I traveled from Southern California to Southern India for a month of physical and spiritual retreat.
The internet where I’m staying is sketchy, as it often is in India, but it still allows me to check in with news and social media.
The second day after arriving, I learned that 17 kids and their teachers had been killed in another school shooting. I am heartbroken by the news, but even more heartbroken that I am not shocked by this.
The internet is filled with op-eds, news stories, posts, and tweets that debate gun legislation and the role of the National Rifle Association.
I am the NRA’s worst nightmare. I am a left-leaning, socially-liberal vegan democrat. I am of the opinion that no home should own a gun. I am in favor of massive legislative reform, and I am aware that reform will continue to be a behemoth task.
But I am not writing this to debate gun reform or any other social issue. I want to talk about another daunting task—that of maintaining balance between our spiritual life and our need for social activism.
Do you find it difficult to build a reasonable bridge between staying in touch with the world and withdrawing into your spiritual practice?
How do we allow ourselves to be righteously angry about school children being murdered and still maintain practices of peace and compassion? How can we gift ourselves the luxury of a quiet morning meditation when there is so much racism and misogyny that needs to be addressed?
Can we be good yogis and effective social activists at the same time? Can we get our hands dirty in activism and not let it pull us away from the peace of our spiritual practice?
Yoga Sutra 2.46 reads “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” The rough translation is that our yoga postures (asanam) should be done with both steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukham) for the greatest benefit. But what about the yoga practice we take off the mat? What might a balance of sthira and sukham look like in our lives of social activism?
Here are some things I’ve been trying.
Let’s start with sthira, or steadiness.
Get clarity: We need to become clear about what our position is on social issues. To do this, it’s important that we read, do research, and talk to people who are knowledgeable about the issues that we’re passionate about. As we gain clarity, it will give us the confidence to speak and act with steadiness.
Be wary of FOF (facts on Facebook): I think we’ve all gotten sucked into the many posts about “facts” on Facebook, with many people stating things boldly as though they are the gospel truth. Many of these “facts” are highly inflammatory and just plain untrue. Exercise a good measure of skepticism so we can stay steady in our work and avoid getting sucked into the drama of the moment.
Spend time wisely: There are so many needs, and so many social crises. We can’t take all of the world’s burdens onto our own little shoulders. It’s helpful to be realistic about what we can do and choose the projects we are most drawn to. Limiting ourselves wisely can help us maintain the steadiness to do our best work.
Make time for regular practice: Whether it’s meditation, yoga, reading spiritual texts, pranayama, or chanting mantra, take the time to be steady in your practice. Our consistent return to our spiritual practice will give us the inner strength we need to tackle the toughest of social issues.
Now what about sukham, or ease?
Be careful of overachieving: Many of us have a tendency to load our plates until they’re overflowing. Volunteering for every committee, every march, and every get-out-the-vote event has the potential for making us overly fatigued and then we are good to no one. Be easy with yourself so you have something to give.
Get good rest: We’ve heard it hundreds of times and in many different ways—the importance of a good night’s sleep. If we avoid the tendency to get by on five or six hours, we can avoid being tense and cranky. And please, let’s not wear our lack of sleep like a badge of honor. Try to get eight hours.
Cry—it’s good for you: The state of our world can be overwhelming. It can make us feel frustrated and defeated. So—let yourself have a good cry. It will ease you back to a more relaxed state of being where you can take a big breath and begin again.
Don’t forget to breathe: When you find yourself tense because there’s so much to do, try to remember to take some slow, deep breaths to help you circle back to your own spiritual center.
Author: Kathy Bolte
Image: Sofie Zborilova/Pixabay
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron