Monday, February 21, 2011

Yoga Teachers Join the Wisconsin Protests

We woke up this morning to another pile of snow here in Minnesota. Winter has officially gotten old. Meanwhile, in the neighboring state of Wisconsin, protests against Governor Walker's anti-union, anti-worker budget plans have made it a week so far. I have been to Madison many times. I have even lobbied in the state capital building, back when I was an undergraduate college student. So, seeing all of this happening is totally exciting, no matter the outcome.

Amongst the protesters have been a couple of yoga teachers, seen above striking a pose.

It should not be ignored, given what's been going on all over the Middle East, that one of the first things Governor Walker did was threaten to bring on the National Guard. Apparently bringing in the military isn't just the favored option of dictators. Meanwhile, complaints about teachers shutting down schools, and bringing their Cadillac Health Plans pile up from both right wing pundits, and average citizens whose diets have too many mainstream media calories. It's really sad to watch middle class and poor people beat up on other middle class and poor people because they have just a little more. And this is really what it has come down to. Greed and envy are stoked amongst the general populace, which then spills into anger and hatred.

Some people get really frustrated with my insistence that the social and political can't be separated from our spiritual lives and practices, but it's hard not to see how they are inter-related in situations like this. Corporate interests have spent the last 70 years whittling away at collective bargaining, and all forms of unionization, to the point where barely 10% of U.S. workers have anything resembling group workers rights. And corruption in some of the largest unions has added to this disintegration, both in terms of limiting average worker rights, but also by giving corporate interests an easy target.

So, it's quite a challenge for the average employee in a company or non-profit to look around, see the step up that many unionized workers have, and not feel some envy. And when you couple that with political parties, corporations, and corporate driven media outlets all saying things like "Look at those greedy people! They won't give their fair share during these trying times!," it's even more difficult for the non-unionized masses to have some equanimity - enough to examine the dominant trends, and see what's happened historically that has led to this present.

I want to extend some empathy towards members of the Tea Party groups. While it's true they have been stirred up and partially funded by wealthy power brokers, they are also composed of mostly middle class folks who are responding to increasingly difficult economic conditions. I don't agree with most of their conclusions, but I see the grassroots quality of the local groups, and recognize that both Tea Party folks and, for example, those protesting in Wisconsin understand the value of collective effort. Both sides "get it" that those at the top have mostly turned their backs, and need to be shaken out of their privileged slumber.

I even want to feel some empathy for those uber wealthy folks, most of whom mistakenly believe that they are entitled to their millions and billions, and that they did it all themselves - that they earned it all, and shouldn't have to give it up. The massive delusion of earning it all yourself. The willful ignoring of all the publicly financed infrastructure, big business friendly laws, labor of one's employees, even the good fortune of the sun coming up every day are habitual views deeply ingrained and hard to remove. And they are one of the things that have actually trickled down from the wealthy. I can't count the number of times that "I did it myself" thought has arisen for me, as well as an accompanied stinginess around money and material possessions that I have, but don't ultimately NEED.

In all honestly, I rarely feel any empathy for corporate and political elites, but the more I at least make the attempt, the easier it gets. And empathy doesn't equal apathy. My criticisms of the now globalized military-industrial complex are often too fierce for even some of my closest friends. This is where spiritual practice steps in. You balance fierce questioning and skillful means, with empathy and non-enemy making. At least, that's what I aim to do.

The gross imbalances between those at the top of the material possession pyramid and the rest of us can't be ignored. In fact, I really can't locate a place within the spiritual traditions I am a part of where I can support those imbalances. They are not only unethical, but could be considered forms of violence. Violence against our selves and others. Violence against the planet.

So, certainly, doing asana or meditation at a protest won't be the thing that changes all of this. However, much of mass social changes is about the accumulation of tiny drops into the pond. The little shifts in consciousness. Even the accumulation of little failures that eventually lead people to Right Action on a larger scale.

While the snow piles up here - and in Wisconsin - drops of justice and liberation are being added to many ponds, across the world. Step outside, and listen to the birds. What is that sound you here?


Ji Hyang said...

speaking at a rally for Wisconsin unions tomorrow, on being the change we seek--

Nathan said...

great! hope all goes well...