There is no denying that there is a lot of pretty shitty stuff going on just now in the world – what with the POTUS being such a caricature of Dr. Evil – a whole load of young people being misled into thinking that blowing themselves up or ramming people with vans will be good for them , for God and for Islam – the people of Britain being scaremongered into Brexit, making the most divisive and stupid decision in centuries – a bunch of misguided neo-nazis, white supremacists and other general right wingers, suddenly feeling entitled and empowered by the likes of Trump, Farage and company – and the list goes on!
So we get angry, we want to stop the madness and restore some semblance of sanity, or at least our vision of sanity.
I see a lot of that on social media and in the news, a lot of anger and a lot of very strong feelings being expressed – and I find it unsettling.
I mentioned in previous posts that I used to be a very angry person. Sometimes this anger would manifest itself in very unwholesome bursts of rage against a family member or a friend, and even the very angry me would see how that was not a good thing – but sometimes, often, in fact, it was anger and rage that I felt was perfectly justified, and that I was entitled, if not obliged, to act on. A lot of that was channelled through things like my stint as a hardcore punk singer (I still enjoy listening to hardcore punk BTW…:-), my political activism etc.
I have a different view now, and some of the recent events, with crowds of delusional right-wingers being confronted by crowds of righteous anti-right-wingers, made me explore how I feel about it all a bit more in depth.
Firstly, anger. The ninth Buddhist precept is a vow not to indulge in anger. The key word here is “indulge”. Buddhism is very much a practical philosophy and suggesting that you should not FEEL anger is definitely not practicable.
So, getting angry, feeling a surge of anger, is normal, inevitable and natural. But indulging in it is not. We are a product of natural selection, and some of our traits, inclinations and feelings have evolved with the sole purpose of enabling us to propagate our genes forward. We still have a psychological model designed for small communities of hunter-gatherers. In a small, secluded, group it was likely very useful, necessary in fact, to be able to respond to perceived threats and abuses very strongly and firmly, at the cost of being marginalised from the group, or even killed, and therefore failing to propagate genes. But that hardly applies in the modern world, and in fact anger, anxiety and stress are more likely to decrease our chances of successfully procreating.
Anger in itself is very seldom useful nowadays and even more infrequently a driver for sensible and productive decisions.
This, in no way, means that I believe one should not have strong feelings about injustices, or that one should sit back and let things happen, in passive acceptance. On the contrary, I feel that a drive to make a positive impact on the world is key to happiness and fulfilment.
A quieter path
The question is: how to make a difference? I tend to assume that no-one is intrinsically “bad”. Misguided? Yes! Confused? Yes! But ultimately we are all after the same thing: happiness.
It is my deep belief that people are not evil and that most of the acts that we would likely brand as evil are a product of some form of suffering, fear, delusion, or misguided good intention. Which, in my mind equates to a failure to see reality for what it actually is but rather filter it through a loud inner dialogue, coupled with a tendency to react excessively.
This is the definition of the goal (or state of) Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. What it suggests is that when you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.
In other words, Chitta can be compared to a pair of tinted sunglasses, making the world a different colour. And if you were to wear a different colour each day, then the world would be sometimes one colour and sometimes another.
And this is how it always is for our own perceptions, though we may not be aware of it. Our perceptions of the world are skewed. For example, if you’re driving to an appointment and are running late, you’re far more likely to see a world full of red lights and people driving at a ridiculously slow speed. You are likely to get extremely irritated and perhaps drive in an unsafe way, putting your, and other people’s lives, at risk.But if you set out for an appointment and you’ve got plenty of time to get there, you’ll probably enjoy the trip. But of course, the world hasn’t changed, only your take on it. When you’re running late you see the world through the lenses of haste, and when you’ve got plenty of time, you see the world through the lenses of enjoyment.
Yoga and meditation can progressively make us less prone to being yanked and pulled this way and the other. It is a slow process, but it happens; and my sincere belief is that the more people take up and stick to these practices, the better a world we will have.
I believe that one of the ways I can really effect change is to spread my passion for these practices, and also take them to underserved communities such as addiction recovery centres and the homeless.
The ripple effect should not be underestimated, ultimately the world is made up of individuals and one more centred, less reactive person will also make the lives of those around them better.
A student of mine who took up Yoga with me just a few months ago had started coming to my classes twice a week “You’re really keen!” I joked one afternoon. “Oh, yeah, I really enjoy it, but it’s my husband who really wants me to keep it up!”.