Spiritual Responses to the Tsunami & Nuclear Disaster.

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Would You Like Some Reality With That?

How we deal with disasters is fascinating. Being in the yogic/spiritual community, I had the following two responses show up on my radar in the last week:

“What The Bleep” alumnus and author of the popular “Messages From Water,” Masaru Emoto suggested that we offer prayers to the water around Japan based on his assertions that thought has the power to transform the structure of water. Perhaps we could all pull together and eliminate radioactivity through the power of the mind!

Next I saw Anusara Yoga founder John Friend being interviewed by bayshakti.com on why disastrous events occur. He asked himself, “What are the reasons that people might have to suffer these events, where there is such tremendous pain and loss?”

He answered, “This has to do with very deep aspects of philosophy that deal with Karma,” and continued “ I don’t think there are any coincidences, we create our destiny through our choices.”

Friend contended that we don’t remember our past lives, and so our understanding of the “mysteries of causal events is very limited.”

While his interviewer looked on appreciatively, he offered a distinction between pain on the one hand and suffering on the other, “A building collapses, and they get a part of it caught on their foot and that causes pain, but the suffering comes from it not being what they want.”

The interview also included the following statements: “Earthquakes are not necessarily a bad thing – its just what the Earth does.” “I never think of nature as being bad.” “Death is not a bad thing.” “This is just nature’s dance, I see it as spirit’s natural way.”

I have an alternate point of view. It is primarily based in the perhaps radical-seeming idea that spirituality should be based in reality.

When natural disasters strike it is terrifying. We are reminded of how small we are, and how forces beyond our control can annihilate us in an instant, with no warning. We are reminded that no matter whether you are a kind or mean person, no matter if you said your prayers, did your affirmations, meditated, donated to charity or swindled an old lady out of her life savings — certain blind and impersonal forces can cause immense suffering based solely on pressure building up in a system in nature completely unrelated to human moral codes or attempts to find meaning. Being confronted with this is a shock – but it can also be a glimpse of honest wakefulness as to the nature of reality.

This disturbs our belief that we are somehow central to the universe or what happens on planet earth. It is disturbing to our sense of order, meaning, justice and control. Imagine living in the time when human beings suddenly realized that the Earth was not the unmoving center of all things with the Sun orbiting us.

Imagine living in the time when we were first realizing that we actually are related to all the other animals and our closest cousins are the other great apes. This meant we had to let go of the long cherished idea that we were God’s unique and special creatures – that we ourselves were not animals. Many parts of the world and even of the USA still rage against this fact.

Our narcissism is great. We want to believe it is all about us. But it isn’t. We want to believe that God made us in his image and that everything that happens is a lesson for our benefit from a higher intelligence — even when it creates massive, senseless death and destruction. If you think about this for a moment, it is quite odd, but we would often rather make up an elaborate and implausible rationalization for why horrible things are not really horrible —  rather than just call them by their true name.

The events in Japan are really overwhelming — but there are ways to work with it that have powerful potential to wake us up into an integrated, honest spirituality that faces reality on it’s own terms.

These ways don’t have to do with blaming the victims for their bad karma or being somehow punished by God.

These ways don’t have to do with buying into fantasies about being able to cleanse water of radioactivity by mental intention.

These ways don’t have to do with imagining that natural disasters are somehow evidence of a 2012 prophecy.

No, these ways don’t have to do with going deeper into delusion — they have to do with using the only reality we have (this beautiful, fleeting, fucked-up, magnificent, dangerous, unpredictable, painful, ecstatic, powerful, ordinary reality) as a way to wakeup into a fiercely courageous and compassionate acknowledgment of what we are and where we live.

My advice: if it feels good to you to meditate on sending love in whatever way you like to Japan, do it. It may help you to connect to your heart and process the fear and grief that such events are bringing up for you.

But then, take the next step: as you meditate, let yourself connect more deeply into your own fear of death, of meaningless suffering, of the power of forces that make no “sense” to the human mind. Spend some time loving the part of each of us that wants to make it all fit into some metaphysical narrative. Now see this strategy for what it is – a flimsy defense against a difficult reality. Feel into what lies beneath that defense.

Sit with the truth of uncertainty, of unfairness, of a universe in which both good and bad people suffer for no reason, and both good and bad people can and do prosper. Living a good life is not something we should do because it will make us attractive, wealthy, happy or famous – these things have more to do with genetics, economic privilege and dumb luck.

Likewise, not living a bad life is not something we should do because we fear being punished with poverty, illness or an earthquake – it just doesn’t work that way. Ethical decisions are true in and of themselves and their rewards and punishment come from legal institutions, social reputation and personal conscience.

This is not to say there aren’t certain ways in which we can affect our levels of certain kinds of suffering — we can eat healthily, exercise, engage in practices that train our brains and nervous systems to be more balanced, we can love other people and try to live ethical lives — but remind yourself that there are also all sorts of variables in our lives that are completely unrelated to any of these good intentions — this is just part of being human.

Children die, illness strikes, natural disasters occur, economies crash, and none of this is a punishment from the gods — it is just life on this planet in this cosmos. We are all stardust from the massive thermonuclear explosions of supernovae. We are in one little corner of a galaxy that, like every other galaxy is expanding faster and faster into a vast, empty and cold space.

Sound like a drag?

Well, sure it is. Sound like the opposite of the spiritual responses based in positivity, prayer and magical thinking that makes you feel better? Well it is — BUT in a very important, profound way — it isn’t. Why?

