Sound Against Flame: An Excerpt

20 06 2008

An excerpt from Sound Against Flame: The Process of Yoga and Atheism in America by Derek Beres, out now from Outside the Box Publishing.

The half-cocked-brow gaze over slightly glazed eyes when I tried to explain the premise of my book to friends insured that I’d have some serious explaining to do. A comparative philosophy book on the practices of yoga and atheism, two systems with so (seemingly) little in common? Trying to establish a common ground between a devotional practice with images of blue-skinned, elephant-headed, flute-playing gods, and the complete opposite, the blasphemous idea of no God at all? Beyond a surface grazing-that of a South Asian spiritual practice mostly known in America as an exercise routine and for polytheistic iconography, alongside the outright denial of a Supreme Anything-there is plenty of shared wisdom. The premise of this work, and the underlying foundation of both yoga and atheism, directly pertains to the experience of life, not the abstraction of it.

There is little surprise that these two forms of belief/practice (or unbelief, depending on your definition) are the most rapidly expanding philosophies in our country. This is not to deny the brute strength of megachurches growing like wild weeds across the nation. (And this is not to necessitate the idea that such churches are inherently bad for us, as many atheists, as well as many sitting on the fence in the God question, put forth.) True, we are a Christian nation. There is little doubt about that. Even if we do not claim that as our faith, the forms of thought that arise in our brains have been conditioned by a specific cause-and-effect, rewards/benefits musculature defined and developed through biblical and political training. Indeed, it is impossible not to have been taught in such a manner if you have gone through the public school system. (And if you attended a private school, all the more so, as religion has a strong hold on nearly all of these institutions, as well as the majority of parents who home-school children.) Churches, it must be remembered, constructed the original educational system in America, so it is not surprising that the way we learn is dictated by theology. In many ways, this psychological underpinning is more relevant than outright belief, for when the manners in which we are conditioned stay hidden, we become prime targets for anxiety, depression, social confusion and general dis-ease.

What the basic ideological thinkers of the three major religious traditions of the West — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — have conceived is that your actions on this planet are preparations for a) some sort of kingdom of which people of your faith will lord over, and b) some form of afterlife, where a style of judgment will occur. This judgment comes in many varieties. Some maintain that you can convert to the faith and be “saved,” while other sects are so bullheaded that only those born into families of their specific faith are righteous. Regardless of the degree of severity, anything done for another life beyond this one is rooted in egoistic idealism, something both yoga and atheism (at their best) aim to dissolve. To get to the roots of this comparison, which is just as much a survey of the social and spiritual state of American ideologies as it is these two specific practices, we will have to apply the wisdom of philosopher Daniel Dennett: “If we want to understand the nature of religion today, as a natural phenomenon, we have to look not just at what it is today, but at what it used to be.” And this involves looking into the way all humans used to be, not just examining the doctrines passed down by a few men with specific agendas. The paths we will take may surprise you, and may not always be pleasant, but they will prove worthwhile.

To read the full excerpt on Reality Sandwich, click here


Ten Years on the Hudson

18 06 2008

By Derek Beres

It wasn’t on the Hudson this past Memorial Day weekend, but rather on the East River stretching across the other side of Manhattan. Hundreds of people slept, drank, and tossed Frisbees in the 80-something-degree heat, feeling those first rays that signify the cycle of time has clicked once more, that we have returned to the high point of romanticism, of sunshine, of summer. Their feet beat down the wet sand where they doused themselves with water bottles; inside the covered tent people carried plastic tumblers of sangria and smiled, and danced, for the music, too, had emerged.

When Turntables on the River launched nearly ten years ago behind a then-makeshift ice rink on what is now Chelsea Piers, the basic idea was for a pair of local DJs—Nickodemus and Mariano—to host a gathering of positive music, whether it be the funk, hip-hop, and soul of Nicko’s childhood, the dance tracks they were both crate-digging, or their slowly growing fascination with African, Latin, and Balkan beats. Add to the mix their inspiration from Giant Step and Organic Grooves parties, adding live percussion and instrumentation into DJ sets, and a template was carved. Nappy G joined in on congas and shakers; a party was birthed.

Mariano was new to the turntables; as Nappy G would tell me—and as Mariano would affirm with laughter—“I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but Mariano is a very famous hairdresser. The crowd at the very first party was almost all women—beautiful women from all over the world, and not a lot of guys. It was the best ratio I ever saw.” The first party led to a handful more, and by the end of the 1998 season, the trio—along with the occasional staple, oud/guitar player and producer Zeb—knew they had something lasting on their hands.

To read the full article on PopMatters, click here

Mari Boine Live in Fes, Morocco

16 06 2008

Tartit Live in Fes, Morocco

15 06 2008

Sound Against Flame: Out Now!

4 06 2008

Sound Against Flame is an insightful and inquisitive look inside two emerging cultural ideas gripping the modern American consciousness: yoga and atheism. While seemingly opposed in numerous contexts, author/yoga instructor Derek Beres uncovers a common foundation as startling as it is revelatory to practitioners of any, or no, faith.

Using the concept of neti-neti as a bedrock—the idea of “not this, not that” that is the foundation of yogic philosophy—Beres looks beyond the inherent duality proposed by many religious traditions to drive to core teachings. Knowing that belief is actually a lack of experience, and that once the individual has had an experience there is no need for belief, this thoughtful survey of modern consciousness and religion is a call to do away with abstract idealizing. Instead it offers an opportunity to turn toward what is real and accessible at this very moment.

Most importantly, Beres concludes with actual possibilities of progress toward a philosophy that contains and holds within it numerous others. Whereas many books stop at merely citing differences and complaining, Beres maintains a strong faith in human creativity and conviction. It is belief that needs to be eradicated and done away with, in a manner that will “bind” the emerging global culture we are in the midst of experiencing. Entertaining, highly readable and thought provoking, Sound Against Flame is the mythology of modernity.

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