Perspectives clash at Wanderlust Festival.

Via Ari Setsudo Pliskin
on Jun 28, 2011
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Siphoning some of the $5 billion industry yoga industry toward good.

I attended a workshop Friday entitled Becoming a leader: yogis for interpersonal and global change at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont.  The workshop was led by Off the Mat Into World (OTM) leaders; Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling and Kerry Kelly.  Seane began the class by inviting us to gather near the main stage.  The leaders explained that the mission of Off the Mat is to aid yogis in applying the strength, flexibility and perseverance that they learn on the yoga mat into the world of social service and social action.  “This is a $5 billion industry,” Seane explained “There are 20 million people in the U.S. that are practicing yoga.  It is a community that is educated, that pay their taxes and that vote.  I’ve always dreamed what would happen if we could align ourselves to focus on one issue over another and really rally our resources”.

Inviting social ailments onto the yoga mat

After the introduction, we returned to our mats and Seane instructed us to lay on our backs with our eyes closed in Supta Baddha Konasana.  She guided us into an open state and invited us to consider the social ailment that touches us most deeply.  Tears flowed from my eyes as I recalled street kids, who cracked my heart open 11 years ago working at a summer camp.  I hadn’t thought about that experience for some time.

Meditation led by Suzanne Sterling (I am bald guy with green shirt and excellent posture)

After Seane led some vinyasa flow interspersed with words connecting our asanas to social activism, Suzanne took over with another guided meditation accompanied by drum beat.  She brought us through the darkest aspects of the human experience, including poverty and natural disaster, to our deepest inspirations and hope.  She invited us to reflect on three things -something that challenges us, something that make us hopeful, and a value that we deeply stand for – and then get together in groups of four to share our responses.

I didn’t sign up for this

As I opened my eyes to three middle-aged women, I was transported back to Byron Katie’s School of the Work, which I attended in Los Angeles two years ago. Katie, a woman who at first seemed to me like a sappy self-help counselor for soccer moms, proved to guide the most powerful and badass experience I have had to date, of overcoming limiting thoughts and facing reality.   In the OTM workshop, I was reminded of the powerful experience I had balling my eyes out in LA with sensitive and expressive workshop partners that were mostly my mother’s age and gender.

As we began to share at the OTM workshop, one woman initiated, lamenting: “My biggest challenge was staying in the room. I’ve been assisting all morning.  All I wanted was a good vinyasa flow.”  “I don’t like being preached at,” a second woman chimed in, “I don’t like all this talk of world hunger.  I like to make my offering to the world from a place of abundance, not deficit.”  The third woman didn’t feel like sharing.

I was entertained by the fact that my partners didn’t conform to my expectations. I wondered if they had read the class description, which promised a workshop “meant to identify our obstructions, define purpose, and begin the process of seeing ourselves as leaders within our own world; a role necessary in our ever-evolving and growing culture of change.”  I wondered whether they had heard of Seane from her successful yoga videos, but were unfamiliar with her activism work with Off the Matt.

When I interviewed Seane before the festival, she expressed feeling a responsibility to use her role as a yoga celebrity to promote service.  Stay tuned for reports of how, over the course of the weekend, I encountered yogis who received OTM’s call the action as enthusiastically as I did.  Indeed, Wanderlust’s partnership with OTM seemed like a primary method through which the festival channeled some of its energy towards having a broader positive impact that extends beyond the festival.

(picture from Wanderlust blog)


About Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Ari Setsudo Pliskin is Zen Yogi who works to actualize the interconnectedness of life online and on the streets. While once addicted to school, Ari has balanced his geekiness with spiritual practice and time spent on society’s margins. As a staff member of the Zen Peacemakers, Ari assisted Zen Master Bernie Glassman in his teaching around the world. Ari studies Zen at the Green River Zen Center in Greenfield, MA and is an Iyengar-style yoga teacher. Ari loves comic books as well. Ari currently serves as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café . Connect with Ari on Facebook or Twitter: @AriPliskin.


9 Responses to “Perspectives clash at Wanderlust Festival.”

  1. Jen says:

    As yogis, I feel that wee have an obigation to worry about social issues. People who say "I don’t like all this talk of world hunger. I like to make my offering to the world from a place of abundance, not deficit" have their head burried in the sand. People are starving. People are suffering. As a healthy happy person, I feel that I should help those who are not as lucky. Life is not all unicorns and sunshine. We need to keep a realistic perspective.

  2. Well done, Ari.

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

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  3. Karen says:

    How do you consider yourself a yogi and NOT care about the world and people around you? To me, that is the goal; to become selfless, to practice lovingkindness and compassion, and to spread as much love into the world as possible. This sounds like a fantastic workshop; amazing how many attempt to talk the talk but seem to be missing the true message and lesson of yogic practice.

  4. Kimberly says:

    I was there!!! What an amazing class. I was working the tent as a volunteer off and on throughout the weekend. While the vast majority of my experiences at Wanderlust were positive (so much love and community!), I was disappointed at the attitudes of some of the ladies that came through the main tent for the big name celebrity classes such as Seane's. I was treated incredibly poorly by people that I had to ask to move their mats (sometimes only a few inches) or who I was instructed to direct to a certain area of the tent. I got rude comments and refusals to follow my directions, I even had one lady literally shove past me to set up her mat in an area I had just told her was off limits. I know I'm off topic now, but I guess my point is that celebrity classes are going to bring in all types of people, some not quite as "yogic" as others.

  5. […] the thoughts and feelings the audience that was; well groomed, mostly female and mostly white.(See Ari’s article on the class to find out […]

  6. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  7. Hi Carol, As the parent organization to Off The Mat into the World, I just wanted to give you a statistic on the political engagement of the 20 million member yoga community. They are 72% Democratic and they are 50% more likely than the general population to vote. From our research and work, it is a community that deeply cares about doing seva, creating change and leadership. We have been deeply moved by the many ways communities, studios, students and others have decided to participate in Off The Mat. In addition, as a student of Seane's I would say that I'm sure she would welcome the thoughts all the students were having. As a full time organizer, I can say there are times we all want to look away or disengage from pain and suffering.

  8. Ari Pliskin says:

    Marianne, those are very interesting stats. Where did you get them? We may see some similarity in the Buddhist world.

    While the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 35,446 respondents has been criticized for under representing Buddhists, it indicates that Buddhists are certainly a minority group within the United States. Nonetheless, it gives us some indication of who Buddhists are, relative to other groups. For one thing, more Buddhist respondents (50%) identified as liberal than any other group. Furthermore, Buddhists are more likely to support stricter environmental protection than Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

    As one article on the history of American Buddhism describes: “For those first Americans who took up Buddhism, it was not primarily a means of dropping out. As Sojun Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center, told me, ‘The bohemians and flower children were already dropped out. Buddhism offered them a way to drop in. It allowed them to create a culture out of the counterculture. ’” (1) As seekers of not only spiritual alternatives, but social ones, it is no surprise that Western Buddhists developed their own style of “Socially Engaged Buddhism.” However, the adaptation of the Buddhist tradition to contemporary social issues has been neither automatic, simple nor rapid. It is an ongoing process that takes hard work.