Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Money Changes Everything: Fibre, Yoga and The Coin of the Realm

Just before I went away, someone posted on a fibre forum, lamenting the price of quality spindles.  The cost of purchasing such spindles was prohibitive for her and she was sorry that she was unable to "fully participate in the craft she loved," because she had to use cheaper tools.  People sympathized with her, made suggestions as to how she could obtain good spindles for less money.  Someone offered to supply her with a brand name spindle. Everyone was kind and helpful.

I read the posts and waited, then, well into the discussion, I pointed out that people had been spinning for millennia, that some of the most beautiful yarn and thread has been and is produced on crude spindles, fashioned on the spot from items at hand and that nothing prevents any one of us from doing the same. Others agreed, explaining how to make a spindle for under $5 and the original poster was grateful. Although she still wanted those fancy spindles, she appreciated that they were not necessary for her practice.

Patanjali's Sutras are probably not something the average yoga client picks up for her commuter reading; however, every serious yoga student, teacher, practitioner I've met pays at least lip service to the significance of the Sutras in yoga history, even if they haven't read them.  It's a difficult work, layered and rich, and, since I don't read Sanskrit, I know I'm missing much of its original intent. What repeated readings have given me is the clear instruction that the ability to perfect asana is not the primary goal of yoga. Samadhi, or "Perfect Concentration," is and to get there, the yogi needs the power of mind and meditation, not the body. Apart from brief mention of having a comfortable seat when one meditates, the Sutras emphasize that practice is hard, continual work. Those who wish to attain Samadhi will likely require many, many life times to do so, but this lofty goal is something any devoted practitioner can achieve, with sincere effort and practice.

So, given that the Sutras emphasize that the asana in yoga are intended to develop the body in order to prepare the mind for meditation and that one should expect to experience adversity in order to get there, how have we come a point where nearly everything we hear, read, do and know about yoga focuses on the body?  When did the shift/disconnect occur? Why is it that, with an entire section in the Sutras delving into the mystical powers attainable through yogic practice, we are far more interested in what yoga can do for our physical forms? What makes us think that we can become yogis through asana, while disregarding meditative practice?  And even though the Sutras mention that one should find a comfortable seat in meditation, how did that come to mean that our practice requires a room of its own, the soft natural daylight or warm glow of candlelight in a pleasantly appointed studio?  How did it happen that we believe we need shiny, pretty things-including a nice, comfy studio-in order to be able to practice properly? Are those who cannot afford the fancy yoga gear, the cost of classes or whose location prevents access to such things unable to "fully participate in the craft they love?"

Part of this perspective, perhaps all of it, stems from the Western belief that money improves everything. Our practice, whether it is fibre arts, yoga or golfing, will be better served if we have the best tools, the best clothing, the nicest environment.  It's true that what occurs in the mind is reflected in the body, but somehow, many of us have transformed this to mean that our surface appearance is the prime indicator of our state of spiritual and mental well-being. If we look good, well, we must be doing something right. That may be true, but it could also be that our insistence on matter over mind is an attempt to shore up a poor self-image.

I love working with beautiful tools.  Precisely balanced wheels and spindles, hand made by expert craftspeople can make my spinning go more smoothly.  It's more fun to knit when my needles don't catch in the yarns.  Colour glides across the paper when I use a fine brush and quality paints.  I also love practicing in warm, inviting studios, where the floors are smooth and clean and the props are plentiful.  I'm happy to pay, and pay well, when I can, in order to spoil myself. All these things make life easier; but they're privileges, not requirements.  Not one of them make me a "better" spinner, knitter, painter, yoga practitioner.

My yoga practice began in a crowded university classroom, on a dirty floor at a time when yoga mats were unheard of.  I've had splinters in my butt from yoga classes in a park bandstand; I've chased bugs away from my mat in another park this summer.  I've meditated on cold concrete floors, in dingy, damp basements with no windows.  I've practiced stilling the mind while flat on my back in a hospital bed.  It's all yoga.

I recognize and fully support the fact that everyone is entitled to decent compensation for the work she does. I do not believe that someone should be paid less for doing work they love or work that is socially oriented. (In fact, if you want to get into it with me, just tell me that I should knit you something for free or at cost, because I'm doing it all the time, anyway!) Modern yogis have mortgages, bills and family just like the rest of us, so if you're looking to practice in a fully equipped studio, be prepared to contribute to the cost of maintaining that.  Just don't fall into the trap of believing that this is the only way to have a "real" practice. (There are those who would argue that comfort in yoga is not particularly good for you.  For an extreme example, look up the practices of the Kapalika yogis. Think of them the next time you're uncomfortable sitting in meditation.)  If you truly cannot afford to practice in a studio, then practice anyway, as best you can.  Be aware that there are always options-could you afford classes if you gave up that $5/day coffee and muffin combo?  (Yes, you can.)  Can you trade services for practice?  (Yes, you often can.)  Can you find a place to plant that rear end for 10 minutes in order to let the mind settle?  (Oh, yes, you most certainly can.)

Just remember: the song says, "Money changes everything."  There's nothing in there about money and improvement.

It costs nothing to let the heart sing in appreciation of beauty.


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