89 Chapters
  Title Author Publisher Format Buy Remix
Medium 9781609947972

Four: The Third Limb: Postures (Asana)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity
and to be vibrantly alive in repose
.

Indira Gandhi

 

In the last stage of my journalism career, I was lucky enough to work for a newspaper that provided space in the office building for a weekly, hour-long yoga class and paid for a teacher. At 6 P.M. on Tuesday evenings, a dozen or so of us met in a designated conference room, then moved the furniture to create space for our mats.

The class was always in danger of being canceled if our numbers dropped too low. When I would troll my coworkers to look for recruits, I always emphasized the physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga postures. Knowing they were a cynical bunch, I would add, “Mark [Roberts, our teacher] sometimes talks a little woo-woo, but you don’t really have to pay attention to that part. Just let it wash over you.”

In actuality, I had no idea how thoroughly I was being soaked. I loved listening to Mark, most especially when he prepared us for savasana. He used exotic terms that I didn’t fully understand, such as pranayama and pratyahara and samadhi. The strange words fascinated me.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Under the Influence

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My father drank. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath, as a starving dog gobbles food—compulsively, secretly, in pain and trembling. I use the past tense not because he ever quit drinking but because he quit living. That is how the story ends for my father, age sixty-four, heart bursting, body cooling and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother’s trailer. The story continues for my brother, my sister, my mother, and me, and will continue so long as memory holds.

In the perennial present of memory, I slip into the garage or barn to see my father tipping back the flat green bottles of wine, the brown cylinders of whiskey, the cans of beer disguised in paper bags. His Adam’s apple bobs, the liquid gurgles, he wipes the sandy-haired back of a hand over his lips, and then, his bloodshot gaze bumping into me, he stashes the bottle or can inside his jacket, under the workbench, between two bales of hay, and we both pretend the moment has not occurred.

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Mountain Music

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On a June morning high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, snowy peaks rose before me like the promise of a world without grief. A creek brimful of meltwater roiled along to my left, and to my right an aspen grove shimmered with freshly minted leaves. Bluebirds kept darting in and out of holes in the aspen trunks. Butterflies flickered beside every puddle, tasting the succulent mud. Sun glazed the new grass and licked a silver sheen along the boughs of pines.

With all of that to look at, I gazed instead at my son’s broad back, as he stalked away from me up the trail. Sweat had darkened his gray T-shirt in patches the color of bruises. His shoulders were stiff with anger that would weight his tongue and keep his face turned from me for hours. Anger also made him quicken his stride, gear after gear, until I could no longer keep up. I had forty-nine years on my legs and heart and lungs, while Jesse had only seventeen on his. My left foot ached from old bone breaks and my right knee creaked from recent surgery. Used to breathing among the low muggy hills of Indiana, I was gasping up here in the alpine air, a mile and a half above sea level. Jesse would not stop, would not even slow down unless I asked; and I was in no mood to ask. So I slumped against a boulder beside the trail and let him rush on ahead.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Looking at Women

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On that sizzling July afternoon, the girl who crossed at the stoplight in front of our car looked, as my mother would say, as though she had been poured into her pink shorts. The girl’s matching pink halter bared her stomach and clung to her nubbin breasts, leaving little to the imagination, as my mother would also say. Until that moment, it had never made any difference to me how much or little a girl’s clothing revealed, for my imagination had been entirely devoted to other mysteries. I was eleven. The girl was about fourteen, the age of my buddy Norman who lounged in the back seat with me. Staring after her, Norman elbowed me in the ribs and murmured, “Check out that chassis.”

His mother glared around from the driver’s seat. “Hush your mouth.”

“I was talking about that sweet Chevy,” said Norman, pointing out a souped-up jalopy at the curb.

“I know what you were talking about,” his mother snapped.

