Saturday, 24 March 2012

Being conscious of your neighbour

Daisy Waugh related a very interesting story in her Sunday Times column of the 18th of March.  What intrigued me about this piece was not only the event that transpired, but the reactions of the witnesses to what happened.  And it called to mind a certain parable from the gospels.

Along with around 30 fellow students, Daisy had been participating in her bikram yoga class, which is a type of yoga held in a very hot room.  During the session, there was a sudden loud ‘clunk’ as a student collapsed to the floor.  Her companion and the yoga instructor went immediately to help the woman.  The rest of the class stopped what they were doing and looked on, apart from one man in the class who kept on looking at himself in the mirror while performing an asana.   This particular posture, according to Daisy, was very difficult, one that requires 'near pathological levels of focus, self-possession, serenity and concentration.’

Daisy’s reaction to seeing the man’s actions was this: ‘for a period of about 120 seconds he irritated me so much it took every ounce of my willpower not to trot across that hot studio, with a little buck and pretty neigh, and bloody well push him over….I wanted to push that man over more than anything I’ve wanted to do in years. ‘   The emotions Daisy recounts are understandable and ones to which most of us would relate.  She's horrified that someone would not be moved, if not to offer assistance to someone in trouble, to at least show some concern.  Daisy had experienced righteous indignation and I think she demonstrated that most of us know deep inside us a great deal about truth and our gift for compassion.

People say all the time that yoga can be practiced simply for exercise and relaxation and that it needn’t be anything more.  Those things may be by-products of yoga, but they’re not the primary purposes for which yoga was designed.  Yoga is meant to prepare a person to have union with ultimate reality which, in the monistic worldview, is the divine Brahman inhabiting everything and everyone.    The yoking of the personal divine with the cosmic divine occurs during an altered state of consciousness through yoga and meditation.  Even secular social scientists such as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi,  have found that yoga can produce a mental state called ‘flow’  - a single minded immersion and absorption in activity with a corresponding lack of awareness of time or one’s body.  So there is widespread acknowledgement both inside the spiritual discipline and in secular psychology that yoga is not a simple physical activity.  People who undertake it should have some knowledge of the risks: physical, mental and crucially, spiritual.

I think Daisy’s fury was that the man wouldn’t show concern for a fellow human being in trouble.  It’s also quite possible that the man was in an altered state of consciousness and couldn’t show concern for a fellow human being in trouble. Either way, it just doesn’t seem right.  Being excused from holiness because one is working on being closer to the divine seems quite contradictory.  And I think this explains why Daisy’s reaction would resonate with most of us, both those who are believers and those who are not.

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