August 21, 2020
I just hung up the phone with my first-born son and my heart is heavy. For years, he has loved to bait me into political discussions. Today I relaxed my usual candor and reached for the bait, as he proudly asserted, “I am a conservative. Even Fox News is too liberal for me.”
When my son, sister and a son-in law first told me in 2016 they were voting for Trump, I heard the words roll out of my mouth without thinking, “I didn’t know intelligent people would vote for Trump.” Wow! What a journey it has been since that moment when I let destiny slip into my words without warning!
It hasn’t been a journey of the outer visible world, but an internal struggle with my own judgments, perceptions and ideals. It has been a juggling act of applying the principles I have taught for years: “holding two or more points of perspective simultaneously.”
Why was I now criticizing my own son for having his own perspective, his own views? Why have I been critical of him for those views? Why have I been secretly critical of those leaders I saw as enabling a man with the President’s autocratic tendencies through their silent support? Why have I been blaming his supporters for lacking in discriminative awareness? Why have I been struggling between holding the space for all, and wanting to jump into the fray to do something to bring balance to an imbalanced situation? Wouldn’t I do the same with a yoga student in an imbalanced asana? At times I wonder if I have lost my own ability to discriminate during these times of “alternative facts” and alternative reality.
In Yoga philosophy, discrimination is known as Viveka, which is the most expansive form of discrimination. It helps us to transcend the downward pull of Avidya, which is the first reason for our pain and suffering in life, “not seeing the nature of our Oneness.”
Viveka means to discriminate, to discern, to decipher the difference between the real and the unreal. It is the discriminative awareness that gives us a knowing…an impulse of when to speak out and when to be silent, when to step into a situation and when to step back. It is that higher intuition of what our work is in this world and what is right for us. It helps us discern whether our role is to become active and face into the winds of injustice or to remain silent while holding the vision beyond all division. Viveka is a point of convergence where all polarities meet as One. It is the intuitive gift of discerning truth from falsehood. One of the greatest falsehoods according to Yoga is that the world is real. As one of my teachers once said, “Don’t get involved. Stay above the fray, remembering that it is all an illusion.”
After all, when one perspective or belief system collides or clashes with a belief system of another, it can lead to separation and even war. Is it worth it? We have been told by our Eastern teachers that the world is an illusion so why bother, why get involved? However, a radical approach of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo Gosh urges the spiritual practitioner not to withdraw from the illusion of the world but to stay in it and help transform this world into the replica of the world(s) we hope to reach. Is this what is meant by “Heaven on Earth?”
Viveka helps us discern what is right for us. We see so much separation around us, even to the point that wearing or discarding a mask brings up anger, attachment and fear. Even Covid-19 has become a point of contention, with some believing it’s a “hoax” while others are severely ill or dying from this so-called “hoax.” What does it matter? As some of our teachers say…it’s all an illusion.
I received a great lesson on illusion in 1970 when I was asked to demonstrate asanas on television in San Francisco with Swami Vishnudevananda, a disciple of Master Sivandanda of Rishikesh, India. It was a dream come true! I would finally meet this yogi I had heard about. After the television show, he asked if I would drive him and two disciples to Grass Valley, to look at a property where he would build what he later called the “Yoga Farm.” When we arrived, he got out of the car and immediately started flailing his arms, and yelling, “We’ll put in a lake over there and outdoor platforms over here.” He continued excitedly, “We’ll put dorms and kitchens here.” He waved his hands excitedly, as if bringing his vision into reality. As we walked back to the car, Swamiji ate a banana, tossed the pealing over his shoulder on the ground, and decisively said to the realtor, “We’ll take it!”
My head was reeling as I drove us all back to San Francisco. I admired his ability to make quick decisions knowing that he could and would bring his vision into earthly form. One of his disciples sitting in the back seat, began pontificating on the beautiful scenery and how it all was part of the illusion of life. Swamiji was silent. After a few miles, the disciple said he was hungry, and asked if we could stop to eat. Swami Vishnu swung his body around to peer at his disciple, now cowering in the back seat, “Why should you need to eat? You’ve been saying that everything is an illusion. Then is not hunger also an illusion? You want food. Is that not also an illusion? The body you feed is an illusion.”
I marveled at the wisdom of this teaching, and now find myself wondering how to remain aloof and balanced in our rapidly changing world of today. I inwardly question, "Is the Covid-19 an illusion? Is the loss of of 30 million jobs and mass closings of businesses an illusion? Is destruction of public education in America an illusion? Is the temporary and permanent separation of parents and children at our Southern borders an illusion? Is the desecration of the environment and endangered species an illusion? Is the Anti-Muslim ban an illusion, and the support of police brutality? Is dismantling the Postal service started by one of the founding fathers in 1775 an illusion? Is the Russian-backed cult of QAnon spewing outdated and sometimes incorrect information an illusion? Is the demolition rather than evolution of our democracy an illusion too?"
Yes, ultimately a true yogi may gain the experiential knowledge that this world is an illusion but until then it is very real. In Yoga sometimes it takes more energy to repress our views for fear they may not be seen as “spiritual.”
In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna, symbolic of God, is in dialogue with Arjuna, the individual soul who wants to withdraw from the battlefield of life. Sri Krishna, speaking through Arjuna to us continues to say throughout 700 verses, “Don’t be of faint heart, O Arjuna. Stand up, pick up your bow and fight.” We are the reflection of Arjuna! We are that soul who may at times want to shrink away from the battlefield, symbolic of the polarities of life.
Is it a time to be a warrior and pick up our bow, a symbol of our own power, strength and flexibility to help bring unbalanced situations into greater balance? Do we step forth into the chaotic fray of life? Or is it our part to do nothing but hold the space beyond all dualities and “illusions” of separation?
Sri Krishna says to Arjuna, “One’s own work done imperfectly is far better than the work of another done perfectly.” What is our work at this time of evolutionary change? Now the discrimination of Veveka is sorely needed. How can we trust our knowing of what actions are right for us at this time? In attempting to cultivate discrimination I have found great benefit from and old Sufi Saying, “Remain unmoving until the right action occurs!”
Okay…Perhaps It’s time for me to pick up the phone and tell my son how much I love him beyond all of our varying perspectives and polarities. After all, in yoga, polarities are also considered an outgrowth of illusion. However, beyond it all, love is known as the most powerful force in the Universe.