body, mind, and spirit or wobble, falter, and fall

There’s a class that I teach called Body, Mind, Spirit. Pretty funny, actually, to call it that but I couldn’t name the course what it really is: Integral Transformative Practice. I mean, nobody knows what that is, right? And what would that look like on a university transcript? But Body, Mind, Spirit is a reasonable offering in a Comparative Religious Studies Program.

But why mention it here?

The course is entirely experiential. The goal is to develop a practice in ‘the cultivation of an extraordinary capacity.’ That’s what we called it in the original experiment that I participated in. The original ITP was inaugurated by Michael Murphy and George Leonard. I participated in the first three cycles (i.e. three years) of the experiment. After that, the whole thing became a practice of the kata, meditation, exercise, and meetings, and left the original experiment behind. My BMS class sticks to the original experiment as closely as possible, given the time constraints of a single semester.

During the original ITP and during each and every BMS course that I give, something happens about halfway through the cycle.  Participants for the most part lose their practice. They fall off the wagon, for lack of a better phrase.

And so, in our kaddish practice (if I may call it that) I am not surprised and I fully anticipated that a time would come when our own enthusiasm, commitment, and practice would waver, wobble, falter, and fall.

So, okay, we’ve done better than expected so far. We’re about three quarters of the way through the year. So, that’s not so bad.  I think Erin’s held it together better than I have, despite her domestic woes. But she is, after all, a musician—and musicians know how to practice.

I, on the other hand, am completely out of practice.

So. In the Body, Mind, Spirit class (RelS 123) this is the turning point. And the point at which we begin to see who just wavers, wobbles, and falls—and who picks themselves up and starts running again. It’s that latter thing that makes all the difference. Anybody can have a good start. But how many people can climb back out of a major slump?

Confession: It is now four days that I have not (as contracted) listened to Erin’s Kogan’s Kaddish.  Four days! And I can’t bring myself to do it.  Whether this is because my old anti-music mode is fighting back with force, or whether this is the natural progression of our project, I just don’t know.

Furthermore, I’ve stopped writing my tzaddik stories. And this is not for lack of stories to tell. I don’t know what’s happened. I just know that I’ve stopped. Why? I just don’t know.

Previously, I considered that when it comes to the kaddish that perhaps this falling apart of the practice was actually functional. Which right now is sounding like just another very good excuse. Or maybe it’s accurate, I just don’t know.

Is the Mourner’s Kaddish just like any other practice?

When you get just plain sick of it, is that a good sign or a bad one?

This feels like a critical moment in our project. If it were a race, I sit down and take the pebbles out of my running shoes right about now.  Whereas, in the past—I’ve always just kept running despite the pain. And then come to a halt at the end and chucked the shoes and there went the practice, down the drain soon after.

New ideas—easy. Follow through—a whole lot tougher.

I’m finding myself longing for something new. New puppy. New exercise machine. New courses to teach.

New me.

What I’ve learned from ITP and my own Body, Mind, Spirit class is that the path to any ‘new me’ is through practice. Through follow through. And not through starting a new project.

So. Here is the test, in these last few months, of the integrity of my own kaddish practice. Wobble, falter, and fall — or pick myself up, dust myself off, and pull it together?

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

That’s the expression I believe.

But I don’t believe it.  Time for less play. Time to get back to work.

Or is sloughing off on the kaddish entirely functional? Our kaddish in two-part harmony project feels very much like the ITP experiment that we did. The question is, have we been cultivating something extraordinary here and is our kaddish something healing?

Maybe by the time of our Yahrtzeit in November I’ll have figured this one out.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

6 replies on “body, mind, and spirit or wobble, falter, and fall”

It’s actually a really hard class! Participation in the class exercises is a large component. Doing some of them outside of class for the entire semester (very difficult, it seems). Office hours 4x semester (near impossible for some, but essential to checking in). And the key component is the research project, which is presented at the end of the course. This is one of those classes where intellectuals have a harder time than the jocks. Jocks already know how to have a physical practice—and stick to it. And they know what it means to work toward the extraordinary!

Leave it to you to design a religion class that’s harder for intellectuals than jocks! Lucky students.

What are some of the extraordinary kinds of capabilities you’ve seen people managing to cultivate? Any particularly spectacular failures to go with those successes? I imagine there might even be some failures that turned out better than the hoped-for successes.

Ay-yay-yai — don’t call it a ‘religion’ class! Since it’s a class that is experiential, and I teach at a state university, calling it ‘religion’ would entail a co-mingling of ‘church and state,’ Verboten. I still think of it as anthropology:

These are the practices that religions use in order to achieve particular states of consciousness — is how I phrase it. These are practices. Anyone can do them. Anyone can see angels or devils or little flitty spirits. Anyone can engage in what religions call prophesy. etc. The practices are easy to teach and take practice to learn. They’re techniques. Very do-able.

What religions do is attribute very specific meanings to particular practices. And then judge (both others and the self) based upon those interpretations. In this class, I wipe out the overlay of religious meanings, strip it down to the bone of practice. And then we can ask the question: SO WHAT if we see visions? So what if we can sense what is to come? More important is what we do with this ‘information.’ Do we judge others based upon our own vision? Do we demonize? Rise up in crusades? There are so many places to go with these questions.

Students take their own subjective experiences and have no place to put them except into a pre-existing religious framework. I show them how to keep it separate. I think that’s the most valuable part of the class. Experiencing the extraordinary is the easy part!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.