Monday, August 15, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.21: Reflection & Release

shlakShna-puurvam atho tena
hRdi so 'bhihatas tadaa
dhyaatvaa diirghaM nishashvaasa
kiM cic c' aavaaN-mukho 'bhavat

= - = - - = = -
- - = - - = - =
= = = = - = = -
= = = = - = - -

Then -- though it was tenderly done --

Nanda was stricken in his heart.

After reflecting, he drew in a long breath,

And his face inclined slightly downward.

This verse, as I read it, contains Ashvaghosha's recognition of a truth that is intimately related with the practice which is called in Alexander work "non-doing."

As an experiment you can try for yourself right now at your computer: take a deep in-breath and then tuck your chin in a bit so that you feel some tension at the back of your neck as your face inclines slightly forward and downward.

What you have just done is an exercise in doing.

Non-doing is a different, nay opposite, conception and a totally different kind of practice. And what Ashvaghosha as I hear him is describing in Nanda is something totally different from Nanda doing something. Nanda did not do anything to cause himself to take an in-breath or to incline his face slightly downward. The deep breath and tiny movement of the head were rather the indirect result of Nanda's thought processes -- dhyaatvaa is the absolutive form of the root √dhyai (or √dhyaa), to think, reflect, meditate (as in dhyaana, Zen). The absolutive form expresses action preceding the main action. So dhyaatvaa means Nanda thought/reflected/meditated and after that, in consequence, certain things happened; namely, a deep in-breath and a subtle undoing of muscles with which Nanda had been pulling his head back. This deep breath and slight movement of Nanda's head were manifestations of muscular release, of an undoing which cannot be done directly.

For Nanda, where he is at this stage of his journey, these changes happened unconsciously. Nanda did not will those changes; they rather happened when Ananda held up a mirror and Nanda reflected. But if one wishes consciously to cause such changes to happen, what means are available?

What FM Alexander called "the means-whereby" is inhibition of the desire to do it directly in combination with sending thought messages along the lines of "head forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen." This sending of messages, altogether and one after another, Alexander called "thinking" or "thinking in activity."

The practice that Alexander called "thinking," I imagine Ashvaghosha might have called dhyaana, from the root √dhyai (or √dhyaa), to think or reflect.

Sitting-dhyaana, at least for me, as I have been practising it for 17 years now since my first Alexander lesson, is all about allowing the neck to be free to allow the head to go forward and up so that the back lengthens and widens and the knees go forward and away.

Expressed like this, it may sound like sitting-dhyaana as I practise it is all about neck and head and back and knees. But more fundamentally it is about allowing. It is, as Alexander said, the most mental thing there is. It is about informing the whole body with thought... and then what happens?

Does the breathing deepen? Does the face continue to incline slightly forward? Do body and mind drop off?

In theory, yes, for sure. In practice, it is not necessarily so.

Sometimes one goes hunting for cep mushrooms in the forest in late summer, just after a period of rain, only to come back several hours later tired and hungry and totally empty handed.

EH Johnston:
Then being stricken to the heart by him although in gentle fashion, Nanda meditated and, heaving a deep sigh, became somewhat downcast.

Linda Covill:
Then, wounded in his heart though it was gently done, Nanda brooded awhile, sighed deeply, and turned his face aside.

shlakShna-puurvam: (ind.) with gentleness, gently
shlakShna: mfn. slippery , smooth , polished , even , soft , tender , gentle , bland
puurvam: ind. before; ifc. in the sense of " with " e.g. priiti-puurvam , with love ; mati-puurvam with intention ,
atho: ind. now, then, therefore
tena (inst. sg. m.): by him

hRdi (loc. sg.): the heart
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
abhihataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. struck , smitten , killed
tadaa: ind. at that time , then , in that case (often used redundantly)

dhyaatvaa = abs. dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect
diirgham: ind. long , for a long time
nishashvaasa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect ni- √ shvas: to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss , snort &c

kiM cid: somewhat , a little
ca: and
avaaN-mukhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having the face turned downwards , looking down
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu: to be, become

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