Notes on a Practice
[I started out with the intention of writing about some films I've recently watched that have inspired me to revisit and reconsider the idea of what it is that I want my art practice to do, but what began as a mere introduction to allow me to talk about said films grew into something all its own, so the films will wait for another day as today there is something else that wanted to come out via language]
I've spent the last two years or so dedicated to improving my improving my corporeal form. I spent years incapable of bridging the gap between mind and body, but, oddly enough perhaps, it's always been only via the realm of art that I've understood a necessity to allow the two to meet.
I believe in a synchronicity in life; an idea that if you are manifesting the right energy that things tend to happen when they should be happening (which, by the way, is not necessarily when you want them to happen)—I know there's a degree of this that is bullshit and ignorant of societal structures in the world, but to me I like to think of it as relying on a sort of motivated chance. And while I do believe (again) that there are indeed structural factors that heavily effect how people are able to move through the world, I believe in a sense of karma, though not just a moralistic one in which "good things happen to good people" or vice-versa, as clearly that's not true at all. A better explanation is, perhaps, that a certain degree of radical change only becomes available when you make yourself open to it. For the first ~30 years of my life I wanted to be in better shape but I was not necessarily open to the factors I needed to be open to to make this happen, despite a desire for this change to occur. This was an instance of me wanting something before I was actually ready for it. Perhaps it's because this desire was motivated by little more than a desire to appear attractive to a larger number of people and less connected to any idea of the mechanical self: it was more of a linking of self-worth to physical aesthetics. As a visual artist, as someone who appreciates and often privileges visual aesthetics in certain mediums (film, for example), this makes sense, and is still something I believe in. But any engagement with aesthetics at all easily reveals that a combination of visual aesthetics with function, meaning, experience always amounts to something larger than pure aesthetic import.
Through inadvertent hypnotism I managed to quit smoking a few months shy of turning 30 and this remarkable change was the so-called "first mover" which allowed me to progress further. By this point in my life I had maintained a very passive interest in yoga for a few years (due to finding it the one sort of "exercise" I was capable of maintaining any sort of interest in over an extended period of time). I had a very wan at-home practice that involved following along with some extremely basic videos I had found online (I used the same three videos—one with a runtime of 28 minutes, one 20 minutes, and one closer to 50minutes—for close to 5 years, to indicate how unmotivated I realistically was). This interest was compounded by vague notes I had read regarding Georges Bataille's interest in yoga. Later, upon discovering my interest in the work of Bernard Noël, I learned that Noël held this interest as well. But ultimately I remained too lazy to go deeper.
After quitting smoking I had a new-found energy available accompanied by a desperate need to replace one addiction with another. A friend insisted I come with her to an actual yoga class at an actual studio, and, eventually, I did (thank you for that Lorian). I can't quite remember the entire experience, other than the fact that the class (which, coincidentally, was a heated advanced class) kicked my ass. Some unknown quality of the practice was unshakably attractive to me, but it took about a month of fits and starts before I became a devotee. I do remember a specific turning point where, less than a month in and with very few classes under my belt, I came to the realization that this practice would be immensely good for me. I struggled with the idea of making time for a regular practice, and I struggled even more with coming to terms with the financial costs, but it was the most unexpectedly overwhelmed I had found myself since the early stages of my relationship with my partner several years before, so I knew it was something I had to follow through with. And so, because I was finally ready for it, the regular practice of yoga entered my life.
There were several things that, in the early stages of my dive into the practice, struck me most intensely. The first was that my body was physically changing, fairly quickly, in a way that spoke to me that this was what I should be doing. I felt stronger, I had more energy and felt significantly less lethargic, and my sex drive amped up (I've always had a heavy sex drive, and so having it kicked up a notch further felt extremely intense).
The second thing that I noticed was how my mind was integrating with my body. There was more of a connection. I was accepting my body as part of me instead of as a mere vessel for consciousness. And with this acceptance came a knowledge that I was grateful for. I became aware of how food sat in my body (which lead to further changes related to diet), I was aware of how alcohol affected my body as well; I could feel when I was doing things that my body didn't want me to be doing, and when I was doing things that my body did want to be doing. It was as if I had finally unlocked the door separating body and mind, as if communication were finally available (I could write a further essay relating the essential nature of communication as sacrifice, which is an idea derived from Bataille [who in turn, of course, took it from much older and indigenous thought and practices], and how there is a literal element of sacrifice required to allow this communication: sacrifice of time, energy, resources, etc—but this can wait for another day). Once this communication began, and my yoga practice continued, I started reaping further rewards. Beyond the mere physical and mental benefits, what I was most noticing was how much I enjoyed the practice: it was something I looked forward to every day. My body, which had failed to move as much as it was moving in a single yoga class since I had last been on the school diving team in early high school, enjoyed doing things it wasn't accustomed to. On both a mental and physical level it was satisfying to introduce a new sort of posture or movement that was alien at first that with practice would become more assured and comfortable, steadied.
