Evergreen College, Spring 2008

Thursdays, 9:30-12:15, CRC 314

Sarah Williams, Sem2 C2106, ext. 6561, williasa@evergreen.edu

Office Hours: Wednesday 9-10 and 12-1; group session Tuesday 1-3 in Sem2 C2109

Contemplative Studies – Yoga Nidra/iRest Studio Workshop


riHA Asked whether he did what I thought the he did, he said,

“Yes.” He gave me an example. He

can imagine having a house

in Ceylon, the Tea Mountains. Old woman dressed

excessively: false eyelashes, high red haird, trinket

jewelry. (Others tittering.) Graves came near: You’re

very beautiful. She smiled, smile of light, “I thank you.” Bird is a

chalice. Chalice is a bird. Chalice and

bird are breathing together.

His birds are not birds.

They are invitations to events at which we are

already present. Write it down: don’t forget to reply. There are many

islands in the lake. No one of them is larger than a chair or coffee table. They’re covered with vegetation.

They are tree tops that have turned into receptables.

(John Cage, Series re Morris Graves)

    When I tried to imagine what it would be like to be Graves in the act of painting, it seemed to me it would be natural to vocalize and at times to dance. I then asked him whether that happened. He said it did. For the nonsyntactical dance-chants, I used the syllables of names and words from I Ching—determined pages of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The arrangement of these syllables follows metrical patterns of the fourth movement of my Quartet for Percussion (1935). It was following the third movement that Morris Graves said, “Jesus in the Everywhere.” And it was the day after that event that we first met each other.


    In writing the pieces for this book, I hoped to emulate his [Joseph Cornell’s] way of working and come to understand him that way. It is worth pointing out that Cornell worked in the absence of any aesthetic theory and previous notion of beauty. He shuffled a few inconsequential found objects inside his boxes until together they composed an image that pleased him with no clue as to what that image will turn out be in the end. (Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell).

That Charles Simic wanted to do with words what Joseph Cornell did with dime-store bric-a-brac, that John Cage wanted to do with words what Morris Graves did with painting, inspires me, because of the gift of their work, to do the same:

This studio/workshop is itself a shadow box, a collage, a montage, a surreal scenario for exploring the perceiving, creative and contemplative aspects of mind. Like during the fall and winter quarters, the following collage of voices, taken from our program texts (real and imagined), was inspired by my experiences and memories. And, like during the fall and winter quarters, it is offered as an invitation by way of a syllabus for you to experience, remember and express your own inspiration. Although that which inspired Dutch immigrant and collage maker Joseph Cornell in New York City in the 1940s still shapes this syllabus, its winter quarter invitation was local. The following collage invites you to see through the eyes of the “mystic artists” working in the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s as well as through the eyes of John Cage looking through the “inner eye” of these artists to see the “Sky of Mind” perhaps first articulated in Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

Upon awakening

the Seer watches her dream dissipate

like a wisp of cloud.

Empty sky remains. (Alberto Villoldo, Yoga, Power, and Spirit: Patanjali the Shaman)

That Deloris Tarzan Ament wanted to with words (and that Mary Randlette wanted to do with photography) what the Northwest mystics did with the iridescent light and natural bric-a-brac of our regional landscape, inspires me, because of the gift of their distinctive style, to do the same:

    This distinctive style had two sources: first, the land itself, and the way it appeared in diffused light; and the second, the Northwest’s cultural mix. It was a unique combination of inner and outer light.

    Many Northwest sculptors and painters created iconic images of animals, especially birds, that had resonance in Native American themes. Northwest artists’ studios are apt to be thick with found objects such as owl nests, seashells, unusual stones, dried weeds, bird skulls, insect specimens, driftwood, Native American carvings, African masks, and Asian ceramics, in addition to tacked-up images by other, admired artists.

    The mystic label came from their way of imbuing subjects with a sense of heightened meaning. They hinted at another reality behind the visible order of things. The effect was achieved without the slightest hint of sentimentality, often through the use of symbols such as birds, the moon, or a distant shore.

    Carl Jung once wrote, ‘The symbol can make the divine visible.’ Morris Graves said simply, ‘Works of art can strive to clarify the spirit.’

    For him, [Graves]. consciousness often assumed the form of a bird, or of a chalice,--a form of the Holy Grail, a time–honored symbol of the search for truth and redemption.

    It has been said that many of Grave’s paintings sprang from visions received in meditation. It might be more accurate to say that for Graves, painting was itself a meditative practice.

    He meditated, painted, and listened intensely to night sounds, trying to imagine and to draw the creatures that made them. At various times he tried to paint birdsong, and the sound of surf, in consonance with the Vedic concept that sound and form are synonymous.