No doubt she did know, since mothers could read minds, but at first I myself did not have a clue. Chassis? I knew what it meant for a car, an airplane, a radio, or even a cannon to have a chassis. But could a girl have one as well? I glanced after the retreating figure, and suddenly noticed with a sympathetic twitching in my belly the way her long raven ponytail swayed in rhythm to her walk and the way her fanny jostled in those pink shorts. In July’s dazzle of sun, her swinging legs and arms beamed at me a semaphore I could almost read.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318992

Chapter 7. The Agriculturalists

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The Agriculturalists as State Societies

The agriculturalist has assured subsistence. All good things come to him, as we read in the Popol Vub, as a blessing from the “House on the Pyramids,” from agencies “on high.” But in order to have them, he has to work hard, earning his daily bread “by the sweat of his brow.” To pay for those good things, all members of the group have to be drafted into a continued and sustained effort. There is no room anymore, as the Popol Vuh tells it, for the venturesome and the proud. What the tillers need to inculcate in their young is conscientiousness, compliance, humility, and obedience.

With permanent settlements, agriculturalists can no longer avoid the problems of conflict by picking up and leaving: Conflict resolution, in other words, cannot be brought about by fissioning. Chiefly, authority comes into being as one avenue of solution. There is more personal property, and the concept also intrudes into the position of women. A man wants exclusive rights to his spouse, and his elevated status leads not only to her eventual disenfranchisement, but also to her ritual inferiority.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

The Uses of Muscle

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I was a boy growing up on the country roads of Tennessee and Ohio, the men I knew all earned a hardscrabble living with the strength of their hands and arms and backs. They raised corn and cows, felled trees, split wood, butchered hogs, mortared bricks and blocks, built and wired and plumbed houses, dug ditches, hauled gravel, overhauled cars, drove bulldozers and backhoes, welded broken parts. They hunted game for the table in season, and sometimes out of season. Some of them had once mined coal in Appalachia or trawled for fish in the Great Lakes. Many had fought in Europe or Korea. They arm-wrestled at the volunteer fire department, smacked baseballs over fences at the schoolyard, and at the county fair they swung sledgehammers or hefted barrels to see who was the mightiest of the lot.

A brawny, joking, red-haired southern charmer who often won those contests was my father. He had grown up on a farm in Mississippi, had gone to college for a year on a boxing scholarship, had lost the cartilage in his nose during a brief Golden Gloves career. After moving north to Chicago, where he met the woman who would become my mother, he worked by turns as a carpenter, a tire builder, and a foreman in a munitions plant, until he eventually graduated to wearing a white shirt and sitting all day at a desk. He never liked the fit of a desk or a starched shirt, however, so as soon as he came home from the office he would put on overalls and go to work in the shop, garden, or barn. He could fix every machine we owned, from the car to the camera, and he needed to fix them, for we rarely had enough money to buy new ones. Although he grumbled when the tractor threw a belt or the furnace quit, as soon as he grabbed his tools he began to hum. He took pleasure in using his strength and skill, and I took pleasure in watching him. Around our house, whenever anything heavy needed lifting or anything stubborn needed loosening he was the one to do it. He could tame a maverick horse, hoist an oil-slick motor out of a car, balance a sack of oats on his shoulder, plow a straight furrow in stony ground, transplant a tree with its root-ball bundled in burlap, carry my sister and me both at once in his great freckled arms.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253205667

Twelve: The Pit of Death and the Psychopomp

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The postures we have explored up till now have all dealt with life in its manifold aspects. They taught us new insights about spirit journeys and divining, about healing and metamorphosis, and about celebration. But they had nothing to show us about death. For that, we need to turn to two other postures that instruct us about the final journey awaiting all of us at the end of all the “sound and fury.”

