This past week was one where I felt spontaneously immersed in feelings of gratitude. For starters, I felt grateful for not having had my legs blown off by a couple of psychos with a twisted idea of how to use a pressure cooker. And I felt grateful that I don’t live in Syria, where massacres far, far worse than the Boston Marathon bombing happen every day.
I also found myself feeling oddly grateful that I live in the District of Columbia, where I’m not entitled to congressional representation by a United States Senator. Usually that bothers me but since it became clear last week that, if I did have a Senator, there would be an even-money chance that they would be more interested in who’s picking up their restaurant tab than what most people in America want, it doesn’t bother me so much.
And I felt grateful that I didn’t live in Texas near any fertilizer plants that were storing about 270 tons of ammonium nitrate—the highly explosive chemical compound used in the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building 18 years ago.
It was a week when I felt compelled to ask, “what the hell is wrong with people?” I’m betting I wasn’t the only one.
I know a very advanced yogi who makes the same New Year’s resolution every year: to avoid any and all direct contact with the news media. The idea has some merit: for a time I followed the same rule and discovered that the world went on just fine without my paying any attention to it. The only difference was that I didn’t get caught up in the outer world’s insanity while I was trying to cultivate a sane inner life. It was helpful.
But how do we cultivate a sane inner life while staying engaged with an insane outside world?
Yoga is not just a coping strategy, not just something that we do on a yoga mat to work out all the stress that we accumulate simply by living in an inherently stressful world. Our yoga practice is really meant to give us some perspective on the world, to help us to see a bigger picture, and to understand how to find sobriety amid the insanity.
Yoga has a metaphysical function: it facilitates our ability to see the underlying causes that make the world the crazy place that it is. This is important because if we understand how something works then we’ll know how to use it. Yoga also has a teleological function: it tells us the purpose the world’s existence is meant to serve. That’s just as important because if we understand the world’s purpose then we’ll know what to do with it.
From the standpoint of yoga, our first objective is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Obviously, if we understand why the world exists and how the world works then we won’t be as likely to get bent out of shape when we experience the world in all its craziness.
And that leads into the psychological function of yoga: yoga provides us with a process that alters our consciousness in such a way as to support the ability to live peacefully in the world under any circumstances. And that’s great because the world is crazy and being in it without knowing how it works, what it’s for, and what to do with it can drive you crazy. In fact, if you feel that the world is driving you crazy then that’s another thing to be grateful for: it’s a sign of mental health. After all, if you were well adjusted in an insane world, what would that say about you other than that you’ve become insane?
So, in my next few posts, I’ll offer some ideas about how yoga philosophy describes the way the world works, what the world’s reason for being is, and how we can be happy in it no matter how crazy the world may be. After all, I can’t be the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules.