Playing "Yoga Shala Summer Camp" on my Blue Guitar

“They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.”

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero’s head, large eye,
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Altough I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss by that, things as they are,

Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.

– Wallace Stevens “The Man With The Blue Guitar

Yeah, I know, this is coming in a bit past deadline (!). But, damn, I have been suffering some severe writer’s block when it comes to depicting the weekend at Fireplace Farm, also known (by me) as” Eco-Hampton”, also known (to Shala X’ers and readers of this blog) as “Yoga Shala Summer Camp”.

As I alluded to in another post, and as has probably been apparent from my as-yet-unmet promises of a full report on the weekend, I have been struggling with how to “sing” my weekend of living yoga when all I can really do with this here “blue guitar” is strum “an extraordinary setting”, “my teacher’s wise words taken out of context” and “harmonious community”. As those who regularly read this blog know, my “blue guitar” has its own peculiar timbre, resonating the sacred with the mundane, or perhaps less presumptuously, the solemn with the silly (hence, to answer a question someone asked me long ago, wherefor the name “Yoga Chickie: “yoga” juxtaposed with “chickie”).

And while I know that “Yoga Chickie” is enjoyed by many readers, I also know that there are some of you who feel that my blog is the living example of “yoga blogging gone wrong” (despite the fact that you continue to read it). And I can feel you people. I can. How do you write about something that simply “is”, that we simply “do”, without changing it? How can writing about yoga EVER convey yoga? At best, all I can do is to recognize (and to at times remind you, my readers) that what I write is my translation, perhaps even my imaginings, of it all.

“[S]he was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang. “

-Wallace Stevens “The Idea of Order in Key West

So, yeah, I know that try as I might, to “sing beyond the genius of the sea,” the water will never truly form “to mind or voice” (to paraphrase Stevens in “Key West“), and I give you the caveat that it will always be my voice and not “the sea” you hear. Nevertheless, this internal inconsistency of trying to write about yoga yogically causes me to be concerned with not only sullying the experience of that which I am trying to write, but also with offending the hand that adjusts me.

If I weren’t quoting so much 20th Century American poetry, I would say I was sounding a bit like a lawyer, with all my caveats and exceptions. So, enough already, and onto the song, which begins like this:

I knew that I had arrived at Sara and Max Gillingham-Ryan‘s sprawling East Hampton property when I saw the small white sign, handlettered in red paint, hanging from a tree branch near the front gate that said, “We ‘heart’ yogis”. It was not yet 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, but I had already been up since 4:30, had already cabbed it up to East 86th Street and Third Avenue (duffel bag and pup tent in tow), to catch the 5:30 a.m. Eastern Long Island Jitney, had already had an Otis Spunkmeyer corporate blueberry muffin and a high-fructose corn syrup concoction passing for apple juice pressed into my hands by a bus attendant (kind of like a flight attendant, but without all of the cool in-case-of-emergency arm-vogueing), had already slept my way (literally) from the “inner city” to the chic hamlet of East Hampton, and had already taken my second taxi of the day from the carnivorous urbanesque Palm at the Huntting Inn to its polar opposite: Fireplace Farm, 18 acres of thickly wooded enclaves surrounded by wide open grassy fields overlooking the quiet, rocky beach of Gardiner’s Bay, where the 19th century barn that serves as the social gathering space, yoga studio, professional grade kitchen and, essentially, the beating heart center of Fireplace Farm, is a harmonious marriage of form, function and eco-conciousness.

When the taxi let me out in front of the Farm’s vegetable garden (and informal dining room, pictured here), I was greated by a beautiful and currently pregnant Sara, who then introduced me to Nell, and pointed towards the barn where our Sir and Madam were practicing. Their daughter, the ridiculously adorable “Jewel” (and I am not saying that to win any points with anyone – this child is truly precious) was being tended to by one of my shala mates and introduced herself to me as follows: “I am a cat named Marmalade…I am the color of marmalade and zero years old.”

Immediately to the left of the vegetable garden, I could see two small tents, much like the one I would be putting up at some point that day. I dropped by bags, including said tent (all wrapped up in its own carrying bag), by the front of the barn (shown here). The group was beginning to gather in the barn’s kitchen area for pre-practice coffee and conversation. Some of our group was busy chopping fresh fruit into bite sized pieces and taking out the previous night’s brown rice and dal to warm up naturally to room temperature (i.e., not on the stove, and heaven forbid, not by microwave) before breakfast.

Note: There is a lesson here in eating to support a yoga practice: food should be freshly made, and you should know who has made it; however, leftovers are okay, as long as they are not spoiled, and as long as you do not reheat them.

The atmosphere was very warm and friendly. I believe there were about 12 of us altogether gathered in the barn. Sir and Madam finished their practice and joined us on patio behind the barn as some of our group readied the rear of the barn for practice (moving the buffet/dining table and chairs out the way, sweeping the wide-plank wood floors). And then it was time to start our led practice.

I was excited because it was the first time I was going to be led by Sir, and it was the first time he was going to let me finish the entire Primary Series. He had us standing in two rows, facing each other. We began with uddiyana pranayama and some variations thereof (not Nauli though), none of which was new to me since I had taken Sir’s Philosophy and Pranayama course. And then we were off and running. I was pleasantly surprised that Sir led us in English (other than the Sanskrit pose names) and in his own voice. So often, I hear teachers lead the Primary Series in what I can only describe as “Guruji-voice”, counting the vinyasas, and doing so in Sanskrit and more or less shrugging off their own accents and inflections in favor of a sort of pseudo-Indian, pseudo-Guruji timbre. Instead of counting the vinyasas of Surya Namaskar A in Sanskrit, Sir gave us the simplest of instructions: “Inhale, raise your arms and look up past your hands.” And when it came time to hold downward facing dog, he simply let us breath in silence, at our own pace. It was quite the breath of fresh air.

Practice, itself, was non-eventful. I quite enjoy doing all of Primary, but I also understand why I don’t most of the time.

(to be continued….)

YC

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