How To Take Social Responsibility As a Yogi: A Basic Primer

Monday, August 31, 2020

(This post is an excerpt from an email I sent out several months back, before quarantine from COVID-19 hit.)

This practice: it starts with you, but it doesn’t end with you. We learn that we are connected energetically. We learn to take responsibility for ourselves--healing, finding balance, pausing before reacting, using our tools, being compassionate to ourselves and others--but that responsibility isn’t just to and for us, and it certainly isn’t some kind of holier-than-thou distant passivity. So here are some ways to tune in rather than tune out. 

Set the Stage

Make sure you have started healing from your own traumas and personal mindsets that keep you from self-compassion. If you don’t feel some measure of personal safety (including physical and mental safety), stop. Take care of yourself first. Take however long you need. (But see below re: perfection. Also, since first writing this, it has become clear during quarantine that we are in a sped-up process of clearing our traumas, both individually and collectively. Don't sleep on this!)

Keep up your asana (poses) practice, your breathing exercises, and your meditations, as well as any other rituals that make you feel secure and able to function as best you can. 

Know your triggers, especially if you are prone to depression or anxiety. Be gentle with yourself, and recognize what is too much and what is just enough as you begin this journey. It may take a bit of trial and error. That’s ok. 

Set some boundaries. Limit screen time if that’s what you need. Choose wisely as to what information you let in and with whom you engage. Don’t read comment threads unless you are 100% sure that the folks engaging in dialogue understand what respectful dialogue means and practice it. Include your family, or not, depending on what your situation is. 

Keep this a slow practice. You don’t have to find answers or solve problems, so ditch expectations. You are here first and foremost to learn: about yourself, about the world, and where both meet to get better. 

Yoga Can Guide You

Did you know that there are yogic ethics? The “Ten Commandments” of yoga, in no particular order, are:

  1. Do no harm

  2. Do not steal

  3. Be content with what you have

  4. Keep clean

  5. Use your energy toward yourself and others appropriately

  6. Tell the truth

  7. Don’t be greedy

  8. Cultivate discipline(be consistent) in what you’re passionate about

  9. Study (know) yourself and your guides

  10. Surrender to the Divine

Let these be your guiding principles as you take on social responsibility. Everything you come across, every decision, every vote, everything that you stand up for or against, can be measured against these. 

Learn First, Act Later

If you’ve been turning your face away from cultural realities, then it’s your job to educate yourself, not to discuss or act. Yes, it will probably be uncomfortable. As always, keep yourself safe, but don’t pretend safety means not dealing with issues as gently as you can. This is your responsibility. This is your world. Your understanding--and later, actions--shape your world. 

I recommend starting with an issue that breaks your heart or makes you angry or ashamed. Don’t look away. Look it full on. Take in the feelings but don’t wallow there. Breathe in the feelings of what’s going on and breathe out the assurance of peace that has your back until the peace soothes the feelings. 

Maybe you journal why this issue causes this reaction in you. Spill out your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to take in all the news all at once. One thing. One thing is all you need to start. (This is one place where facing your feelings, which I talk about in my IG stories' highlight, is so important in helping you determine who you are and how you choose to show up in the world.)

Once you’ve found enough peace to look deeper, and you know why you respond the way you do, begin to educate yourself about the issue. Read. Listen. Walk in marches; attend rallies just to listen, to show respect for views around you. View as many sides of the issue as possible, especially if there are folks involved who are not like you (race, culture, socio-economic status, sex, gender, belief, etc.). See the issue from as human a perspective as possible, not simply from talking points. And don’t rely on just one source for your education! 

Your job here is to educate yourself, not to voice your opinion. You are supposedly formulating your opinion with the information you take in. Be honest with yourself in this process, and take your time. But don’t keep “taking time” to get ALL the information just so, because life is happening and perfection is a ploy to get you to stay inactive and irresponsible.

Act Wisely and Compassionately

At some point, you will educate yourself to the point of no longer being able to remain inactive and/or silent.  

When this happens, choose your activity and voice carefully and compassionately. Maybe you start with yourself, switching to eco-friendly consumer goods and companies, for example, or voting with your dollar. Maybe you pay attention to elections, local and nationwide, reading policies and listening to debates. Then you vote according to what you’ve learned. Maybe you go further, signing up to canvas for a candidate, or wearing their button or applying their bumper sticker to your vehicle of choice. 

Or maybe you call your representatives and give voice to the issue(s) that matter to you. Maybe you show up to Town Hall meetings and to city planning meetings and speak up, ask questions. Maybe you submit ideas for helping the issue(s) that speak to you. 

Perhaps you become more vocal online, or with friends and family. (*Caution re: online vocalization. You will receive nasty comments and push-back. Be prepared. Be wise. Be compassionate. Set your boundaries.) Remember that because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are persecuting you. Folks are allowed to disagree (respectfully); that’s how we get to work through issues together instead of polarizing. If you get vocal, learn respectful debate skills. Attacking the person (ad hominum) is not a debate tactic. 

Maybe you decide to not only vote and vocalize, but also volunteer somewhere, or start an organization or non-profit that can help in the interim when legislation isn’t yet available to help with your issue(s). Remember, it’s wonderful to work for/vote for legislation for the future, and it’s wonderful to volunteer to relieve the needs now, but we need both: the now and the not yet. 

Find Your People

Find your people. Not the people who necessarily look like you or act like you, or who are even still alive. Find the people who speak to you, who lift you up, who keep you going when the going gets rough and you want to hide again. Show up for your people the way they show up for you, only better. Be the better person. We can all commit to that. That is enough to start with and end on. 

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