On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, I, along with 71.6 million others tuned in to watch the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Sitting on my roommate’s couch, with five minutes until the start, I pulled out my phone, opened Facebook, and read a post by a friend and fellow yoga teacher saying she was subbing a class that night and inviting everyone to come and “avoid the train wreck” of the third presidential debate.
Fifteen people had liked the post, and while I continued to scroll through new stories, I couldn’t help but feel myself growing upset.
Initially I couldn’t identify the reason. I’m normally in favor of alternatives to mainstream events, like getting out and hiking during football frenzied weekends or on Black Friday. But while the post was intended to be funny, something was different about it, perhaps a carelessness that made me uncomfortable, or an echoing, dangerously self-centered worldview that resounds with many Americans, yogis included.
One of the five kleshas, or obstacles, in traditional yogic thought, dvesha translates to aversion, consciously choosing to avoid or not do something because it is out of our comfort zone, or because we simply don’t want to.
Dvesha is closely linked to ego and the mental organization of the world according to our personal likes and dislikes. While having preferences isn’t wrong, allowing our likes and dislikes to always dictate our thoughts and actions can be problematic.
When obstructed by dvesha, seeing in terms of like-and-dislike or want-and-don’t-want, we effectively put ourselves at the center of the universe. Perhaps the most egotistical thing we can do is to only understand the world outside of us as relating to ourselves, as a like or dislike. In thinking this way nothing exists independently of us. By viewing the world from such a pedestal, we reject the idea that other people, their opinions, preferences and thoughts truly matter; we fall into the trap of identifying ourselves with prakriti—circumstances, bodies, emotions and thoughts—that are all subject to change.
Consider the current election. According to news sources, a strong contingency of the population isn’t happy with either candidate from the two major political parties. Without a candidate we fully support, we may find it hard to concern ourselves with the current election or interest ourselves in politics at all.
It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating.
This election has seemed more like a bad season from a reality TV show than an actual race to decide the person who will hold the highest elected office in the country for the next four years. We’d rather just not have anything to do with it.
This is dvesha.
In saying we don’t care, we are permitting our ignorance and self-centeredness to control our lives. We are placing ourselves at the heart of the universe, declaring the most important thing to be our wants, comforts and pleasures. In saying we aren’t interested in this year’s election or politics in general, we are disregarding others. We are saying we don’t care enough about women, immigrants, black people, the poor and refugees to even have an opinion about the issues they are involved in and affected by.
We are allowing our frustrations with politics to shape the future of our country and world. We are avoiding educating ourselves and others. We are hiding from responsibility, loving-kindness and an active interest in others.
However, our personal indifference and entitlement are both factors with very real consequences, not only for ourselves, but for other people and communities.
While unintentional, my friend’s post essentially encouraged people to remain ignorant, to see the world in terms of likes-and-dislikes, to not care about matters affecting others and to put themselves first. While it is fundamentally important to take care of ourselves, we must be careful to avoid allowing ourselves and our preferences to become the governing forces in our lives.
There are things larger than ourselves, and we affect others with our inaction and action alike.
As individuals dedicated to mindfulness, we cannot idly glance over this campaign season, and we must strive to remain engaged even when we feel disheartened or irritated. As yogis, we cannot be uninterested in politics. We are part of it.
Author: Stewart Moore
Image: hobvias sudoneighm/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman