I haven’t written specifically about yoga for a while but today, all that will change! Last year I started to focus on how I could integrate yoga philosophy and practices with what I had been working on as a philosopher interested in responding to the ecological emergency. This year, I’ve decided to create a book out of the course I wrote (and rewrote, and rewrote). This has involved further rewriting (and looking up more information, and more rewriting). I thought I’d post an extract from each chapter as I go along. I did this, a long time ago, with my thesis (see my other blog at www.gamanrad.wordpress.com for more on this, though I’ve been gradually culling and cribbing from there so it’s a bit of a graveyard). Here we go:
The job of this book is to unspool the threads of the sutras so that we can understand the instructions they might give us for how to act in the ecological emergency. This emergency is causing huge destruction and we must find ways to reduce the harm and suffering it is causing. We cannot do this by forming angry groups and blaming others for the predicament we are in. Of course for most of us, the suffering is largely created by the culture of consumerism, and the greed and exploitation on which that is based. So in a sense, we are all experiencing the results of those actions. But in another sense, none of us are separate from those actions. This is not because we want to be a part of the greed, the focus on wealth and money, and all the cruelty and violence that is behind consumerist societies. It is because we were born into this and are part of it whether we like it or not.Â
I wrote this book because I have spent a lifetime angry and frustrated at my own inability to escape consumerism and all its ills. I donâ€™t blame capitalism, necessarily, although we will talk about the problems with greed and possession and what we can do about it. The problem with wanting to change others is one I will come back to again and again. Capitalism is the idea of acquiring wealth, and the original idea of wealth was that which makes you well, which is not a bad thing. But we will explore how yoga sees wealth, and what is really the chief thing we need to focus on. This is interesting and not what you might expect.Â
Eventually, I realised that I could never run away from consumer society, or escape from any of the greed and violence that haunts our species. This is because what is really happening is not what is happening on the outside. This is where yoga can prove really useful. If you begin to deal with the world as though it is the thing you are looking with, not the thing you are looking at, then something rather strange begins to happen.Â
Since we are in an ecological emergency, it seemed very important to me that I write this book now. After many years of attempting to get this message across, I have also realised that I teach what I need to learn. In a way, this is another aspect of the idea that what is going on inside me is what I experience outside me. Perhaps, then, the person I am really writing this book for is myself.
I have practiced yoga for over forty years now. I donâ€™t have a perfect body or a perfect life, and nor am I enlightened, except in the sense I want to share here. What I know is that if we can understand ourselves and the world as interconnected, we can change the way we act. Not only will this change the ecological emergency into an opportunity for our species to give back, it will make our lives much richer and more meaningful. Yoga is not a practice that takes place on the mat, though we can practice there too. It is the way we act and feel during the other 23 hours of the day, the way of being in the world.Â
You may think I am using the word yoga differently from how it is normally used. I do practice asanas, which are physical exercises, but I also practice yoga in how I live. That is what I want to get across. Yoga is a way of living. In the ecological emergency, it is a way of living that has the potential to change how we deal with one another and other species and systems.Â
Before I launch into the exploration of the sutras, and the yamas and niyamas in particular, I want to say one more thing about myself. It is really an extension of what I said earlier about the inside and the outside. Lots of my research has been in the area of systems theory, which is the idea that we are entirely interconnected, from a quantum level to the level of quarks or stars or galaxies. When we affect one system, be it a virus or a bat, a brother in the bedroom or a boardroom CEO, or even our own sense of self criticism and despair, we affect them all. This is why I use the phrase â€˜the ecological emergencyâ€™ instead of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and so on. The ecological emergency is in us. It is us. We need to deal with it from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. And therefore it is an amazing and terrifying instance of a yoga lesson, where all the work takes place on the inside, and the outside transforms itself in tandem. This is why I think we need to understand the real power of yoga, and the sutras, particularly the yamas and niyamas, are a great place to start.Â