Last week in Mississauga a Muslim man, leaving a family picnic, was beaten nearly to death in front of his wife and two young children by a couple of racist goons. In years gone by the response to this would have been prolonged shock and outrage. But this time, the reaction barely extended beyond the twenty-four hour news cycle.
The past five years have revealed an undercurrent of ugliness, greed and delusion in our society that I’ve found both shocking and overwhelming. A small minority of deeply disturbed people have been supported, emboldened and set into action by some extremely powerful, and frankly, evil people (evil in the most banal, pathetic and narcissistic of senses). Their genius has been in mobilizing groups of people to attack one another while they quietly plunder resources, balloon their already massive bank accounts and dissolve all the regulations that might have held them in check. They perpetuate lies and attack the media, the academics and the scientists. Historically, the intelligentsia were always among the first to be shipped off to the gulag or the prison camp. I know I will be accused of being alarmist, but frankly, it’s time to be alarmed.
More and more often, isolated and delusional people are perpetrating violent attacks on innocent people. They create fear, leading to mistrust and more isolation, and the whole cycle feeds back on itself. This is a new phenomenon, and hoping it will resolve itself will not get to the bottom of it.
The primary ethical directive of yoga is ahimsa, which means to do no harm. But contrary to popular opinion, this does not equate to inaction. I stumbled on a quote from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in an article by Jan Willis the other day. He said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and for those on the receiving end of hatred and violence, he said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Sitting back, turning off the news, and just hoping that this is going to go away is not an adequate response. Hope is dangerous when it’s not accompanied by action.
In yoga we practice a number of poses named after Virya, the great warrior. These poses embody strength, being grounded in reality, and the ability to stay with what is difficult. The warrior stances require flexibility, balance, and sustained attention.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition has its own forms of warrior including female deities known as dakinis. These are fierce, frightening entities whose name translates roughly as “sky-dancers.” They embody the energy of anger, but are free from aggression or hatred. They represent the transformation of anger into skilful action. They take the useful, motivational energy and use it to champion truth, destroy delusions, and create the space for better solutions or outcomes to arise. They are a force of fierce love—like the ferocity of a mother bear when her cubs are threatened—a reaction that is not driven by ego, or based on being right, but rather it is born from a need to protect and take care of life.
The aim of the yoga warrior is to transform anger rather than renounce it: to acknowledge it, take care of it, and use the energy beneath it to defend truth, life, and the interconnected web of all beings. We battle against the forces of greed, power, delusion and narcissism. We practice the warrior poses and we practice mindfulness not to transcend the world, but to live in it more wisely. We need to act, in whatever small ways we can, mindful of our own afflictions (greed, fear, ignorance)—and we can’t wait until we think we’ve achieved enlightenment to do it. Sitting on the sidelines hoping that the pendulum will swing back towards truth and reason on its own is unwise. We only need to look at history for abundant proof of the horrors we’re capable of. Cultivation of courage, and expression of fierce love that is not driven by egotism, is what is called for in such dark times.
At this time we need to set aside our fears, support one another and choose at least one small battle. Our actions can be as simple as writing letters, donating to a good cause, supporting journalists, volunteering, or even just calling someone on their racism or homophobia. The culture of yoga would be much improved if we focussed way less on bikinis and more on dakinis. As individuals we can drive positive change, but we have to hold our ground, get over our need to be liked by everybody (big personal stumbling block for me), and be willing to fail with grace.
The warrior has a code of ethics that she stands on, and she’s willing to take risks. When you’re practicing your standing warriors think of them as a practice for holding ground and resisting ignorance, narcissism, shame and blame. Practice being uncomfortable and challenged, and then take it off the mat and out into the world.
With fierce love,
PS Fierce Love is also the title of a documentary by Velcrow Ripper which I would recommend whole-heartedly.