    [I}n all significant painting from Catal Huyuk to Hieronymus Bosch the Bird has stood for that drive or force which bears the migrant soul of man into another state.’ Gerald Heard

    ‘We must so live that we can sensitively search the phenomena of nature from the lichen to the day-moon, from the mist to the mountain, even from the molecule to the cosmos—and we must dream deeply down into the kelp beds and not let one fleck of significance of beauty pass unappraised and unquestioned and unanswered.’ Morris Graves

    ‘To me art is a holy land,’ he [James Washington Jr.] has said, ‘where initiates seek to reveal the spirituality of matter.’

    ‘I don’t think we really create a damn thing. We fool around and something comes of it. We are not creators—we are created. I hold the brush, but what holds me?’ William Cumming

‘The cosmos has become my Koan.’ Philip McCracken

    ‘There have been many times with animals when I’ve sensed that my subjects were busy studying me; a strange moment of common ground in mutual understanding. I’m quite convinced that part of the Raven, Otter, and Hawk spirit has occasionally been in me with the purpose of conveying their story to others of my kind.’ Tony Angell


The experience of a more cosmic, altered, or other than human state of consciousness is at the heart of the yoga tradition. In this studio workshop yoga asana and yoga nidra will be practiced with particular attention to their facility for shifting one’s state of consciousness. The focus winter quarter was regional, but wonderfully complementary relative to the fall quarter focus on Joseph Cornell’s legacy. Compare and contrast, for example, Philip McCracken’s sculpture, Poems (Ament p. viii), which uses the natural bric-a-brac of our forests and seashores, with the dime-store bric-a-brac of Cornell’s art, also done in the 1940s. Just as the word shaman is derived from the indigenous Tungus, the reindeer people of northern Siberia, the word yoga derives from a shamanic tradition indigenous to India. Both are shamanic practices that like the art of Cornell and the NW mystics bare witness to the relationship between consciousness and environment. Guess who first saw that reindeer could fly? McCracken, working in the PNW carved a book out of wood and composed a poem on its pages of natural bric-a-brac: shells, bear claws, leaves. Simic, a contemporary poet laureate, created poetry to do with words what Cornell did with objects.

    In writing the pieces for this book, I hoped to emulate his [Joseph Cornell’s] way of working and come to understand him that way. It is worth pointing out that Cornell worked in the absence of any aesthetic theory and previous notion of beauty. He shuffled a few inconsequential found objects inside his boxes until together they composed an image that pleased him with no clue as to what that image will turn out be in the end. (Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell).

maBRAHBRAHmaBRAHBRAHmaSAKtiBRAHBRAHmaSAKtiBRAHBRAHmaSAK Twice we have visited Fern Canyon. Earth above, earth below (K’un

K’un): nature in contrast to spirit, earth in contrast to

heaven, space as against time. Devotion. No

combat: completion. The coexistence

of the spiritual world and the world of the senses. We

listened to the traffic of the birds. A

highway. When the Baroness Mitsuko Araki was asked whom she

wanted to meet, she said, “I only want to meet

artists.” (John Cage, Series re Morris Graves)

That Charles Simic/John Cage wanted to do with words what Joseph Cornell/Morris Graves did with dime-store bric-a-brac/painting, inspires me, because of the gift of their work, to do the same:

This studio/workshop is itself a shadow box, a collage, a montage, a surreal scenario for exploring the perceiving, creative and contemplative aspects of mind. The following collage of voices, taken from our program texts (real and imagined), was inspired by experiences and by memories. Discerning the difference will be part of our work: Are memories of experiences other than experiences of memory?

Joe brought to one of our team planning meetings Lindsay Blair's book, Joseph Cornell's Vision of Spiritual Order. I was reminded by it of a book I’d seen in the art studio basement of the Santa Sabina Center in San Rafael while on a meditation retreat years ago with Richard Miller. That book--Jonathan Foer’s A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell--with its lift-up colored plates of Cornell’s bird boxes had intrigued me. I assumed a connection with the Sufi classic, Farid ud-din Attar’s, The Conference of the Birds. And, my desire increased for an experience of yoga (fr. Sanskrit meaning union, that which unites heaven and earth) that explicitly acknowledged and appreciated the gift of its shamanic traditions. So many asanas (poses) are named after birds. Even more, Ham and Sa (hamsasana – swan pose) name in Sanskrit the vibration of in-breath and the out-breath. In pranayama (breath work) our shoulders remember being as wings. Cornell made films about birds. They were considered by many to be films about perception or consciousness itself. Indeed, Cornell’s works, not to mention his beliefs, his art, life style, and desires, were “a force illegible.”

