Thursday, August 25, 2011


I saw the following on John Gruber's Daring Fireball this morning: "Stanley Kubrick in his 1968 interview with Playboy: The most terrifying fact of the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." I submit that what Kubrick refers to here as a "fact" — that the universe is inherently "indifferent" — is nothing more than the meaning he himself has ascribed. I also suggest that we can expand out Kubrick's perspective to view three possible perspectives, postures or "seats" (asanas) one can take on the universe: 1. The universe is against us. This is the belief that the forces of the universe are deeply inimical, antithetical, or opposed to our desires, dreams, and very being. I have known people like this in my life (for example, my own brother) and have, at times embodied this view myself. Ah, the teenage years, when I thought, in alphabetical order, that Bierce, Bukowski, Camus, Celine and Sartre, among others, had really figured it all out, and were offering the best way of thinking about my life. There is a victim mentality that seems to accompany this posture. This asana reminds me of Abel, of Cain and Abel fame, a story that, among other things, tells us that there are predators and there are victims. One of life's questions then becomes, which one are you? 2. The universe is indifferent to us. Kubrick's quote above is typical of this view, though it seems to me there's underlying this asana is the idea that the universe is in fact a "vast darkness." It also seems this view is typical of what's considered the modern Western materialist view — that the universe is reducible to tiny components that inhabit a separate space through which we move. On a mythic level, I think of Sisyphus: we are here to roll the rock up the hill again and again, an inherently futile effort, yet one in which we must find beauty and meaning. 3. The universe supports us. As emanations of the universe, the "one turning," we are in fact not and never separate from everything else. Different, yes; separate, no. From the perspective of this asana, we are here to move in synchrony with and to participate in it. In this way a Yoga practice becomes the practice of not freeing ourselves from life or overcoming it. Ram, Sita and Hanuman embody this: conditional love, unconditional love, and the agent that re-unifies them, each moving according to their capacities, desires and duties. I think it's important to know how your system of Yoga addresses these postures, as each one does so differently. To look at these three views as asanas is helpful, as the implication of a consciously chosen seat implies personal choice and the power of our intention and attention. Which of the three views do you choose to invest in, knowing that in turn, this view will inform and infuse your life? I think it's also possible to hold opposing seats at different times, too. What situations cause fluctuations in your asana? Family, work, relationships? For example, how does spending an afternoon at the DMV (to choose one of my favorite examples) affect your asana? To return to Stanley Kubrick: his perspective, that of the vast indifference of the universe, infused his films, from Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon to The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. So while his films are among those I respect, admire and am moved by, I find I can't love them like I love Truffaut (and not Godard), Renoir, Pasolini, Anderson.