Several months after I began religiously attending yoga classes I embarked on a self-motivated route towards learning a handstand. It came quicker than it should have, perhaps, no doubt because of the absolute pleasure I had forgotten I could access by being upside down (another aside here: the two aberrant experiences that I have always found near orgasmic include: 1) hovering on or near a precipice [which I often describe as an "inverted vertigo—heights don't give me anxiety, they give me a sort of corporeal erection], and 2) being inverted/upside down [whether hanging on monkey bars, the "upside down" parts brought about by velocity in loops on roller coasters, the time spent in the air between the diving board and the water in diving, or just being upside down in a pool]) and my body's complete elation at being given a task that was in support of its own maintenance.
The third thing I noticed, which was actually the absolutely necessary motivating factor needed for me to fully invest in the practice, was that I was encountering a sort of unexpected overlap between the specific realm of writing I was/am fascinated by and the practice of yoga itself. It was something that at first remained obscure, but the overlap became more apparent to me as I moved forward, and allowing myself to probe this intersect has been an incredibly important part of the process. It has a lot to do with breath, with moving through space, but most of all it has to do with the communication of an experience. In writing (specifically, of course, Noël's poetry, the écriture of Royet-Journaud, Albiach, Dupin, etc) there are these fragments of language immersed in the space of a page, small incidents that, when put in a sort of linear trajectory with other fragments, accompanied by elements that change the way the language functions on its own (space, enjambment, typographic signification, mise-en-scene, metonymy) add up to something whole, something akin to what I think of as a religious experience when done correctly. This is also how the yoga practice functions: the fragments are not chunks of language but the asanas, and the sequencing of the postures, accompanied by breath/pranayama, physiological/neurological activation (yoga literally means "union"), music and/or chanting, add up to an experiential text as it stands. It goes deeper than this, but that is the most direct way to approach it: both the best yoga and the best writing result in the communication of an experience.
This intersection has lead to what I consider further experimentation, and beyond the mere practice of yoga I've become interested in additional studies of movement. The over-saturation of the fitness world on social media (i.e. YouTube, Instagram) has revealed an abundance of physical "tricks" that recall the sort of corporeal/sensual experiences that I am after (i.e. a vertiginous sense of falling, inversion). Many of the weird "tricks" that come up (and I use "tricks" here in the way one might call a handstand a "trick," for want of a better term; I might insist on using "asana" or posture, but it might become unnecessarily complicated to tie non-yogic "moves" into the yoga practice, merely on a level of linguistic signification) are attached to calisthenics, bodyweight workouts, movement culture (think Ido Portal, etc), parkour, and so on. These are skills which require further physical engagement which I'm happy and continually excited about exploring. All of this has come to me as an individual who literally three years ago was more than likely to spend several days doing nothing but sitting in front of his computer and eating if no other responsibilities presented.
Because I revel in the so-called transgressive "shock" of throwing two disparate things together, I've starting to refer to myself as a gay art jock. I myself can be accused of, in the past, associating "jocks" with a sort of anti-intellectualism and the literati as out of touch with their body; there are of course instances of this, but that's naturally not always the case. I'm enjoying mixing the two up and approaching both body and mind with the same sort of pointedness.
One must not forget how all of this also feeds into an experience of that other feared term, mysticism! There's so much corporeality depicted in the ecstasy of mystical states, there's so much experience in the idea of mysticism, finally figuring out a way to put all the pieces together is pushing me more towards whatever path it is that I feel I've always been drawn to.
All of this, of course, is merely to draw an introduction toward what I set out to discuss when opening up the blogger tab; an idea of where this has lead to, specifically, in my own art practice. Of course when I say "what this has lead to" that implies I'm already there. Rather, and what's more exciting, is that I finally feel like I'm on the threshold of a new approach to work, ready to step over and to cross into something that approaches that unknowable "goal" better than anything else I've attempted before.