The Dark Side of Yoga, Part I

I know, the title of this post is a little on the sensationalized side. I’ll ‘fess up. At first, I merely wanted to make the title an eye-catcher. After doing some research and reading on this topic, however, I’m convinced it’s aptly named, and in time, I hope you’ll see why.

I’m also calling this post Part 1, because I sense many more episodes in the work, and that this show will probably be renewed for at least a couple seasons in the foreseeable future.

On Spirituality

I remember now a session during my 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training where we talked about “spirituality”. My teacher Theresa Elliott asked all of us to define it, an impossible task. Then, she asked what we would deem “spiritual”, and what was not. Another impossible task.

The point of the exercise, for me, was that since “spiritual” means everything, it can also mean nothing. Since then, I have stopped using that word, almost exclusively. A word with so many connotations inevitably leads to many misinterpretations and therefore misunderstanding.

The Big E – On Enlightenment

I don’t know what Enlightenment is beyond the intellectual concept and definition(s). It sounds really good and enticing, and maybe one of these days they will sell tickets to Enlightenment on Ticketmaster, if they don’t already. I’ve never felt the urge to get there, however.

For one reason or another, possibly from my upbringing, I’ve always held the idea that there’s only one person who’s Enlightened, and that’s the Buddha. Perhaps as a product of growing up without being inducted in any formal, organized religion, I’ve developed an agnostic, laissez-faire attitude of “maybe, maybe not, who knows” when it comes to concepts of God and Enlightenment.

On the one hand, this puts me in the defeatist position. Well, what am I doing then, if not trying to become enlightened? On the other hand, this belief has somewhat shielded me away from what Mariana Caplan calls “the Spiritual Supermarket”,

If you are not aware of how vast the scope of the spiritual marketplace really is, go to a large mind-body-spirit conference or a New Age expo and allow yourself to be shocked, titillated, appalled, and allured by the thousands of surprising and not-so-surprising products you will find there. – Page 7, Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, Mariana Caplan.

(As a side note, how fun would it be if we come up with a list of all this spiritual paraphernalia?)

Start Where We Are – Now If Only We Know Where That Is

You may have heard the joke, “What’s the difference between having eggs versus ham for breakfast?” The answer is, “The chicken is involved in the eggs, whereas the pig is committed in the ham.”

To ask this question of ourselves––”Am I committed, or am I just involved?”––and give an honest answer helps us to make intelligent choices about which paths and practices are best suited for the spiritual development we seek. The problem arises when we profess one thing and live out another, because we confuse ourselves and others, and we limit our growth.

If only we could say honestly and without shame, “I engage spirituality as a hobby,” or “I want a spiritual practice that will give me some peace of mind but without any commitment or discipline,” or “I’d like to keep spirituality as my mistress but maintain comfort and security as my spouse,” or “I want to be seen as a spiritual man or woman because that will make me more sexy.”

If only we could simply admit, “I’m a New Ager,” “I’m a fashionable Buddhist,” “I’m an imitation Hindu,” “I’m a wannabe guru,” or “I’m a bliss chick.” Or perhaps we could use more simple, straightforward language, such as “I’m a serious spiritual aspirant,” “I’m a seeker of moderate interest,” or “I’m a part-time, casual spiritual tourist.” It is not wrong to have such an approach to spiritual development.

We grow from where we are, and if we pretend to be somewhere we are not and try to move forward, we are likely to travel in a very crooked line and become more confused than necessary. – Page 21. Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, Mariana Caplan.

The title of one of Pema Chodron’s books, Start Where You Are, has become a sort of mantra for me. It’s so simple and concise, and yet so clear. Similarly, I find the above section titled What Do You Want? from Mariana useful.

For me, there is but one serious commitment I know have for sure: to still my mind, by hook or by crook. It is the single hardest thing for me to do. Everything else is just a strategy for learning and progress, even practicing intensely on a yoga pose, as I’ve mentioned before, is just so I can sit longer with less bodily agitation.

What about you? What is your definition of “spirituality”? Do you believe in Enlightenment? Are you committed or involved? On what level?

Ceiling Cat, are you one with me?

Ceiling Cat, are you one with me?