Because it is in recognizing where we don’t have power that we can more skillfully hone in on where do have power. In recognizing what doesn’t have meaning, we can penetrate more deeply into the nature of meaning itself. In recognizing the ugliness and cruelty that exists we can value the preciousness of beauty and compassion that much more.

Sorry, but we simply can’t eliminate the radioactivity in Japan’s water through the power of intention. If you can ever prove me wrong on this, I will celebrate with you, because it will be the biggest news in the history of news and Masaru Emoto will win the Nobel Prize. But deep down we all know this isn’t really going to happen.

I can guarantee you with almost complete certainty that if the whole world were still and meditated on sending loving thoughts to the water in Japan it might well do many things: create a sense of unity, bring us into a heightened sense of compassion, allow us to think in important ways about the environment, and perhaps others — but it would not have any effect whatsoever on the levels of radioactivity in the water.

Want to make a real difference?  Join the campaign to get all nuclear power plants shut down so that these kinds of events can be avoided!

Photo: Greenpeace

Sorry, but sending your prayers to Japan probably won’t do much except make you feel better — which is fine — but if you really want to make a difference, give of your time, your money, your energy to do something in the real world that will help real people.

Sorry, but everything does not happen for some cookie-cutter reason, but in the moment of grasping the inherent crushing meaninglessness that actually makes this such a tragedy, we can turn our attention toward what does have meaning: love, beauty, compassion, intelligent thought, knowledge, inquiry, art — the list is long and magnificent!

The list has meaning precisely because it exists against the backdrop of a universe not created for us, not in line with our moral codes or sense of justice. These things have meaning because they are expressions of our unique and sublime human capacities:

Compassion matters because there is so much cruelty, and human beings are so fragile and fleeting.

Beauty is precious because there is real ugliness and squalor in the world.

Knowledge matters because it is easy to be ignorant and to be fooled by your innate sense of how things “should” be.

Intelligent inquiry matters because the world is complex and worth exploring and this is one of the most unique, powerful and indeed, spiritual capacities, that makes us human.

For me, all of this is under the umbrella of a single statement that you can take or leave:

Being in touch with reality is more valuable, beautiful, powerful and spiritual than believing in something not true.

This idea took root for me as a result of meditating over the years on another single question:

What is it in us human beings that wants to believe in untrue things?

The answer: We think it makes us feel better — but this is a band aid.  The next step is to turn and face what we are avoiding and learn to work skillfully, compassionately and courageously with it, so we can feel truly better — without deluding ourselves.

That’s all I have on this one. I know it will make some folks really mad. I know it will seem mean or angry or arrogant. It isn’t.

However you choose to deal with these events and what they bring up for you, is up to you — and if it helps you, I am all for it and support you 100%. These are just some thoughts and observations about  a next stage of spiritual growth that I am passionate about describing and sharing. Peace be with you.

The following is a meditation I created and work with in my own practice and teaching:

Breathing in I connect to whatever evokes love, beauty, gratitude, compassion or inspiration.

Breathing out I surrender what is beyond my control.

Breathing in I can be at peace in this moment.

Breathing out I forgive myself, others, and life itself for being the way it is.

Breathing in I connect to love.

Breathing out I surrender.

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anonymous Feb 10, 2013 3:00am

Copyright – How Can The Week Magazine Re-Print Magazine Articles?

anonymous Dec 20, 2012 10:58pm

[…] […]

anonymous Apr 29, 2012 6:13am

[…] […]

anonymous Apr 26, 2012 2:54pm

[…] […]

anonymous Feb 25, 2012 6:33am

[…] moment actually inspired my first ever Elephant Journal piece—and I was critical of not only Friend’s handling of it, but also of that patron saint […]

anonymous Jul 23, 2011 5:33am

[…] […]

anonymous Jun 22, 2011 11:35am

[…] […]

anonymous Apr 20, 2011 11:38am

Spireality — next book title?
Thanks for helping me in my recovery from magical thinking…. which includes a deeper appreciation of the magnificent universe. Love, Melinda

anonymous Apr 16, 2011 8:55am


anonymous Apr 15, 2011 2:10pm

Thank you Julian for this article. As always I applaud you courage and honesty. I really enjoyed this article and agree that mediation (most likely and positively)cannot removed radioactivity. Your writing is so absolutely based in reality that the mythological notions mentioned seem laughable. However, the tragedy in Japan is definitely no laughing matter.

anonymous Apr 15, 2011 1:56pm

Thank you Julian for this article. As always I applaud you courage and honesty. I really enjoyed this article and agree that mediation (most likely and positively)cannot removed radioactivity. Your writing is so absolutely based in reality that the mythological notions mentioned seem laughable. However, the tragedy in Japan is definitely no laughing matter.

Keep it up, I cannot wait to read your forthcoming book!


anonymous Apr 15, 2011 9:03am

Thank you, Julian for this post. Sometimes detachment is spiritual and sometimes detachment is a denial of feeling and an attempt to get above it all. I choose all of our responses to disaster that affect humans and all other living aspects of our earth.

anonymous Apr 14, 2011 6:00pm

[…] asks tough questions about the yogic response to shocking natural disasters such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in […]

anonymous Apr 13, 2011 1:16pm

Interesting article, thank you. I have only perused it, and I see the wisdom in "both" perspectives presented by your article. Reality as you describe it, is outside of our personal purview, and no amount of "good behavior/moral escrow" will change that! When and if one has the experience of undifferentiated consciousness, reality is without content; I have experienced this. So when pain comes, pain! When no pain comes, no pain! It is impossible to speak about states and experiences of consciousness that occur "outside of reality" or in formless dreamless sleep. Yet they are real.

