Yoga has blood on its hands.

Via on Jan 12, 2011

Jared Loughner is the one who shot all those people in Tuscon, AZ but some of the responsibility is ours.

I realize that that’s quite a statement to make, but I mean it.

Political pundits have been playing the blame game about how “the people on the other side” have been contributing to the highly vitriolic, vicious, and volatile political climate in the United States.  And I am certain that they are correct in their analysis that this highly charged and polarized ethos may well have contributed to Loughner’s acting as he did. It seems to me, however, that is only part of the story—some responsibility goes to us.

When I say “us” I specifically mean those of us who participate in intentional spiritual practices and communities.  I write as a Christian, specifically as a progressive, contemplative, United Methodist, Christian with Quakerish tendencies. Put me down on record as saying that we Christians have dropped the ball.

Christians have good news to tell and love to share.  At our best, we offer a mightily needed cup of life giving water to a thirsty and hurting world.  We have the gift of reminding people of who and Whose they are – loved, forgiven, and accepted children of God.  At our best we love everyone unconditionally and we place the needs of others ahead of our own.  We love our neighbor as ourselves.  We love our enemies, forgive when we’ve been wronged, practice nonviolence, and strive for reconciliation.  At our best, we foster transformed lives that are inspired to spread that transformation to others — exponentially creating what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the Beloved Community.” To the extent that we have failed to share the good news and unconditional love that we know and are fed by, we have failed Jared and the people of Tuscon.  We failed big time.

But Christians aren’t the only ones who dropped the ball.  The Jewish and Muslim communities failed them.  So did the Buddhists and yogis.

Buddhism teaches that suffering stems from our attachments to ideas, relationships, and things in this world.  Buddhism teaches that there is an 8-fold path to end suffering.  Buddhism teaches a sensible “middle way” and it teaches nonviolence and compassion. Where were the Buddhists in Jared’s life?

Yoga means “to yolk together/union” and it helps unite us with our highest selves, with the highest selves in others, and with all that is.  Yoga teaches inner peace, self-acceptance, and provides ways to improve health, relieve stress, and reduce tension.  Yoga fosters opportunities for people to shift from old patterns and habits (physical and emotional) that aren’t serving them –- and toward new ones that do.  Yoga helps people attain balance between their masculine and their feminine.  It helps us be tender and vulnerable, and to extend our energy and power out into the world in constructive ways, while maintaining a gentle, three-fold victorious breath.  Yoga provides techniques to help us hold things loosely and to increase our ability to be intimate and truly present with others.  Yoga teaches us to become flexible on and off the mat.   Where were the yogis in Jared’s life?

Here’s the deal. Those of us in the spiritual and healing communities have something good to offer the world.  But we aren’t offering it –- at least not as fully as we could be doing. Too often, Americans approach our spirituality from an individualistic perspective, “What can I get out of this?”  “How can my life be better?”  “How can I attain enlightenment?”  “How can I get to Heaven?”…  And we totally miss out on how we can be a blessing to others.

Apparently, the person who lived across from the Loughler’s home in Tuscon was the neighbor who was the closest (had the most relation) to them in that whole neighborhood.  They lived across from each other for years, and yet, he didn’t know their last name.  If any of the people who lived in that neighborhood were Christians, or Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or yogis, how were any of them truly neighbor to them?

I invite us to ponder something.  If you know that something is good.  Wouldn’t you want others to know about it too? I have a sister who loves telling people about the awesomeness of her Kirby vacuum cleaner and how nifty and wonderful it is.  My father, a recently retired professor, delights in telling high school seniors about how wonderful Macalester College is and lauding the virtues of a quality liberal arts education.  Again, if you know something is good, don’t you want others to know about it too?

If you answered yes to that question, then how much more wouldn’t you want to spread the word about something that’s changed your life? If you know that something has made a profound, transforming, and life-giving difference in your life, don’t you want others to know about it too?

So you’re a Christian.  So you’re a Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, or Yogi, bully for you.  But it ain’t worth a hill of beans unless you’re sharing about how your life has been transformed by your practice to folks who might be blessed and inspired to hear about it.  Humans are social creatures and so is our salvation.  The era of a “private faith” or a “private practice” has passed.

I’m calling-out the entire spiritual community.

