Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Thing about Yoga People.

Here's the thing about Yoga people. Most of them are lovely human beings, mellow, peaceful, honest and kind. They enjoy every little bit of beauty life affords them, be it as simple as a dandelion growing from a crack in the sidewalk. They make you ashamed of your drama and navel-gazing over banal human problems you should regard as just another opportunity for personal growth. Yogis and yoginis have mastered the art of taking life, not just one day, but one moment at a time. Their existential goal is to live completely in the present, free of regret over yesterday or worry about tomorrow.

Living fully in the moment has its drawbacks. It makes it hard to be on time for anything - even yoga class. I hadn't been in Berkeley very long before I heard someone described as being "on Berkeley time", a polite euphemism for chronically late. People who use this term tend to be transplants who feel a certain nostalgia for punctuality, which they quaintly perceive as a form of courtesy.

Existing in the present is also problematic when it comes to making plans. I recently attended a birthday party for a delightful yoga instructor who was turning fifty. A week before the party, I received an email, addressed to the entire guest list, about what, if anything, to get for the profoundly non-materialistic birthday girl, and whether anyone would go in on a group gift. I immediately responded that I had already bought some earrings, but would happily reserve them for a different friend if they needed my contribution. The emailer had to send out two subsequent communications on the same subject. By the third one, she was grumbling about herding cats. The day of the party, the group still couldn't decide whether to go in on a massage or donate to protect an acre of Costa Rican wilderness. And that was only half of the people on the guest list, the rest having not gotten around to checking their email.

Even conversation with the yoga folk can be challenging. Those of us who are not on the path to enlightenment spend a lot less time in the present. We like to speak of the past - anecdotes, memories, regrets - or the future - fears, plans, hopes, aspirations. When we do discuss the present, we often turn to politics and current events. This doesn't get you anywhere with hardcore yogis: most of them will tell you they don't read or watch the news because it affects their world view in a negative way and makes it hard to see the divine in people like Dick Cheney, Robert Mugabe or Bernard Madoff.

So you default to what's going on around you and talk about your trick knee, or the weather, or that cute dog over there. You feel a little frustrated, and lets face it, bored. It's not that you're unaware, or immune to the charms of the here-and-now, the humming bird resting on a power line - how exquisite and magical he is and how his little wings must need a break from all that stroboscopic beating. But that's just the background, an occasional respite from conversation. You're enjoying the walk, or the sunshine, or the vegan nutmilk smoothie with agave syrup, but you still need to shoot the shit. Sometimes, the present isn't so interesting. It just is. And for you, is is not enough. You need conjecture. Theory. Gossip. Sarcasm. Wit. Debate. Heck, you may even occasionally have to get a little bitchy. You can't do this with yoga people. Bitchiness is an unfortunate condition. It's a bit indecent. How sad that you revealed it.

Meanwhile, the yoga person is probably thinking he or she can't talk to you about finding your real self, seeing the light in all beings, or striving for spiritual enlightenment. Which is probably true.

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