anonymous Apr 13, 2011 12:45pm

thank you for this beautiful, truthful meditation on reality. yes, sometimes we do want to believe in the implausible because reality feels so painful but this will not change reality one bit. i have learned that to dive into reality brings more understanding and eventually healing than any fairy tale. it is time for us to wake up to the reality and as you suggested take real action to make changes to ease suffering and hopefully change somethings so that more disasters like this cannot happen.
deep bow to you and what you have shared with us.

anonymous Apr 13, 2011 11:30am

Julian – Wow! Brilliant, poignant, discerning, compassionate and real… (I'm still just kinda pissed-off you busted my pink unicorn ride, though… 😉 truly, thank you. I'm really looking forward to your book.

anonymous Apr 12, 2011 10:03am

[…] agitated as before. Two Japanese women in pink bows and knee socks dropped to the floor next to me. Cries and shrieking all around. No more business as usual. This much moving force so soon after the first can’t […]

anonymous Apr 11, 2011 2:40pm

good point john! thanks..

anonymous Apr 11, 2011 2:37pm

just saw your above comments viz jung etc and i agree with you. some of what you are angrily labeling as bullshit (and i get it lloyd, i do) is my way of accepting where people are at and having learned to let go just a tad through many years of online debate and trying to get people to see both reason and wake up to psychological reality when they were not willing or perhaps ready. you are coming in at the tail end (lol) of about 5 years in which i let my barking dog run the show! so forgive me if i don't feel like enough of a representative of fierce unyielding commitment to what you are passionate about right now – but know i am on your side my friend.

anonymous Apr 11, 2011 12:38pm

lloyd – to use this weekend as an example:

i just returned form being on retreat for 3 days with a group of almost 40 people. we meditated, stretched, flowed, danced, spent periods in silence, did some journaling with every session and as is customary, had an opening and closing circle in which people got to be heard by the group.

as part of my instruction i used both buddhist loving kindness meditation (in which one uses phrases like "may i be well" to access one's emotional intelligence and exercise the capacity for compassion) and my love, surrender, peace, forgiveness meditation to which you are having such a raised eyebrow. i make it clear with both these meditations that a) we are not asking some external force to grant us these feeling states or somehow intervene in our lives, nor are we b) buying into some magical notion that thought or belief will somehow make things the way we would prefer in the outside world etc…

rather, we are cultivating a kind of antidote to what for most people is a default position of being very self-critical, feeling unworthy, not trusting our ability to give and receive love, and focusing on/strengthening our negative conditioning.

this of course is in service of the deep work of using the various practices to get very real about where we have pain, trauma, unresolved emotions etc and simply "going there."

what you may not know is that over the years i have been a kind of lone voice in my extended community encouraging people to use embodied practices to connect very authentically to their emotions, and NOT as a way to enact a denial-based, dissociative, rationalized spiritual tap dance away from reality, either inner or outer. through my process over the last 18 years i have had to look at how i sometimes pushed people too hard and blew them open in ways they were not ready for or able to integrate – and so the (autonomic nervous system based) concepts of "resourcing" from somatic psychology (see peter levine for more on this) and the (now neuroscience validated) buddhist idea of cultivating positive emotional states as part of a transformative practice started to become tools i would use to balance out the cathartic and confrontive process i was already very adept at guiding people into.

lloyd i am confident you would have loved the closing circle. three people openly expressed how much anger they were able to get in touch with – they didnt candy coat it, didnt feel that they had to pretend or modify it in some way to please either me as the teacher, or some group-think zeitgeist. there was a set of powerful themes around miscarriage, fertility challenges, and the loss of parents – all centered around a stage of life that many of us are entering together in our 40s and 50s, having been in this supportive and authentic community now for 10 to 15 years. tears, cursing, laughter about feeling rebellious against some of the structure of what i create, and most of all – a thoroughgoing thread of realness, of unapologetic honesty about where each person was at and feeling 100% supported in just owning, expressing and revealing that emotional truth.

your most welcome critique of the dalai lama and his homophobia, as well as your raised eyebrow toward my meditation and what it no doubt evokes for you viz magical thinking and denial of true feelings, would have been completely at home in the space we created together.

i think lloyd you have a completely valid point. i think perhaps you want to call me out on something you see me doing that appears incongruent to you and goes against some of my critique of the new age etc…. i hear you – and i am going to significant lengths to share how ti fits into a bigger picture in my work, and how i feel it actually supports, rather than limits the kind of deep work i know we both value.

all the best

anonymous Apr 11, 2011 10:07am

[…] Spiritual Responses to the Tsunami & Nuclear Disaster. ~ Julian Walker […]

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:48pm

thanks KL!

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:46pm

seeing as you allude to the exercise we talked about – i have found that there is a major difference between the pasted on pretense of denying painful feelings and being inauthentic, vs. using neuroplasticity by linking breath and words and affective states in CONJUNCTION with diving in deep and doing the real shadow work on the trauma, rage, fear, shame and grief.

we are on the same side you and i, and not too long ago i would have had a red flag about an exercise like that too!

every single day of my life in class and one on one i encourage people to feel their true feelings and do the deep work. i have found that in conjunction with that it is possible and indeed helpful to activate certain resilient and resourceful neural pathways that didn't get used in many of us to be able to take in and sustain positive feelings, soften and surrender resistance to difficult emotions, be in touch with the nervous system's (often hijacked) capacity for self-regulation (and the subjective experience of "peace" that this results in) and keep shedding layers of resentment in order to be more free and able to forgive both ourselves and others.

these may seem like divergent paths to you at this time – and maybe you are right.at this point in my journey (after working hard to integrate yoga, psychology and science for many years) i do not find that they are and in fact think they are wonderfully complementary.

what might look on the surface like bullshit affirmations, in this case are from my perspective nuanced tools to use in the service of healing, growth and authentic integration. could they be used in the standard denial based way? sure. might some of my students be using them this way for he time being? sure. is the overall arc of where i guide people about denying the reality of the psyche? i think you know better than that…

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:35pm

lloyd – i apologize if i have ever not seemed real in my responses to you! i agree with you in principle 100% and am not just blowing smoke up your ass!

