Interpreting the Election Through the Yamas
What do politics have to do with Yoga? If we look at our recent election - which revealed some of the worst human behavior in recent history - we can see how far we are from touching true enlightenment as a species. As many of us struggle to make sense of the fact that our nation has elected a man with no moral or ethical code to run our country, we can find some understanding and possibly even a dim ray of hope by looking at the bigger picture. Most interpreters of Vedic scriptures believe we are now in Kali Yuga, a dark age where ignorance prevails and people are as far away as possible from "God" (more on this in next week's blog post). "The Yuga Cycle doctrine tells us that we are now living in the Kali Yuga; the age of darkness, when moral virtue and mental capabilities reach their lowest point in the cycle. The Indian epic The Mahabharata describes the Kali Yuga as the period when the “World Soul” is Black in hue; only one quarter of virtue remains, which slowly dwindles to zero at the end of the Kali Yuga. Men turn to wickedness; disease, lethargy, anger, natural calamities, anguish and fear of scarcity dominate. Penance, sacrifices and religious observances fall into disuse. All creatures degenerate. Change passes over all things, without exception." - (From grahamhancock.com) How do we get through this? Once again, we can look to The Yamas of the Yoga Sutras for guidance. We have become a country obsessed with the physical practice of yoga, yet we have almost completely separated it from its spiritual roots. If we look there for guidance, we will find it. I have examined each Yama separately in past blog posts, but here I list all 5 in relation to our current political situation. The first, considered the most important is Ahimsa - the practice of non-violence or non-harming. If we practice this daily, all other yamas fall into place. Yet, when we look around the world, we have seen an increase in acts of violence towards one another since the President-elect has condoned this kind of "non PC" behavior at his rallies. We can combat this behavior by continuing to be kind to strangers - to one another and to help the most vulnerable in these dark times. The 2nd Yama, Satya means "truthfulness". In relation to our current world, we see a society that feeds on "fake news" or lies without researching or verifying. There is a rush to pass these lies around on social media to whip up a frenzy of support for false beliefs. When we participate in this spreading of lies we are not following "satya" and we are harming others - which goes back to the first Yama of non-harming. These 2 Yamas really go hand in hand. Gandhiji said (as a spiritual path), "Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills." As an example of this, look at our president-elect's participation in supporting the "birther conspiracy" to try to deny President Obama's legitimacy by creating a false narrative of him not being born in the United States. Before we participate in the false spreading of lies, we can follow the same guiding principles for right speech, asking ourselves, "Is this True?" (research and validate), "Is it Kind" (who may be hurt by this information?) and "Is it Necessary" (do I need to share this or say this?). "Living in your truth not only creates respect, honor and integrity but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path." (from www.yogabasics.com) I'm going to skip the 3rd Yama, Asteya and combine it with the last Yama and move on to Brahmacarya - Often defined as Celibacy, Brahmacarya refers to restraint, controlling our physical impulses, practicing moderation and conserving our energy. Our President-elect could practice this in the wee hours of the morning instead of getting on social media and tweeting about whatever ails him in that moment. We can practice restraint by deciding how and where to best use our energies during this time. What are you going to focus on? Practice being mindful of where you are devoting your physical and mental energy. Is it serving you? Is it serving your community? We can do a great deal to help ourselves first by practicing mindfulness and meditation before we act, and then directing our energy in the world to better serve others. I think we can also cover "complacency" through this yama. Doing nothing - being extremely tamasic in yogic terms - is NOT a good use of our energy. Know when to act and when to conserve your energy. The 3rd Yama, Asteya or "non stealing" and the 5th Yama, Aparigraha or "Non coveting" also go hand in hand. Not stealing seems easy for most of us - not taking what is not freely given or earned, but when we look deeper, this Yama also applies to not exploiting or oppressing others. This is where social justice comes in - know what you are supporting simply by buying vegetables, meat or fueling your car. Where does your food come from? Is it picked by laborers who are paid a fair wage? Does it come from animals who live in misery and pain? How can you cut down on fossil fuel use in your life to better the environment? How do your daily actions affect the most disadvantaged in your community? These are questions we can all ask ourselves. The 2nd part of this, Aparigraha or non coveting can be applied to our electorate. We have become a greedy and covetous society - but when we become selfish - we lose sight of our one True Self - and our connection to all beings. Not coveting also means not taking more than we absolutely need. When we take more, it often means others receive less. When we look again at our President-elect - we see a man who has committed fraud, who has refused to pay people who worked for him their fair and agreed upon wage - a man who has cut corners, hurting others while helping himself. But he is not the only one. When you investigate many of the big donors to his party, you will find a whole world based on greed - using money and power to influence politics to continue to gain as much wealth as possible at the expense of others. A speaker at the recent "Voices for Change" concert in DC said that when we vote with our conscience - we should vote not for ourselves, our even our family but for our WHOLE COMMUNITY. Few of us think in terms of how our actions affect those around us anymore. Aparigraha urges us to ask How much do I really need? What is truly fair? When you cause others to suffer because of your own greed, we go back to the first Yama of Ahimsa and the practice of non-harming. You cannot take your wealth with you in the end. The only thing that will matter is how you lived in life - how did you treat others? and finding connection to your one True Self. So, to re-cap, as we enter 2017 and face the challenges that surely await for us, when we become confused or depressed or anxious or lost, we can look to the Yamas for guidance. Practice Non-violence towards others. Practice Mindfulness in our own actions. Cultivate awareness of our actions and their effects on others. Cultivate compassion. Get involved in your community and find out how you can best serve the most disadvantaged. This is YOGA. Namaste.