Opening New Dialogues

I have read several very thoughtful responses to Deb Schoeneman’s NYT article that have been sent to me over the past few days. Deb was kind enough to send me a letter of apology if her article caused any hurt – which, truthfully, it did not. What it did was give us (the yoga community) an opportunity to try to turn the conversations about yoga in the mainstream in a different direction, to widen the dialogue and test ourselves to see where we really want to go with all of this. Yoga, as we all know, is infinitely lampoon-able. There are so many things that invite ridicule in the yoga world, in America and in India. And while we should be honest about these aspects, we also should be aware that by our own behavior we can drive the presentation of yoga in West in a different direction – away from the Fashion & Style pages, and towards pages that reflect its greater relevance.

In regards to the letter from Bryan Shull that Robbie sent to me, I completely neglected to link to Robbie’s website site: I apologize, Robbie! You can find him, and the work he does in the Richmond City Prison, here.

So, before I move away from this article and write about other things I find interesting, I wanted to mention two pieces written by my friends. One is from my fall-back blogger, Sheetal Shah, the Senior Director of the Hindu American Foundation. Apparently I blew all the political clout I built up with her on my NYT response by posting the Coldplay video (“Poor Ganesh!”, she said). But she does work out at, like, Equinox or something, so whatever – there is probably some great contradiction between posting a Coldplay video and pondering the presentation of Yoga in the West, but what can I say, it made me laugh.

Here is her response to the article. You can also see the HAF yoga stance here.

The second is from my friend Blake, who sent me a lengthy and highly thoughtful letter, of which I will quote just a little:

I think that a problem remains for those of us who have put this method into practice, and who have begun to experience its beneficial effects -clarity of mind, healthy body, strength of spirit; our work cannot be ‘finished’ with just ourselves, and not only for the reason that this method of practice opens into a continual process of refinement…  The problem that confronts us once our own personal relationships with this practice are ‘underway’ is the problem of our culture itself.  We simply cannot afford to sit back on our Zafus and watch as this whole shithouse of a society goes up in flames!  If what is at stake in Yoga is the non-apparent possibility of making intelligent decisions on a personal level, then what is at stake in contemporary culture is the apparent impossibility of making intelligent decisions collectively.  Beneath this veneer all manner of personal-scale pathologies are able to proliferate freely at the ‘highest’ levels of social responsibility, including government, civil service, ‘the media’ (apparatuses of mass communication), the family, schools (cruelty to children), the private sector (executive malfeasance), etc.  It seems to me that the delusional nature of power (power as a delusion!) that’s implicated in all of this is an extremely dangerous adversary.  It very clearly threatens to extinguish legitimate cultural, spiritual, and practical traditions not only among human beings worldwide, but among many, if not all, forms of biological life on this planet (through resource liquidation, global warming, pollution, nuclear catastrophe, chemical weaponry, etc.); yoga very much included.  

I feel that these problems do need to be addressed explicitly, and that doing so will necessitate the taking of strong positions vis a vis yoga’s (and our personal) identities in the pseudo-commons of a largely corporate-engineered and dominated ‘popular culture’.  It is certainly safer and simpler to avoid the Eye of Mordor that is the ‘media spotlight’; our work as Yoga teachers and practitioners remains rooted in the local, specific, personal conditions of our ‘actual’ (as opposed to virtual) lives and communities.  But the capacities for intelligent discernment (siddhis) that our methods deliver unto us confer with them the responsibility to take up strong public positions on and in what remains of our culture, safeguarding thereby what small chance remains of our survival past this ‘massively-globalizing’ phase in our species’ very peculiar evolution.  

Clearly, we have work to do…