In Chinese the characters making up the word 'crisis' are described as consisting of two elements. The first is danger and the second is opportunity. Understood as a fashionable and perhaps esoteric way of decoding Chinese characters, it is meant to imply a crisis equals a challenge or benefit.
Some linguists, however, disagree with this interpretation stating that it is muddled way of not only unravelling Chinese characters but looking at life. Victor Mair (a Chinese professor) states the understanding of the characters as implying an opportunity in the midst of danger is inaccurate. Furthermore, he feels it is foolish to go looking for benefits during a crisis. Mair's position is one in which he feels many people have been led "astray" by a romantic notion of there being a benefit from an unstable situation. Read: danger + crisis
Being curious about these arguments it is interesting how several self-help books and pseudo spiritual ones have rested on this description. But when a crisis like the recent one in Japan happens, it is almost a human need to try to find the good in this serious bad. Such a crisis can feel unreal, unfathomable and somehow distant. This distance should heighten not decrease the seriousness of the state of our world today. Is it enough, however, to recognize the global warning? Do we see this, but fail to commit ourselves to how we can make a difference? Why does it take a crisis to wake us up?
We probably need to be reminded how we are all part of this crisis (both near and far away). If we fail to recognize our part it is similiar to what the Buddhists and Yogis claim as ‘wrong-view’ or avidya (i.e., lacking the right understanding or perception). While it seems as if we are losing sensitivity and becoming disconnected to nature, each other and events around the world the truth is we are interconnected, and interdependent. What happens over there affect us on a global level, if not on a personal one. Slowly, slowly, we are seeing the effects of this on many levels; i.e., food, environment, products, water, air, etc., etc.
The crisis in Japan has become a call all over the world for help and to ACT. In many ways, it also forces us to re-evaluate our position; both economically and socially. Some people write blogs, tweet or send out mass e-mails. Some people are more private in their reflection. But no one stands immune.
In the West we live in a relatively comfortable environment. Few of us know or fear war or natural disasters. After making a dozen trips to India and having lived in South Korea for two yeras, there is a difference in the way Eastern people see, react and view life. What Georg Feuerstein (a Sanskrit scholar and historian) referred to as the West not having the context to insert the traditions of the East in, is now a growing concern in how we live and see ourselves in relation to others. He states in Yoga Unveiled (a DVD documentary on the history and tradition of Yoga) that the East is closer to death and impermanence; in the West we cover it up. While this may feel like a huge generalization it carries validity. People are more isolated in the West (re: a larger number of people live alone) and often lack a sense of family and possibly even community.
Far too often we have begun to see and treat each other as separate; moving away from our connection to the Earth itself. A recent study found that people who live closer to nature are less aggressive than those who are around a single tree (reference source from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Other studies have also shown there is a part of the brain understood to be rejuvenated by spending time in nature as well as animals. This explains why people feel refreshed by taking a walk or going to the park.
But why don’t we respect nature more?
Just the other day I watched someone throw their garbage out their car window. It is this kind of ignorance on a small level that ruins Mother Earth. We can rationalize our way out of our behaviours, but in the end it only speaks to the sense of ‘lack’, non-caring and disconnectedness.
According to the ancient texts we are living in the Kali Yuga age (the Dark or Iron age). This is understood as a time in which human beings are the furtherest away from the divine, inner peace and even God (if you will). There is no doubt we live in very uncertain, unsteady and unexpected times. Swami Veda Bharati (a direct disciple of Swami Rama and meditation teacher) wrote the following in reaction to the Japanese crisis:
Some people may claim this is hog-wash and a natural disaster is a natural disaster. But are we not to blame for the imbalances that exist in the world? Or take responsibility? Krishnamurti (a great Indian spiritual teacher) used to say if we blame society we should blame ourselves as well. After all who is society? There are so many troubles going on right now. It has already been predicted in the year 2050 we will have lost 20% of our birds. The ocean will be more corroded than in its entire history of existence. Who has caused this to happen? Who lives on this planet Earth? Krishnamurti's questions are right on.
I started this essay with the confusion over the elements of the Chinese characters in the word 'crisis'. It often being described as the equation DANGER = OPPORTUNITY. While I do not think anyone would naturally go looking for this, I am prone to believe we almost have to come to this conclusion or at least consider the possibility. That is, what good can arise from the bad? It is perhaps a human need to make sense of the senseless even if illogical and inaccurate. If we cannot change the world, perhaps it will be enough to reflect on what we are doing right now. When we eat something, buy something, gather more possessions or decide to do anything, can we remind ourselves of its greater impact? Does it hurt me? The environment? Other people?
The rock band Coldplay puts it nicely, “Am I a part of the cure or Am I a part of the disease?”
Remember the donation box at the school? With everyone's loose change The Yoga Way raised $323.66! This is a wonderful charity for women. A very important resource and haven that hopefully many of us will not need to use. The money helps improve telephone lines and in different lanaguages (157, as I was told)....great.
This ought to cheer us up on a dreary March day; same with this interesting photo. Sort of resonates starkness, clarity, coolness and perspective.
Twitter updates too. The monies raised for SSO recently was great as well.
It was a great day at the school. Long standing students, new ones, a teacher from another tradition, sacred friends and my next door neighbour came out to show their support!
This class took place as a part of the 6th annual Yogathon to raise money for SSO, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. In terms of energy (and as a great believer in this) we ran the class simultaneously to many other yoga classes taking place across the GTA. Fun and doing something for a very good cause definitely go together well.
For this class I opened it up; not teaching it in the traditional style of AtmaVikasa (http://theyogaway.com/yoga-meditation.html). Taking the suggestions from the participants we worked on konasansa (everyone's favorite), forward bends and the beloved squat. I threw in a few arm pressure postures, which I think everyone should learn to do.
We raised...a decent $423.00! For a single class it is not half bad.
So very special thanks to everyone involved. Including, as well, those students who donated but could not make it.
The Journey So Far
- Heather Morton
- is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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