Yet, the gift of this force, the experience, for example, of sensing the city (of your body), knowing the limits of rationality, and feeling the intellect as a light bulb, these compel the mind to make sense of Cornell as a celebrated American dead white male artist. The shadow box of Cornell is full of our own moment’s angels and demons: religious fundamentalism, global capitalism, unprecedented immigration and migrancy, patriarchal masculinity (its wounding, its wounder, and its wounded), urbanization, racism, sexism, able-ism, class-ism and surrealism in all its modern and postmodern forms. Similarly, Villoldo argues that “the dismissal of yoga and shamanism as primitive mysticism is a glaring example of colonial anthropology.”

Consider this. Sitting on the plane next to me on an early morning flight to a yoga nidra training in Calgary was Robin.

“’Mahat is the tail.’ Scholars fight about this interpretation, but isn’t it a beautiful teaching?”

What are the odds of getting to this place in program planning and then finding yourself, while flying, in conversation about scholars’ interpretations of bird metaphors for the explanation of human existence in the Taittiriya Upanishad with a yogi named Robin?

JC’s boxes call. And in the year 2007 Patanjali is reinterpreted through the feminized gaze of South American shamanism. Gifts. They inspire gifts of gifts of gifts. Forces illegible. This studio workshop is a response to that kind of gift. Like Foer, I found that I must do something with my love for the gift of their inspiration…

* * *

    I must do something with my love—for Cornell, for my love of Cornell, for gifts, inscriptions and the beginning of love.

    I began to write… (Jonathan Safran Foer, “Introduction: Response and Call,” A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell)

    * * *

    A Force Illegible

    Did Cornell know what he was doing? Yes, but mostly no. Does anyone fully? He knew what he liked to see and touch. What he liked, no one was interested in. Surrealism provided him with a way of being more than just an eccentric collector of sundry oddities. The ideas of art came later, if they ever did come clearly. And how could they? His is a practice of divination. Dada and surrealism gave him a precedent and a freedom. I have in mind especially their astonishing discovery that lyric poetry can come out of chance operations. Cornell believed in the same magic, and he was right! All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image.

    “In murky corners of old cities where everything—horror, too—is magical,” Baudelaire writes. The city is a huge image machine. A slot machine for the solitaries. Coins of reverie, of poetry, secret passion, religious madness, it converts them all. A force illegible. (Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell)

    * * *

    Adho Mukha Svanasana

    Downward-Facing Dog

    Within my body

    there’s a city—

    nameless streets

    dead-end alleys

    of pains and promises,

    a mapless Atlantis

    cordoned off

    by years and bones.

    The muscles pull

    the tendons throb

    my joints crack out

    their resistance—

    places I’ve ached


    for a quarter of a century

    send out their muted frequencies

    from an unfamiliar


    Descending too quickly,

    I implode.

    Down here, or even up there

    breath is the most

    difficult of absences

    and so, two finger-widths

    into the hara

    I find my bearings


    oxygen tank both empty and full.

    Listen to the place

    you feel it the most

    says the teacher,

    head dangling from

    adho mukha


    a single bulb

    on a simply cord.

    So once again

    I go deeper

    to where

    the muscles pull

    the tendons throb

    the pain travels

    its clandestine escape

    and then retreats

    in the halfway reach

    where each breath

    razes another

    skyscraper I’ve aspired to,

    brings the earth up

    a little lighter between my toes. (Leza Lowitz, Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By)

    * * *

    This physical body is made up of the food that we consume. What we see as this body is the corporeal self (anna-maya kosha). Within this corporeal self there is a subtler self called the vital self (prANa-maya kosha). It (the vital self) fills the corporeal self like heat filling a metal piece put in the fire. So the vital self (or sheath, kosha) permeates the corporeal self totally. The Upanishad uses the word 'purushha' for each of these 'selves'. So the vital purushha fills up the corporeal purushha. Within the vital 'purushha' there is the manomaya purushha (the mental self). Within the latter one there is the vijnAna-maya purushha (the intellectual self). And within the vijnAnana-maya there is the Ananda-maya purushha (the blissful self). The word 'within' here in each case is an understatement, a failure of words. In each case the succeeding sheath fills up the preceding one. Each 'purushha' follows the preceding one, is more subtle than the preceding one, and fills up the preceding one. This subtle sequencing is referred to by the terminology 'anvayaM purushha-vidhaH' repeatedly by the Upanishad. In each case the particular purushha is imagined to be a bird with wings, head, tail, etc. We do not need these details here. (Professor V. Krishnamurthy, The Song of the Vedas (Shruti Gita), http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/shruti_gita_profvk.htm)

    * * *

    By the night of the full moon … each of us had to choose some kind of bird—a sparrow, a thrush, a crow, a warbler—and on that night, wherever he was, Emory was going to pray each of us into those birds. We were going to become those birds. And they were going to fly away. (Barry Lopez, “Emory Bear Hands’ Birds,” in Jonathan Safran Foer’s A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell

    * * *

    I must do something with my love—for Cornell, for my love of Cornell, for gifts, inscriptions and the beginning of love.

