Yoga by Emmanuel Carrère*****

5 March 2023 | , , ,

Reading dates: 23 January – 04 March 2023

Yoga is an autofiction novel, the rule of this form being, as Carrère describes in the book, never to lie. Yoga explores the ancient practice (yes, it is a book about yoga) while interconnecting it with the Charlie Hedbo attacks, the author’s bipolar breakdown and the refugee crisis in Greece. It is beautifully and sensitively written and conjures up such nice images. I was not expecting much on a novel that took on such a vast topic, so dear to me, but it is sensitively developed through his own body, his own experience and perception. I think it is a great book. It is also ambitious, for it tries to describe yoga – as it truly is, a meditative practice, not the gymnastics we may see in social media, although the novel ends with a handstand. The parts in the vipassana retreat are, in my experience, accurate and the writing comes from a place of deep love for what yoga gives us, without being wallowing or sentimental. It has, for me, the perfect tone (partly due to John Lambert’s beautiful translation) and I hope to re-read it. I also loved the cover, as it remonded me of a definition of yoga which my teacher Lucy told us once: life is constant falling but yoga makes you realise there is no ground – and there is a comfort in that.

Carrère’s definition of yoga, which is of course what intrigued me and made me pick up this book, is peppered thoughout its pages but he is generous enough to compile it towards the narrative conclusion. Here it is:

Meditation is sitting silent and motionless. Meditation is everything that happens in your consciousness while you’re sitting silent and motionless. Meditation is creating a witness inside you who monitors the whirlwind of thoughts without being swept away by them. Meditation is seeing things as they are. Meditation is detaching from what you call yourself. Meditation is discovering that you’re something other than the thing that is relentlessly saying: Me! Me! Me! Meditation is discovering that you are something other than your ego. Meditation is a technique for diminishing your ego. Meditation is diving and settling into what is bothersome in life. Meditation is not judging. Meditation is paying attention. Meditation is observing the points of contact between what is oneself and what is not oneself. Meditation is stopping the fluctuations of the mind. Meditation is observing these fluctuations called vritti, calming them, and eventually making them disappear. Meditation is being aware that others exist. Meditation is diving within yourself and digging tunnels, building dams, opening lanes, bringing something into being and out into the open sky. Meditation is finding a secret, radiant zone within you, where you feel good. Meditation is being in your place, wherever you are. Meditation is being aware of everything, all the time (this is Krishnamurti’s definition). Meditation is accepting what comes. Meditation is not telling yourself stories. Meditation is letting go, not expecting anything, not trying to do anything. Meditation is living in the present moment. Meditation is pissing and shitting when you piss and shit, nothing more. Meditation is not adding anything. That’s it.

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