Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to do it by Geoff Dyer is not a book about yoga, but it is a book about what yoga represents–finding your inner peace, frustration of life and loss, travel and opening your mind to new experiences, and of course, seeing beauty in the world even when you don’t think there is much to find beautiful about it.
Geoff Dyer is writing a book and he has writer’s block. He travels the world and struggles with his own self-loathing personality, enjoying the moments of his journey enough to inspire him to write a book, about his journey. It begins in New Orleans and ends in Black Rock City and explores every place you wish you had the money and the time to go. In the end, Dyer’s personality draws you in and makes you see the world not as it is but as he sees it.
I chose this book because often, in yoga, I struggle with my cynicism and inability to find inner peace. It is hard for me to completely accept the practice of yoga as a way of life and not just an exercise because I do not feel that it lends itself to restless spirits like myself. This book made me realize that you can be at peace with yourself and at peace with maybe not having inner peace all the time, and still find beauty in how you live. And that, is what I believe the practice of yoga really represents.
This book is a quick read and one of my favorite books of all time. As always, there will be virtual participation available for those of you not in the Bay Area. For those of you who are local, we will all take a field trip to Yoga to the People in Berkeley (Chicks Like Sports Too will cover your donation for yoga) then come over to my place for some drinks and discussion. Discussion topics are posted below. Namaste.
1). In the beginning of the book, Dyer introduces the concept of home and what it means to different people. For someone who is such a nomad, where is home? Where do you consider home? Is it where you were born? Grew up? Or is it, as Auden says, “the centre where the three or four things that happen to a man do happen”. Can it be more than one place? Does it have to be a physical place?
2). Another theme of the book is one of being lost and being found. We’ve all heard the quote that “not all who wander are lost”. But is Dyer’s philosophy that it is quite OK to be lost and be happy without a clear sense of direction?
3). Which brings me to the other theme in this book which is happiness. Happiness can mean something different to everyone. Is Dyer a happy person or an unhappy person (or something in between)? Do you think Dyer could possibly stand for the proposition that it is OK to not be happy in this life or do you think he too believes that happiness is an important achievement or measure of a life?
a). Dyer mentions one of the things about the way he’s lived that has made him happy–that in New Orleans, a town where he knew no one, he made a friend. Dyer seems to be a bit of a nomad but the book is brimming with secondary characters, his friends. Do you think companionship makes Dyer happy or is it just a consequence of travel for him?
b). In Detroit, Dyer runs into a group of “derelicts”. He explains that what separated him and them was nothing. Obviously, he had a car and material items but “if you could take some kind of comparative sample of the state of our souls”, he wasn’t sure who would come out on top. He struggles with the fact that these men might be happier than he because they had set the bar so low that the simplest things could make them happy. He sort of explains that they had done all they had hoped to accomplish in life and that he wished he could trade places with them–but not really. Do you think this is a reflection of Dyer’s frustration of not being able to finish his book or is it a constant struggle that most ambitious people have throughout their lives?
c). Dyer explains that when his girlfriend broke up with him he thought he was on the brink of a lifetime of loneliness. He said he now feels like he was in the middle of a lifetime of loneliness. Do you think it is one incident in Dyer’s life that causes him to be such a self-loathing or suffering human or is it ingrained in his personality? Dyer claims that it “really doesn’t matter much what happens to you in this life”–is that a philosophy of a depressed person or an enlightened one who has risen above society’s pressure to be happy?
4). Another theme is one of impermanence, loss and running out of time.
a). Dyer quotes Auden again “No one cares to watch the loveliest sunset after a quarter of an hour”. Does it mean that even things that are beautiful are not eternal, or is it that happiness or satisfaction is fleeting? Does Dyer take the position that since such things are fleeting that we should not strive to attain them, or perhaps not get too attached?
b). My favorite quote from the book is the one about throwing the ball back and forth in the chapter, the Infinite Edge. “Behind him was the gorge, the infinite edge. he ball was a yellow planet spinning back and forth through the blue sky. We were in a trance of throwing and catching. It would not go on forever but we never knew when the game was going to end, and so, at any one moment, it lasted forever”. This could easily be a quote about life, a relationship, youth, or a game of catch. Dyer’s take on how to approach borrowed time is an interesting one. What are your thoughts? Is it denial or is this one way to truly be happy in the moment?
c). When he is in Southeast Asia, Dyer and his friends betrayed the girl for the crippled boy selling a Coke. At first he didn’t feel bad for her, saying that the “injustice of it was almost perfect”. But then he changes his mine and wishes he had bought it from her but “it was already too late to do anything about it even thought there was still time”. What does this mean?
d). Another of my favorite passages is the one where Dyer discusses the loss of his sunglasses. (We will read this passage aloud). He discusses how devastated he is. Clearly, he loves these sunglasses but is this also a metaphor for relationships and love? Is his ultimate solution to not get attached because you will inevitably lose it? Or is it to just accept that it will be lost but enjoy the moments you have?
5). Dyer discusses his thoughts on aging, death, the past and future.
a). In the cliff-jumping scene Dyer discusses getting older. He is depressed about getting older but is OK with being depressed, it seems. How do you view getting older? Women always seem to say that it’s harder for them, but does Dyer make a good point about why it is also hard for men?
b). In Thailand, Dyer says that there is something about leaving a place on a small boat, that it’s like leaving your life behind, but since you’re on the boat, it’s like part of you is still with you. He says, “dying, at its best, might be something like this. Everything was a memory, and everything was still happening in some extended present, and everything was still to come”. In a way, when you move or make a big life change, it can feel like a new life. Do you think Dyer enjoys this aspect of being “reborn” in his travels. Do you?
c). At the end of the book, Dyer is at Burning Man. “Just before the man was completely engulfed in flames, one of his knees gave way and he lurched forward and it looked for a moment as if he was about to step clear of the fire that defined and claimed him” (not exact quote). Is this an appropriate end to the book–with the man burning to the ground? Does Dyer use this as a metaphor for his life, his inability to escape his destiny–getting older and eventually returning to the earth? Thoughts?
These are all just suggestions. We can discuss all or none of them and if you have points to add, please do so.