Yoga as Metaphor, Suffering as Reality

It was one of those unexpectedly commitment-free rainy Saturdays, and I spent much of the day at the computer, mostly dodging work on my novel. Eventually I willed my way through one of Elsie’s yoga podcasts and though there were a couple of shining moments of bliss as I unfurled cramped muscles and remembered the strength of my shoulders, most of my practice was like wading through a personal hell. Marisa over at Creative Thursday talks about whether blogs are “too nicey nicey” and lacking in honesty. Here’s an honest confession: sometimes yoga is not a beautiful affirmation of what it is to be an aware being, sometimes it is just a miserable parade of all of the body’s limitations, the otherwise hidden aches of ligaments and sinews. Sometimes it is like lifting lead weights with nothing but balsa wood bones. Sometimes you cringe at unsightly flesh you never imagine bulged in hidden places and are haunted by memories while you lie prone in pigeon pose. Oh yes, sometimes yoga is transcendence, but how can I talk of it’s solace unless I admit to its torture?

Of course, countless teachers have talked about how yoga is mat-bound metaphor for the rest of life, so mine is not a fresh epiphany. Like so many of the realizations I record on these pages, however, this bit of wisdom didn’t become reality until I actually groaned my way through another miserable bid at a well formed chattaranga. If I am going to apply the lesson that the mat is a microcosm of existence beyond the relative safety of asana, then I must come to the recognition that, despite our noble dreams, sometimes life is truly suffering.

Perfectly illustrating this realizations of the life’s vicissitudes, I came across Bono’s speech to the California Women’s Conference in which he talked about his work with The ONE Campaign and their bid to eliminate global poverty, hunger, and disease. I found his entreaty that we not only care about what is happening to the people of Africa, but to actually do something to be deeply affecting. He closed with “America: We are asking you to help put humanity back on this Earth.”

My struggle on the yoga mat not only made me receptive to the devastating reality that half the world lives on $2.50 per day, but also reminded me how difficult it is to understand true, base need from the middle of a cozy weekend when I berate myself for too many trips to the fridge. To compare the crippling nature of my privilege or a lousy yoga session to the reality of starvation is irresponsible and detestable, and I do not dare to tread on such territory. I only remark on how it is challenging to understand the sheer scale of deprivation and decide how to react to it in a more active fashion than lending my name to another petition.

The revolution that we need will undoubtedly start from within.  Still, I must ask: when must your focus on the internal work expand beyond the borders of your own mind and daily experience to allow yourself to be so affected by the plight of others that it is no longer enough just to pray, but becomes necessary to act?

I think that’s a rhetorical question.

2 thoughts on “Yoga as Metaphor, Suffering as Reality

  1. blisschick October 26, 2008 / 11:19 am


    I couldn’t sleep last night and ended up reading this post — NOT a sleep aid, ha. I stayed awake for some time trying to figure out how I felt about it.

    And it’s funny that you commented on the Jung — I pre-scheduled that post, so in honor of him, a bit of synchronicity at work there!

    The poverty thing…in college, I founded an organization to help the local homeless. State College has higher rents than Philadelphia, thanks to Penn State being there, so the homeless issue is much larger than the idyllic setting would have one believe.

    But we really focused on that area. Then, and now, I believe in local action for local problems. Otherwise I fear we can become so overwhelmed that we become unable to help. I think about how just fifty years ago we would barely know what was going on in other parts of the world. Information overload, I think, creates a disconnect in that it enlarges our individual contexts beyond a scope that we can comprehend.

    So helping a neighbor, helping YOURSELF, is the best thing you can do. In the film Gandhi, at one point, he tells a white minister who has been with them since the beginning that he has to leave, because “India has to help India or it means nothing.”

    I wonder how much poverty in Ireland, for example, Bono could help with. But poverty in Ireland is not cool. (And I don’t mean to sound at all cynical, and I LOVE Bono.) I also wonder when Bono goes on tour how often he stays in a motel 8? My point is that we should clean up our own messes before we start telling other people what they should do. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew what?!)

    And finally, sorry I am going on and on, we mistake material poverty for the greatest of all poverty when it is not. America is a perfect example of that. We are a spiritually bankrupt nation, incapable of even helping ourselves — and the anger that is a result of the bankruptcy is threatening the rest of the world.

    The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.
    –Mother Teresa

    I hope something in this is helpful and not simply pedantic! 🙂 I go on and on about this because it’s really the point of my blog — that you can’t do anything but live the BEST version of your own life; that you are sent here with specific gifts and to use them is your gift to the rest of the world.

  2. girlwhocriedepiphany October 26, 2008 / 7:52 pm

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply… It definitely set me thinking even more deeply on this topic. Today’s post ended up being a long one, and rather meandering. I just wanted to be sure that you understand that I completely respected all that you said and that I am just trying to challenge myself by taking Bono’s words at their own value without his rockstar baggage and all the rest. I completely agree with the fact that it is essential to start with the self and with your immediate surroundings… I think I am just surprising myself both with my resistance to focusing on me and to finding a way to volunteer in my community. A tangled web we human beings are… Again, thank you for reading my words so closely and for offering your wisdom and for helping me learn to live the best version of my life (you definitely succeed at your mission!).

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