A Yogi's Place is in the Resistance
After the 2016 presidential election, I stopped using Instagram as frequently. Suddenly, pretty pictures of food and yoga asana just did not seem relevant to what was happening in my life and our country. Instead, I turned to Twitter (which is more text-heavy, and is where I have always turned for news in the past) and Facebook, which I deleted a few years back, and only begrudgingly reactivated for work 2 years ago, but had seldom used.
The reason I mention all this is that suddenly, friends, family and coworkers have begun dropping hints and comments regarding how “politically active” I am. I don’t interpret these comments as positive or negative (regardless of their intent, of which I’m unsure). However, I do think it’s interesting that posting petitions on Facebook, and writing about sexual harassment and assault on a wellness blog, now make me “political,” whereas before I was perceived not to be. But what I really want to acknowledge and reiterate is something I posted on Facebook on November 14, 2016:
To anyone telling me that by voicing my concern for the current state of affairs, it means I’ve been brainwashed by the media: joke’s on you! I’ve been living in my blissful #whiteprivilege bubble for the past 2 years. Haven’t followed the news AT ALL. Thanks for waking me up!
It’s true. The fact is, I didn’t out of the blue, begin to have opinions about politics, current events, social issues, the environment, etc. exactly 3 months ago, on November 7, 2016. I didn’t suddenly “become political.” I had just been obliviously enjoying my privilege for years.
If you have known me for a really long time, like WAY back, you might know or remember that I was extremely into politics at the beginning of high school. My best friend and I talked about the environment, social issues, elections, globalization, and more, regularly and with fervor. I followed the news, I read a ton, I debated with my classmates. I felt like I was growing up to be a citizen of the world, and I wanted to be prepared. I distinctly remember falling asleep in my parents’ bed, late on the night of November 2nd, 2004. Because we lived in Hawaii, I thought that if I stayed awake long enough, I would be able to confirm that John Kerry had won the presidential election, before falling asleep for the night. I was wrong, twice. I remember waking up the next morning, opening my eyes and looking at the television immediately, and the feeling of dreadful disbelief that hit me was so intense, I completely and instantaneously withdrew. I stopped following the news. I became cynical and angry, but it was internalized. Of course, I was still “me,” so while I shied away from any political conversation whatsoever with friends and [especially] family, I still studied International Affairs in college. I still joined Twitter when it was new and followed a bunch of news outlets, and checked it occasionally. I still cared about history, and business, and morality, and a spiritual “truth.” I still voted in the 2008 election, once I was old enough to.
But I am not writing this because I feel like I have something to prove about my past, or about my return to confronting political issues (side note: everything is political. And if you disagree, do yourself a favor and ask yourself why). The reason I wanted to write about this is because like all evolutions and journeys, this has been a process of self- discovery. As humans, we are all evolving, and we choose whether or not to examine our lives. Yes, reflection is painful; it’s intense; it’s excruciating, even; but it’s the only route to freedom. As we say all the time in yoga: THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH.
When I was on my hiatus from current events, I almost wore it as a badge of honor. I would emphasize my ignorance and brag, “Oh, whats that? What’s happening? I don’t follow the news.” And I would laugh, as if I was so smart to shield myself from that nonsense and just enjoy life, because YOLO! It doesn’t affect me, really, so who cares, amirite?!
Well, here’s the truth: I was only able to choose not to follow the news because I am not a person of color. Because I am not a member of the LGBTQ community. Because I am not an immigrant. Because I do not have disabilities. Because I do not have a chronic health condition. Because our country is set up for people like me.
While yes, I believe that I am a woman in an infuriatingly misogynist society, I am still unbelievably lucky. So lucky, that I can choose not to follow the news, if I want, because it feels like it doesn’t affect me. My right to get married; to an education; to a fair trial; and countless other seemingly- standard American liberties, have never been even remotely threatened. These issues were not concerns. They were not part of my everyday-life. But not everyone is, or was, as lucky.
