Mindful Contact with the Ground of Living

A physical practitioner explores how one might come in touch with one’s inner world to realise the true possibilities of learning and knowing

I learn not only because it is advisable to learn, but also because something in me is looking for understanding, clarity, resolve, and may I add, correspondence. Steering the enquirer or the practitioner to occupy the centre of her enquiry or practice from where she may be able to externalise and encounter an inner-world is an age-long poetic challenge. An inner world that may seem “make-belief”, however, it is neither unreal nor suspect, but in fact, the determining force behind the actions and thoughts she may entertain. An inner world that is waiting to be allowed its poetic-reason to be played out.   

The awe that one experiences a child on finding oneself face to face with the unexplained intelligence of the universe never quite leaves one. Nor does one’s desire to make-believe. This is where the philosopher and the poet draw from, and therefore, I am of the growing opinion that it is through poetry, art and philosophy that we may validate the restlessness of not fully knowing.  

The agelong debate whether poetry is meant for instruction or suggestion, if it is for the purpose of producing meaning or resonance, also applies to education. However, in these ‘meaning-heavy’ times that privilege ‘knowing’, this debate has been both compounded and eclipsed. Remaining quizzically open to the unexplained intelligence of the universe, matter, and the body feels belittled; from early ‘modern’ times philosophy has taken the reasonable course of privileging mind over matter, and poetry for sure has been left bereft of its reciprocal-other, the muse. That fictitious counterpart, that lends purpose, validity and life to that make-believe yet real inner world; as well as that poetic strife to externalise this inner world—tentatively, tenaciously and vulnerably–feels rendered archaic and impotent.    

Being a dancer and a yoga practitioner, I deal with bodily shapes. Of course, these shapes require a craft, meticulous measure as well as a formal method, but they also require to be delivered unto the calling of a ‘pregnant’ or potent space. A breathing space within which the shapes may strike a bold and baring interface with a counterpoint. The shape is not an end in itself, it is not meant to stand in a vacuum like it often does today in a show-and-tell variety of dance within a proscenium frame. But in fact, the shape is for the very purpose of generating and enjoying a reciprocal correspondence with a fictitious counterpoint. Without a reciprocal counterpoint, the shape, no matter how ‘correct’, will remain bereft of resonance both for the maker and the viewer/partaker.  In 1988, commenting on the state of Odissi, as its reconstructed version is taught, conceived and practiced, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, tellingly remarked “[i]n the earlier days the art came more naturally, I just did what my guru did. But now it is more mathematical, everything is figured out. . .knowing exactly where the hands go, how the hip are tilted, etc., leads to a kind of deadness and extinction of individual creativity. In the earlier days, if you measured the artist, you’d find that the proportions were perfect; today the teachers begin with measurement and the art never comes alive.” My contention is that we today begin—and then remain arrested and obsessed—within the realm of correct measurement because the body is viewed to exist in a vacuous, muse-free space, self-controlled, self-perfected, stripped of correspondence, and thereby, life and resonance.  

What is this correspondence that I am talking about? In Bharatanatyam, we are taught to emote bhava, a feeling or emotion. Initially, we learn to make gestures and exercise isolated facial muscles to portray an exact feeling. These voluntarily and externally executed gestures and expression are termed as anubhava, i.e. those shapes and movements that accompany or illustrate the bhava. But because a live performance is meant to be more than illustration, there is also another critically important component called vibhava, which cannot be taught but only allowed. The vibhava has its bearings in that pre-learning, human desire for poetry and correspondence. A correspondence that may validate how I ‘purposelessly’ feel. Much like the muse who lends validity to the poet’s whim to entertain a feeling swelling ‘purposelessly’ within her. Vibhava is thus that fictitious counterpart that both lends purpose and acts as a trigger to the bhava to come into restlessness and subsequent manifestation. For instance, if I feel like entertaining sringara or the amorous/erotic bhava, then I must have a lover lurking somewhere upon the horizon of my mind to elicit and stir this love and desire and desire in me.  And this applies to any emotion. In case, I wish to call upon raudra, the bhava of rage, then I would have to appoint a fictitious transgressor with whom I feel compelled to settle the score.  What is to be remembered is that these vibhavas are fictitious but they are not merely imagined, rather, they are pre-existent counterparts that correspond to the desire, love, fear, anger, wonder, the primary emotions – eight in number – that are encoded in my flesh and bones.  My body thus is made of the stuff of these bhavas. The vibhava then is a floating, ever-ready fixture in the sky of my mind that can be called upon to lend purpose to the purpose-less welling up of one or more feelings within my body.  The prefix vi implies expansion; thus, the vibhava allows the bhava to spark and flourish. And in that ‘purposeless’ flourish, I feel, lies resolve, sanity and satisfaction! 

