As a child I was fascinated by the trick I saw at a carnival when a magician whipped a tablecloth out from beneath an entire place setting of his grandmother’s prized dinnerware without upending a single glass or losing any dishes to the dusty ground beneath his show. I stood watching him set up and perform the trick again and again as a complacent crowd wandered by with only the occasional onlooker raising an eyebrow. Just tall enough to be at eye level to the table, it seemed particularly intense from my vantage point. I could feel the whip of the cloth in my chest and I’d hold my breath in fascination until I would begin to feel safe again as everything settled back into place.
Somehow that day I embodied a sense of trust and balance; an embodied feeling of the magician’s goblets wobbling but not falling, which was always followed by a wave of relief when nothing broke. That visceral awareness of instability leading to calm remains in me to this day—a reminder that it’s possible to find balance even when the rug is pulled out from under you.
We find ourselves now in a global climate of instability and uncertainty, where many events have left us feeling as though the rug has been pulled out from beneath us. The number of extreme and adverse geopolitical, environmental, human rights abuse situations we face today is alarming. Honor, decency, and tolerance seem to be on the fall while violence, bigotry, and the unwillingness and inability to listen are sweeping through leadership and actions against others in country after country.
With a magician’s sleight of hand, so many of our world leaders are attempting to project their own distorted, often self-serving illusion of reality onto us. We could react with fear and anger, despair and withdrawal, or we could numb ourselves to the situation and ignore it all, hoping it will just get better on its own.
But, fortunately, we do yoga. We know that fear keeps us stuck, so we’ve learned to breathe into the central channel and find our ground when fear arises. Many among us have the direct experience from the time we first tried to touch our toes and our recalcitrant hamstrings protested, that being angry at them slowed down our progress for about five years, so we’ve learned to watch our anger arise and soften in and around it without yanking on our hamstrings or anything else. And, to my knowledge there is no Ostrich Pose, so putting our heads in the sand while the world falls apart shouldn’t be our path.
Instead, we can collectively support a different reality, one that is attentive, kind, questioning, open, and clear thinking. We can remember to hone the practices beyond the mat and the cushion, and drop into the deep into the realm of how we hold all other beings in our hearts, even those who are the most despicable. Though we may feel dismay or that our work and presence doesn't matter, it does! This is not a time for complacency.
The four Brahma Viharas from the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra teach us to have friendliness toward happiness, compassion in relation to suffering, sympathetic joy in relation to wonderful awakened beings, and attentive equanimity toward those who are harmful and diametrically opposed to their own awakening and that of all others. The first three are relatively easy to practice. But the fourth, upekshanam, is challenging!
It requires discriminating awareness, which is the ability to see our own projection of separateness and ego onto the open and always changing process of life. Discriminating awareness allows us to see even those who are causing great harm as integral parts of that interpenetrating whole. They are confused. They are the epitome of the ignorance referred to as the very root of suffering—avidya. They are causing great suffering to others, but they too are suffering due to their own delusion and confusion. Therefore, you cannot put them outside of your heart even though their ideas or actions might have to be firmly opposed in the everyday practical world.t
Waking up our discriminating awareness as we practice being human—open, generous, caring. That is the difficult task ahead of us. But like the balance that is hidden out of sight beneath the sea, the feeling of unity in diversity spreads little by little if we just keep at it. Day after day we show up, returning to the mat and the cushion and looking deeply at whatever arises. Particularly in times like these it is the consistency of practice that establishes the solid ground upon which we can stand and act with clarity. It is the stillness and sensation of interconnectedness that the practices inspire within us that allows us—even in uncertain times—to be steady, watch the pieces fall or steady themselves, and to offer integrity, kindness, and compassion even to those with whom we disagree.