Tuesday, November 29, 2016

by John Valusek

Empathy is terribly important right now. We are asked to dig seriously deep. And what a fucking challenge. The gasoline fires of hate will immolate us regardless of political stance, privilege, or sound convictions.
For those of us fortunate enough (and can we recognize just how lucky we truly are?) to have incorporated regular practices of growth, insight, and well-being into our lives, we have a unique advantage to (potentially) call upon inner resources of (increased, not inexhaustible) patience and tolerance, a wider sphere of interpersonal inclusivity, in the face of, frankly, collective murderous outrage.
Yoga, for example, might be an anchor into something approximating sanity. Righteous anger, if untempered, won't find its sustained source of fuel in the obliteration of oppression, ignorance and terrible injustice, but in the mind and body of the passionate and socially-minded person overcome with rage. Enter: self-restraint, also self-care.


Needless to say, the election hit us like a bomb. In the aftermath there has been a rallying cry in certain circles, perhaps rightly so (see Charles Eisenstein's article, The Election: of Hate, Grief, and a New Story), toward understanding the other and fostering something akin to a fragmented but intentional unity with different factions along the sociopolitical landscape.
I was suffering with the intensity of emotions the night of the election and the day following. I could feel the animal impulse to violence. The atmosphere is too charged for extreme reactivity; without entirely numbing out, a salve was and is needed to maintain feelings as healthy catalysts and not additional layers of destructive pain; we needed to take it down a notch.
What followed in the spiritually hallowed hills of Yogaland (some at least), however, was an element of laziness in relationship to social ills for the sake of a premature peace. This already somewhat lengthy post germinated in response to the tone of sentimental hand-holding with contrary points of view pertaining to everything from the president-elect to indigenous rights and environmental protection.

In regards to a well-intentioned post I encountered today, the heart of which read: "All perspectives are right, all are valid."
I've gone and had a reaction. While this might be a useful thought experiment in empathy expansion and the transcendence of limiting biases, this approach... just doesn't sit well with me... What do we mean by "right"? And by "valid"?
There is validity in that perspective arises, and may concretize, from subjective experience: my faucets run water of varying and specified temperatures when I, of my own seeming volition too mind you, turn these knobs on my sink; my bathtub and showerhead likewise bend to my will (with the occasional nudge from the plumber); drinking water is plentiful, whether from the bottle, filtered, or direct from the tap.
"We're good, we have water. This is great."
Yes, an apparent validity could indeed be argued to arise from the perception of this relative truth.
Is this "right"? Certainly we have *a* right to our perspective. But no perspective exists above critique; we are charged as the heirs of evolution with questioning our own thoughts and deepest held beliefs, and the ideals of others, and conversely, with welcoming external critique of that which appears to us as given, sacrosanct and unquestionable in our often less-than-entirely-acknowledged worldviews.
We must find ways to connect; we are in this together.
Empathy is the gateway.
But I posit that all worldviews are in fact not created equal.
Another cries: "Destroy it before it destroys us."
From where did this perspective arise?
In regard to the construction of oil pipelines, it's a well-established fact that they are dangerous. It isn't a matter of if there will be an accident, spill or leak, but when. In specific regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline and it's corresponding physical point of protest in North Dakota, destruction of sacred native sites notwithstanding, a spill at that location along the Missouri River would stand to contaminate the water of some 17 million people. And in regard to climate change at large and our relationship to continued fossil fuel consumption, there is a sobering wealth of reliable and unanimously agreed upon data indicating that we may well already be beyond an event horizon of irrevocable environmental damage; irreversible heating is already well underway and will continue likely unabated through the mechanism of "positive feedback loops" (e.g., warming temperatures melt arctic permafrost which releases tremendous amounts of methane which continues the cycle of increased warming caused by the atmospheric presence of increasingly high concentrations of greenhouse gases); there is no more time. We are entirely out of it. The system that continues to thoughtlessly, mercilessly, and *aggressively* burn fossil fuels tightens the stranglehold that chokes us (and future generations) all:
"Destroy it before it destroys us."
Clearly I have my own perspective here. And ideally, it morphs, learns and grows, incorporates others, and isn't so deadlocked in catastrophization that it dehumanizes large swaths of the (mostly American) population with whom it disagrees.
But while seeing past the walls of an uncompromising, static viewpoint is an essential leap of growth toward maturity, consciously choosing an informed perspective is an equally necessary act. What is the full arc of spirituality if not transcendence followed by a return to ground and earth and humanity, the vastness contained within the limitations of an entirely new yet still finite being.
And as far as "valid" and "right" go, from the extremely biased (and, yes, unenlightened) chair upon which I sit, there isn't a moment's hesitation in declaring the dueling perspectives of business-as-usual and radical, immediate change as being entirely unequal points of view, interpretations of an ultimate and non-conceptual reality though they may fundamentally both be.
When the fires of discernment, keen *judgment*, and decisive action meet the balm of interpersonal understanding, empathy, and self-restraint may the true blade of yoga be forged.