Namaste Yoga: “Your presence is required”

Another wonderful thing about coming home is getting back to your yoga practice. Alongside my home practice, I try to attend 1-2 classes a week at NamasteOakland, and I especially like making it to Naushon Kabat-Zinn’s class on a Saturday morning. This morning, despite the cold symptoms I brought back with me from Rhode Island, I found my mat and dug my yoga clothes out of my still packed suitcase and found my way to class. It still feels good knowing I started my morning with a rigorous Vinyasa flow.

What I want to mention about class in this post is something Naushon said, “your presence is required.” She mentioned this after suggesting that while in tree pose we try to close our eyes. Presence of mind is essential for balance and for letting go of ego. Additionally, staying present allows you to notice how the changes in your “self” are affecting the way you interact with the world. This last thought is predicated on the notion of a self that is not pre-determined, that the “journey” we are taking, according to yoga, is not the search for a self that exists somewhere deep indside layers of psychology and distractions. The journey is, on the other hand, the practice of recognizing an ever-changing self.

I find it timely that Naushon spouted this brilliant proverb because I last night I read “How to be Good,” an article in the Sept. 5 issue of the New Yorker. In this article by Larissa MacFarquhar, a fluid depiction is made of Derek Parfit, both the man and the philosopher. Parfit, a contemporary philosopher holds a view of the self very similar to the Buddhist view of the self.

“A self, it seems, is not all or nothing but the sort of thing that there can be more of or less of.”

Parfit’s view leads him to an entire philosophy of morality, and MacFarquhar’s articulation of his diligence as an academic make him monk-like.

“He moved into rooms at All Souls and settled into a monk-like existence…Almost all his waking hours were spent at his desk. All Souls resembles a monastery.”

While I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but notice continual overlaps between Parfit and my understanding of those who devote their lives to yoga, i.e. Buddha. Parfit has devoted his entire life to his work, to philosophy. His work has been developing a notion of the self from which he has articulated a theory of morality influenced by and in dialogue with one of my favorite philosophers, Kant, among others.

No huge revalations here, however, I do recommend this article. I am also completely delighted to see Buddhist ideas re-surfacing in contemporary philosophy.

“Parfit’s view resembles in some ways the Buddhist view of the self, a fact that was pointed out to him years ago by a professor of Oriental religions. Parfit was delighted by this discovery… to find out that a figure like the Buddha, vastly removed form him by time and space, came independently to a similar conslusion– well, that was extremely reassuring.”


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