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Can We Make Things Better?

in YogOpinions

changeby J. Brown

Transformation is a catchword in yoga circles. Wanting to see things change, both personally and societally, is often what motivates people to practice. But the ability to bring about change does not always correspond with things getting better. Life has a curious way of balancing our desire for something new with the obstinate reality of the way things are.

Positive thinking is the logical inclination as a new year begins. Doesn’t make sense to belabor that which is not working when looking to forge anew. Then again, glossing over deficiencies will likely create too shaky a foundation to support whatever we might be able to bring about going forward. And while things have improved and may not seem in the same sort of immediate crisis as only a few years ago, we would be remiss if we did not admit that much remains quite messed up on a lot of fronts.

Needing the world to change is untenable.

Whatever political bent you may be, malaise and unrest are no good for anyone. The serious problems that everyone agrees we face are not being addressed, at least not in a time frame that instills any sort of confidence. Polls suggest this dissatisfaction is far reaching. And we certainly are not getting any reassurance from our leaders, who may be only slightly less at fault then the corrupted system they become part of when in power.

Banding together to promote social and political change is the only viable way to address the broader issues from within the system. When rallied behind what is right about humanity, there is weight behind the masses’ will. This is where folks in the yoga world see the possibility to be of service and have rallied their efforts in the name of many fine causes.

But it is also true that bringing about social and political change is a hard and thankless calling that often bears its fruits in disheartening ways. Victories are easily offset by the machinations of unseen hands that wield influence surreptitiously. Liberty for all is a long and slow trudge. And tying our sense of personal well being to socioeconomic forces, that are beyond the control of any one individual, means relinquishing a power best claimed on higher terrain than where money and politics reside.

Embracing and creating favorable experiences that add to the overall equation is something tangible we can do.

I have recently been struck by the number of deeply thoughtful people I know, who are usually stalwarts of positive mental attitude and forward thinking, expressing sincere and profound doubts about the state of affairs. I, too, find myself at a loss to make a strong case that everything is going in a good direction. We are all certainly justified in feeling upset by so much injustice, confusion, and fear. With such an abundance of crap around us all the time it’s not easy to find our way to what is uplifting. And because the effort to do so is usually happening in the context of a daily life that is already far too burdensome and overtaxing, we end up resenting the fact that we have to work so hard just to feel OK.

Given these unreasonable circumstances, I have found that being nurturing and supportive towards myself is imperative. Motivation alone will not suffice. And if my attempts to bring about change are overly couched in the context of things being broken and needing to be fixed, I end up overreaching for results, impeding my efforts and reinforcing the notion that nothing can ever get better.  The experience I have while doing whatever it is I think is warranted is not only playing into my perceptions of how things are but will inevitably shape the outcome of my effort. And only after truly tending to myself and my immediate community first might I be in a position to see about contributing to something larger.

Progress is best felt in the absence of effort.

Despite the horror and suffering of the world at large, there are many aspects of our lives, right in this moment, that are not the least bit messed up. And it behooves us to embrace those aspects and prioritize them so that our lives are not only filled with all that is awry, but also celebrates all that is joyous. This will likely warrant some amount of effort. Our patterns are just too deeply ingrained to coast and have it all go the way we’d like. Discipline is generally required in order to cast ourselves in as-yet undefined grooves. Finding vehicles to cultivate and support that discipline is perhaps where our efforts are best placed.

But let’s be clear, if we do not also allow for experience outside of exerting will, then our good intentions backfire and eclipse everything else. Rarely do things feel better while we are making an effort. All the planning, worrying, organizing, and practicing we do is important. We need to make the effort. But, ultimately, it is in the relinquishing of our efforts that we feel ourselves as we are and gain perspective on the nature of things and the role we play in them, however they come to pass. So going forward, may we not only meet the challenges before us with strategic and bold effort but equally ensure time off and appreciation for the small treasures of any given day.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com.



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