the pose gives a clue to how to work in it. Visualising my spine as a wheel really helps to internalise and express the intention of the pose. By conjuring up the perfect shape of the wheel/circle in my conscious mind I can transpose it into my body so it assumes the shape.

Beautiful moments of insight permeate the body when it listens and responds to a visualisation (eg. the circle), not just the voice of instruction.

In this pose, a teacher can tell you to arch your spine, to straighten your legs, spread the arc evenly throught the length of your spine, press the shoulderblades forward, etc…etc…but when you really visualise your body as a circular wheel and let it BECOME that wheel through implied imagination, there is a yoke, a union of body and mind at a much more profound level than what we can achieve when the body is just following physical instructions.
The body actually absorbs and BECOMES the pose instead of DOING the pose – a very different experience.

After Urdhva Dhanurasana this unitivity (my newly made up word: union + activity) spilled over into the finishing poses and these all became sensitive expressions of beauty, strength and truth. Sarvangasana felt perfectly vertical, and after an inner prompt in Halasana I drew one of my thoracic vertebrae into line to get a strong upright energetic lift through the spine. Knees gently dropped for Karna Pindasana and I used my arms to squeeze them close into my ears and give a little more weight to help my lumbar curl over a bit more.
Karna Pindasana, once such an easy pose, now needs a little extra help before I feel satisfied I’ve squeezed the juice out of it.
Then it was back up to Sarvangasana and into Urdhva Padmasana – breathing from a strong mula bandha – what power we have locked up in this energetic vortex at the core of our body. The entry into Pindasana was cautious, this being another pose that pricks pushes the terror button in my lumbar, but I managed to wrap my arms tightly around my lotus legs, interlock my fingers well, and squeeze the knees inward, stretching all my lower back and spinal muscles and the nerves that animate them.
Matsyasana was incredibly strong and arched and Uttana Padasana was so gratifying I stayed a full ten breaths which elicited 3 large cracks from my lower spine as it readjusted to take the weight of compression.
After those two backarching poses, my lumbar wouldn’t curl over for Chakrasana so I did the baby alternative - laying on my back with knees squeezed into my chest to approximate the Chakrasana roll safely. Headstand was fantastic: mula bandha strong, spine straight, energy moving to the crown. I found the very tip of the iceberg and balanced on it. My neck naturally adjusted in minutely subtle ways to maximise the upward flow of prana throught the main channel.

My male friend asked me recently what I could possibly write about in a blog when I have no interest or knowledge about what’s going on in the world!!
He’s a bit challenged by the fact that I don’t watch TV, read newspapers, listen to radio and rarely socialise, leaving me happily oblivious to the affairs of the world.
He, on the other hand, is quite active and involved in business and society.

The question came out of the blue and stunned me for a moment. Then a little laugh bubbled up. I decided not to even TRY to answer that question. Where to start?
The question remains unanswered and he remains perplexed.
Perhaps an example that some men really are from Mars, and some women from other dimensions…