Thursday, July 14, 2011

Yoga and Politics Make for Strange Bedfellows

With a presidential election looming in the near future, I've been reflecting back to the last election and the divisive climate it procured.  Probably not since the early 60s had political opinions created such polarizing views in the United States, according to some of my friends who were old enough to remember the multitude of issues ranging from Kennedy's Catholic faith to civil rights and Vietnam.

Disclaimer:  I was born in 1965.  I wasn't around when Kennedy got shot so I have no memory of it(though I do remember what I was doing when Elvis was found dead), and I am actually not so well versed on the subject of politics in general.  In fact, my son, an accounting major at UGA has been able to debate and discuss circles around me when it comes to political and economic issues ever since about his sophomore year in high school.  However, in many ways, since I was raised by elderly parents who were depression era babies with three much older baby boomer brothers, some of the values instilled in me were a bit unconventional compared to my peers.  Many of my friends' parents were about my eldest brother's age..more like hippie era and not the WWII veteran dad who raised me.  

Still, in 2008, the first presidential election that I personally experienced as both a yoga practitioner AND a yoga teacher, I discovered that many of the core values and ideas that, to me, seemed tethered to yogic ethics and values (yamas and niyamas), weren't quite as clear cut as I had previously assumed.  My illusion that all yogis were somewhat liberal...and pardon the sterotype but I am putting it out here anyway:  tree hugging, peace demonstrating, granola crunching, hippies...was shattered that year.  I never made it a secret that I was not a George W. Bush fan, and like so many, I was ready for some sort of change to the system in the U.S. that was evidently not working for the majority of its citizens.  And yes, as the presidential race gained steam and passion, I found myself often surprised at some of the different views and opinions of family, friends and fellow yoga practitioners. 

And then I found myself entertaining feelings that were far less than yogic as well (see my last blog entry for more on my less-than-perfect, unenlightened declaration..or check me out on ELEPHANT JOURNAL feel free to comment/"like"/recommend!), and when I heard or saw views that seemed so polar opposite to my views..which of course were the "correct" ones, I often felt angry and cynical and, well, perhaps even a bit superior.  There, I said it.  I felt as if I "got it" and of course, these know, people with views which differed from my views...they were clueless at best and mean-spirited, even evil, at worst.   

On more than one occasion, I witnessed bumper stickers (because we all know bumper stickers expose our beliefs like truth serum; yes I am being sarcastic, kinda) that expressed very hateful and/or racist messages riding alongside more loving, yogic messages (like namaste, for example).  As my non-yogic thoughts of crashing my car into their non-loving-bumper-sticker message floated through my monkey mind, I wondered if the driver even knew the meaning of Namaste??  And before my self-righteous indignation could get the best of me, I would attempt to shift from that mindset to wondering if my peace, love, and good vibes-professing self actually understood the meaning either. I??
I don't understand a LOT: war/peace, economics, religions, climate change, politics in general, and pretty much everything that can possibly be brought up for debate.  While I know a little about most things...possibly just enough to be annoying to those who know more...I am not an expert nor would I consider myself an activist about a particular cause or issue.  I've jokingly coined my beliefs as my own religion known as "Don't Be An Asshole".  It's actually a very simple concept, though perhaps not always easy to follow as a practitioner.  What I have realized is that in order for me to truly be a member of my own congregation of fellow DBAAs, I have to actually not be an asshole.  Easier said that done. 

So, my mission, should I choose to accept, is to walk the walk that I talk.  A major part of that is to stop ASSuming.  We all have our own histories and reasons to hold certain values and beliefs.  And while it is okay to hold different beliefs and feel someone is wrong in a particular motive or belief, to hold a space in my mind and in my heart for the rights of others to have their own opinions is only right.  It's also okay to debate my position at times that are appropriate (which most likely excludes yoga classes and most family functions) and to choose to surround myself with people who share some of my core values. 

I am so grateful for yoga.  I love finding it first on a physical level and then to find that the physical benefits were just the tip of the iceberg.  I also love that yoga is so vast and deep a subject that no one really knows everything there is to know about yoga and I definitely will never know it all.  I do know, though, that it is my own side of the street that I am responsible.  Civil debates and concise presentations of one's opinions and beliefs is fine.  Judging and condemning is not. 

2012 will be here very soon.  I'm both excited and a bit nervous with the unknown future.  Not to dwell on the past or obsess on the future, I choose today to take what I have learned in the past and apply it to my actions by being less reactive and more proactive, less judgmental and more open-minded, and overall, more compassionate and respectful of each of our right to our own paths.  Regardless of who we vote for and the reasons behind these votes, can we find our commonalities and act for the greater-good?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...though please, this is NOT a political debate please, no campaigning or vilifying of one's beliefs on this page!  My friends and family know what I believe and I will be glad to discuss those beliefs in a private and civil manner if you'd like...just not here. 

Namaste Y'all!

1 comment:

  1. This is such an affirmation of something that happened very recently to me. I left the practice under a different yoga teacher because of her views on politics. It's not that I didn't value her personal right to have those opinions, it's that I felt judged by someone who was teaching me how to life a non judgemental life. It just felt wrong and it was turning into a bad religious experience. So I had to leave. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.