My husband and I just returned from a Baptist Church Independence Day event called “I love America.” The all white audience of about 10,000 cheered, cried, prayed, and sang along with the 250 person choir and 60 piece orchestra. Young women donned Civil War fashions in the antebellum era of our pre-Civil War area of East Texas. Uncle Sam and a statue of liberty joined hands in solidarity as they marched down the aisle of this vast and beautiful auditorium.
The American flag was everywhere. It decorated balconies, walls, and ceilings. People wore it on their bodies, hair ribbons and hats. We marveled as a huge blimp, with an American flag stamped on its sides flew over our heads from balcony to balcony. Mickey and Minnie Mouse strolled down the aisles along with Texas long-horned steers. Donald Duck joined the children as they danced through the aisles in superhero costumes. There was a plethora of balloons and bubblegum as flowered leis were placed around our necks.
It seemed to be a composite of an old tent revival in the modern world, a Barnum and Baily three-ring circus and Cirque du Soleil, as young gymnasts twirled head-over-heels with and without hands touching the floor.
My mind was boggled with this array. I cried as the now- elderly vets were asked to stand so that they might be honored for their service to their country. Once straight and strong, their bodies were now bent and crooked with age and the downward pull of gravity, emotionally as well as physically. I could not help but wonder which war they had served in and if they ever doubted its necessity. As we sang the national anthem with our hands over hearts, they saluted almost defiantly with unblinking eyes that sparkled with past memories.
The songs were all related to America and the power of Christian soldiers marching off to war. The age-old message of the war between good and evil resounded through every cell of the body as the choir melodies wove their way into the chords of our hearts.
As the program honored our forefathers, I could not help but think how much the Natives of this land suffered under our settlements and occupation. As they sang of the founding of this great country, I could not help thinking that our government buildings and even the White House were built on occupied land by black slave labor.
When the choir sang of freedom, from the oppressive regime of the British, I once again thought of the British who viewed our colonists, not as heroes but as terrorists.
As the night went on, the American dream was woven into the fabric of Christianity. Even though this government was based on religious freedom, Jesus, the cross and Christianity rose to a dramatic crescendo, bringing forth a huge laser light cross that hung holographically in the air. Freedom and Christianity were inextricably interlocked as if we couldn’t have one without the other.
The Minister interspersed his words into the music reminding us that the Bible only honors marriage between a man and a woman, Jesus Christ is the only savior and that this country’s president should always be Christian.
Sophisticated laser technologies continued to criss-cross through the vast auditorium like a saber light battle between the light and dark forces of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Yes, I thought, in times of great change and transformation there is a return to the familiar, creating contraction rather than expansion of consciousness. Was it reverting to conditioned thinking and that which is familiar when congregants blatantly stated their belief as fact, “President Obama is not a Christian but a Muslim.”
I rushed home to finish my article for this newsletter and in comparison to the startling experience of “I Love America,” found my words dull and uninteresting. They were about Yoga and how its practice can be applied in our world of today. I wrote of the growing chasms of separation dividing people, communities, groups and nations. I referred to the vast polarizations that are widening wherever I travel. And how important Yoga is for teachers and students in these changing times. It is important to stay centered and calm in the midst of what appears to be growing chaos.
In Greek mythology there once was a forgotten goddess who was stricken from the pantheon of deities. Her name was Chaos. She was like the wind, creating turbulence, upheaval and change through her mere presence. Even the mention of her name would incite fear in the hearts of women and men who wanted their world to remain intact and unchanging. They would go to great lengths to control whatever they could in their environment — to give a sense of safety and stability. They shuttered their windows, and opened their doors only to those who were familiar; those who looked like them, thought like them and believed like them.
Instead of bending like the willow in the wind, and riding the tides of change, they resisted attaching to the old ways that once worked but had quietly without notice, become obsolete.
It is the long forgotten goddess Chaos who comes as a reminder that upheaval and chaos precede not only change but also longer-lasting eras of transformation.
As we grow increasingly forgetful of our global heritage with all life forms and beings, we tend to build defenses. We forget that the very walls we build as individuals and nations meant to keep others out are the walls that keep us locked in. We build our defense mechanisms as nations, just as we build them within ourselves. When we are in fear, as the Yoga Sutras initiate, we fuel separative consciousness rather than a unified field of all peoples working together for the betterment of all humankind.
Never before has it been more important for Yoga teachers and students to view the personal, national and global events as their Yoga practice. Can we do what Yoga suggests: “staying balanced and equanimous between polarities such as praise and blame, criticism and compliment? Is it possible to hold two perspectives simultaneously in a climate that demands our loyalty to one side or another? In the language of the Sutras, is it possible living in our world, to stay balanced between opposites such as Raga (attachment) and Dwesha (aversion)?
The essence of all Yoga is Chitta Vritti Nirodah, which means to quiet and calm the waves of the mind, even in the midst of turbulence. Just as the world around us influences our inner Being, our inner Being can also influence the world around us. It is easy to feel helpless with the rapidity of change. But in Yoga, we move to the center within ourselves and like the grain in the center of the mill, we remain whole, intact and untouched by the forces on the outer periphery.
Is it possible for those of us in Yoga to dive into a deeper practice than ever before and do the inner work that can change our world? Can we avoid the illusion of separation and instead of escaping from the world delve more deeply into it, holding two or more points of perspective simultaneously? Is it possible to have periodic media and social media fasts, to allow our brains and mind to relax without being emotionally tossed from one event to another? Can we calm our breath even in the midst of chaos to find our place of peace within ourselves?
Yoga is not an exercise, or just “doing poses.” It is a living, breathing organism that can be applied and expressed in our everyday lives. If we can do this as teachers and students of Yoga, then we will model the true teachings of Yoga.
When someone asked Mahatma Gandhi how to help in the non-violent movement to free India, he said, “Be the change you want to see for India and the world.” Practice non-violence within yourself and it will expand out to influence the atmospheres around you.
We now witness the upheaval of growing violence and injustice around us as it has existed for centuries. The question is, can we stay balanced between growing polarizations and breathe in the remembrance of the essence of Yoga. Is it possible for us to hold the Vedantic center of non-dual remembrance of the “Oneness that already is and has always been?” Even in the midst of the growing chasms of separation and change can we pierce through (the veil of illusion) and honor the Yoga or Union that already is.
This evening as we drove through the majestic gates of our landlord’s brick manor house, the house seemed to rise out of the twilight. The last glimmer of light rippled on the pond where our landlord’s ducks, Mandrake, Matilda and Marmaduke swam all in a row. These three snowy white creatures were inseparable. They even slept nestling their heads into one another’s backs and bellies and seemed oblivious to world events.
As we drove to our little cabin in the back of the property, I thought how each time I return home, I always look for the little ducks as a symbol of that which does not change. Seeing them, I sigh with the remembrance that regardless of outer conditions, all is well and right within the world.