Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Adam is home sick, my practice is f---d, and so this is what my mind spins.....


This photo comes from the Opus Dei official website. The look on the face of sheer and utter consternation (or sheer and utter constipation?) is interesting to me. I don't want to offend any members of the Opus Dei, but, well, wow....I mean, why use this photo on the page devoted to "Joining"? The frown lines, the squinting eyes, the bad hair, the clenched hands, the schlumpy sweatshirt over the schlumpy blouse and even schlumpier's not exactly a picture of warm and fuzziness.

But then, perhaps warm and fuzzy is not what Opus Dei seeks to provide to its members. Opus Dei has floated onto the cultural radar screen with the publication of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (yet another book, like The Red Tent, which, in my opinion, starts out as quite compelling and then seems to narratively slide off a cliff somewhere towards the last hundred pages or so) and, even moreso, with the imminent opening of the motion picture starting Tom Hanks (when I read the book, I was sure that Brown had Harrison Ford in mind for the starring role, but perhaps he was unavailable). There has been quite a lot of controversy of late as to the portrayal of this seemingly extreme Catholic sect in the book (and supposedly the movie), which portrayal ranges on a scale from "seemingly extreme" to "murderously insane".

I won't lie to you: I don't know much of anything about Opus Dei. But what I do know is that members routinely practice Corporal Mortification, which includes:

  • infliction of pain upon onesself
  • fasting
  • sensual deprivation (I use that term as an umbrella for the sacrificing of a variety of pleasures of the flesh, not just sex)
  • sleeping on wooden planks
  • cold showers
  • observations of silence.
There are rationales behind these practices, and I assume that they must make sense to those who participate in them. In any event, they do sound familiar, don't they?

And I am not just talking about Ashtanga here (need I even note that a quick perusal of the Ashtanga EZ Board will reveal an acceptance of pain, and if not pain, then discomfort, as a necessary part of the practice and an underlying awe for those who abstain from various creature comforts such as food, sex, idle gossip, etc.?).

It seems to me that all spiritual pursuits include some level of corporal mortification. Sometimes it is in the name of purification. Sometimes it is in the name of imitating the sacrifices or suffering of religious/spiritual icons. Sometimes it is a demonstration of faith. Whatever it is, it's all good...until it isn't. And it isn't good when it leads to unhealthy, even hostile, attitudes about one's body and one's bodily needs. And it isn't good when it leads to violence against onesself or against others. At least that's my opinion. I know others disagree. And that's fine. To each his own, as long as no one else gets hurt.



boodiba said...

Suffering doesn't necessarily equal an increase in virtue, I've long observed. I'm more of the "if it feels good do it" school.

Hope Adam feels better!!!!

boodiba said...

Suffering doesn't necessarily equal an increase in virtue, I've long observed. I'm more of the "if it feels good do it" school.

Hope Adam feels better!!!!

Anonymous said...

Um, Absolutly none of those items on your list are taught by SKPJ as ashtanga yoga. Some of those practices may exist in other schools of yoga as extreme measures to jolt the kundalini to awaken, but are in no way required or necessary. in Fact many of those things have been denounced by Jois as useless or dangerous.
As to pain. The discomfort of sore muscles and ligaments is normal of all excercises. More akin to Physical therapy. If youve ever recovered from a broken bone, you would know that some amount of pain is a normal function of a stretching muscle. Acute pain is usually the fault of something gone wrong, allignment, ego, etc, not the practice itself, but rather how it is applied. asana is physical therapy for a life lived sitting in chairs, driving cars and eating more calories than you need.
Even Buddha said that life is suffering. It is through suffering that we learn the quickest lessons. Avoiding pain is like avoiding your nose. Its right there all the time. If not actual pain than the fear of it

yoga chickie said...

Wow, Anonymous, you seem to be defending something that isn't even being attacked, and you are doing it by refuting things that I never asserted.

I don't know if SKPJ fasting, but plenty of Ashtangis do it. Same with abstaining from sex. Same with not eating certain foods. Same with not eating at certain hours. Same with observing silences. Same goes for traditional Jews. And I am sure other traditional religious groups.

I did not mention acute pain. I don't think acute pain is part of any religion. And no pain is ever the fault of ANY practice, itself - it is ALWAYS a function of how a practice is applied - whether yoga, religion, whatever. I did not say that anyone shoudl AVOID pain, either. I didn't say anyone should do anything. Somewhere between avoiding pain and inflicting pain upon onesself, there is a happy medium of confronting, acknowledging and dealing with discomfort that arises in life. Asana practice DOES cause discomfort. That part is totally okay. But hearing about people having what they describe as "pain" (THEIR words) after having their hands brought to their calves in backbend makes me wonder: where is the line between discomfort and pain?

BTW, I have broken a number of bones, and it hurts like a bitch, but healing never hurt me, and in any event, I am not sure where you are going with that metaphor.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that Scalia is a member of Opus Dei.... hmmm, not surprising, is it?

Cody Pomeray said...

We all know that real pain is going to sunday morning mysore, after a few beers and some ice cream on saturday night, and trying to twist.

For me the difference is in intent - if you're punishing yourself out of some misguided sense of original sin, then the intention is to inflict pain on yourself and that's just machochistic (or sadistic, I can never keep those two straight.) If pain is a byproduct of a difficult spiritual path, then it can be a valuable learning experience.

Anonymous said...

that photo is pretty funny, although i think i also make that face whenever there's sun in my eyes (and it looks like it may be in hers too).

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I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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