When you meet someone for the first time, how much of your view about them is based on who they are and how much of it is based on who you are?
When you’ve known someone a while, how much of how you are in the relationship is based on what you expect a relationship to look like and how much is based on the actual relationship itself?
When you strongly believe what someone says or does is wrong, is that based on the inherent ethics of their act or words or does it come from your conditioning that sees life in a certain way?
These are big questions to ask ourselves. Ideally we would be doing this on a rolling basis. Reflecting on where our views on things, situations and people we encounter in daily life comes from – as well as the effect on our significant relationships, our work, how we (will vote) and our motivations for why we do things.
Barriers get in the way of us doing all of the above. But actually all the above is what I would call ‘doing the work’ of being a conscious a human being. What are the main challenges that stop us from doing this work?
You may well have come across this term, or even used it yourself. It refers to the fact that each of us are making judgements and conclusions about others all the time based our own inner bias without realising we are doing just that.
Implied in labelling such judgements ‘unconscious bias’ is that since it is unconscious we are less responsible for them– if at all. Nor can we then be held accountable for the outcomes of how we perceive and act in the world. If I’m not aware, it’s not deliberate, so it’s ok…
But if we are approach life and our time on this planet knowing that we each have unconscious biases – bred through conditioning, our parents and upbringing, the dominant milieus we have found ourselves in growing up and in our current time as adults – then this awareness can begin to create a much truer and just interaction with others and make our judgements sounder.
Awakening to our own unconscious prejudices is an act of true intelligence and goodwill.
It also happens to be a significant aim of Yoga (yet no surprise if this doesn’t come up in your local yoga class; for a start, so much of yoga today only serves to reinforce unconscious biases, such as what we think is an attractive body or putting our little ego at the centre of the universe). Actually, a major part of yoga practice and study is to uncover what yoga calls ‘samskaras’. These are described as the patterns or grooves in our unconscious selves. They play a huge role in determining what we say, think and do. Yes, yoga is designed to work with the ‘body’ and the ‘conscious mind’, but with the further aim of giving us tools to connect to the parts of us that lie unconscious or just below (sub) conscious and need ‘attending to’. The parts of us that would otherwise solidify, be non adaptable and reinforce unhelpful biases. We are seeing this played out all around us today – online as well as in the real world.
When someone challenges something we believe or think, it’s rarely comfortable. So why would we choose to do that ourselves, on ourselves? Understandably most of the time, most people, don’t.
Unfortunately, those who do, or at least open the door to that pathway of having their entrenched beliefs questioned and explored, largely end up un-supported or un-popular in a society that raises and gives voice to those who are firmest and ‘narrowest’ in their beliefs. This is what we are seeing playing out both locally, nationally and internationally. Be black, white, brown in your thinking (literally or metaphorically) and you are more likely to win a majority.
Liberalism, to my knowledge was always meant to be about this questioning and allowing for fluidity of ideas and exchange. It is so sad that even ‘liberalism’ has been pushed into a category seen as self-serving and self-supporting and, worse, as contributing to the kinds of ‘behaviours’ that mainstream society looks down upon. Neo-liberalism is what this is now termed as. So, to have a mind that questions and allows for other thought has become in 2019 not only frowned upon but also considered a negative trait. As a result, this has increased the level of ‘discomfort’ perceived or anticipated in throwing open your thought processes when encountering another view or a person seen as ‘the other’.
Yoga is ultimately all about finding and living in a place of freedom. But nowhere does it say the path to that is easy or through staying in (to use the modern lexicon) ‘in your own lane’. If discomfort isn’t part of your yoga journey, I would question the yoga journey you are on.
Resistance to change
We are creatures of comfort. We know what we like and we like what we know. Yes it’s true there is a fashion nowadays to travel to ‘new places’, discover ‘new things’, tick boxes on the spontaneity and adventure lists. But how much of this leads to internal change is highly questionable.
When I hear people talk about going on to wondrous places, or engaging in fantastical adventures, or doing things that seemingly take them out of their comfort zone – I wait to then hear and witness how they are now. How are those patterns, biases and conditioning being dismantled or at least re-visited?
