Saturday, February 22, 2014

Yoga: The Art of Transformation at the Asian Art Museum San Fancisco

               Yoga Class at the Asian Art Museum led by Erica Jago

Nauli Kriya from the Bahr al-hayat (Ocean of Life) From the Exhibition Catalogue

We are blessed in California to have a first of its kind exhibition of yoga art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. This exhibition, organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, visually traces the variegated paths of yoga practice from the late 1st millennium BCE to the present. Yoginis and yogis in sculpture and painting present us with  their abundant exuberance and compel us to rethink the globalized yoga movement in which we are so immersed. The exhibition opened with a remarkable yoga posture/asana and meditation class conducted by Erica Jago, a rising yogini from Oahu, who riveted us with a 90' sequence of yoga movements, mantra meditation, and breathing.

I have written of my partiality toward and affection for hybridity as a way out of the morass of nationalism, religious fundamentalism and ethnocentricity. No better exemplar of the cosmopolitan arc of yoga is that depicted in the painting from the early 17th century treatise, Bahr al-hayat, Ocean of Life, which was the first text to illustrate Hatha Yoga postures or asanas. It is ironic that the manuscript was written in Persian by a Sufi Shaykh Muhammad Ghawth and commissioned by the future Mughal Emperor Jahanghir. The text itself refers to the oneness of God  and to our being emanational microcosms of the macrocosmic Divine. So yoga was adapted to Sufi Muslim theology in the Mughal courts.

Thus, even in the 1600s, yoga practice had become an international and trans-religious mode for self-cultivation. May we continue to adapt yoga meditation, breathing and movement to our Universalist ideals and values!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Environmental Art as a Path to Eco-Spirituality

Andy Goldsworthy Stone River 2001 Cantor Arts Center Stanford University
There is a marvelous stone sculpture outside of Stanford's Cantor Art Center. A sinuous river of stone flows effortlessly through a field, reminding us of swirling vortices and  liquid life frozen in space. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is "The inherent worth and dignity of every person". Somehow the personhood of rocks or water, let alone that of animals, escaped the crafters of this principle. I was talking to a friend who argues that dogs or cats or dolphins naturally show empathy in a way that we cannot fathom with psychological/verbal description. Yes! And I would add that so-called inanimate objects also partake of empathy when we allow our imaginations to feel our connection with them. In this way art raises us to such a level of reflection that we spontaneously sense our connection to natural objects. The river winds back and forth like our moods; the wind inspires; the rock remains steady and patient. 
Unitarian Universalists do lift up a principle, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part", that partially commits us to harmony with nature; but, I would say that the degree to which we find nature spirited and animated, compels us to tread more lightly and more empathically on this source of our nurturance and being.