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:34pm

ginger i appreciate you taking the time and feel your heart in what you have written. i still though contend that every single one of those ideas is a kind of rationalization in the face of the reality of tragedy. in other words it is just a nice sounding story to try and pretend a) that there is meaning in something meaning less and b) that us human beings are somehow of central importance on the planet and in the cosmos and that everything that happens is designed by some invisible yet anthropomorphic force for our ultimate benefit. i do not think this is the case – and find it to be a way of distorting reality rather than being present to it.

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:31pm

bruce that is humbling and honoring – thank you.

anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:30pm

padma, there is nothing nihilistic about my terms. 🙂

    anonymous Apr 11, 2011 3:51pm

    Thank you for the response. Your "reality" based spirituality is calling for discerning observation of what is happening, inner and outer. This is inkeeping with Buddhist method but this is where it ends. Your origin for all of this is the Big Bang. A theory to which you ascribe and , as individuals, we cannot prove this happened one way or the other through our own experience. So, either by faith in science or indoctrination into science as a profession this is your veiled view which is only available to a few. You accept this explanation. And you want to be the "Keeper" of reality based linear thinking which has it's roots in nihilism. Your alluding to "intelligent thought" is nothing new. You are taking, it seems, all that this western culture of nihilism has to offer and making it a spiritual path. How does one progress on this path? What does my IQ need to be? Shall my reality reflect "a vast, empty and cold space."? I suggest the reality of which we are not accustomed is warm, full, and spacious. Your school is placing importance on "intelligence" which for the most part is cold and exclusive.

      anonymous Apr 11, 2011 5:33pm

      padma, again – i do not in any way identify with the word "nihilism." lack of supernatural faith does not equate to lack of meaning. embracing the cosmos as inherently meaningless and meaning (real and imagined) asa uniquely human concept, a product of our evolutionary complexity, does not negate the aspects of our lives that are indeed deeply, substantively meaningful.

      the sly rhetoric of using the word "faith" with regard to science is a total misnomer. our current theory on the origin of the universe is extremely well evidenced and widely accepted amongst educated people. this does not remove the element of mystery and wonder from the equation. the debate tactic of trying to put scientific theory on the same level as metaphysical belief, and demoting science to being merely one persepctive amongst many of equal value is, i think misguided and perhaps a little dishonest.

      lastly, i am not claiming to be the "keeper" of any kind of absolute truth (though of course if you think – as i admit many do, that it is still possible that old world metaphysics is correct about the nature of reality and origins of the cosmos, then it might correctly appear that i quite emphatically do not think so) – i am merely discussing the implications for spirituality of being more scientifically, rationally and psychologically grounded – and not using spirituality as a compartmentalizing distortion of how things are and how they feel to us.

      i do not find intelligence cold or exclusive, nor do i think a rational perspective on reality in any way excludes warmth, emotion, wonder or reverence.

      appreciate your time.


anonymous Apr 10, 2011 10:29pm

glad to hear it yolanda!

anonymous Apr 9, 2011 4:37pm

[…] into the context. Counseling based on natural wisdom isn’t always “fun” – it is however real. That’s why many people want to go to shrinks who will indulge their fantastical dramas, take […]

anonymous Apr 9, 2011 1:57pm

I would offer the idea that yoga students, especially those who have not had any psychological training/therapy, project onto the teacher as their guru/father/mother. So, when the yoga teacher says "inhale positive, exhale negative", the student will do everything in his/her power to comply, trying to be the best little girl/boy in the world (of which I am an expert), which involves suppressing all of the negative emotions. Those emotions will be projected elsewhere – either perhaps as rage or as passive-aggressive attacks or turned inward as depression. The student is even more disconnected from his/her real emotions. (Continued)

anonymous Apr 9, 2011 1:56pm

So, let me start by saying that when someone's comments above were in my opinion "magical thinking", I got angry. To thank them for sharing their opinion or for opening the discussion to more points of view would be bullshit. And I would offer the idea that many of the platitudes here were just that. Most of that is my own shadow rage – a barking dog that says things have to be done my way. But having said that, there is also an authentic, conscious component to what I am about to say. And I will even let my barking dog have some limited speech because the new-age propaganda that invades a yoga practice pollutes what should be a beautiful, truly spiritual experience of conscious mind, body and unconscious mind. (Continued)

anonymous Apr 9, 2011 1:54pm


You are a true leader in this and I honor you and this article.

