Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Difference Between Yoga and Work, Life in the Distracted World

I have a minute here because the machine that I need to work on today is figuring itself out. I have to wait for it to finish its job before I can do some yoga.

A coupla' years ago I banned electronics from the classroom because students couldn't help themselves. The distraction was too much and rather than pay any attention to class, they just surfed. I walk through the library to get outta' Dodge and that's what I see: students on their phones and/or surfing with their work propped up right in front of them. The percentage of surfers to workers is about 10 to 1. Life is oh so busy.

We are all susceptible and tempted, it's the nature of the apple in the garden: it's not the serpent's fault, it's that eating a tasty apple is way more fun than any inner directive---much less than merely obeying your Invisible Friend's dictates. No one despises the tyranny of The Man more than I do, whether The Man is some god, capitalism's imperatives, or the trivialities of the human condition.

These kids at my college are smart and also nearly illiterate; they are ambitious but some few are still a bit conflicted when they hear (not knowing what they are hearing) the voice of their Inner Rilke demanding more art and less submission to the costs of worldly success. I understand their conflict, it's not peculiar to their station. We should all be dutifully afraid of the price of worldly failure since most of us have barely the means to survive more than a month or two of serious travail. Capitalism is a merciless, indifferent commandant ruling this gulag of profit before people.

Fewer students than ever take my classes, the decline has been precipitous. I would take that personally but it’s across the board and many colleagues have no students and advertise their wares. I would rather talk to myself than have to sell the idea that ideas must be sold. The information is easily accessible, in fact more so than it has ever been. I get why the advertising is done: it’s all part of the same problem. We are vying for attention in a world in which there is just more trivial distraction than anyone could want, even those claiming some higher purpose or the guise of the indifferent Luddite.

I don't know how to make people care about something.  I certainly don't believe they should care about what I happen to love to do or think about.  But I sure hope that they do care about more than work or play.  I hope they create a yoga.  More on this soon.

Opting out of news cycles, social media, and the rest may be a vacation but it is not the work of citizenship. The more we pretend to be serious reclusives the more inane and ill-equipped we become for anything but the cave on the mountaintop. That place, I assure you, has wi-fi too.

Much of what I am writing here is personal, that is, it’s my own stuff about having too much to do in the way of responsibilities to “the world” and my worry that I will die with fewer than Wittgenstein’s 81 unfinished manuscripts on my desk. Writing comes quickly to me but it takes time to do all of it that I must do: the need for me is like air itself. I can no more deny my political outrage than I can my long studies of Mahabharata or the endless (thank goodness) cycles of Goddess mythologies. I have to get it all out.

Somewhere there must also be sleep, some activity other than sitting in a chair, and time with human beings in, you know, conversations where you could actually touch each other in permissible ways, say, by looking them in the eye. I am just as susceptible as the next person to the digital distraction so part of my solution is to burn the candle at three ends or more. I hate vacations. All I want to do on a vacation is bring the stuff I have at home with me---like books, pencils (I love pencils), diaries, and the computer. The distinction for me is that “work” is just stuff I don’t want to be doing but have to because life.

Working now on completing the prose translation of the Bhagavadgita I have chosen not to translate the word “yoga” or its related cognates whenever possible. I mention this not because I don’t have a preferred translation but rather because I really do want people to see how many ways the word does it job. But that job is pretty clear, as far as I can tell. Yoga means paying attention. And it means imposing upon oneself---yes, imposing, insisting, making one’s self do something because that something can’t be done properly without the time, effort, commitment, and focus it requires.

To wit, yoga means something like discipline and that’s a word so far out of currency and implicative that it doesn’t convey the meanings I want to suggest. But truth to tell, yoga isn’t just what you care about, it’s doing the time with the real effort it takes make the worthwhile investment. It’s less about the results, so Krishna is right about that: it’s about the emotional and cognitive and physical focus. Pay attention, stop complaining means that “complaining” is really everything but paying attention.

I have work to do today, which means I will pay as little attention to that as is necessary to get it done. I need only as much yoga as is required to do my work. Paying attention doesn’t mean you can’t multitask. I entirely reject that proposition. It really is possible to understand that some things don’t require much yoga at all and that that leaves some time to rest, to wander, to do some healthy nothing while you work. But the rest of my time I hope will be spent in some or another “yoga of.” That is, when I’m not distracted. I'm working now but soon I will do some yoga.