We are living in turbulent times. Our planet is burning, people are enslaved for the clothes on our backs and the food in our bellies, animals are slaughtered for our overconsumption while being housed in horrific conditions, and wars have degenerated into immeasurable human atrocities seemingly for the engagement, or perhaps entertainment, of our 24-hour news cycle. It can be easy to explain everything for our own insular self-affirming self-righteousness, reject those who don’t think like us, and surround ourselves in the comfort of isolationism; however, this is the opposite of what we need to confront these issues.
I am a United States Citizen who grew up in a military family. We lived in communities around the United States and abroad. Over seven years ago I became a Canadian immigrant through my marriage. I am privileged – white, middle-class, able-bodied, straight, healthy, late 30s, well-travelled and well-educated. I recognize what this privilege affords me on a daily basis as I move through the world, traveling to different places and meeting and working with people. This privilege has kept me safely in a bubble of like-minded souls for way too long.
It can be easy to “other,” to keep “doing as I do.” It can be easy to only speak to those who think and act like me. It is “comfortable”. It is “safe.”
However, comfortable and safe will not stand against the multitude of injustices in the world. What we require is activism. We need those courageous enough to march, picket, boycott, and protest. We need the leaders in politics and our corporate world to openly and firmly reject policies and programs that suppress, exclude and destroy. These leaders must openly support those that flourish in the name of inclusion and creation.
As a yoga practitioner, I sometimes get frustrated when I hear the “we are all one” and “go within” as the mantras for our time, as though they are a soothing salve for the tragedies that befall us on a daily basis. Yes, these are true and heartfelt sayings and they can make a difference in our internal mental states; however, the yamas and niyamas, the true foundations of our practice, ask us to work from a much more active and radical place.
They ask us to seek non-violence in all we do – toward all living beings, including ourselves. They ask us to be truthful and to not cheat, steal, or covet. There are aspects of contentment – to truly value what we have in opposition to overconsumption. To be disciplined – especially when faced with situations, groups, or individuals that take us away form our truth.
Most importantly, these foundations ask us to be students of ourselves. In my mind, this immediately invokes the phrase “history is doomed to repeat itself” when in reality, it doesn’t have to. Self-study means we take time to examine our habits and patterns, to see what works for the benefit of ourselves and for the benefit of our fellow humans. It also works on a community-consciousness level. When we see people acting in recognition of previous damaging habits, patterns, and systems that caused pain and suffering, there is a shift toward another and much more beneficial way of behaving, do-ing, and be-ing in this world.
This is what I am hopeful for during these challenging times. That there are enough of us on and off the mat, who work with consideration of these powerful foundations. That the yamas and niyamas can serve as the grounding pieces so needed during a time of great upheaval. They can be the motivating forces behind compassionate, but forceful, action against destructive forces all around us.
This Friday, a new leader is taking the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. I am personally devastated by the outcome of this election and I am terrified for what the next four years mean for our planet and people around the world. At the same time, I am buoyed by the spirit of hope and change that continuously pervades in political, economic, and social landscapes. Movements like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and the Women’s March on Washington all serve to remind us that while we could stand silent, we can also be positive forces for good in this world.
In addition to these macro-movements, we must also take it upon ourselves to invest in the micro-movements of our daily lives – to have conversations with those we don’t agree with; to give money, time, and energy at local levels; to support those who need love; and to show compassion for ourselves, others, and this beautiful Earth.
We are merely passing travellers in this lifetime – stewards of our land, environment, and institutes. It can be easy to pretend that our personal lives won’t make much of a difference. I am here to tell you they can. So, choose to speak out. Choose to be brave. Choose to reach out. Choose to stand with others. Choose to be active in any way you can and that feels right for you, and pushes your personal comfort zone.
This world needs you, Brave Soul. Now more than ever.