The word that nobody is using, which in my opinion is the key to humanity continuing to exist on earth, is "psychology," especially the work of Jung. The eastern philosophies didn't have it. The Buddha didn't have it. The idea that there is another entity inside of us, a shadow that is secretive, jealous, rageful, sad, inferior, selfish, narcissistic and dark, but nevertheless a part of us that must be identified and integrated. (Continued)

Brooks Hall Apr 9, 2011 8:45am

Yes, I agree that healing doesn’t have anything to do with buying into fantasies. Positive thought practices might be a band aid (as you said, Julian), but there is such a thing as real healing. If we believe that it's just a mind game it could be harmful (or a waste) because if we believe in the fantasy of positive thinking without going deeper then we miss out. Thanks for the article!

anonymous Apr 8, 2011 10:08am

Just as you ask in your article,"What is it in us human beings that wants to believe in untrue things?" I would ask you the same question only as a possble mirror to your thesis. I do emphatically applaud your wish for us to view the reality with unjudgemental eyes and free of concepts. But you write as though you have taken yoga or meditation to it's ultimate completionment and found that there is nothing there of value. You then are proclaiming the reality of the Yoga of the Big Bang. "powerful potential to wake us up into an integrated, honest spirituality that faces reality on it’s own terms." Your terms, it seems, are the terms of western scientific nihilistic terms and just maybe are the veil of your choice.

anonymous Apr 8, 2011 10:08am

"a glimpse of honest wakefulness as to the nature of reality." I suppose this statement you have made supports your title as "yogijulian". Thats good. I applaud your insistence to see reality for what it is without the many veils of concepts placed by individuals and their view of reality. But I am wondering where the "Yoga', be it any form of hinduism or buddhist, is that accounts for your title as yogi. You are a yogi of what? Evolution? Randomness? Big Bang Theory? Nihilism? Linearism?

anonymous Apr 8, 2011 9:04am

Thank you for this timely and important article. I heartily agree that "magical thinking" is does not suggest a fully embraced spiritual life. There is a certain randomness to life we must accept. It is not Karma, which I think is part of a human to human moral code. When I was surfing a few years back and was nearly drowned by a "sneaker set" of wave, the utterly impersonal turbulence was a brilliant lesson in this. And now, despite my yoga practice, organic garden and otherwise exemplary lifestyle, I am battling pancreatic cancer. Randomness. I doesn't have to make sense, it just is. This is what sharpens our perceptions of reality. Your words are like a breath of fresh air.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 10:51pm

Thank you, Julian for your thoughtful engagement with my interview with John Friend on Bay Shakti. It is exciting that the interview peaked interest in Anusara Yoga’s perspective in the greater yoga world. While I am not a staff member of Anusara and I cannot speak officially on behalf of Anusara, I can give you my thoughts as an Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher and a fellow blogger. As a fellow blogger, I would like to share with you one of my impressions off-camera during the filming of the interview with John in the hopes that this impression will help elucidate Anusara’s perspective on the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Before the camera started rolling, John shared with me in conversation that he was dismayed that some comedians were suggesting through their comedy that somehow the Japanese brought these tragic events upon themselves, that somehow they are to blame for the tragic disaster. I do not believe this is what John is stating in his interview when he speaks of Karma.

John has infinite amounts of love for the Japanese people and has often commented on their studentship being amongst the best in the world. He is so taken with the studentship, dedication and goodness of the Japanese people, that he was planning the entire month of April to teach in Japan until these disasters happened. For now, he has postponed his visit until May. It is my perspective, which I believe jibes with Anusara’s, that Karma can be one reason tragedy occurs. Grace has a way of showing us the way deeper into our own hearts and painful times may be a necessary step, and in fact, a destined step in the greater order or cosmic plan of the Universe. Karma is destiny played out over generations. In addition to Karma, another reason for disaster is a concept called Leela. Leela can be defined as luck / the dance of life / divine play, or chance. Going deeper, the question can be raised how much of life events are chance as the word is typically defined, and how much are life events actually orderly, but appear as chance? The idea of “chance” may be a human way of trying to reconcile what is messy, disastrous and painful with what is actually orderly in the greater scope of things, the purpose of both the good and bad outcomes of “chance” being to yoke us to our hearts.

When I asked John during the interview how much is Grace leading the way, and how much are we empowered to influence the outcome of life events, in some respects, I am getting at this dynamic between Karma and Leela, in other words, how much of life is fated/pre-determined/destined and how much is divine play/chance? My takeaway is that Grace is largely leading the way, things may look chaotic on the surface, and perceptions may appear as reality, though there is a deep order, even Karma to all life events. This is not to say that the Japanese are or were “bad” people and this is their Karmic cycle; rather, Karma is happening on gross and subtle layers world-wide on a daily basis, such as in world-wide climate change potentially accelerating the frequency and degree of deeply contracting disasters. Climate change is attributed to humanity not intentionally trying to be “bad”, just trying to get by comfortably.

The events of Japan are painful reminders of the power of Spirit to bring about great spiritual contractions through rough times in service ultimately of expansion and freedom from pain in our hearts, minds and bodies. If we aim for the highest in our intentions and actions, we line up with the ultimate benevolence of the Universe. The Universe / Spirit / Grace is not trying to hurt us or punish us, this is not Karmic retribution. It is the cycle of orderliness playing out in the dance of life. Leela can be influenced for more optimal outcomes, by cultivating sensitivity and aligning with the deeper order all around.

~ Ginger Coy, Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher and Founder of Bay Shakti, a blog dedicated to Anusara Yoga in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    anonymous Apr 18, 2011 10:14pm

    These sentences are at direct odds with one another-
    "Karma is destiny played out over generations."
    "This is not to say that the Japanese are or were “bad” people and this is their Karmic cycle."

