Over the past 10 years of traveling and experiencing yoga around the world and in my home city, one thing has become very clear. A yogi is a person who’s actions are congruent with his/her philosophy. Spiritual circles are rich with philosophy on topics like energy channels, chakras, tantra – you name it! However how many people who speak volumes on the root chakra take measures to care for our earth or honor their ancestors? How many people who know of the second chakra have transparent relationships in sexuality? How many people avidly practicing exercises for awakening the third chakra are aware of their hidden greed for power and prestige? How many people who speak about the heart chakra are loving in their speech, actions, relationships, and express gratitude regularly?
Some of these lessons I witnessed and took most to heart while recently in Peru, staying at the home and healing center of a medicine man in the Sacred Valley. In this home, there was no plastic. There were compostable toilets. The food came off the land. And the money was given to a free school for children so that they could learn and maintain the ways of their ancestors.
I saw true humility, care, and concern for the earth and the resources down to the use of every drop of water and what goes in it, right down to shampoos and soaps made of wachuma cactus. And in this space of what may sound like frugal lifestyle, I saw an undeniable level of beauty and abundance, another dimension. Isn’t that what yoga is about?
How can we even dream of reaching enlightenment, if we do not even live humanely. To be self concerned, in a rush, abusing whole segments of society, the land, and each other and racing to the next tantra workshop is a complete hypocrisy that we all face practicing in concrete cities. The simple yogic adages that “what is inside is also outside”, that “there is no separation”, would then seem to indicate that our love and compassion must extend beyond our individualistic notions of personal wellness. I am inspired on a new level seeing how it is possible, this way of life which denies all of the temptations, apathy, and laziness that plague our capitalist societies and trick us into destroying the planet that gives us life.
In this Sacred Valley when songs are sung to the Mother Earth, it is not just lip service. There is an awareness that I believe touches the original intentions of the great sages and saddhus. Throughout my travels I have seen throughout the world from East Indian temples to our local churches, deep and faithful prayers followed by a community buffet using styrofoam plates and plastic forks. Where faith divorces from material reality, we as yogis are falling back into ignorance. The congruent lifestyle in this space in Peru showed me that no matter how much I have worked to be mostly vegetarian for the past 20 years, practice pranayama, yoga, recycle paper and plastic, and run community-oriented yoga studios, I have become lazy and apathetic simply by participating in some of the conventions of society. Eating out frequently in places which give food in plastic or purchasing food that is shipped from afar, needlessly using printers, collecting junk mail where I could be getting on lists that reject this kind of mail – my recycling bins fill quickly and add to my footprint. The shampoos I use could be more friendly to the earth; I could research ways to make my own from natural materials.
And after coming back from Peru, these kinds of projects have added to the quality of my life. I cook more from natural grains, try new recipes, have joined a CSA. I sing more and remember more that the meaning of these spiritual songs must come forth in my actions. I have a long ways to go to end my hard and fast lifestyle of hypocrisy but an enjoyment from this growth process. Yogis are often concerned with changing patterns and we think of these grooves (samskaras) as simply in our thoughts, but the proof of change is also in the pudding, our actions. There is an ecstasy that comes with congruency, true awareness. There is a clarity and a dignity in true connection with the earth, the stars, the fire, and the breath. It is our birthright to feel this dignity and connection. What stands in our way is simply conditioning, hopelessness, greed, habits, and the illusion of isolation.
We often wonder what is the root of our depression here in the United States; you know that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction that we often remedy by picking up the phone or a fork or the television remote? That innate loneliness can be remedied by feeling all the time that we are connected to a great mother below our feet. This is not some hippy speech – it is a universal truth for us all and the most basic of spiritual realization; simply put, if you are reading this, you live on the earth. And by respecting her truly, you can not but be in awe of the beauty and diversity that she expresses.
I can no longer sit on this couch and pretend that I am alone; and what a relief; AND what a responsibility that is. “With more consciousness comes more responsibility” says Alonso Del Rio, the director of the healing center and founder of the free school. And when I see his congruency, I am relieved to be able to say I have a teacher. And when I hear those words I feel only excitement about changing my ways, as this level of integrity leads to ecstasy, true heart opening. I experienced a glimpse of this ecstasy there while in an intense dieta which was a practice which included painful fasting, vipassana meditation (with permissible only music and only functional kinds of talk), and nauseating plant medicines. I gained a new awareness that my own ecstasy is my own choice and it is connected to where I choose to place my focus. With no sugar or salt or inducing chemicals from food and drink, I got to see the power of my mind and focus. While fasting and holding relative silence, I could focus on something negative and immediately feel the rush of sensations and chemicals in my body produced by those thoughts or I could see the beauty of the earth in front of me and immediately shift to gratitude. By contrast I could feel the rush of chemicals produced from gratitude. With silence, I saw the potency of words of kindness, how invisible vibrations of hatred or love are so often transmitted through the simplest words like “will you clean this dish”, and how powerfully healing is song.
Our chakras, if you want to conceptualize them, are not simply “opened” through yoga asanas. You can become aware of their physical locations. But if you want to know how you are doing, look at everything from the toothpaste in your mouth to forgiveness of your family and the very thought passing through your mind in this moment. Is it creating painful chemicals in your body? Can you redirect your mind to become your best friend and live in a state of gratitude? This understanding is deep within the Andean cultures and cultures which honor the earth. And again, I see the work ahead for me in my own life, here in Baltimore where the rubber meets the road.
With deep gratitude and respect to Alonso and this Sacred Valley, let us connect our work in a small way; at Baltimore Yoga Village for the next year we are giving $10 from every sale of every 10 class pass to the Alonso’s free school, Winaypak.
It is really a small contribution towards recalling that we are a human family. It is simply a small offering in order to remember our beautiful earth and the centuries of wisdom that we must keep alive if we ourselves want to be alive as a species, and beyond that, to raise up our level of humanity.