Yoga for A World Out of Balance
by Michael Stone
I appreciated the introduction in which the author shared that he began his journey as an avid yoga practitioner who saw no connection between his intensely dedicated practice and the rest of his life. I wish he had also shared how he personally made the shift to taking his practice off the mat and into the world. Instead, he offers a rich, provocative, and urgent call to action with a deep understanding of yogic philosophy that can support all of us, householders and devotees alike, in being agents of change in the world.
Although he talks about the need for yoga to evolve and adapt to western culture, Stone also keeps hammering away at just how practical Patanjali’s Sutras are and how they stand up to the test of time. Stone’s explication of presence and being present as also being eternal relates to this. Because the Yoga Sutras are about the practice of being in this present moment, undistracted, neither attached to it, nor aversive to it, but actually becoming one with it, the Sutras themselves will be eternally relevant: “Patanjali is a realist…we are not in search of a set of rules to follow, nor is yoga practice a practice of dogma. Realization of and commitment to interconnection and interdependence forms the overarching ethical code…”
It makes so much sense to use the Yamas, the social ethics presented in the Sutras, as the basis for the social change that will be necessary to preserve and protect the miracle that is the ecology of this planet. Gandhi and King also used these same principles for the revolutionary, yet peaceful, movements that brought about the cataclysmic changes in India and in the United States. We must be non harming, non lying, non stealing, non greedy and not irresponsible in our use of resources. This actually sounds like a platform for an environmental justice movement, calling out our own personal choices as well as the corporate, political, and social structures that continue to lie, steal, harm, and use everything in a completely irresponsible manner out of insane, and insatiable, greed.
On the other hand, the Niyamas are essential for personal sustenance so that we have the strength to carry on. We clearly see that the work of Gandhi and King is barely started, let alone finished. I, for one, sometimes feel so drained and angry and hopeless, when racism seems to rule once more and the needle just won’t move in the direction of ecological harmony. We need to take good care of ourselves in order to continue taking our yoga out into the world. It seems like we have this beautiful paradise filled with brilliant color and miraculous life but all of these billions of people, even me, are caught up in a lifestyle that is harming, greedy, stealing, and lying with no consciousness of energy and how we can best use it.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Being enlightened means that as you wake up more and more, you become sensitive to the world around AND WITHIN you, developing an intimacy that contracting around self always destroys.”
I loved Stone’s writing about how we humans are not separate from nature. We are part of nature: “The ordinary world, like the place of the body in spiritual life, should not be denied. It is the place of devotion and practice because it is always present and is the closest aspect of nature that we can study…(his writing in between makes the practical argument for how we ARE nature:)…The term “nature” connotes vastness because it leaves nothing out. Our yoga should be practiced this way also. ‘Then…one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites.’”
“In meditative realization you begin to see that you don’t practice to achieve enlightenment; instead, practice, is simply a manifestation of enlightenment. Though the Yamas may appear to be a path to samadhi, they are also a creative expression of samadhi.”
“Karma is not operated by some higher power or god that chooses what kind of effects will happen based on your actions in this or previous lifetimes: karma is not like some kind of Santa Claus that adds up your rights and wrongs and determines the feedback loop most appropriate for you.”
“The jewels of insight, wisdom, and compassion are the results of a life lived from a place of non harming.”
“Blame doesn’t recognize interdependence. If we want to change society and work towards issues like social justice or environmental awareness, we need to understand the inner dimensions of change.”
“The Yamas are most necessary when we are in relationship with other people, animals, and earth. However, in a more enlightened mode of being, our basic nature IS honest, nonviolent, and without the urge to steal or accumulate only for self-benefit.”
And, finally, as I must go for closure, I will end with this one:
“Deep ecology recognizes human beings as a single species in the integrity of the ecosystem or universe, along with all the other numerous species of plants and animals and their interrelationships…it recognizes that other forms of life…have intrinsic value and inherent worth, regardless of their ‘usefulness’ for people. It further recognizes that human beings are only one particular strand in the web of life and calls for a paradigm shift from anthropocentric to ecocentric.”