What does it mean to be an activist and a yogi?

I feel so blessed by the community of yogis that surrounds me everyday at Kula Annex. This group lives with a deep desire to effect change in our world.  Their inspired company has re-ignited a dear question that lives in my heart, “What does it mean to be an activist and a yogi?”

Before I stumbled upon this humble path of practice, I considered myself an activist standing up for social and environmental change. The ways in which I fought for these causes, however, left me in a precarious relationship with my mind, my health and the people in my life. Anger and despair were my guiding forces. When I realized that these motivations weren’t sustainable or effective, I looked around for nourishing examples of leadership and found few. I burnt out. I gave up.

When I found yoga I felt like it saved my life. It created space for me to befriend my body, to understand the ways in which my mind was perpetuating my own suffering, to shift these very patterns and to explore the expansive depths of my heart. The result was more strength and creativity to carry me through life’s challenges. Learning how to embrace and experience my sadness, anger and fear helped me to more fully embrace and experience love, joy and peace. I became more aware of how interconnected and interdependent everything is and what a gift it is for me to be here. The beauty that I discover within and all around inspires me to serve this sacred web of interconnection.  I want to serve because all of the things that made me angry when I was an activist still make me angry, because I know that we have the potential to live in better harmony with others, the planet and ourselves. I want to do this in a way that remains deeply rooted in my practice so that my offering can be nourishing and sustainable. I know that I am not alone in this desire. So let us be a kula that stands up for a world with more love and less suffering.

Which bring us back to my first question, “What does it mean to be an activist and a yogi?” Here are some of my recent insights, ideas and questions. Please read them, and then let’s talk about it because yoga at its best is a conversation that wakes us up as it weaves and extends into our lives.

In his recent article, The Cosmos Wakes Up, David Loy suggests that the process of cultural development necessary to produce highly evolved beings such as the Buddha, Gandhi or Einstein, could not be accidental. He invites us to consider  this process of cultural development as the universe’s own struggle to become more self-aware, as a process of self-realization rather than attributing it to an outside director – God, for example – who is responsible for ordering our world. The desire for self-awareness and action are where the yogi and the activist meet. The activists want to wake up the world and the yogis want to wake themselves up.  In truth, there is no separation between you, me and the world waking up, because ultimately we can’t wake up until the last blade of grass has woken up. We are in this together as my teacher Michael Stone so eloquently describes, “You’re not inhaling or exhaling. Instead, the natural world is inhaling you. We’re breathing each other inside out. The breath that I’m breathing in, is the breath that you’re breathing out. And the breath that I’m breathing out, you’re breathing in. We’re in and outside of each other.”  The activist becomes the yogi and the yogi the activist, self aware and engaged to serve the awakening of all things.

To begin this work the yogi must challenge this idea of transcending desire, an idea that motivates much of the greater yoga community. In fact, our spiritual life is a wildly passionate life. We must tune into what is triggering us, what heats us up, what evokes us, and what we love so we can understand what we want to cultivate during our precious time here. We experience our anger at the way the things are and let it fuel us with a desire to make change. The paradox is that at the very same time we must be grounded in peace. We must see that the anger emerges and will dissolve back into peace.  We must find fulfillment in the process of awakening that is at times messy, scary, joyful, always in motion etc … We must also find a deep trust in the movement of this process, that requires great compassion and courage in all of the things we can never know or fully understand.  So the activist yogi lives in the paradox where they are passionate enough to decide what matters enough to stand up for and peaceful enough not to cause unnecessary harm and to offer as much freedom and dignity to others as possible.

This brings us to a place of service. The ways in which we serve will look radically different. They will be a reflection of our unique capacities, gifts, learnings and resources. The biggest challenges that we have lived and processed through have provided us with the tools required to compassionately reach out into the world and serve. We worry less about what the person beside us is doing and offer the very best we can. Imagine what would happen if everyone in the kula was doing that!? Imagine if the whole word was doing that!? I know a lot of you are already doing some amazing acts of service. I hope my offering serves you to find more freedom and agency in this beautiful paradox of peace and passion. I want to know and celebrate what you are doing. Send me an email or better yet post in the comments section of this blog so that we can all be inspired.

Acknowledgements: In honour of and gratitude for the teachings that flow through Michael Stone, Christopher Wallis(Hareesh), Douglas Brooks, Kathy Roseborough and John Friend.

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