by Laura S
It seems especially dark to me this winter as we move toward the Solstice. Others seem to agree; it comes up in conversation a lot lately. As I try to compose this, news of the fire in Oakland is almost more than I can even bear. I feel helpless and devastated when surrounded by such darkness. Words frustrate me. Even yoga frustrates me. No response seems quite right or like it’s anywhere near enough.
In this vast darkness, we need our gurus more than ever. Our teachers guide us, but they are also people capable of holding space for both the light and the dark. Pragmatically that ability is a lot harder than it sounds in poetic or symbolic terms. In the past, I’ve often interpreted the translation of guru to mean that the light illuminates the darkness. But this winter, I’m thinking about the light and the dark side by side instead.
In a recent NY Times article, “I Am a Dangerous Professor,” George Yancy discusses being put on the Professor Watchlist, a conservative website that targets specific teachers over the content of their courses. Reading Yancy’s words struck a nerve; our teachers are so vital to our survival, and it’s important to remember that the work they do on behalf of their students (us!) is not always easy or safe.
Yancy writes, “In my courses, which the watchlist would like to flag as “un-American” and as “leftist propaganda,” I refuse to entertain my students with mummified ideas and abstract forms of philosophical self-stimulation. What leaves their hands is always philosophically alive, vibrant and filled with urgency. I want them to engage in the process of freeing ideas, freeing their philosophical imaginations. I want them to lose sleep over the pain and suffering of so many lives that many of us deem disposable. I want them to become conceptually unhinged, to leave my classes discontented and maladjusted.”
I’m especially moved by the words “discontented” and “maladjusted.” Previously, these sensations were not necessarily ones that I invoked as a yoga teacher, or that I sought as a yoga student. Yet, I think we should, and I plan to start now. Our yoga practice should not help us sleep more soundly; indeed, it should cause us to lose sleep. We should feel unhinged!
Here is wisdom I’ve encountered in the last few days that has offered me some light AND kept me up at night:
Gandhi reminds me, “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi reminds me, “Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory…Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it. Now is the time to forge new words…Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about…Now is the time to discard that carefulness that too closely resembles a lack of conviction.”
(I highly recommend her recent article in The New Yorker “Now is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About.”)
Jack Kornfield reminds me, “You are not alone. You have generations of ancestors at your back. You have the blessing of interdependence and community. You have the great trees of the forest as steadfast allies. You have the turning of the seasons and the renewal of life as your music. You have the vast sky of emptiness to hold all things graciously.
You have been training for this for a long time. With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart. You have learned emptiness and interdependence. Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage, wisdom and compassion to the world.”
Pablo Das reminds me, “While non-reactive presence to what’s happening within you and around you is foundational, for me non-reactivity simply creates the conditions for a wise response. Non-reactivity is not the end game. Action is! Please don’t be another privileged person who thinks sitting with YOUR sadness is enough. It’s not!”
As sad as I’ve felt in recent weeks, thanks to my gurus, I’m reminded again and again that my individual sadness is not enough. The words and inspiration of my teachers calls me to take action, participate, and be vigilant.
There is a lot of noise to sift through out there. But our teachers are everywhere. We must listen to them, and we must use their guidance to harness our own courage and strength. Our yoga practice cannot just be a solitary pursuit. If we come to our mat only to feel better and only to address our individual needs, then we’re missing the profound and much larger impacts our practice can and should have. Each person’s Trikonasana looks different, feels different, and is a specific expression of who they are. So too, we can each step off our mat and take action in our own unique way. Let’s use our practice to be dangerous, discontented and maladjusted!
I’ll end with one last mantra, a reminder from Sri Rainer Maria Rilke: “Let this darkness be a bell tower, and you the bell.”
There are many fundraisers to support the victims and families of the Oakland fire, and here is one through the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts: Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghostship Oakland Fire.
Slow down and reconnect with your practice in a Lotus Basics class with Laura on Tuesday/Thursday mornings at 10:45am and Friday morning at 9am.
Look for an Absolute Beginners workshop in the new year on January 22!