Don’t Vote, Just Yell a Little Louder.
Before we get in too deep here, let me give you a little background on my political standings. I was an opinionated adolescent (is there anything but?) and I felt like I knew everything and wanted everyone to hear my wonderful, enlightening, and earth-shattering ideas. Without a doubt, I was liberal-leaning.
My opinions were based on fact, but even more so on the filtered pieces of information I would garner from watching pundits who fell in with my line of thinking and from listening to teachers with whom I already agreed. The idea of changing my mind in the middle of an argument was ludicrous; giving in to the enemy was losing.
A good point from the opposing side simply meant push harder. Yell louder! Never back down! I mean, how could these money-grubbing, poor-people-hating Republicans not see through their own ignorance? Idiots! Please keep in mind this was 17-year-old me talking.
Towards the end of my college career I took the all too cliché and sometimes disastrous route of reading Atlas Shrugged. I became your typical 20-something Libertarian. A harder version of my liberal self became “economically conservative” and I refused to live in a culture of mediocrity. I expected nothing less than the very best of everyone and everything, including myself.
Those were fun standards to live up to. I called myself an economic conservative and a social liberal. Whatever I called it, I still felt as though I knew what was best for my country, my state, my family and myself. Let me not keep you in suspense any longer, I didn’t have a clue.
My latest and what I hope will be my last major shift in my “political thinking” came recently, and through yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga for seven years, yet I would say that my spiritual journey into yoga only really began a few years ago, and sped up quite quickly when I became a Live Love Teach yoga teacher and met the incredible founders of that program (shout out to Philip Urso, Deb Williamson and Stacey Dockins!). Through my training, I began to learn how to truly be present, if only for a second!
I noticed that as I developed an endurance for remaining in the present moment, my anxiety subsided, my depression lifted, my excitement about life increased and my desire to do more, be more and create more grew and grew. With all of this I found my mind about politics gently shifting to one of patience rather than anger and panic.
The thing I noticed about politics was, despite how angry I was or how desperately I wanted something to happen, me stamping my feet had little to no effect on what happened in the political sphere. The world stayed relatively the same. There were times where I was overwhelmed with anguish and anxiety ridden over the fact that people I loved disagreed with me.
When family members took what I considered to be ignorant or heartless stances, I just couldn’t understand. When I saw ignorance and hatred on TV, it would literally consume me. My anger would completely blind me to the fact that not only does everyone have a right to their opinion, but that they are acting in what they believe is their own best interest and the best interest of their country.
I finally realized, the only thing I can truly change is myself and this has little to do with politics or the workings of my country. I found a wonderful quote by an unknown monk that expresses this sentiment perfectly:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.
I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family
Now, as an old man. I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
-Unknown Monk, 1100 A.D.
How true it is!
Yoga has shown me that I can change myself and any attempt to change others is not only ineffective, but it is also in a way a violence against them.
Whether or not my change effects others is irrelevant. I can even take it a step further and learn from those people who I once vehemently disagreed with. Philip Urso of Live Love Teach famously says, “the assholes are your guru” and he couldn’t be more right. If I can’t understand why someone does what they do or believe what they believe, I can at least practice compassion and accept this person for who they are.
Living life with a little “give,” cutting people some slack and attempting to understand them has created a much more peaceful place for myself, and in turn I have found I often gain more ground with those I once would have engaged in blood pressure raising debates.
Of course there are terrible things that happen in our world and often action must be taken. However, how much more effective are we when we act from a place of presence or when we act from insight and not from anger or thoughtless reaction? When we do what is needed in the moment rather than act out a story of “how unfair it is” or “they’re wrong and I’m right.” Instead, we simply do what needs to be done and nothing could be clearer. There is no story about it. There is no story needed.
Eckhart Tolle says:
“Improving the quality of your consciousness, by living more and more in the present moment, is the most powerful act of social activism you can offer to your community, your country, to your humanity.”
So in this intense election year I would like to put a call out to all yogis to practice their politics peacefully and with pause. To express your opinion with compassion, with both satya and ahimsa. To simply remember, the next time you react to an angry rant on some political pundit’s opinionated half hour, a friend’s Obama rant, a teenager’s Mitt Romney rant, or even some article like this one, do as Tolle says, ”what you fight you strengthen, and what you resist persists”. Focus that energy inward, where you are far more likely to make real, effective and lasting change. Be the change.
Kayla O’Connell is a yoga teacher/actress/writer/bartender living the dream in NYC. She teaches power vinyasa yoga at http://www.yoyoganyc.com and loves a yoga class that exercises both her body and mind. When she’s not writing for her yoga blog (http://yogicfill.blogspot.com/)she’s writing shorts and plays with her writing partner…Or slinging drinks in Rockefeller Center.
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Editor: Seychelles Pitton
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