It is also worth noting that the majority (not all admittedly) who choose adventure, do this from a launch pad of comfort, privilege and luxury. Yes, courage and open mindedness is there and this is to be applauded. But let us be honest in terms of the why and how behind this. Sitting in silence for 10 days in a retreat centre where someone cooks and looks after you…. travelling to an exotic part of Asia with a backpack…. jumping out of a plane…. camping through nature’s bounty… yes, on one level out of ‘one’s comfort zone’ but on another, maybe these things are more comfortable than facing one’s own daily reality and the injustices in the systems that we are all operating in.
Is it any wonder we here, in the UK, keep having a change of governance lately, but nothing actually changes? The Brexit vote and arguments – on both sides – illustrate (on both sides) resistance to change.
Yoga has this wondrous incongruity at its heart: it says we are each whole and complete on one level, but that are our work as humans on the planet is to transform ourselves so that we can connect to that very wholeness. Transformation – not stagnation. Know that you are whole, but you need to develop yourself while on the planet to realise and live in that wholeness.
Not knowing how
I suspect (and hope) that a lot of us want to not go through life unquestioned and that we want to expand our consciousness not just to make ourselves feel better but so that life and the world progresses in a healthy and more equitable way.
The barrier to that is… well, how? How on earth do we do that?
Are we taught how to in school? Of course not. School, in even in the 21stcentury, bolsters convention and preconceived ideas.
University or places of further learning do encourage this trait of seeking and openness. This should be reinforced, consistently. Thoughts, debates, powerful and urgent calls for change and review and stances for justified ways of living and governance are at their strongest at this level in society: this age phase and in these kinds of places of learning. But… what happens after?
The messages we are giving to this demographic of energy, hope and good cause are that your value is based on your bank balance and/or how attractive you are. No surprise, sadly, that after this phase of their life that has such urgency of feeling and level of mental openness begins to wane.
Not knowing how… I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself this question “what would you have me do now?” (I say this mentally, speaking not to a human-constructed-god but to the sky, to the energy, to my higher self, to whoever knows more than I do and has lived more than I have). I can tell you that I find myself asking this question more and more nowadays.
This is the problem: more information, more awareness – supposedly this is good. We face this in my industry too. Yoga is everywhere. Yoga is talked about on so many platforms. But how… how do we ‘do’ that change that is encouraged and bounded about.
It is not only not enough to send out memes and messages supporting a cause or inviting questioning – this in fact encourages a by-pass of doing the work because we live in a time when ‘putting out’ or sharing a message is somehow seen as the work itself. It might help spread awareness, but what change is actually happening?
So we need our wise folk.
We need to elevate them and give them platforms and support. We need to find a new respect for those that know more than we do and who want to be guides from a place of integrity and a robust value system. Self-help gurus, book writers, politicians and yes even yoga teachers are not doing the work if they are actually seeking self-validation for the messages they send out.
I fell in and stayed in with yoga in my 20s because it was the first time I found a system that was not based on dogma or a man-made view of how the world ‘should be’. Instead, it offered me tools, ideas and an indisputably excellent range of attributes to aspire to for my time on the planet. Not to make me more likeable, love-able, prettier or more powerful. But so that the urge to want to live a good life in the true sense of the word could be be supported with… good unbiased instruction.
We also need daily moments of refection.
Moments when we are not seeking to optimise our brain, figure out a solution, ponder our next move – life is not a chess game though it has become to be made to feel like one. Meditation is not about getting you ahead – contrary to the messages that might suggest that.
No. Times when you sit with what is there for you and what is behind the thoughts and feelings you are having. I can think of no deeper or more profound work than this.
Living in Un-knowing
We like to know what’s what. Language is beautiful as it is functional and necessary. We like to know where we came from and where we are heading. Numbers, the colour of our skin and our postcode are used to define us – just as we use these things to define others.
What if we take the words, constructs, the colour, the numbers out of the equation… what is left?
How on earth could we survive as a species like that?I’m tempted to relpy to that question ‘well let’s just try it and see!’
But how about this…
How about while we carry on in the systems that are there, be they entrenched or malleable, that parallel to this we step into and try to live in the un-known.
For it is in the unknown that the mind – and the heart – truly expand.
p.s. This is just the surface of the swirl going on in my mind and heart. We are living in a such interesting yet challenging times. Knowledge is helpful but it is not all. We need to do the work. Yoga is one – not the only one, but a good one in terms of a tool to help with that mission should you choose it. Whatever route or tools you choose, like anything else, think about why and who and their motivations. And remember… discomfort and difficulty are part of the path of transformation and expansion.