Did you ever walk into a yoga class and have the teacher ask you your political affiliation, ethnicity or to which god(s) you pray? Of course not! (If you answered yes, please find another place to practice, unless is was contextually appropriate.)
Teaching yoga and meditation allows for expansion in ways that do not require definitions, yet we apply language to communicate, movement to experience and silence to absorb. There’s no talk of political, religious or socio-economic status while on the mat, there’s just spirit. (Discursive mind chatter may draw these things in, but this is part of the work.)
Working to dissolve duality in an inherently dualistic world is challenging, especially during an election cycle. Politics are, by nature, partitioning. I practice daily to work at the level of interconnectedness and yet, I fall deep into the divide created by our politics. Sometimes I am able to tap into the oneness, but often fail to meet the mark as emotions are stirred and fear dons its many masks.
There are many opportunities in our practice to embrace all beings. Upeksha is the Sanskrit word for equanimity, not holding any being above or below another; letting go.
I’m finding myself getting stuck at Upeksha when I think of Donald Trump. And, I know from friends, some who support him and others who were staunchly for Bernie, that they feel the same way about Hillary. Every election is divisive, but this one seems dangerously disruptive on a whole new scale. It has ignited a fire in my heart that seems to be raging out of control. It began as a flicker of amusement and quickly spread to my base emotions. I actually feel angry when I see his image, hear his voice or encounter attempts to humanize him. Yet, as a Bernie Sanders fan, I was easily able to switch gears to refine and soften my media-driven view of Hillary, through thoughtful research and fact-finding.
What would happen if I spent the same effort to personalize Trump and actually found something to which I could tether my anger? Who would I be if I could see him reflected in the basic goodness with which we are all born? What would happen to my reaction to the hate-filled sound-bytes for which he and his supporters are so well known? Would any of this change the landscape of bigotry and fear he inspires? If it were to change me, how could I still fight injustice with the passion and courage of my principles and values?
I am a teacher but in so many ways I am a student crying out for a guide to light the way.
Occasionally, I’ll see posts from colleagues who are speaking from their yoga-informed hearts, working hard to be direct and clear without compromising their integrity. As long as our words are being seen by others, we will always run the risk of criticism or offense. How do we act from the source of our highest vibrations while standing firm in our convictions? Can one have convictions within a non-dualistic landscape? Is it possible to be an activist and live the sacred tenets of yoga? So many questions.
This is where I seek out my teachers’ unsolicited voices, yet many seem silent. Do we equate silence with peace, wisdom, enlightenment? We have a wonderful opportunity to teach and learn how to live our yoga, off the mat, during heated times, but we need maps and navigators. We can’t allow fear to keep us from making mistakes or speaking our truth.
I had a theatre director years ago who once said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loud enough for all to hear.” I was recently called out on my FB page, by a fellow yoga teacher, after I posted my intention to elevate the political conversation from a place of peace and love, while almost immediately descending to name-calling and word-baiting. She courageously used her informed voice and gentle tone to challenge me. I accepted the challenge.
Caught in the emotional riptide of what I saw as hypocrisy, she led me to the reasonable threshold of starting where we agreed and worked from there. Rather than allowing my bruised ego to take the lead (and it was bruised), I decided to engage with her and ended up learning a great deal about myself. She didn’t shut me down, she offered me the gifts of introspection and insight. So, rather than create unrealistic expectations of myself as a yoga teacher and human being, I embrace my contradictions and hope, with time and practice, to find my truest rhythm. As teachers and students (which we all are), we cannot be afraid to fuck up. Fucking up for all to see is a path to accountability. I am grateful to her for showing up when I needed a teacher.
By speaking up without talking down to me, she helped me widen the aperture of understanding.
Politics require us to choose a side. Often our choices are clear as they mesh with our ideals and values. Sometimes it’s a tougher call. Either way, we are necessarily separating ourselves from those with different views.
In yoga, we get to work at the level of unity; we talk about impermanence, connection to each other and our planet, trusting the universe, being where we are and meeting ourselves there. When I walk into the studio, all of the lines that divide us dissolve into love. How do I take that with me when I leave?
How can we participate in our great democracy and be true to ourselves—fierce, mild, chatty, taciturn, peaceful, assertive, loud, quiet, short, tall, young, old, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Republican, Democrat? Within these characterizations lies a deeper truth that can surface if we know how to rise above these sandy lines.
I ask my teachers who are further along the path to speak up and lead by example. In the tools of our yoga practice—articulating through language, moving our bodies and discovering the silence in the spaces in between—there is an opening for deeper understanding, expression and experience.
It’s up to us. We must not be silent. I ask that you please pass your hard-earned wisdom on; we need to hear from you!