The trip to the Realm of the Spirits of the Dead. It will be recalled (see Chapter 9) that there is a posture where the arms are placed on the chest in such a way that the right arm is up. We called it the Chiltan posture, because the healing spirits that Uzbeki shamanesses call on for help bear this name. In scanning the archeological record, however, I found that there was a parallel series, where instead of the right arm being up, it was the left one. It was known in Central America and in the thirteenth century in New Mexico (pls. 50 and 51), where it appears in two painted tablets, one a man, the other a woman, found hidden in a cave. Traces of it occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Polynesia, and early representations were found in prehistoric Central Europe and Eastern Anatolia (Turkey) (pls. 52a and b).

See All Chapters
Medium 9781609947972

Contents

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9780253205667

The Story of Kats and His Bear Wife

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

During our exploration in 1985 of the Chiltan posture, the one about the forty-one girl knights whom the Uzbeki shamanesses call on to help them in curing (see Chapter 9), there were two reports that did not seem to fit the picture. One of them was Belinda’s:

Even during the breathing exercise I began seeing bark figures dancing. When the rattle started, I realized that I was flying very high; the ground was very far away. Then I approached a scene that was brown and green. There was a little pool of water that was like a mirror, and in it I did not see my own reflection, but a stick figure in the shape of a Y. There was a tree, and through it flew a little bird. In place of the pool, there was now a nest with three eggs. The little bird invited me to sit on the nest and intimated that to do that was very important. I stayed on the eggs for a long time, feeling intensified. Then I saw a totem pole, and was embraced by it, by the spirit in the wood. On the other side, there was snow, and pine trees. A hand moving a feather was making marks in the snow. An enormous she-bear appeared; she stood upright and we danced together. I grinned because she made me feel so light. She sat down and embraced me from behind, giving herself to me and penetrating me, and I felt greatly moved. My Lioness came and brought some twigs for the fire and then left. There were the horns of a mountain goat; everything felt high and cold.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

A Private History of Awe

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I rise from meditation each morning, I gaze through an uncurtained window at the waking world, and I bow. The gesture is plain enough—hands drawn to my chest, palms pressed together, a slight bend at the waist—but its meaning is elusive. If you asked me to explain my little ritual, to say whom or what I honor with my bow, I would be hard put to answer.

It’s a question I ask myself with increasing urgency as the years run by. The urgency is not the same as I felt at the age of ten or fifteen, when I prayed fervently each night, having been persuaded by preachers and Sunday School teachers that there was one and only one combination to the door opening from life into immortality. Nor is it the urgency I felt in my twenties, when the Vietnam War pressed me down to the roots of conscience as I struggled to choose between going into battle, exile, or jail. Nor is it the urgency I felt during my thirties and forties, when my children, still young, looked to me for guidance about ultimate things.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

After the Flood

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

A river poured through the landscape I knew as a child. It was the power of the place, gathering rain and snowmelt, surging through the valley under sun, under ice, under the bellies of fish and the curled brown boats of sycamore leaves. You will need a good map of Ohio to find the river I am talking about, the West Branch of the Mahoning. The stretch of it I knew best no longer shows on maps, a stretch that ran between wooded slopes and along the flanks of cornfields and pastures in the township of Charlestown, in Portage County, a rural enclave surrounded by the smokestacks and concrete of Akron, Youngstown, and Cleveland in the northeastern corner of the state.

Along that river bottom I gathered blackberries and hickory nuts, trapped muskrats, rode horses, followed baying hounds on the scent of raccoons. Spring and fall, I walked barefoot over the tilled fields, alert for arrowheads. Along those slopes I helped a family of Swedish farmers collect buckets of maple sap. On the river itself I skated in winter and paddled in summer, I pawed through gravel bars in search of fossils, I watched hawks preen and pounce, I courted and canoed and idled. This remains for me a primal landscape, imprinted on my senses, a place by which I measure every other place.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253204677

Chapter 9: Two Recent Cases of Demonic Possession

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Stories about possession by evil spirits have always fascinated people, and our own century is no exception. The film The Exorcist, based on an actual case, had numerous reruns both here and abroad. Hostage to the Devil, by the Jesuit father Malachi Martin,1 which recreates six contemporary possession cases, was widely read in this country, and in the German-speaking parts of Europe, the case of a nurse called Magda, described by Adolf Rodewyk,2 also a Jesuit father, has gone through four editions since it was first published in 1965.