If you’ve got a saving personal relationship with Jesus, or if you’ve attained enlightenment, or if you’ve got a fantastic yoga practice and perfect yoga toes, it doesn’t mean squat unless you’re sharing the truth that you know with others.  What I just said applies to everyone.  However, if you’re in the position to be a teacher or preacher in your tradition, and if you’re charging people for your services and never offering them for free then you’re not much of a teacher/preacher.  You might be a good businessperson, you might be a successful entrepreneur, but you’re not a real rabbi, pastor, imam, guru, or yogi.

The campus ministry where I work offers free yoga classes and centering prayer sessions to CU-Boulder and Naropa University students.  We offer these as a gift to those campuses to help lower the stress levels at those institutions and to perhaps help prevent another tragedy like what happened at Virgina Tech a few years ago.  But I’m calling myself out too.  I hereby pledge to share God’s love with as many people as I can and share about my faith (in non-icky ways) to people who might be lost, lonely, or hurting in life.  I’ve recently written a book (Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity) that will be out soon. I pledge to give away copies of it – and not just try to cover my costs by selling them.

So… Spiritual Community, ball in your court.

“May those who have ears to hear, listen and those with eyes to see, see.”

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Roger Wolsey

p.s. this applies to massage therapists, Rolfers, Reiki masters, cranial sacral therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, life coaches…the whole lot of you.

About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity



48 Responses to “Yoga has blood on its hands.”

  1. Lisa S. says:

    or maybe Roger he "heard" but chose to turn away. I don't feel to blame. I don't think we need to be made to feel as if it is our fault that he is a crazy individual that did really bad things and made horrible choices. Goodness is something we chose or choose not.

  2. Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

    Lisa, I hear you. Fair point. We may never know the full story of this instance. But what we can do is to step up to help try to prevent future incidents from taking place. BTW, which is it? If he is crazy he by definition cannot choose goodness or evil, right or wrong.

  3. Cynthia says:

    Provocative title! Your point is well-taken, about how we are often so focused on the self and personal spiritual growth that we forget to pay attention to those who might benefit from the formation and cultivation of a blessed community. I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that we have the luxury of indulging in personal growth due to the comforts that many of us enjoy in the US (whether or not we are aware of how privileged we are). I'll try to do better. Now…where is my free book? 😉

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Roger…Amen and Amen…this is a daily mantra we must strive for…as to the above comment…yes, we choose but we must reach out ,even to those we feel are beyond help. If we do not… then we do not belief in What and Who we say we belief in.

  5. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Roger, this is the article I wanted to write but couldn't.
    We must all take responsibility for the world around us. When we all, each and every one of us realize that:
    a) we're all the same, with the same needs, desires, and fears
    b) we co-create our reality (our world). Jared was a product of our society.
    c) instead of creating this big mess that we have at the moment, we could create heaven on earth.
    When we all wake up to these truths the final question is – how? How can I (me, here and now) create heaven… the conclusion we come to is very easy to arrive at: love thy neighbor. Just as we love our children – by doing ALL WE CAN for him. So then yes, it means reaching out in every way. And very, very few people are doing that in the world today.
    With love,
    Ben Ralston

  6. Yogi Mat says:

    Roger, what makes you think that placing blame for an individuals decisions is the way forward? It just leads to recriminations and a path full of good intentions. Like most people, you are quick to write about something you really have misconceived – yoga is 100% personal. One of the biggest obstacles taking up yoga are our expectations of it. We might have heard about yoga from a friend or read about it on EJ and immediately we are propelled into a world of unfulfilling, second-hand qualities rather than towards a direct knowing. What with Leslie Kaminoff rallying against Hindu claims as if yoga is a force of force of nature, and others doggedly pursiong ancient sanskrit terms which entirely fail to communicate such nuances as iridescence, luminosity and hue and so translators will just plump for something like "brightness". With yoga, (and your description of it) we are dealing with a shared, public languange and a terminology that simpy is not fit for purpose. What most writers fail to inform their audience is that the yogi changes the yoga just as an observer changes the observed. So bending and stretching is never bending and stretching and sitting on a cushion cross legged is not meditation. Buddha is not Buddha. All these terms, asana, meditation, god, therapy, truth, yoga prevent us from living real lives – we are relying too much on externalities – a visual decoding process which is as much to do with yoga as feeling the softness of say stroking a cat and saying we know what it is to be a cat. You are creating TOO MUCH HEAT and NOT ENOUGH LIGHT here. Go take a cold shower.

