Filed under: Subjectivities, Yoga | Tags: a visit from the goon squad, changes, homecoming, samastihi, sirasana
I had thought I was leaving in order to return, but I had overlooked the important interlude of returning in order to leave. And returning in the full sense, a return to neutral, zero. In ashtanga yoga practice after each standing pose you return to samasthiti (basic standing pose or mountain pose), and samasthiti is the pose that opens and closes the practice. It is a way to come back full circle, and samasthiti throughout the practice acts as a continual return to centre, that calms and steadys in preparation for the next posture. I feel I am coming back to samasthiti, as the noise of the city has disappeared and I am separated from the crowds, the tube delays, and trivialities of work, steadying myself in preparation for what is next.
But a return to samasthiti is not a return to an old self, to a place one has been before. It is a place of neutrality that allows for the progression of the rest of the practice. Even if desired, a return to a previous self is often a fruitless pilgrimage. Visiting the house of ones childhood, for example, never matches up to the house that lives in memories. The house appears as a fraud, a soulless building, empty and vacant, yet at the same time inhabited my new and strange people. It is these moments of return in which we realise that even against our will, our world and the world outside has changed and in turn, and perhaps reluctantly, so have we (for better or for worse).
Jennifer Egan’s rather great novel A Visit from the Goon Squad captures the ambivalence of these changes we experience in growing up. Egan presents an array of characters, idiosyncratic and often conflicted, introduced subtly through the book’s chapters, that weave into one anothers lives. We see where characters begin and end, but not in order; in reverse and in intervals. Egan evokes Marcel Proust’s classic In search of Lost Time, and time merges and blurs as the characters make their way through life; some finding success, some failure, some both.
One character Scotty (who was an upcoming musician, but following a divorce spends his nights downing Jagermeister) goes to see his old friend Bennie (who is now a hit record producer and has a swanky office with an amazing view of New York City). Scotty and Bennie have not seen each other for years but Scotty, on discovering Bennie’s great success, decides to visit Bennie. Bennie, tries to be polite, but cannot help but ask Scotty what it is he is doing here. It is then Scotty asks the question, that I feel perfectly summarises the essence of Egan’s book of youthful hope and desires and their frequent demise:
I want to know what happened between A and B. A is when we were both in the band, chasing the same girl. B is now.
What happens between A and B? It is not even merely a question of fortune or failure but a question more that asks, how is it one day we were there (young and hopeful) and next we are here (changed and old)? And even as we live through our own lives, and can provide the relevant details to present who/and how we are, (I did a degree, then I did another degree, then I was unemployed, then I didn’t get PhD funding three times in a row, then….) that space in between remains a mystery. And If my own life is a mystery how can I begin to understand how others I once considered my peers – strangers to me now – came to be married, have children, work in retail, or accelerate through the aging process so unfortunately.
But I cannot say I have reached B yet. I am still in transit, searching for what that B is; what it will look and feel and taste like. The 20s in their entirety are a space in between: the question mark decade. I am reminded of Helene Cixous’s concept ‘entre-deux’ – between-two. One is never whole, complete; neither here nor there; without a label that contains who you are. In this space one is always new, it is a violent state – restless, unstable, and unpredictable; you never stay the same for long. Sometimes growing up, being twenty-something, can feel like you are in this space, by the very nature of being in your 20s. But this is a state felt by all who experience changes, changes that take you back to neutral, that involve a farewell to a life/self you knew so well:
When an event arrives which evicts us from ourselves, we do not know how to ‘live’. But we must. Thus we are launched into a space-time whose co-ordinates are all different from those we have always been accustomed to. (Cixous, 1997, Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing)
For some perhaps that event does not occur, even if it is anticipated. Others may resist, cling to what they know. And yet others find themselves actively burning the bridges that they had so conscientiously constructed. In this event it is not possible to go back so we must live on, forward, and onwards toward the elusive B. Yet what if we took a moment to pause in this space in between? Perhaps then we will not be asking like Scotty, what happened between A and B? Perhaps we will embrace the restless ambiguity and explore what being without a base – without A or B – can feel like. Perhaps then we can experience the new co-ordinates of this space-time, turning upside down everything which we have become accustomed to. In yoga, this can be experienced literally in Sirsasana (headstand), in which the alignment is the same as samasthiti, only it is your head which is on the ground and your feet in the air.
The pose presents a new perspective on the world, a new perspective that can appear scary and disorientating. Everything is suddenly new – yet still familiar -but distorted. Sirsasana reveals the world does not have to be viewed in one way only, but is constantly evolving. As a direct opposite to samasthiti it shows that even as we return and everything we knew still remains the same (peoples attitudes, the town we grew up in) it is possible to find that through coming back to zero we (and the world we knew/know) can become new once again.
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