Bob Weisenberg Apr 7, 2011 8:44pm

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 11:29am

True compassion and understanding don't come from ersatz, often guilt laden "spirituality", so I really like that Julian is grounded in reality and not in beliefs. I would add that the events now unfolding – long foretold by true prophets – are simply in accordance with the laws of cause and effect. Banning all nuclear power plants is something we should all support and, yes, is a far more tangible and important action than trying to cleanse the water with our good thoughts.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 10:19am

Thanks for rasing this discussion Julian! Ignorance is bliss!! But how much longer humanity on the planet today afford the bliss of ignorance? A buddhist munk ones said: "Compassion has to be practical, otherwise it is not really compassion." If we are constantly sitting around and waiting for miracles we give our power away to a political and economical system that destroy nature and abuse human rights freely, im asking myself if that can be called wisdom of compassion to be blind for whats going on in the world? I hope this kind of empowering spiritual path you are presenting is starting to be accessable to more people. (although its ancient buddhist wisdom to not believe but to know so nothing new under the sun… ) I think that many are searching for alternative ways within the spiritual communities of how to walk this talk, please keep it coming if that is what you are working for! Cause it is hard to find today, and it is sad cause so much of the amazing potential of people seaching for making change and expressing compassion, and wanting to heal gets lost on the way when modern new age spirituality becomes a way of distancing form the world instead of engaging in the real world, experiencing what it feels like, meditating on it and then going out and being the change instead of sitting at home and dreaming of it.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 9:13am

This is one of the best articles I have read on elephant journal, let alone on this topic as Bob W. comments. In our school we try to see the trend to spiritualize tragedy with platitudes as making lemons out of lemonade… when really, sour is just part of life. We have a bumper sticker to throw back at the buffer-platitudes that says our work should be about escaping INTO reality. Furthermore, we look at jyotisha, vedic astrology, in which 7 of 9 planets are malefic. Jyotisha is a view of karma. All of life is represented by the infinite combinations of these 9 planets. But, it doesn't matter how you mix and match the story of life – its always about 2/3 difficult! While spirituality may be about accepting this reality, embracing it, relaxing despite our fears of it, and acting with compassion and bravery anyway, it is not about glazing it over with an "its all karma and its all good" stance about life. We call this is a god realm fixation. Thanks Julian for strengthening the "keep it real" voice of modern yoga.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 8:38am

This was such an invigorating and brave article Julian. Thank you.

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 7:30am

The problem people have when discussing karma is that they discuss or comment in the trap of subject/object. If we are Buddhists then we are taught to look inward. In that regard…whatever happens or experienced in our minds(which encompasses every dualistic experience) is a result of "OUR" karma. "OUR" individual karma is the only karma and not meant to be used as a judgement upon others…the very law of karma does not apply to "other". We alone, as individuals, hold all of the suffering and joy of the universe with our own minds. We as individuals keep hell burning and the gods enjoying. This is karma. Every tsunami or being in hell is there because of my karma. Now what am I going to do?

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 3:01am

Great clarity. I may not agree with all of it, but it is good to have this view expressed!

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 12:34am

Thanks for cutting the crap and bringing a much needed reality-check to a disillusioned population!

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 11:06pm

Hi Julian…I appreciate what you stated and also agree with the notion of living spiritually, physically and actively in this so called reality. I also would like to state an observation that may bring home this seperation of reality and spirituality in many yoga classes. An idea that life inside class simply cannot afford disruption or distraction from outside noise or a student entering late. One aspect of the practice of Yoga is to be "in" life fully and breathe during "all" of it beautiful and grotesque manifestations. Even when "meditating". If we keep practicing in this illusion that Yoga "class" needs to be so "controlled" then we continuously disconnect from reality. Thank you for linking us to be active in stopping Nuclear Power and snapping us back to reality.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 10:54pm

Between Julian and Bob, I think I'll be subscribing to Elephant Journal now. I want more, guys. lol..

    Bob Weisenberg Apr 6, 2011 11:39pm

    Thanks for your support, whit.

    Much more to come. Elephant Yoga is still in its infancy to me.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 10:36pm

Julian, your deeply moving and heartfelt words are so powerful. It is inspiring to see that you're propelling us to take action, movement, small and large steps to make a difference. You're bringing our community together to change the world, one breath-at-a-time– Bonnie

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 10:30pm

@yogijulian You do realize that Karma is only of concern to an ego yearning to break free right?

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 10:06pm

Of course, the beauty of the approaches that I agree are unhelpful is that, in their own way, they are born of a human empathy that most find unbearable. The imagination is an incredible gift and, as you point out, allows us to fabricate buffers to help us find acceptance but are of limited utility and indeed can prevent very doable practical responses from occuring when not grounded in reality (stasis or at best glacial progress on investment in renewables, for example). There is a perception that to face reality would make life miserable which is why belief in 'magic' persists. Yet your expression of how reality, fully experienced, can assist us to realise the depth, meaning and beauty that does exist in each fleeting human life elucidates a universe of joyful opportunity for those who are willing. Thank you so much for sharing your much-needed view.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 9:50pm

laura, april and joyce i really appreciate the support. it takes guts to keep putting this kind of message out there and is often not well received…. thanks.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 9:49pm

bob – thanks so much, i will check it out! yes i have a sense that pop notions of karma may well be somewhat divergent from it's roots!

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 9:11pm

Beautiful! I love the meditation you included too. Thank you.

Bob Weisenberg Apr 6, 2011 8:46pm

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

Bob Weisenberg Apr 6, 2011 8:37pm

Just in case you missed it, be sure to see:
Yoga Culture’s Response to Japan’s Earthquake: 5 Reactions

Bob Weisenberg Apr 6, 2011 8:33pm

Thanks, Julian. This one of the best articles on the Japan crisis I have read.