  7. Yogi Mat says:

    @Ben R

    a) We are definately NOT "all the same" in the way that I think some less sensitive people might think you are meaning from reading your comments – in fact we each put quite a lot of effort into making out everything is separate (binary values / dualism). You could say that we each occupy a discrete "cloud" of co-ordinates, the Mādhyamaka school outlines an INTERDEPENDENCE of being rather than the UNIVERSALITY which "all the same" seems to suggest. UNIVERSALITY is the antithesis of yoga. DIVERSITY in approach and understanding is key – the phenomenology of which is laid out in such texts as the Pratītyasamutpāda which I ADMIT insists that we all have the same CHARACTERISTICS of being – but maybe this IS what you mean – that we (therefore) all have the capacity for some form of UNDERSTANDING of EACH OTHER?
    b) Jared was a product of his own, INNATE propensities (genetics) and (internal and external) ENVIRONMENTS (which you quite rightly included was society). KARMA. If I tell you to kill yourself I don't think you would do it. If you told yourself to kill yourself I also think you wouldn't do it. Yoga is of no use to people that cannot or do not want to hear the message, if we become evangelical about yoga we are promoting ourselves and our yoga, nothing more – but also nothing less.
    c) As to creating "a heaven on earth" I think it is much easier to keep each where they have been for the last 14 billion years or so?

    Lets keep going – all the best for 2011

  8. Katie says:

    Hey Ben – I really agree with you! I think one of the points of the article was that in the privileged life of the N. American yogi, it's too easy to think about the self, rather than others. If we really want to make a difference, really find the path to enlightenment, the first step is to stop the self-indulgent focus on the self and look outward.

    There are a few points I would like to add, the first and foremost being that it is becoming increasingly clear that the shooter is suffering from mental illness and therefore, as Roger points out, can he be considered culpable as he is unable to make a true informed choice between right and wrong? So judging him needs to wait for proper understanding of who he is. We can, however look at the framework that lead to him doing this terrible deed. And how we look out for each other, how aware we are of each other is a crucial part of that framework.

  9. Katie says:

    Lisa – in virtually every main religion, one of the fundamental aspects of "goodness" is caring for others. This requires at least an attempt to understand them and their situation. It's too easy to say he made horrible choices – yes, his ACTIONS were horrible, but you have no idea what his choices were. Mental illness changes all the parameters. I'm not saying what he did was right, or good or even comprehensible. But to toss it off with an off-hand judgement is to be closed to any understanding, and it's that understanding that could lead to enlightenment.

  10. Katie says:

    The yoga world in the US for the most part belongs to the middle class who have the time and affluence to afford the luxury. To those not in the position to enjoy this luxury, it seems like a self-indulgent clique, the "rock star yogi" and is not seen as a movement that works towards the greater good. And that goes back to my original point, that one of the fundamentals of enlightenment, of goodness, is caring for each other. Yes, in this case there is much to be said about the vitriolic political climate and I agree – it doubtless did have an influence on what happened, in that a culture of hate makes acts of hate seem acceptable to some. But isn't that what Roger's saying? If people, by making enlightened, good choices didn't allow that culture of hate and polarization to exist, then the boundaries of acceptable acts would change. If everyone reached out, even just a tiny bit more, think what a difference it would make to society.

  11. Susan says:

    As the Buddha taught, every event is the result of numerous elements coming together – pointing blame at one or another group is missing out on all the myriad other aspects which allowed the events to occur – the education system, the appalling anti-brain, anti-health American diet, the gun laws, the mentality underlying gun laws, the divisive politics, violent media – I could go on for hours, but still not cover all of the elements which combine to allow such tragedies to happen 80 times a day in America. We absolutely all need to walk the talk, but judging and evangelizing is the ugly side of religion – being a living example and doing what one can to improve oneself and one's community is more powerful than proselytizing.

  12. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    You preach, and I'll turn the pages, brother! As a person who is very prone to self-involvement, I find your altar call bracing and timely.

    The demon Screwtape, in C.S. Lewis's book, warned his young nephew–who was out on his first temptation assignment–about the dangers of allowing in his temptee "a pernicious habit of charity" to grow "between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train." You have Elephantized the point admirably here; thank you.

  13. Amanda says:

    I love yoga so much, and I feel like it really has changed my life! But I'm still a beginner and it makes me wonder, "What gives me the right to tell people that this thing will change their life too?" and "Who am I (someone who doesn't have life figured out) to tell others what will make them happy?" I guess I'm afraid of sounding self-righteous, all-knowing, or nosy for telling people what to do when they never asked me. I feel like I've done that before with my passion for a healthy lifestyle, and it mostly seems to annoy the people I talk to about it.

