The Intimate Thread: Reading as a Devotional Practice

IMG_1558I’m very much looking forward to next weekend’s workshop with Jody Greene at Yoga Tree, The Intimate Thread:  Reading as a Devotional Practice. 

Jody and I have been talking for a while about wanting to teach a workshop that provides a space for an embodied exploration of reading.

I love reading aloud with friends and am always amazed at how simple it is to do and how much happens in that simple act of reading with others.  One of the most memorable experiences of reading aloud I have ever had took place over the summer of 2005, with Stanley Kunitz, when we read Moby Dick aloud.

Reading aloud was something we’d always done in the years when I worked with him, either in the course of preparing a talk, or in working on The Wild Braid, or as time allowed, as a way of ending the afternoon’s work. And of course, because it was Stanley, if we were reading Wallace Stevens, we’d be reading from a first edition of Harmonium, bought in real time.   I loved the strange fringe lines that ran across the pages in that book and am happy that they are still part of my edition.  slowblog harmonium ornament2

Reading came to be a direct path “home.” Over and over I noticed this phenomenon: wherever he may have been as he set out along of the syntax of a sentence, a rope bridge strung above a rushing current, he could find his way “back.” As he read, his energy would shift palpably, his presence becoming more saturated, coming into a clear coalescence of what could be called “self.” He’d sit up straighter in his chair, his breathing clearing with each word, and there he was, full force: that voice, his trademark acuity subtly registering in his nuanced intonation, pacing, gestures, and pauses. I don’t know what the physiological process was, but I imagine the brittled synapses restored to their suppleness in the act of reading. I picture the sparks leaping across the axons as he found his rhythm.

Frequently, visiting friends would take turns reading.  One afternoon we were on the screened porch, several hundred pages in, on chapter 44, “The Chart,” which describes how whales find their way around the “unhooped oceans of the planet.” It was Stanley’s turn, and as he read, the wind started picking up for a late afternoon storm. Stanley read on, undeterred––indeed, spurred, “. . . the Sperm Whales, guided by some infallible instinct––say, rather, secret intelligence from the Deity—mostly swim in veins, as they are called; continuing their way along a given ocean-line with such undeviating exactitude, that no ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvelous precision.” As he read, I had such a strong sense that this was exactly what he was doing, navigating the current of the articulated breath.

For the workshop with Jody, we imagine the two days to be immersive, with restorative poses and different contexts for reading together:  aloud, silently; individually, in pairs, as a group.

We are also very much thinking about our relationship to reading on screens and very much consider these two afternoons to be a relief from that.

Here’s the description:

Over two afternoons, this workshop will explore reading as a practice of awareness, attentiveness, and devotion. We will consider reading as a sacred, embodied act, one that gathers body, breath, and mind in a single-pointed effort to attend with care.

When we read, we enter into an intimate relationship with the traces another person has left on the page, and join a living, vibrant conversation. Reading in this way requires us to slow down, to set aside some of the usual devices and distractions that can fracture our attention, and to suspend for a moment some of our expectations about the world and the people around us. In reading, we open eyes, ears, and mind to encounter the new; even and especially when we are rereading or re-encountering something we have met many times before. We greet the work anew, the work answers back, and a conversation unfolds.

Cost: $75 for both sessions, Saturday and Sunday.
$40 for Saturday Only

The works we study (poems, sutras, short prose) will span ancient to modern: from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and short passages from the Ramayana to poetry by Hafiz, Kabir, Emily Dickinson, Rilke, Mark Doty, and Mary Oliver, among many others.

We’ll engage with each other through and around the works we read. We will practice reading aloud to each other, and collectively. We will use both dialogue and writing to encourage and cultivate our capacity to respond patiently, with both heart and mind.

We’ll use meditation and pranayama to center and ground ourselves, slowing the usual habits of our busy mind. This workshop will consider reading as an embodied practice that takes place through the eyes, the hands, the mouth, and throughout the body as a whole – in gesture and in stillness.

Appropriate for all students and teachers of yoga, as well as writers and readers at all levels.
No experience or requirements beyond basic curiosity and the desire to encounter anew something you have probably been doing for almost your entire life: the simple and deeply pleasurable act of reading.

Students who wish to take only one of the two days are encouraged to take first day’s workshop if possible, but either day is possible. 

Jody Greene came to the practice of yoga in 2000, and her path to teaching continues to unfold daily through practice, study, and the karma yoga of assisting. She is deeply blessed and enlivened by ongoing studentship with her teacher, Janet Stone. In 2001, Jody began studying Zen Buddhism, and has practiced in both lay and monastic settings throughout the past decade. She is currently especially interested in exploring the intersections and diversions of Zen and Tantric Philosophy, under inspiring and inspired teachers Daijaku Kinst, Paul Haller, and Hareesh Wallace. In the interstices, she is Professor of Literature, Feminist Studies, and the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz


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