I'm sure it won't surprise you that your philosophy is the same as that of the Bhagavad Gita. I wrote a blog with ideas very similar to yours as part of the Gita in a Nutshell series:

Does the Infinitely Wondrous Universe Give a Damn About You and Me?

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Bob W.
Yoga Editor

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 8:12pm

Thanks, Julian, for that poignant piece. I tend to be one of those people who sends prayers and Reiki or deeksha energy to the people of Japan and yes even to the radioactive waters ala Emoto. Where I'm lacking is spiritual activism, and even though I am totally against nuclear energy, the truth is at this moment I do little to promote alternative energy politically or otherwise. I think both are needed, prayer and activism, and yes, I totally agree that this is an opportunity to feel into our own pain and fears, to invite them in, to burn in them, and in the process, crack open our own defenses so we can truly feel compassion for all. I loved your meditation and plan to practice it. Namaste and love, Julian.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 7:39pm

Yes, please. And thank you.

The most captivating part: 'Intelligent inquiry matters because the world is complex and worth exploring and this is one of the most unique, powerful and indeed, spiritual capacities, that makes us human.'

Magical thinking is always easier than seeing things as they are, I suppose. A good reminder……

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 7:38pm

Julian, this is such a mature, brave, scarey, mature (again), candid tonic. I'm so glad you wrote it.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 5:57pm

It takes a lot of courage and common sense to face plain old reality… thank you for sharing this way of thinking… I feel it is very much needed at this time…keep the articles coming! 🙂

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 4:44pm

central to my philosophy in all this is one distinction:

there are forms of spirituality that clarify reality, develop inner resources and lead to greater integration – and then there are forms that distort reality, fail to give us tools and resources to deal with our inner lives (especially emotions) and lead to a kind of fragmented, dissociated and denial-based perspective. this perspective is then clung to for dear life, because we are dependent upon it as a way to avoid difficult feelings and facing reality.

this second form creates a cul de sac of belief that limits our growth, forward movement and ability to make spirituality a credible source of change, healing and existential wakefulness in the world.

there are very few popular metaphysical beliefs i have come across that are not at some level basically just ways of not dealing with pain and suffering. the more we have effective tools for healing trauma, thinking critically and self-transforming via the demonstrably powerful neuroplastic effects of real spiritual practices, the less these kinds of pleasing lies are appealing.

i do not mean to sound harsh – just clear about the distinction. i feel deep compassion for the level of suffering that leads all of us to buy into such beliefs, but my hope is that the leaders in our field can go one step further and lead a new movement , a REAL new paradigm that is of huge benefit to our community and locates meaning, beauty, truth, love and the sacred in our human existence itself.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 4:36pm

excellent – great how conversation clarifies things – i'n'it! 🙂

my assertion: the law of cause and effect in the case of natural disasters has everything to do with causes like shifting tectonic plates and high pressure weather systems and nothing to do with human behavior…earthquakes happen whether you are naughty or nice! they are not the big daddy coming home from the office to punish the deviant children… i am sure you agree!

these formulations come from (as you point out) a pre-scientific time when we tried to understand everything in anthropocentric personified mythic literalist ways. most yogis no longer buy into the judaeo-christian version of this old world reflex, why interpret eastern versions of it any differently?

(of course one could cite climate change and that is a big karmic credit card debt – but that is a slightly different flavor than the whole nice and pat past lives and lessons learned thing….)

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 4:06pm

when i sit with the karmic explanation my sense is that the only difference between it and say pat robertson's assertion that the haitian earthquake happened because they had a pact with the devil – is that he just comes out and says it.

underneath the compassionate and pious tone is still the notion that somehow everything that happens is deserved on some metaphysical level. don't even get me started on the problems i have seen in yogis trying to recover/heal from say childhood sexual abuse who have been advised to look at such trauma through this confusing and masochistic lens. the metaphysical container cannot hold the reality of our natural and psychological world – it simply fails.

similarly robertson and fallwell's commentary that 911 was god's punishment to america for homosexuality.

they are all examples of a self-serving, superstitious, incorrect model of how reality functions – and my sense is that viveka compels us to do better.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 3:40pm

much appreciated dearbhla!

i get the even-handed and pluralistic gesture you are making and even agree to it up to a point, but it inspires further commentary for me – so here goes: 🙂

yes – i am aware that some people feel it helps to use metaphysical concepts like karma to explain such events – i just don't think it actually does (except as a narcotic), and i think it leads us into a rat's nest of inane and problematic corollaries, precisely because it is a view that is not congruent with reality.

my thought is that with better more honest tools we need not rely on either ancient or modern rationalizations that try to make us the center of the universe or explain bad things as secretly being good things, or meaningless and unfair suffering as being part of some cosmic justice we don't understand. that was an interesting idea in days gone by, but we can do better now!

i really hear what you are saying about the archetypal/imaginal notion of this being the destructive "face of god" so to speak – though i personally find this un-necessary and even a bit psychologically perverse (the abusive daddy god in a way – who we should nonetheless still love..) i know that during the earthquake of 94 that happened at 4:30 a.m. i felt as if i was being shaken awake by a giant presence that had invaded my room. our psyches/brains tend to personify nature, though this almost certainly is not the case in anything other than a metaphorical sense.

while i think cause and effect is a powerful dynamic, and while i think it is helpful up to a point to think of how our actions create or influence certain outcomes in our lives, for me it represents an almost total failure to meet the reality of something like this tsunami to try and frame it in terms of karma. john friend's statements epitomize a kind of empty and pious mouthing of platitudes that read as ridiculous when you wipe off the gloss of idealized easter metaphysics.

