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Yoga, Covid, And The Wrong Path

body-mind-and-soul

The search for a higher reality has brought out the spiritual yearning of countless people. This was true many centuries ago and is true today. Following your own spiritual path amounts to a mass movement that grows one person at a time. Each seeker defines a personal goal reflecting deep wishes, dreams, and ideals.

But what happens when the path itself has lost its hold on reality? I’ve read scattered stories about the yoga community that links some members, the smallest of minorities, that resist being vaccinated against Covid-19 and buy into conspiracy theories like QAnon. If all it took was common sense to change their minds, they wouldn’t still be clinging to such strange examples of irrationality.

But if you cast your net farther, the same thread runs through the wellness community as well, particularly the anti-vaccination mindset. It’s mistaken and unfair to use a fringe group as the tar that stains everyone else. The yoga and wellness communities consist of people with higher sensitivity to health, self-care, and consciousness than the general public, and that’s the image we should keep in mind.

But the word “reality” keeps coming to mind, because when you seek some version of higher reality, you face a problem. What should you do with the reality you are escaping from? Should you look at the evening news and tell yourself that everything you see is unreal, an illusion, the work of Maya? Should you distrust the illusion so deeply that you refuse to buy into science, for example? These temptations are not simply a matter of common sense. They go to the heart of what you want your life to be.

Yoga means union in Sanskrit, and the kind of union that is meant is the union of the world “out there” and the world “in here.”  This goal immediately leads to a potential mistake. Unlike the average person, who places his whole faith on the physical world “out there,” trusting in science, technology, and everything involved in making your way through the world, you turn the picture upside down. As a spiritual person you turn your back on materialism and everything the world “out there” offers. You place your faith on the subjective world, the domain of insight, intuition, and epiphany “in here.”

This shift in attitude, for some people at least, justifies not being vaccinated. On one hand there is a rejection of medical science; on the other is trust that your own instincts or intuition will tell you if getting vaccinated is right for you. To the average person this sounds antisocial, solipsistic, and outright crazy. And it bears repeating that the vast majority of the yoga and wellness community do not think this way.

It is possible, after all, to use common sense and be spiritual at the same time. But I’d like to address the essential mistake, because it spreads far beyond whether you trust medicine, science, the government, the media, and social networks. Yoga isn’t about promoting one side of reality over the other. It is about overcoming the conditioning that makes us separate the two worlds “out there” and “in here.”

This conditioning falls under the heading of dualism, and every one of us is trapped in its mindset. We see reality as either/or, all the way down to the basic division between pleasure and pain. Yoga, along with Buddhism and other Eastern traditions, teaches that the oscillation between pleasure and pain is inescapable. Likewise, the conflict between “in here” and “out there” is inescapable. Facts versus feelings is only one aspect of the duality mindset, but it happens to be the one at the center of both anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. Facts are ignored on behalf of a feeling that something fishy is going on, and it is going on everywhere.

Yoga teaches that the only solution is to transcend the whole game that duality sets up. You seek not God or the gods but the essence of who you are. This essence is your source, the field of pure consciousness that lies at the heart of everything. This is a unitary or monistic position. It does not favor facts or feelings—we are all torn between the two anyway—but labels them both the products of duality. Life in duality is a series of forced and unforced choices. Having made a choice we live with the consequences and move on to the next choice.

The outcome is always a muddle.  We build up a personal story riddled with thousands of experiences, and the most potent experiences, whether of pain or pleasure, limit and define who we are. This isn’t just a matter of trying to get the most positive things out of life and avoiding the most negative things. It’s a matter of identity. The vast majority of human beings are silently living out the strongest of all beliefs: “I am my story.”

Yoga calls this a fundamental mistake. You are more than your story; you are a field of infinite possibilities. You are the whole of reality. You are consciousness itself.  These are whopping great ideas, all quite foreign to the conditioning we were all exposed to since birth. Each idea must be tested personally, because nothing is true in spiritual life unless it is true for you. And so the personal journey begins.

It might seem that the wellness and self-care movements are a separate issue, but they aren’t. The flavor of duality taught in medical school separates the mind and body, adding a strong emphasis on trusting the body above all else. The wellness movement is founded on uniting mind and body into a single whole, the bodymind. The link to yoga is clear.

Once you straighten out the muddle, you can stop choosing to be the same as the person next to you or different from the person next to you. You stop giving so much weight to whether society is right or wrong, government good or bad, science to be trusted or distrusted. These aspects of the passing scenery will engage you much less than your journey, which is to find out what reality is about, reclaiming your wholeness, and breaking the grip of mind-made shackles.

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