(Let me address my use of the word and concept “privilege” here, before anyone feels the need to defend themselves: acknowledging your privilege does not mean you have to live apologetically, or diminish or demean yourself — just as being a feminist does not mean you need to hate men or hope for their demise. If this is an issue for you, please, do yourself and everyone else a favor, and do some research and reading. Maybe even see a therapist. If we could all afford one, I would highly recommend we all see a brain doctor, whether we think we need to or not. Hopefully your health insurance covers it.)
My reaction to the presidential election back in 2004 was completely different than the outrage I feel now, and that I felt the night of November 7, 2016. When I was younger, I just coped in the only way I knew how. It was extremely imperfect, and probably unproductive, but I was barely a teen back then. Now, I am channeling the energy from my intense emotional reactions to propel me through, especially when this rough ride becomes almost unbearable; when all I want to do is shut down, withdraw into myself, and pretend none of this pure bullshit is actually going down, because how could it be!?
Yes, the personal stakes are much higher for me now. Women in this country and around the world are having their rights seriously threatened and in some cases stripped, by our current administration. And, when I was younger, I was on my father’s excellent health insurance policy; now I am on Obamacare. So I’m no longer completely (or at least, seemingly) personally unaffected. But that’s not why I decided to “get all political,” as I have been accused. I’m not at all as worried about myself, as I am about everyone else who is not as lucky as me.
When I was younger, and I decided to tune out the rest of the world, I naively thought that doing no harm was the same as doing good. I was wrong. Progress does not “just happen.” November 7, 2016 was a rude awakening for me, but I am grateful that I was able to grow as a person (as painful as that always is). Personal growth, similarly, does not “just happen.”
I am certain that part of my personal evolution can be attributed to my yoga practice. Yoga itself is furthest traced back to the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata; written at some point between 400-200 CE). In this ancient text, the Lord Krishna comes to a prince who is growing despondent on the battlefield. This prince does not want to fight, especially because his adversaries are his very own family and friends. However, Lord Krishna tells the prince (Arjuna) that he must practice yoga, which he defines in various ways:
the clear, discerning, totally voluntary, dynamic participation in one’s life;
fueled by love;
sacrifice that elevates us, motivates us, informs us, actively engages us and does so in a manner that is harmonious to all other living beings;
fearless, selfless, freeing, balancing, inspiring, and joyfully- performed actions based on a vision in which one experiences peaceful interconnection with all life.
Be steadfast in your duty, O Arjuna, and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.
Yes, he describes yoga as a peaceful practice. But do you know what else? He does not tell the prince to make peace with his enemies. He tells Arjuna to continue in battle. He tells him he must fight his own family and friends, because it is in the name of the truth and what is right. He says as yogis we must be actively engaged in life, fighting when appropriate, without any attachment to the result (in other words, working toward a goal while simultaneously releasing all expectations and accepting the fact that you cannot control or predict how it will all turn out. Or, more practically, hope for the best, but you must keep fighting even knowing that there might not be results, at least in your lifetime).
If you call yourself a yogi, it is not enough to “stay out of it,” or claim that talking politics is distasteful, or simply practice ahimsa (nonviolence). A yogi is a warrior, and not just on the mat. A yogi is someone who is willing to selflessly defend the truth, stand up for what’s right, and yes, fight, when necessary.
I don’t want to wait around until things are worse (again). I call myself a yoga teacher and a nutritionist because I believe in preventative medicine. And I believe that this micro approach can have much broader application. Prevention does not just apply to you and me as individuals, but to our society and country. Development is an active process that we must all engage in, both personally and collectively. Healing will always be necessary, because life is tough (no matter who you are!) and there will be trials and tribulations on your journey. That is just how it goes, and the silver lining is that if we so choose, we can be in a constant state of growth. Yes, that does mean constant growing pains. And sometimes, I am just so tired and sick of it all. Sometimes I even catch myself wondering, Why bother? But as my new-favorite singer Andra Day emphatically resounds, in her gorgeous song, Rise Up: “all we need is hope, and for that we have each other.”