My Yoga journey (so far) – podcast

Greetings. A few months back I had the pleasure of speaking with an old friend about Yoga as well as my experience as a student and teacher. That conversation has been transformed into a nice podcast. I am honoured to be the first in a series of podcasts entitled Rebirth. Thank you Rene.

https://soundcloud.com/rrrrrrren/the-rebirth-ep-01

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The “Yoga” of Fight Club

I thought an easy way to get back into soapwriting would be to start with something on the lighter side. Often enough, surprising things come out in my yoga classes and a few weeks ago it was the 1999 film adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club. It is a remarkable movie that offers extremely insightful commentary and criticisms of modern society and it’s misguided priorities. I hope it hasn’t gone under the radar of pop culture over the past 15 years. The following list is just a survey of some of the themes and is in no way exhaustive (the film has plenty of gems). I should point out that the central theme throughout the film is about consumerism and attachment.

On Appearances: Often in our practice we get carried away with form while neglecting substance. Appearances can be misleading and are quite hollow without any internal support. In one scene the narrator and Tyler Durden board a bus; on seeing a standard men’s underwear advertisement, the narrator asks Tyler, “Is that what a man looks like?” to which both chuckle.

On Attachment to the body: Of all things, we identify most strongly with our physical body and thus we often have difficulty seeing ourselves beyond only that. There is a great scene where the narrator is brushing his teeth and is dismayed after he pulls out a tooth with his fingers. “Hey, even the Mona Lisa’s falling apart!” is Tyler Durden’s casual response.

On Attachment to objects: The main theme of the film revolves around the narrator’s lack of fulfillment despite consumer success. We also identify with pleasurable objects but what kind of pleasure do they bring us and why do we pursue them? The central thread of the film: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.” “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” “The things you own end up owning you.”

Fight Club (1999)Edward Norton and Brad Pitt(Screengrab)

 

On Perspective: We can keep life in perspective by remembering death. A Momento Mori was a device used largely by Western Medieval philosophers and mystics (but also right into modern times). It is a Latin expression meaning: “Remember, you are going to die”. It functioned as direct reminder of your own mortality and often came in the form of a human skull kept for the purpose of reflection. The concept figures in other traditions as well, notably in Hinduism and Sufism (often practiced by visiting graveyards or cremation grounds rather than keeping a skull). In Sufism the concept is called dhikr al-mawt (I have a great Sufi story about that but for another time). Tyler Durden very poignantly reminds us that “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.” and “You have to know, not fear, that someday you’re going to die.” There is another powerful scene where Tyler threatens to murder a store clerk if he doesn’t go back to school. After leaving the clerk, Tyler tells the narrator “His (the clerk) breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever had.”

On Mis-Identification: As noted above, we identify so strongly with our body and our goods, that we forget who and what we really are. If we mistakenly identify with these things, as they change for the better or worst, so do we. If we can recognize that we are something far more real, everything can spin around us but we never loose our footing. “You’re not your job; you’re not how much money you have in the bank; you’re not the car you drive; you’e not the contents of your wallet; you’re not your fucking khakis!

On the Ego: One of the most explicit comments made by the film is in the split personality of the narrator/Tyler Durden. Their relationship shows how we are our own worst enemy. We are the narrator and our ego (ahamkara) is Tyler. They are the best of friends but in the end all Tyler cares about is his continued existence and the subjugation of the “real” narrator. The final scene is powerfully symbolic as the narrator is only able to free himself from Tyler by figurative suicide. He has to kill Tyler to be truly free.

 

Exemplary Saints or “Batman vs Superman”

The most potent lesson we can take from the lives of Saints is that we also have the same potential for greatness. They were human beings like we are and achieved great things and bore great tragedies in their lives with strength and dignity. What makes them powerful is that they were not great personages but rather the best Saints were little “nobodies” and we can surely identify with the underdog. Many Saints were awful sinners before some transformative experience. Likewise, I really don’t appreciate people who try to remove Jesus‘ humanity. I have always felt that it is exactly the fact that Jesus was a human being that makes him so wonderful. I give you a fun example from the mundane to illustrate my point:

When I was young I loved Superman. He was amazing and had a variety of spectacular superpowers. However, he was an alien to this planet and our yellow sun gave him these powers. As I matured, I realized that Superman was morally bound to help out. Of course, his other options are to do nothing or to use his powers for personal and/or evil gains. The reason I say he is morally bound is because he has these powers that make him (practically) invulnerable to harm and he is personally equipped with all the powers not only to thwart a robbery but equally to save us from planetary destruction; however, never at any personal expense to himself. Who knows, he might even be moved to action out of pity or guilt. Please remember, Superman’s alter-ego is Clark Kent.

Batman on the other hand, is a real hero. Why? Because he doesn’t actually have to do anything. Sure he’s motivated a little out of his own feelings of personal revenge but so what? Bruce Wayne should in every likelihood be a spoiled, decadent rich guy. What makes him a powerful example is that he chooses not to be, in fact he chooses quite the opposite. Batman is a regular, mortal (yet wealthy) human being who undertakes to do practically all the things Superman does but without superpowers. It requires from him great personal discipline, training and sacrifice (somehow I doubt Superman spends time doing push-ups). Not to mention the expense for his equipment and physical injuries. Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego is Batman. We can identify with the frailty and faults of Bruce Wayne/Batman as fellow imperfect humans thereby making him a better and more potent example of how we too can achieve great things in our live

Super-human boyscout – Imperfect hero