  14. Mary Koepke Fields says:

    I have learned (rather late in my life) that it is impossible to avoid pain. Friends, family and strangers have offered their sure "remedies" for alleviating pain. Among them – yoga, exercise, anti-depressants, changes in diet, books, alcohol . . . one long time (male) Christian friend of mine even offered "sex" therapy. How kind was that! It is impossible to avoid pain . . . if you don't walk in it then you'll find it waiting for you around the next corner. I tried a combination of "remedies" to numb the pain but ultimately realized the futility of my efforts. Although, I DO recommend deep tissue massage when you feel ugly and undesirable. In the last few weeks God has blessed me with a peace that certainly surpasses my very limited understanding. That all of this . . is working together for good! Jesus Christ and his redeeming, saving love is the only path to TRUE healing. Exodus 15:26

  15. Naveen K says:

    This is great Roger!! Thanx for being so real and spreading the truth. we all need to hear it. Thanx again

  16. Rebekka says:

    Thanks for posting this Roger. I've been so horrified and upset by a lot of the hate that's been directed towards the Right coming out writings about this event. It's refreshing to see someone in the progressive community asking what is our role in all of this. Your tone was really gentle and pastoral and really inspiring. Thanks!

  17. Roger Wolsey BrotherRog says:

    posting this on behalf of:

    Jamie Brown
    I was going to post another comment on the actual site of your article. It said to "sign in, can use OpenID," but then they wouldn't accept any of my OpenIDs. Now they won't even let me see your article; saying I have to join Elephant…?! Anyway – my comment was: You raise a very important point about personal spirituality and service to the community. We tend to think "but what can I do?" but remember, it's not just about "doing," it's also about "being." If we are in unity with Christ, enlightened, however you describe that inner state of being, then just let that light shine. As my mother used to say, "brighten the corner where you are." It should pour out of us to bless everyone around us with kindness and compassion. My yoga students practice this in their meditation

  18. Sarah Schoonmaker says:

    Well said, Roger. The culture that increasingly leans towards individualism or cultivates isolation from one's neighbors needs to be overcome by a community that promotes the following: love, understanding, critical thinking, emotional and physical health, movement beyond comfort zones, and last but not least, makes the effort to extend these values through action to everyone within its reach.

  19. Marylee Fairbanks Marylee says:

    We are responsible for own own actions. Our society needs to make the shift from paternalistic thinking to responsibility for the self. We need to move through the world with self determination and full awareness of out intentions and impact. The killer is responsible for what he did. No one else is to blame. Not healers, yogis, Christians or anyone else can force spirituality upon another. It must be cultivated within the individual that is willing to be open and do the work. The blame game is pointless

  20. Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

    posting this on behalf of: Ginger Borshov, No single drop of water thinks it's responsible for the flood..
    Roger Wolsey: Marylee Agreed, Jared is the one who did the killing and he needs medical attention and to be held accountable for his crime. The failing however is also on the many people whose radars weren't attuned to noticing a broken, hurting, member (perhaps his whole family) of our society. That failing is a spiritual one. I'm simply urging the Spiritual and Healing Communities to step up and be less insular and more outward focused.

  21. Kimberley Rome says:

    I read this article for it's open inquiry. I am intrigued that it inspires such defense. If we are on a spiritual path, we are most likely seeking to find the truth that we are LOVE. Not bluebirds, but confident and nurturing unconditional LOVE. We can't really come to an experience of that without the concurrent realization that we are One. Not only as humans, but the entire Cosmos. Roger seems to be saying that we could take responsibility to reach out with care, from a place of love; if that has been inspired by a set of practices and heart opening philosophy, we could choose to offer it. The receiver doesn't have to take it, but the offering is what counts. If you are eating good cheese, and a friend pops by, you probably offer her some cheese. You are not forcing it on her, nor are you upset if she declines; seeing your delight, she may be intrigued to try it another time, perhaps when she has an appetite for something that has the potential to delight her. But, be aware, she may not, in fact, like your cheese. That's completely acceptable. Again, it's in the generous offering, with no agenda. My earnest inquiry after reading the comments is this: Can we just consider how we could reach out to those who need love? — meaning all of us. No praise, no blame.

  22. Ginger says:

    Pema Chodron, said, "We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts."

    There's nothing I can do about other people's choices. The only thing I… can control is myself. That being said, I think it's important for me to keep an eye on what I'm putting out there, and make sure it's something positive. That's kind of what I got from this article; it's a nod towards personal responsibility– a sort of, "be the change you want to see in the world".
    (that includes the way we talk to each other on these posts! ♥)

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