i bristle at the use of karma to relate to such events because it just sounds like complete make believe to me – why not say the tsunami happened because the pink unicorn decided it was time, or the magic calculator in the sky was controlling the population, or it is part of a great chain of events set in motion by the birth of a two headed cat in the Appalachians?

i also feel that the specter of self-satisfied "hey that's their karma, and we are doing fine over here because we were nice in our past lives" is always so close at hand and highly problematic. which relates to another issue i have with karma as a way of explaining and perpetuating the caste system:

maybe if you are a good dalit this time, accept your karma, and clean the toilets well you might get to be a wealthy brahmin in your next life.

the wave of yoga in the west is based in a counter-culture movement that had a radical critique of western values, demanded equality for all and yet somehow seems to have lost touch with that spirit in relationship to the old world marriage of oppression and metaphysical rationalization in eastern cultures.

honestly the implication is that the people in japan somehow deserved the tsunami and this is one of the corollaries i mentioned that is not only bizarre but actually i think (unintentionally) insulting.

personally i am about as convinced by/ interested in these kinds of metaphysics as i am in christian ideas like the divine right of kings, protestant work ethic, and getting to go to heaven if you just believe in jesus.

i am disappointed that the yoga community in general is still so in thrall to such beliefs and that leaders of the profile of mr. friend would even utter such (to me) insensitive, ungrounded and nonsensical statements in response to possibly the biggest natural disaster in recorded history.

what i hear is – we can explain such horrific occurrences though our faith in transmigration of souls and that the past lives of those killed, injured, orphaned, made destitute by the tsunami must carry the seeds of such an event. the statements about earthquakes not being bad and not suffering if you stop mentally resisting a building falling on you because it is not what you want are just weird and confused/confusing.

for me i would have celebrated john friend looking directly at the camera or interviewer and saying the following:

difficult things happen in life, and sometimes it has no meaning. sometimes it is nobody's fault. this is terrifying and humbling…. my suggestion is to sit with it as part of your practice. be moved by it. feel what it brings up for you. love the people around you more deeply in the knowledge that none of us is immune to the power of nature. find meaning in your life on a daily basis in the knowledge that this is all we have.

i don't think perpetuating beliefs that seem to me to be clearly about denying reality and avoiding our real emotional responses to it does anyone any great service – especially as such a prominent figure. for me at some point i stopped caring if the beliefs were ancient or modern, eastern or western, based in pseudoscience or metaphysics – if they distort reality and dissociate us from our humanity for me they fall into a different category than spirituality that invites us to be fully human, in our bodies, on the planet, committed to an honest engagement with our existential reality.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 2:31pm

i am glad jen!

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 2:20pm

Reading this brings things into focus. Thanks, Julian.

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 1:59pm

right on angelica! thanks..

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 1:36pm

So true Julian. I know for me that the constant barrage of these natural and man-made disasters/tragedies has stirred up my own existential questions. We are constantly reminded of the inevitability of death and faced with the discomfort of witnessing thousands of people suffering with what appears to be an inability to do anything. I respect the fact that you acknowledge these responses to these tragedies as coping mechanisms which is useful when we feel a sense of overwhelm. Stopping at these responses I feel allow us to continue to be complacent and keep us from actions necessary for our survival as a species. If we can not face death and suffering, how can we truly act in ways that sustain life and cultivate happiness? Spirituality arises from the full embrace of reality as it is; when we allow these events to pierce through the casing of our hearts and lift the veil from our eyes. – Thank you for your sharing your grounded and integrated insight. Look forward to more. Also, thanks for the link about nuclear power plants (another complex issue).

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 1:32pm

please share far and wide with whomever you'd like! thanks seda!

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 1:25pm

well said 🙂 thank you! i'd like to share this, if that's ok 🙂

anonymous Apr 6, 2011 1:11pm

anna – yes, exactly! you nailed precisely what i am seeking to achieve as well as the malady to which i am responding. thanks..

Bob Weisenberg Apr 7, 2011 7:15am

Hi, Shyam.

I certainly agree that there are other ways to approach the Gita. You will find that their is a very thorough discussion about the issues you raise above in Welcome to Gita Talk: Self-Paced Online Seminar (the predecessor to Gita in a Nutshell).

To make sure the more traditional way of looking at the Gita was fully represented, I invited Graham Schweig to be a guest, which resulted in a very robust exchange of views: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/06/gita-talk-….

Still, my own view is that the most central message of the Gita itself is that the deepest spirituality devolves into utter simplicity, not complexity–the simplicity of utter cosmic oneness.

All these Gita discussions are still open and I welcome your input and ideas. I would love to have you write and send me suggested articles for publication on Elephant, too.

Thanks so much for writing.

Bob W. Yoga Editor
Elephant Yoga on Facebook

anonymous Apr 7, 2011 7:00pm

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your reply. I look forward to reading the links you posted above! It's great to meet someone else who has a real passion for this intellectually and as an experiential practice.

I'd love to share with you some articles/proposals in the near future.


anonymous Apr 12, 2011 12:50am

i appreciate that lloyd – AND i agree with you on that point!

anonymous Apr 12, 2011 12:51am

that is kind of you to acknowledge lloyd – AND you have made your own way in grappling with these difficult and important distinctions and aspects of interior work that most people would rather avoid or deny – so i bow to you. 🙂

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Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian’s writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com.