Yoga In Troubled Times

Published on 25 April 2024 at 19:04

The role of self-inquiry in times of global crisis 

The images of war are devastating, and many of the things happening in the world are heartbreaking. Pain or emptiness in the heart may be one of the many feelings we experience. Rage, helplessness, numbing out, and despair may be others. Looking away and ignoring anything too troublesome is another option. If we can allow it in, we will likely feel challenged and want to do something to help.

I was in Nicaragua in 2018 when civil unrest and government-sponsored violence erupted.  My personal connection and involvement in the event forced me out of the denial that what was happening on a global scale had nothing to do with me. I became desperate to help, but my attempts at helping failed—or at least they failed to make “me” feel better. 

Ultimately, my outward efforts at helping were well intended, but they weren’t really about the outside - they were about me avoiding my own inner conflicts. I eventually landed at such an extreme place of despair and powerlessness from trying to change everything around me that I collapsed.  Nothing I was doing to change the world was stopping the panic, despair, anxiety, and inconsolable frustration. I was finally forced to turn inward to the site of the original battlefield. I had to do what was actually being asked of me, which was not to play a big, important-seeming moral role in the outside world. I was being asked to look within and address my body full of fear in a vulnerable, raw, truthful type of way.

My desperation to help, save, fix, and stop a war was actually coming from a place of severe buried trauma, a place of self-protection, and a place of self-avoidance. I didn’t want to feel my own inner sensations and insecurities. I didn’t want to feel guilty. I wanted to be seen as good. I was desperate to be influential.  I was acting as if I was the general manager of the universe. I was a royal mess inside. Since 2018, a great deal of inner turmoil has been resolved through the work of deep body-based trauma healing, but definitely not all of it. It is now a daily practice to tend to whatever sensation or feelings are happening within my body first and then my mind before tending to what is happening outside of me. 

I don’t have an opinion about what other people should or shouldn’t do in the face of an ongoing global crisis; I just know from experience that the purpose of what is happening on the outside, in the unique way it is hitting me, is to get my attention on the inside. 

I have learned that my patterns of automatic reactivity often stem from deep-rooted vulnerabilities and did not start with the war in the Middle East, the nightly news, or whoever happens to be bugging me. However, these patterns are the same as the ones we see playing out globally, perpetuating pain, conflict, and suffering—the things many of us want to see end.  

Every day, I’m challenged by my own reactivity. Moments where I feel, behave, and think in automatic and unhelpful ways. I lost my temper with a customer service agent a few days ago. It was awful. I was rude and mean to someone who was just doing their job. When I sat with myself and examined my reaction, I realized that I was feeling entitled to get more than I paid for. 

Every day, I am challenged to release my own sense of supremacy over the universe and remember that if I want to see something change on the outside, I have to change something on the inside. Many times, it isn’t me being an asshole, but instead, it has to do with being more forgiving and trusting of my own deep self and the universe. 

Going to yoga may seem luxurious or frivolous when society is collapsing around us, but I have found it to be one of the more powerful ways to move in the direction of this kind of necessary inner work. It helps prepare us to sit quietly with our bodies and ourselves and listen to and feel what is happening within us. To allow what needs to come up to come up. When we can sit with ourselves, the inner turmoil may even begin to resolve itself, and perhaps eventually, we may discover a response to the outer world that comes from a deeper place within. A response that comes from peace and a response that contributes to outer peace. 

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