November 14, 2011

Do Not Drink the Kombucha: the Watering Down of Wisdom.

Dear Yogis,

If someone reposts another positive affirmation up in their Twitter feed or on their Facebook profile, I swear I will scream.


There was a time when a person really had to work to acquire wisdom and when it was closely guarded. (Think Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) Deep insight into human existence wasn’t always available so easily in books like the hundreds that Thich Nhat Hanh has tirelessly written.

The involvement of authentic spiritual masters in the world writ large benefits us all, as does the dissemination of their wisdom.  Hanh commented on phenomenon himself, noting that his exile from Vietnam (which ironically happened when he went abroad to speak about peace during the war) spurred him to teach the world what he was practicing at home. He considers this a healthy development in human spiritual evolution; an essential step in the progress of humanity.  Westerners have benefited immensely from Vietnam’s cruel expulsion of Hanh.

But it seems these days that everyone who can quote or repackage the wisdom of these true masters fancies themselves one by default.

A parrot that can quote Einstein is not a genius. (Like that quote? Credit Jackie Summers.)

As I see it, there are two issues at work here—one is that of the supply and demand of ideas, and how that relates to their value.  Another is the question of what investment a person needs to make in order to command a certain body of knowledge as their own.

Today we live in the economy of Free. The United States lives on credit—without credit card transactions, what would you really be able to purchase? Food is largely subsidized, as is clothing. H&M? Sponsored by cheap labor from around the world. We know this, and yet we indulge.  We expect a lot for free without seeing the bigger cost.

The evaluation of information works similarly.  The Internet has made information widely available, and free.  Laws of economics show that when something is in ample supply, its value decreases.  Thus, the value of your million-times repeated inspirational message becomes null and void.  What used to be wise and freeing is now nothing more than a platitude.

This might well be why the masters kept their secrets close and harshly vetted students, sending away those who didn’t show ample evidence of sincere interest in studying seriously.

Despite the watering down of the wisdom, I believe that if our people didn’t brandish uplifting and wise insights thirty seconds after they read them in their Twitter feed—and instead actually took the time to sit with them, work with them, run them through their life systems to see if they are truly effective—we would be in a far different plane of evolution than we are now.

When you work with a concept and apply it repeatedly, like a practice, you gain your own insight. This is what makes you more than a parrot quoting Einstein. Succinctly put by Ralph Helfer, in Modoc: “Good teachers teach what they were taught. Wise teachers teach what they have learned.”

To learn something means not just to read and reiterate it. It means to pay your dues. To master spiritual wisdom, like Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill character masters the fight, the lessons have to run through your cells. The lessons are beyond thinking. To truly learn means you have to practice and do so with dedication and regularity. This is the beauty of yoga—it creates structure for regularity, and for the acquisition of embodied knowledge.  And when you learn—in your skin, bones and blood—you will have your very own wise things to say. You will become your very own genius and we all will be improved by receiving your very original perspective on existence. And, I will no longer be so hoarse from screaming. Thank goodness!

When does one know that they truly command a body of knowledge?  As a teacher and life-long student, I really think that depends on the person involved and the lesson at hand.  But, in Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery and expertise are attained when a person has logged ten thousand hours of practice at their particular skill.

Perhaps it’s time Yoga Alliance created a 10,000-hour certification.

What a world we would live in when surrounded by masters of that level.  Perhaps you’ll be one yourself?  I really hope so.  Let’s get to work.  Time to practice.



Photo credits: deviantart.com

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