by Gina Caputo, Colorado School of Yoga Founder & Director
2016 has been a year of getting schooled. Professionally, personally, it’s been a doozy so far and I know I’m not alone. Recently, the great teacher Rod Stryker reminded me that Yoga, which means union, is a practice that also includes its opposite Viyoga, which means division. In other words, to know union, we must explore our division and separation. And 2016 seems to be the year of studying Viyoga; of studying our division in order to dismantle it.
I didn’t identify with the big “isms” this year has showcased, racism, sexism, homophobism…I mean, I’m a YOGA TEACHER and we’re supposed to love everybody. From the comfort of my Boulder, Colorado home and an echo chamber of a loving yoga community, I got angry and sad at so much injustice and hatred and cruelty. It is horrible! And unfathomable! And wrong of those hateful people to treat others that way. How could they??
But beneath the anger and incredulity, I also felt helpless and unsure of how to help. And social media started to scare me into inaction. I wanted to speak up but began to doubt myself, my intelligence, my empathy and my ability to express after seeing many well-intending, but perhaps short-sighted, friends take that leap and then get shot down in a blaze of criticism for their blindness and privileged ignorance. I let my fear of judgement put me into some kind of activism paralysis.
A conversation one day snapped me out of that. I realized that if I was so concerned with what I didn’t know or understand then what I needed was to get schooled. So I started to subscribe, read, pay attention and ask questions. And what I learned HURT. It hurt to be told I was a participant in rampant systemic injustice. My first reactions were defensive. What? Not me! I teach inclusivity, acceptance, tolerance and LOVE. How could I be lumped in with such atrocities?! And yet, somewhere in there I knew there was a kernel of truth in the soil of my privilege.
As an introduction to the practice of meditation, I often explain that it is a bit like turning on a light in a room and all of a sudden you can see everything in vivid detail inside the space. And it’s not all pretty. And when you feel like you can’t stand to look anymore, you turn back around only to find that the switch on the wall has disappeared. And there’s no turning the light back off. So meditation practice made it so that I didn’t just react but also witnessed my defensive reaction. And that awareness is what told me that it was time to study my Viyoga in much greater depth.
I realized that one of the best ways to show my support was to not just feel bad but to LISTEN and STAY OPEN, even when it hurts or makes me feel guilty to do so. And not just externally listen but also internally listen, closer than ever before. How could I advocate for union until I fully understood the ways I participate in division?
Here’s the thing - I don’t have EXPLICIT biases rooted in hate, which would be attitudes and behaviors that I consciously endorse. I felt defensive when I read or heard certain things because I wasn’t consciously thinking or doing things that supported the injustices being brought to light and resented that my not having explicit biases didn’t give me a Get Out Of Hate Jail Free card. I’d like to think that most of us have some sense of our explicit biases, but then again, why is it that every person that gets caught doing atrocious things or posting horrible, hateful things on social media always seems to say “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”. But, I digress…in general, these biases are the kind that you engage in with intention, so they’re more noticeable. And yeah, maybe some of us that identify as “woke” don’t have hateful explicit biases.
Where it gets tricky are IMPLICIT biases. Unlike their conscious counterparts, these are attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Meaning, they’re activated without intention, generally reside deep in our subconscious mind and are more likely than not to go unnoticed. They develop over the course of our lives through privilege (or lack thereof), social learning, personal experience, exposure to direct and indirect messages about others and generally favor our own ingroup and can therefore be divisive (viyoga). Herein lies the work. Because implicit bias results from subtle cognitive processes, one can’t expect to read a blog about it and be on top of it. It takes practice. Enter meditation…
At around the 6th century BCE, the Taittiriya Upanishad was written and yogis learned a map of our consciousness called the Panchakosha or the 5 sheaths of consciousness surrounding our soul (Atman). Through practices that include mantra, visualization, asana and meditation, we cultivate stronger awareness or cognizance of each layer, from gross (body) to subtlest (soul). With a 2600 year old map in hand and a cushion to sit on, we have an opportunity to take advantage of implicit bias’ inherent malleability and access the subtle, illuminate the shadow and reveal the viyoga that is impeding union.
Meditation feels mostly tedious. Sit, breathe, think, observe, repeat. But in building stamina for the practice, we slowly but surely strengthen our ability to notice subtlety, fluctuations and patterns in our minds. Through this noticing, we may be able to thoroughly examine our implicit biases to foster opportunities for intention and change.
Yogis, we are students of consciousness and union. We are resourced with invaluable tools and practices to transcend the regressive patterns, both gross and subtle that keep us in a state of division or Viyoga. I feel like we are uniquely poised to be leaders in change. Please don’t think small. Devote yourself to what you value and love, to what you want to see more of in this world. The opportunity is here, right now. Are you ready to do the work together?
“At this time in history,
We are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves!
For the moment we do,
Our spiritual growth and journey comes to an end.
The time of the Lone Wolf is over!
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done,
In a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are all about to go on a journey,
We are the ones we have been waiting for!”
-Thomas Banyacya Sr. (1910-1999);
Speaker of the Wolf, Fox and Coyote Clan
Elder of the Hopi Nation