The other day I had to stop the car at the side of the road. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, and I needed a few moments to recover myself before continuing to drive.
I had just dropped off my daughter at school and had NPR news on while driving back home. I have not read or listened to much news at all in the past 7 years or so.
Like many others, I have always been emotionally sensitive to the stream of information that comes our way. As long as I can remember, I have had to put a limit on my personal news consumption. When I was pregnant with our daughter Indira, I was plagued by incredibly intense dreams, very often bizarre and frightful nightmares. My midwife strongly recommended to not watch any tv or read any news. And so I didn’t.
And I have not really picked it back up since.
This past year has been quite eventful on many fronts. The last 6 months I have opened myself more and more back up to the information overload, with a pinnacle around the US elections. I have experienced waves of the same emotions as many others, switching back and forth between astonishment, anger, uncertainty, disillusion, hope and sadness; just to name a few. And now in the car, hearing a report about the human disaster happening in Aleppo, I couldn’t take it anymore. The sadness that had been building in my heart for a while had to come out.
So, I just sat in my car for a while and cried.
When I feel like that I often ask myself what my yoga practice teaches me to do. And I must honestly say that I am not sure what the answer is.
I know that some yoga practitioners understand that their duty lies in positive action and therefore activism. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the foundational yoga scriptures, is also a narrative about war. It teaches us the yogic lesson to live according to our dharma. We need to fulfill our life purpose and duties, even when they might be painful. I know many who interpret this as the duty to keep up the fight for the good in the world, or even change the world. Many yoga practitioners, whom I admire, are involved in action groups, fundraising projects and other important initiatives.
One half of me feels it is my duty to roll up my sleeves and somehow participate in this too. The other half of me rereads interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and other yogic texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
What I remind myself of in meditation and contemplation is that all the suffering we see in the world is created by our own fluctuations of the mind. We practice yoga to still these fluctuations, to understand that there is nothing wrong with the world around us, only with how we see it. That’s why our focus should be on self-reformation. Or in the words of Swami Satsashananda: We can scrub the outside world, but if we don’t cure our jaundice eye, it will always look yellow.
A while back I read an article written by a yoga person and aimed at yoga practitioners. It struck a chord with me. The gist of it was that the attitude of love and peace, that we see a lot in yoga communities, is the ultimate expression of (white) privilege. Saying that you send love and light to someone in need or an underprivileged community is not going to change anything for these people in any practical way. Working on bettering yourself is great, but there are many people in this world who are not in a very favorable position to do so. It should be our duty to help them through action and not just by meditating at home and saying the words love, healing, light and Om.
So then I wonder, where do these messages merge? What does it mean to me? How should I live my life?
When I hear the cries of the children in a completely destroyed city, who lost their parents and have no hope for the future; when I read stories of people being treated unfairly, often with devastating results, just because of their skin color or sexual orientation or gender; when I learn how our oceans are turning into plastic continents that are rapidly destroying all wildlife on earth; how can I tell myself that this is just my jaundiced eye and the fluctuations of my mind?
I believe it’s both. That’s our human condition.
There must be a truth that bridges our daily lives and the Transcendent Reality. Being too focused on the tumultuous surface of life and on our temporary physical body makes us feel anxious and vulnerable. When I am overwhelmed by these emotions of astonishment, anger, uncertainty, disillusion, hope and sadness, I need to release. When I sit in my car and cry, my tears are like a personal cleansing, that need to happen so that through all the mental and emotional clutter I can see mySelf and mySelf for the world.
At this time of year, when many traditions celebrate miracles of light and hope and love, we have an opportunity to fill our minds with inspiration, humility and most of all compassion. There is always an inner value and an outer value to life. We need to honor both. Dive deep within and contemplate how we can transform ourselves and rise to connect with our true Self. And from there also determine what we can do to express compassion in our daily lives. We need to make time to be still, meditate, practice yoga and reflect on our thoughts. This leads to the knowing and understanding that the world is magnificent and beautiful, and so are we.
With this knowing we will be more willing to increase our awareness, widen our perspective, so that when we work on ourselves we include the well being of the whole world and its future. Because, there is no separation.
So this year, our wish for you is to find time to be still to cultivate compassion, joy, and happiness.
From our heart to yours,
Zefea, Mark, Indira, Ravi and the evolation yoga family
Zefea had her first experience with yoga at the age of 4 when her parents practiced with renowned teacher Angela Farmer in the Iyengar tradition. She forgot about yoga during her teens and twenties and trained for boxing and the combat system Krav Maga. Zefea rediscovered the benefits of yoga when she started practicing Bikram Yoga in her home town Amsterdam. From 2006-2008 she represented the Netherlands as the Dutch gold medalist in the International Yoga Championships, finishing in the world's top 10. Zefea experienced new depths of yoga through practicing while pregnant (up till the day of giving birth).