Among the first things I did when I got up this morning to proofread my paper on The Bhagavad Gita for yoga teacher training was check Facebook (don't we all now?), which lead me to a book review on Green LA Girl on Yoga for a World Out of Balance. It's nice when this particular tamasic act actually directs me back to my task.
In the weeks leading up to yoga teacher training, I read Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, as assigned. Enormous portions of the book resonated with me and I found myself enthusiastically underlining passages and writing in the margins, until I got to this paragraph:
“When we slow down, we create a conductive environment for kindness and thoughtfulness to flourish. We find that it isn’t necessary to join our local peace demonstration. We can demonstrate for peace by being peaceful.” [p. 54]
My immediate reaction is, “Um, no. That doesn’t work.”
My reading of the Bhagadvad Gita didn’t lead me to the conclusion that Donna should be attending peace demonstrations, that’s certainly not for me to conclude. My reading of the Bhagavad Gita is that Krishna’s call is for us each to learn to differentiate between actions, to look to our true nature to identify not only selfless action, but our own particular Dharma, and act upon it selflessly. That is the yoga.
... In the passage quoted, Farhi was musing on the need to slow down and take time for solitude, mediation, and silence, not on the effectiveness of demonstration at bringing about peace. But her words suggest opting out of a political act, and then telling yourself that you are not, and that’s where I take exception.
We live in a representative democracy. Our elected officials make decisions, in part, based on how they believe it will affect their chances of re-election. The purpose of a political demonstration of any kind, from physical gatherings to collection of petition signatures, is to demonstrate the potential impact of a particular political option and encourage the decision maker to choose the one the demonstrator prefers. It is an inherently different act than being peaceful in ones daily interactions.
One of my concerns about the community of yogis and of lifestyle-oriented environmentalists in the world is the tenancy to accept the notion that personal action somehow exempts one from political action – that the idea that the personal is political means they are the same. I would argue that this is a delusion, in incorrect interpretation that confuses the decision about whether and how to act. Few would actually argue that because they reduce their carbon footprint by eating locally, limiting meat and dairy, shutting off the lights, or biking to work that their elected representative would somehow know that they support clean energy and ending our dependence on oil. But, that sentiment seems to pervade.
My reading of The Bhagavad Gita is that, to the extent appropriate to each of our abilities and personal situations, we should be working toward harmony between our personal and political values and actions. Full participation in the world according to each yogi's particular circumstance and calling (svadharma) among those born into a democracy and with the resources and privileges possessed by most of us with the luxury of studying yoga is likely to involve some level of political engagement, even if simply as an informed voter. The yoga of the political activist is to, without judgment, attachment or selfishness, create opportunities for thoughtfulness and more full engagement of fellow citizens.
So, anybody read Yoga for a World Out of Balance? Thoughts?