Under the Skin.

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. – Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus.

Sometimes yoga talk throws around bad science. I’m not a scientist so I find this amusing. People might start a practice wanting to transcend these fleshy casings we call bodies: lose weight, get fit, heal injuries, ease the pain. But the daily practice soon gets wearing when it confronts you with your too fat, too stiff, too old body over and over again. It hurts. Focussing too much on alignment, talking about anatomy, and god forbid, using props, this is all just distractions, laziness. We’re turning our bodies inside out to uncover the subtle body – to become a body-without-organs. How can we become enlightened when that block is cushioning our fall, or if we can’t mentally overcome our back pain.

But it makes sense: get the body out the way and you can concentrate on ‘things that matter’. I was laughing with a friend the other day over our relative poverty. “I can’t keep my concentration”, he said, “I’m concerned about money all the time. I can’t pay attention.”

Yoga talk also gets it confused when it starts talking about sacrifice. The practice should be a matter of desire, not cultivating indifference. We can loosen those attachments and still desire. There’s no good and bad morals here. This is about being vigilant: it’s about developing an ethical practice.

The practice is wearing because there’s no remedy for all the stuff that gets under the skin. We just get hyper aware of how the outside gets in. Sometimes this starts as a fixation on food, or keeping a strict sleep cycle; distancing the self from ‘bad’ toxins: late nights out, casual sex, pollution, noise.

Mastery over the body can be a helpful illusion, but denial is just as toxic. I can’t help but bristle at talk of human nature, instinct, biological urges (this is what Foucault did to me). And yet I find myself invested in agreeing upon some type of biological consistency that makes us identifiably human. But this has little to do with things we often attribute to human nature: power, greed, selfishness. These are just relics from too many Sunday school lessons. This is the type of stuff we should be aiming to relinquish in all our backbending: the learnt ideas of the people we think we should be.

I’m captivated by the process of losing, though it took me some time to figure out why. It’s a question of rupture, what it means to experience disruption. But more so it is about what is in the nature of being that it is possible to rupture. In the daily Ashtanga practice the body can feel so very translucent, so very precariously thin. It can feel like a slow dissipating, dissolving.

I’m captivated too by the process of loving, though it took me some time to figure out I was speaking about the same thing. It’s a question of wanting to become different; about violating your attachment to intentionality without being anti-intentional. That’s why yoga is such a good model for love and vice versa. (I can see the book cover now: ‘Why Yoga Can Make Us Better Lovers’).

Desires always have an object as a stand-in, whether a person, pair of shoes, or a political ideal. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong, it’s just that the object can never return on the intention. That’s how desire works. Some theorists talk about desire as an affect that exists independently (prior to and outside) of consciousness and the mind’s control. It’s an intensity between bodies in which we get caught up. This is an exchange of energy, not words. You only have to enter the atmosphere of a full mysore self-practice Ashtanga room to feel this for yourself. That’s what feeds all the bodies in Mysore, and why people return with a serious consciousness lag.

Affect doesn’t owe you anything and desire has misguided intentions. This is the price of entering into relationality, the space of unknowingness. Unknowingness is necessary if we want to utilise our capacity to affect and be affected. This is where loss and love come in. It’s an opportunity to be affected, to come undone. If this is a sketching of a theory, it’s a theory that states: I don’t know.

Somewhere too far down this line though we start to lose the body. The opening up that happens through practice or a external rupture makes the body suggestible. The self performs, imitates, repeats itself. This might manifest in myriad ways: self-destructive behaviours, hoarding, militant monitoring. Injecting incoherence, ambivalence, resistance into the subject, welcomes liminality. And yet it’s only by unravelling you might catch a glimpse at what it is that holds you together. Or to take a Deleuzian line: how do we hang together when we are multiple?

I don’t see the point in dispensing with the body, with the flesh. Nor attachments. They are both messy and inconsistent. I rather like that. Even if the not knowing, the insecurity of the attachment can feel unbearable. Its only by situating ourselves in a space of unknowingness can we experience desire in a way that escapes the banal, commercial, crass or conventional. These common objects make viable our desiring that somehow circumvents our desires by emptying them out of substance and returning them to us in a safer form. This is not about being against the superficial, but perhaps it is about making better choices.

Its not about getting to the truth either. Or uncovering ‘real’ desires. Its just to point out that the root of that something, that something that whether you want to call it human nature, or affect, or love, or enlightened consciousness, might not be found somewhere deep and obscure. You might not have to wander distant lands, or practice six series of Ashtanga, or live like a nun, or read all the texts on neurobiology you can find in the University library to find it. It might just be lying softly there, right under the skin.

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