    I began to write letters . . .

    Dear Mr. Foer:

    Your letter, which covers a whole page, contains only one line about what you want: “…a story or poem that uses Joseph Cornell’s bird boxes as the source of imaginative inspiration…(but) which need not make any explicit reference to Cornell of the art itself…” Since I don’t know what this means, since you mention no fee (is there one or not?), since the whole issue seems to be a question of getting contributions, for nothing, from various well-known people to suit your own ends (vague as they are), and since for some reason you seem to think I’d be “as excited about this project as [you] are,” how can I say yes, even with the very best of wills?

    … The boxes called the writers in from great distances; they demanded the attention of those who had no attention to spare…

    The boxes moved questions of logistics to the backdrop. No one—save for that early respondent—asked about fees or agents or publishers. They didn’t ask about these things because they weren’t responding to me. Their responses predated my call. I was just lucky enough to intercept them.

    Many of Cornell’s most brilliant boxes were not intended for the museums in which they now reside. They were gifts, tokens of affection—I love this. You will love this. He had them delivered to his favorite movie stars and authors. He handed them, personally, to his most loved ballerinas. And they were uniformly sent back. He was rejected, laughed at, and, in one unfortunate case, tackled.

    But the boxes themselves—not his hopelessly romantic supplication—survived. More than survived, they came to be considered among the most seminal works of twentieth-century art. Their call beckoned, and continues to beckon, curators, museum-goers, and so many artists and writers. Their call, not Cornell’s. They became gifts of gifts of gifts of gifts—a cascade of gifts without fixed givers or receivers.

    So what is it about Cornell’s boxes that made him a world-famous artist, and allowed my inept proposal to take flight? The answer, of course, is inexhaustible—it changes with each viewing… (Jonathan Safran Foer, “Introduction: Response and Call,” A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell)

    * * *

    Street-Corner Theology

    It ought to be clear that Cornell is a religious artist. Vision is his subject. He makes holy icons. He proves that one needs to believe in angels and demons even in a modern world in order to make sense of it.

    The disorder to the city is sacred. All things are interrelated. As above, so below. We are fragments of an unutterable whole. Meaning is always in search of itself. Unsuspected revelations await us around the next corner.

    The blind preacher and his old dog are crossing the street against the oncoming traffic of honking cabs and trucks. He carries his guitar in a beat-up case taped with white tape so it looks like it’s bandaged.

    Making art in America is about saving one’s soul. (Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell)

Alberto Villoldo, medical anthropologist and researcher of shamanic practices in the Amazon and the Andes, turns the 2000 year old yoga sutras of Patanjali into street-corner shamanism:

    Practice purity…

    be unsullied by anger or vengeful thoughts.

    Practice contentent…

    be at peace with what is and what is not.

    Practice austerity…

    purify, reject greed, lack, and envy

    and the endless desire for more.


    and cultivate wisdom.

    Open your heart to all that can be known.


    become one with Spirit,

    aware of your sacred nature.

    Know that you are woven into the

    intricate matrix of creation.

* * *

This letter—my arrangement of letters to create a syllabus of sorts, is full of words I love, words, perhaps, that you will love, and covers a whole page (and more) yet needs contain only one line about what I want.

Create and gift a box that uses Joseph Cornell’s bird boxes or the art of a “Northwest mystic” (or those artists and scientists with whom they are intricately connected) as the source of imaginative inspiration to express your consciousness of your experience of this eight-week yoga nidra/iRest studio workshop.

Required Components of the Yoga Nidra/iRest Studio Workshop:

* * *

NOTE: Much of the following material was included as part of our all-program work during the fall and winter quarters of Made for Contemplation as well as being a required focus of this studio workshop.

