Do I try to stay calm amidst the killing fields?
I have just designated a new spot for yoga in the guest bedroom of my house. I pushed the bed to the side, vacuumed the floor and smudged some native cedar and some southwest sage. As soon as I sat down on my mat to let go of the hecticness that was buzzing in me, I felt emotional. Images of the Galapagos Island wildlife—lizards, baby sea lions, penguins and birds flooded my vision. My friends had recently returned from a trip and had sent out photos this morning.
The Galapagos are filled with life, and everywhere else on the planet, we are doing our damn best to kill it—life. I started thinking about how my yoga practice will help me through the next decades of the slaughter I see happening across the planet. The massive human-induced extinction. We can’t seem to stop poisoning the bees. We have no will to stop climate change or deal with the ecosystem havoc it will wreak as animals, bugs, and microbes can no longer thrive where they have always lived.
We are in the midst of a massive extinction-phase shit storm and it’s not going to be pretty.
My yoga practice makes me ask, do I try to stay calm amidst the killing fields? Do I seek love and truth and beauty and save and nurture what life on earth I can? Or do I send my full rage out into the world and see where that will lead? How does a yogi who reveres all life, deal with a culture of death?
A former radical Ashtangi, my yoga practice lately has been sitting, breathing, meditation, light stretching. I have been feeling frantic and everything around me has seemed frantic, non-stop, and when I come to the mat lately, I have wanted calm. I have wanted to stop moving. To hold my breath. To float on the nothingness that stillness brings.To see that stillness still exists. Or maybe it’s peacefulness that I am seeking.
Maybe I see competition for no purpose all around me.
Men playing their manly money games. I see foolishness in control and I simply want out. I want them to stop and I want out. But I am not a yogi who can ignore this devastating piece of the truth of our world, and so I ask again, how can my yoga practice help me be the person I need to be in the crazy world that is not made up of people seeking truth, and light and collaboration and common good and peace?
I close my eyes. I begin to breath. I begin to cry and as the tears well up and do their thing, I realize that we are holding the torch for the future. That if we peaceful ones give up now, give in to rage and sadness, then others who need to learn how to be peaceful and loving in their life and work will be denied the teachers of the past.
Hope is a living thing and we on our yoga mats, hold the torch for peace when the leaders of the world, of the corporations, of the banks, of the Maxim magazines, ruthlessly ridicule us, ruthlessly refuse to man up in the manner that Ralph Waldo Emerson described at Frank Lloyd Wright’s funeral when he said:
“If one would be a man, one must first be a non-conformist. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
I was in oil and gas country this past weekend and was surrounded by the non-manly sentiment that “at least they provide jobs.” We are surrounded by people who do not care what their work results in as long as a paycheck is involved. That is different than having a job temporarily that you don’t agree with while you figure out how else to organize your life and finances.
But ceding your entire life to a destructive master to destroy the water resources, to remove the mountains and oceans and destroy the natural systems—simply because you are too uncaring, or too asleep to do anything different, now that’s troubling. They believe the civilized fallacy that one is dignified only if he works for the system.
What a joke. There is far more dignity, in compassion. In curiosity. In tending life with love.
But still, as I sit, I answer my own question. Giving in to rage and hatred makes a person crazy and I know that is not the way forward for me. The adrenalin of rage keeps many people going, but I think for me, I think not.
I don’t love the people I hate. I don’t forgive the people destroying the planet, torturing my human and non human brothers and sisters, but there is a still place in my practice in which to hold them. A place where I know they are wrong. Where I know they must be stopped, but where I can calmly acknowledge the truth of who they are, of who I am, and for a few moments at least, do absolutely nothing about it.
I decide to stand up. To light the sage that grew out of seeds that grew out of seeds that grew out of seeds that grew in this ground long ago, thousands of years ago, that lit up the ancient life with the unmistakable scent of the Southwest. From the soil it now burns and disappears and reminds me that all can not be seen but that life continues on—if we let it, if we nurture it.
That is the job of the women. That is the job of the men.
That is the job of the humans who were granted this weird power over the life of the planet, to destroy, or not to destroy. It is no wonder that so many of us are upset that the people in power are choosing to destroy, to ridicule life. It is not the true calling of the human—the gatekeeper of life.
My Ohm prayer at the end of the practice today gives love and thanks to those who recognize they are the gatekeepers of life, and for the swirling forces of the march of rebirth to continue onwards forever. If only this wish could be granted, and yet I fear it will not, and I hold that fear of that reality in stillness.
Liz Brown Morgan, the founder of Backyard Agrarian, is an anthropologist, a lawyer and an eco entrepreneur. She works to inspire people to tend the life of planet earth with love and compassion.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul