Recent events and the turn of season have landed on many like a celestial wet blanket, casting a hue of funk and resignation. Even just a quick glance at any news feed bombards us with what seems to be insurmountable suffering, injustice, and ignorance. Governments and institutions appear at a loss to stem the tide. As individuals, we have no choice but to either give in to hopelessness or garner our intrinsic resources.
I have been observing groups of people for most of my adult life. And there are times, maybe a particular day or period, when life renders itself with an aftertaste. Everyone is reacting or responding to it differently, but there is a common something just underneath the surface of what’s happening that is universally sensed. Perhaps it’s an astrology thing or string theory, I don’t know. But you can see it more readily expressed in children and dogs. Most often, it goes undiscerned. However, of late, it feels impossible to deny a pervading forlornness.
Violence, geopolitics, and commercialization siphoning through the white noise of social media can sometimes undermine a sense of self and well-being.
Usually, I’m a political junkie of sorts. I get off on the absurdity and theater of it all. But recently, I don’t have much of a taste for it. In fact, I can’t really take it in. And it’s curious that, for the last few months, my writing has largely concerned itself with big-picture issues facing the “yoga industry.” I remember this time last year, I was saying to myself that I wanted to get away from that and write more “from my heart.” However, experiencing my second daughter as she developed from a wave of energy into a little human walking around, with the back-drop of a world in crisis, has left me feeling vulnerable and protective.
Perhaps it’s just the holidays and I’m projecting and reading too much into things. My own situation is largely stable. But there is an unusual number of people in my immediate sphere who find themselves in the midst of trials and transitions. And those faces in class who usually express an amount of certitude, now are showing signs of wavering. As though, were I to break through the walls of social etiquette and hug them with all my might, we would just break down and sob.
More than anything, I need to feel that I’m OK.
Regardless of the many different motivations and inspirations that bring people to yoga, underlying it all is the basic desire to feel that we are OK. That the pain is not so much that we can’t see how our lives have meaning. That the difficulties are worth the trouble. Perhaps even to experience some moments of joy and love in the midst. These are humble wishes that come by way of simple means, not elaborate posturing.
Yoga practice has played many roles in my life. I have been able to identify deeply held patterns in myself, enabling me to feel that I know who I am more. Sometimes I have even been able to make important changes to those patterns that have set me on a better trajectory and led to a life more of my choosing. But none of this is possible until I can feel that I am OK. Without that baseline, all the discovering and exploring and hours of practice can easily be for naught. The glimmers of benefit end up overshadowed by backlashes and unintended consequences.
Thus, my emphasis on something slower and simpler. This is not only serving me in my practice as a way to cultivate a baseline of knowing myself as the whole being I am, but also reflects a broader need to counter the side-effects of technologies and mores that have imperceptibly become so ingrained in my life. It doesn’t matter what I can do or how fast I can do it, whether from my phone or with my body, if I can’t feel OK inside myself first. Letting my digital screens be a way to distract and sedate me needs to be countered with the immediacy and intimacy of giving and receiving in my own system. The act of participating in my own breath and body, without imposition and in a nurturing manner, makes my fear more manageable.
Fortunately, life is so much larger than despair.
When things begin to weigh too heavily on me, I remind myself how much larger life is than suffering. For every murder there are a million orgasms. For every starving child there are a billion more laughing with joy. For every act of harm there are infinite acts of kindness. For every person who is huddled in despair there is another who would gladly provide love and support. Eventually, my mind has no choice but to succumb to a wonder and immensity that is beyond my ability to fully comprehend.
Despite it all, I’m OK. Pain and suffering makes this no less true. And I wish to propose that the same could be said for anyone reading this. There is no tragedy so great as to erase the miracle of our birth or the majesty of our lives. May we know this warmth and hold it dear.
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, podcaster and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com.