I went to the Yoga Congress on the environment, and I got horribly ill. It was probably the room - an un air conditioned room with minimal amount of ceiling fan movement to relieve us in the 90+ degree heat and high humidity. Granted, I get asthma in such weather; that brings on sinus problems. So, it wasn't smart for me to stay at the session. Yet I was intrigued with the lectures, despite the discordance between what the speakers said, and the physical reality of the session. Was this a promotion of an idea that the physical world doesn't matter, and that we were to transcend the circumstances of stifling air, lack of water, and minimal breaks? This is contrary to HaTha yoga, and perhaps the discussion of the environment and us being a continuum. We are material "girls" in a material world, but this is a spiritual reality.
WE ARE ONE That's a rather intangible idea without example and explanation. The speakers explained it this way - the problem is you think as a human you aren't an animal, and are not part of the environment. It's a consciousness that says to us that it doesn't matter if we put chemical fertilizers on corn fields. But, even if we don't get chemical run-off that taints the water we drink, we do get an unnatural overgrowth of corn, which creates a more moist atmosphere, saturated with more pollen. And then you and I get more allergy and asthma problems. ( The second speaker stressed that global warming is real, and also causing massive physical problems throughout the world).
What about Physical Reality I get this, and it is so so yoga an idea. We are part of the physical reality around us, which is all also a spiritual reality. But, what is the solution? Avoiding material reality? Art doesn't count? Is Madonna's new "material girl" clothing line immaterial? ( Yes, that Madonna). All 3 of the swamis speaking that day stressed RELATIONSHIP. Remember that we are in relationship with all around us. They also subtly spoke of Intention, but that is more a kabbalah idea).
I don't think any of the speakers were telling us to transcend our physical needs, but remember that any harm we cause others really will harm us. So an example - if art or Madonna's clothes cause suffering in some way - causing us to spend too much money to purchase them, so we don't have enough money left for Tzedakkah (charitable giving), that is a problem. I'm seeing more artists use recycled materials for their work though, at the local open studios. And Madonna is making stylish, rather affordable clothes for Juniors that so far are more tasteful than some of the trashy wear promoted by others. (I have no idea who makes them - another issue).
RELATIONSHIP and RENUNCIATION I wish the conference organizers were aware that it was contradictory to have us just sit and listen for 3 hours in the hot heat, with few breaks and no real time to process the lectures. Maybe it was the idea of "renunciation" promoted by Swami Veda. We were to renounce our comfort at the expense of our health? Well, that could be a yoga idea, but I don't think that is what he had in mind. I think he meant that by less attachment to things, we can better appreciate our relationship to the plants, and trees, and animals, and oceans, and fish (he mentioned them all in his meditation leadership).
I still didn't get this though, so I though maybe if I thought of renunciation in Jewish terms. The 10 commandments? The "do nots" are renunciation of bad actions. That makes sense. Then I found these quotes of the great Jewish Scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel:
"Self-respect is the fruit of discipline, the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself."
"Life without commitment is not worth living."
Can we discipline ourselves? can we say no to excess? can we commit ourselves to relationships, renunciating supposed freedom? It is all in our self interest, really, as it grows self-respect, and awareness of the beautiful world around us.
As one of the speakers reminded us - meditate to remain in an ecological frame of mind that respects relationship. We separate and meditate in order to be more in relationship with every living thing.
What else can we do? I love ritual, as it sets the direction for good actions into the body. This one just came via email from Rabbi Arthur Waskow:
"In some communities, on Yom Kippur there is a tradition of full prostration of all or many congregants during the Avodah service, imitating what the ancient Israelites did at the Temple while the High Priest breathed God's Name.
If this were done outside on the earth, instead of inside on the synagogue floor, and if it were allowed to last 18 minutes, it would reconnect adam with adamah, the human-earthlings with the earth. Our muscles, as well as our minds, could intimately touch the earth, embrace our Mother.
The service could help us commit ourselves to redeem the relationship in our generation."