So, after having learnt all the rules, methods, vocabulary and formal techniques of dance, I wish not to dance but to get danced by this vibhava, a fictitious, external counterpart to my purposeless bhavas, that does not only have a force and an orbit of its own, but one that is also mercurial and unpredictable. I dance to experience this reciprocity with this unpredictable vibhava, an internal-object that offers a perfect match to my restless-interiority.  My hunch is that this vibhava, in its final analysis, is nothing but an object of absence. It is there to fulfil and thereby disable the purposeless restless in me, and in due course, deliver me to the absence or emptiness that lies underneath. It is for this reason, I feel, that Abhinavagupta places santa, a rasa that he adds to the eight rasas of the Natya Sastra, as the final station that I, the human, self, wishes to become (momentarily!) subsumed in it is for the purpose of this stillness that I move, as it is for the purpose of silence that I give into speech.   

Likewise, I see asana as a bodily shape that seeks a correspondence with a certain something, an absence of sorts. For some time now, I have had this growing suspicion, that we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to asana. Asana is supposed to be occupied from the inside, i.e. not to be done or performed, because asana dharan kiya jata hai.  However, we seem to be caught in this endless production of asanas pretty much in the assembly-line mode. By having defined Yoga as a self-perfecting practice, we have locked ourselves in an endless loop or ever-perfecting, which actually translates into ever-wanting. And this perfectionism is defined by both the neo-religiosity that gets defined in the 19th century, wherein the embodied practice of Yoga, a self-distilling practice which relies wholly on the sensitivity of materiality and the body, is brought under the umbrella of Vedanta which is categorically body-dismissive. And to top that, now the industry of Yoga is caught well within the capitalist machinery.  

Both float ideas of the body, one ‘moral’ and the other ‘cosmetic’.  These ideas or idealisms deliver the body into a never-ending loop of ‘catching-up, leaving the body ever wanting and consistently falling short of the ideal that looms outside the possibilities of the body.  Thus, the proposition of Yoga as a ‘self-perfecting’ practice within such an orchestrated climate that privileges ‘idea’, the kind that is programmed to never allow the body to ever achieve or exceed the idea, is not only a non-starter, it is actually a hoax!  

Bearing in mind these two things, a) that the idea of yoga as we have popularly bought into today is actually antithetical to the self-centring, i.e. self-locating or establishing, distilling practice of yoga and b) that every shape houses a bhava that secretly seeks correspondence with a reciprocal vibhava has driven me to create or reinvent a method of effectively and satisfyingly practice asana. I call it BARPS, which is an acronym for five progressive processes of asana. These being: bracing, aligning, rotating of joints, poising, and finally stretching/seeing. At a rudimentary level, I define asana as “mindful contact with the floor”, thus, bracing of a body-part against the floor constitutes the foundation of the asana; the next is the careful aligning of the joints in reference to this point of primary contact with the floor; and the third being the micro-rotation of the joints as per one’s own sense-of-rightness in order to achieve the shape of asana. It is here, in the honing of one’s own ‘sense-of-rightness’ that the practice begins to become self-regulatory, autonomous and ‘self-sensing. And this ‘self-sense’ is critical to the experience of the occupation of asana and the experience of absorption that Yoga promises.  Poising pertains to the delicate positioning of attention and breath within this shape, i.e. how the body administers its subtler, vital elements of breath, gaze, self-touch (nyasa), and bhava to ready itself for deliverance unto a realm of correspondence, even if it is with reciprocal emptiness. And finally, the ‘S’ denotes multiple aspects, first the stretching or swelling within the well calibrated body to occupy the asana wholesomely from the inside; then to deliver the body to experience spaciousness, stillness, silence, becoming open to the suggestion of bhava, finally approximate the centre of purposeless-initiative and come to occupy the seat of ‘Seeing’: tada drshtu svarupe avasthanam! Meaning, when the compulsive loopings or the mind are disabled through the practice of yoga, the practitioner might come to occupy the center of her initiative, into a state of transparency, or the station of seeing!  

I, thus, do not make shapes to make a statement, or project, or to be seen, or to show, but to come and occupy that station where the intentions of my body become transparent in search of correspondence. But of course, my body makes statements, and images, and projections, but those are incidental, in fact, inevitable, and also meticulous in their sense of ‘just rightness’; however, they are secondary to my desire to rest my gaze meticulously upon an inner-object of my seeing. I therefore, do not occupy myself with showing but to become seen seeing.    

Knowledge is power, and our intention is to bring the power to you. We have initiated a thought movement that aims to strengthen democracy by bringing to you direct voices of important trailblazers and pathmakers, and reclaim deep and patient reflection as an important seed for relevant and sustainable action! Help us take this movement forward. Support Inter-Actions today for as little as Rs. 100.
Donation to LILA is eligible for tax exemption u/s 80 G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act 1961 vide order no. NQ CIT (E) 6139 DEL-LE25902-16032015 dated 16/03/2015