Yet demonic possession is not just the stuff of scary stories. As explained before, we are dealing with actual, catastrophic physical and psychological changes, bringing great suffering to the afflicted. To demonstrate the point, I want in the following to describe two recent cases. They show first of all how little the symptoms of the affliction have changed over time, that is, how stable the syndrome actually is, and second, they raise the important question about what role, if any, modern psychiatry and allopathic medicine might play in the cure.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253205667

Two: Getting in Touch with the Spirits: The First Discoveries

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In the Protestant Christian tradition in which I was raised, it was held that the only way in which a human could communicate with the beings inhabiting the alternate reality was by prayer. But in the view of the vast majority of other traditions, speech, as the mode of communication of ordinary reality, is singularly unsuited for this purpose. It is but a hardly audible knock on the very thick wall separating humans from the spirit realm. In fact, humans have to make a truly heroic effort to be noticed on the other side. Merely talking, falling into a worshipful mood, feeling “transcendent,” “numinous,” or “oceanic,” or whatever other pompous words are listed in the dictionary, simply will not do. Instead humans, if they have the urgent necessity or desire to squeeze through the chinks in that wall, need to change the very functioning of their bodies in the most radical way. The term summarizing these changes is religious trance, one of a large group of altered states of consciousness of which humans are capable. It is termed religious because observation shows that it is the one occurring in religious context, that is, when contact is made with the alternate, the sacred, reality. (For the problem of defining “religion,” see Goodman 1988.)

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Beauty

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In memory, I wait beside Eva in the vestibule of the church to play my bit part as father of the bride. She is supposed to remain hidden from the congregation until her queenly entrance, but in her eagerness to see what’s going on up front she leans forward to peek around the edge of the half-closed door. The satin roses appliquéd to her gown catch the light as she moves, and the toes of her pale silk shoes peep out from beneath the hem. The flower girls watch her every motion. Twins a few days shy of their third birthday, they flounce their unaccustomed frilly skirts, twirl their bouquets, and stare with wide eyes down the great length of carpet leading through the avenue of murmuring people.

Eva hooks a hand on my elbow while the three bridesmaids fuss over her, fixing the gauzy veil, spreading the long ivory train of her gown, tucking into her bun a loose strand of hair, which glows the color of honey filled with sunlight. Clumsy in my rented finery—patent leather shoes that are a size too small and starched shirt and stiff black tuxedo—I stand among these gorgeous women like a crow among doves. I realize they are gorgeous not because they carry bouquets or wear silk dresses, but because the festival of marriage has slowed time down until any fool can see their glory.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

Staying Put

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two friends arrived at our house for supper one May evening along with the first rumblings of thunder. As my wife, Ruth, and I sat talking with them on our front porch, we had to keep raising our voices a notch to make ourselves heard above the gathering storm. The birds, more discreet, had already hushed. The huge elm beside our door began to sway, limbs creaking, leaves hissing. Black sponges of clouds blotted up the light, fooling the street lamps into coming on early. Above the trees and rooftops, the murky southern sky crackled with lightning. Now and again we heard the pop of a transformer as a bolt struck the power lines in our neighborhood. The pulses of thunder came faster and faster, until they merged into a continuous roar.

We gave up on talking. The four of us, all midwesterners teethed on thunderstorms, sat down there on the porch to our meal of lentil soup, cheddar cheese, bread warm from the oven, sliced apples and strawberries. We were lifting the first spoonfuls to our mouths when a stroke of lightning burst so nearby that it seemed to suck away the air, and the lights flickered out, plunging the whole street into darkness.

See All Chapters

Load more