* * *

Required Readings:

* Miller, Richard. Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga

* Villoldo, Alberto. Yoga, Power, and Spirit: Patanjali the Shaman

* Wallace, Alan and Brian Hodel. Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality

** Frawley, David. “The Secrets of Prana,” Yoga International, October/November, pp. 25-29 1997.

** Kraftsow, Gary. “Pancamaya,” diagram and chart, American Viniyoga Institute, 2006.

** Kraftsow, Gary. “The Multidimensional Self,” Yoga for Transformation, pp. 3-16.

Recommended Readings:

** Klein, Jean. “A Conversation on Art,” Who Am I?, pp. 177-198.

** Foer, Jonathan Safran, Flights of Fancy//Guardian Unlimited Arts. http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1778945,00.html#article_continue

** Lopez, Barry. “Emory Bear Hands’ Birds,” A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornel, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer.

** These readings are short articles or chapters and are available for photocopying from Contemplative Studies library reserve or online as noted.

Recommended Viewings: Cornell boxes online at: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/interact/slideshow/cornell.cfm; http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cornell/ and “bird” films (e.g., The Aviary, A Legend for Fountains, Angel, Nymphlight, Centuries of June) found on the DVD The Magical Worlds of Joseph Cornell (on reserve in the library and screened in class fall quarter).

Classroom Practice: Thursday eight-week yoga nidra/iRest practice sequence

Home Practice: Masters of three yoga nidra/iRest CDs are on closed reserve in the library. Bring blanks (3) to make your own copies in SAIL.

Bird Box or NW Mystic Art: Create and gift a Cornell-inspired bird box or a piece of your own NW Mystic art to express your consciousness of your experience yoga nidra/iRest. Please note: An artist’s statement must accompany your work detailing to whom you gifted it, why, and her/his response. If your work isn’t returned to you (as many of Cornell’s boxes were) you must ask for your art back for classroom presentation. This statement also must made explicit the ways in which your art piece expresses a state of consciousness experienced during yoga nidra.

Log and Assessment: A one-page accounting of hours spent doing what: e.g., 28 Sept: 1 hour- yoga nidra home practice with CD #1. For each academic credit expected, three hours of work need to be documented. And, there is an expectation of your participation in and completion of the assessment materials administered by the members of the yoga nidra/iRest research group. See the “latest news” column at http://www.nondual.com/ for more information and consider joining this research group at our first meeting, TBA in class.

Journal: Dated entries documenting your engagement with this studio workshop, including notes, insights, research, images, etc. This is your private document, but excerpts will be due at mid-term and end of quarter (Thursday noon of weeks 5 and 10). Excerpts to submit consist of 4 journal entries, verbatim OR edited, 75-200 words per entry, typed, double- spaced. What you turn in should be something you want to share with your faculty and learning community. These excerpts are required and will be appreciated as a record of your learning process. NOTE: These excerpts are required in addition to the journal excerpts required of, and described in, the Contemplative Studies syllabus.

Due Date: Unless noted otherwise, all work must be completed for inclusion in the all-program presentation, which is week 10. No late work will be accepted.

Recommended Components:

While some of the required all-program texts for spring quarter (Sounds of the Inner Eye, Sketchbook) as well as our seminar work and field trips will provide the context for our regional focus and other texts (Embracing Mind; Yoga, Power, and Spirit: Patanjali the Shaman) will provide focus for the historically spiritual and the contemporary secular contexts of this studio, individual research regarding Joseph Cornell and Charles Simic, yoga nidra/iRest, the NW Mystics and John Cage, as well as the neurophysiology of contemplative practice could continue to be inspiring. For example, you might want to consider:

a) Joseph Cornell in the context of American immigrant culture and dime-store alchemy (capitalism and urbanization, 20th century American art history, Christian Science and religious fundamentalism, fetishism, romanticism, identity and gender politics).

b) Charles Simic’s poems in the context of contemporary American poetry as well as in terms of the tapestry of its symbols (e.g., Gerard de Nerval’s lobster on a leash, Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd,” the myths of Theseus and Spider-Man).

c) the traditions of 1) yoga nidra/iRest (e.g., Miller, Klein, Desikachar, The Taittiriya Upanishad, Siva Sutras, Tripura Rahasya, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali), 2) shamanic traditions and birds (e.g., Vitebsky, Winkelman), and 3) the neurophysiology of yoga and contemplative practices (e.g., Begley, Wallace, Krippner, Gray, et. al.).


      9:35*-12:30 Yoga nidra/iRest practice session

      *Please note the start time of 9:35: the studio is closed with no late admittance after 9:35. Wear comfortable clothing for ease in movement. Dress in layers, including warm layers for comfort with prolonged stillness in a cool room. Yoga mats are available from the CRC for checkout with your student ID, or you may bring your own yoga mat.