Tag Archives: religion

What We Don’t Know

I am currently studying Islam and the Quran through an online course with Harvard University because I was aware of my ignorance when it came to the religion and belief system that over a billion people ascribe to today. I suspected that what I had been exposed to through media and the opinions of others wasn’t entirely accurate or fact-based, and as someone who believes that all talk of God should be talk of peace, I wanted to investigate.

It turns out I was right. Islam, from my very little time exposed to it, seems to be about compassion and mercy. Aligned with the Judeo-Christian history of revelations compiled into book form, Islam is also very aligned with the Yoga teachings which ask us to place God above all else. Not what CNN would have us believe, apparently.

The first question we were asked in this course is how do we know what we know about Islam and Muslims? A seemingly innocuous question, at least until I really started thinking about it. Which led to asking myself how I know most of what I think I know.

We talk shit a lot of the time. We babble on about topics that we are not properly informed about, and yet we keep on talking.

This week’s classes will bring all of this together by asking students the following questions:

How do you know what you know? About what’s right for you? About what’s right for others? About what’s right and wrong? About what you’re meant to be doing with your time? About how you’re meant to love? About who you’re meant to love? About how you receive love? About money? About sex? About rest? About stress? About health issues?

What is your source of information? Is it Google? Is it your parents or guardians who brought you up? Is it the media? Is it what you overheard from others? Is it through the news wire? And is it viable? Is it a source that speaks from fact or from assumption? Is it based in truth or in fear?

Now let’s look at what you know even though you don’t know how you know it. About the difference between right and wrong. About how to treat others, regardless of their skin color or the language they speak or the god they pray to or who they feel compelled to love. About what your life is meant to represent. About what the lives of others are meant to represent.

1) Know that ideology, on any subject, is dangerous without applying that ideology face to face with the people it involves. One can have a million opinions, but those opinions can also be transformed in a second by seeing the faces and walking in the shoes of those they involve.

2) Trust that if it makes you uncomfortable or invokes fear, you need to know more about it. That sensation or emotion of fear is a messenger begging you to look a little deeper. If we all made the effort to dig a little deeper we would find commonality. Every time.

3) If you’re gonna talk, speak fact. Opinion is already saturating our culture. Opinion is killing us. From the mind-numbing chatter of all the talking heads employed by news media conglomerates to endlessly babble stupidity into our personal spaces to the cowards who sit behind the safety of their black mirrors, puffed-up with their false sense of self-importance, spewing hate and judgement through social media on 140 characters or less. Opinion is harming us. What you put out into the world, whether it be through your word (spoken or written) or your actions, has the potential to heal or to harm. Unfortunately, the default when mindlessness is part of the equation, is harm. We harm easier than we heal. Changing that vibration into one of healing can only happen by speaking fact, not emotionally charged opinion. More importantly, we must be able to say, “I don’t know” when we really don’t have enough information to responsibly contribute to the narrative. Even more importantly? Know when not to speak. Silence, in the proper contexts, is golden. It’s grace, it’s power, it’s action disguised as inaction.

We have got to start taking more responsibility for what we project into the world. If it feeds hate, judgement, separation or fear, then we have to acknowledge that and do the work that is ours to do, a teaching that is rooted in the Bhagavad Gita. If it feeds healing and love, then we are living in alignment with why we are here and what we are meant to do with our time.

We are not here to judge or hate or blame or fear. And why does it take disasters that shake us to the core to wake up to that realization? Because we are asleep. We are encouraged to stay docile and meek because that’s how we can be herded in whatever directions governments and corporations want to us to move in.

Let’s wake up a bit more today. Let’s set an intention to continue waking up a bit more every day. Set that intention every day, and every evening, before sleeping, identify how you’ve become more awake in the day that is ending.

This is up to us. No one is going to do this work for us. For you. For me. So let’s do it. It can only lead to good.

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Universally Speaking

Living my life in Yoga has brought me many things including an overall sense of peace coupled with the desire to know and be able to pass on all insightful information, but one of the greatest things I’ve found myself enriched by is the need and ability to process and deconstruct said information and be able to contest what I find questionable. My first couple of hours in teacher training in 2009 found me ready to abandon my plans as a teacher simply because some of what I was hearing from those leading the course conflicted greatly with what I then felt strongly about. I brought my concerns to friends, who reminded me that regardless of my eagerness to start a new chapter of my life and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, I always had the right to take what information I deemed relevant and leave that which I felt didn’t serve me. It was with that ambitious reserve that I threw myself back into my training with abandon and into my career to date.

There is a lot of information to process from the Yogic teachings, all of which can discombobulate the most grounded of people. Filtering through and processing it all may indeed prove to be exhausting, but allowing yourself to challenge what you consider true is always enlightening and more often than not, illuminating. One aspect of Yoga continues to this day to challenge my beliefs, and I believe that it poses some of the same questions for others as it does me. The Yogic scriptures and teachings bring everything back to one thing: union. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to unite or to yolk. We refer most often to the union of the mind, body and breath…the aim of which is to return or reunite with the source of all life, which is most often referred to as God in the teachings. This poses somewhat of a problem for me.

I am not a religious person. At all. I was raised in a Jewish environment, being brought to synagogue for all the High Holidays throughout my youth until I absolutely refused to continue participating in what I felt was a ridiculous farce to mask superficiality and ego in the shroud of tradition. My experience with synagogue was being surrounded by men and women dressing up to the nines boasting about their possessions and accomplishments, all the while gossiping about each other and then “humbly” returning to their seats to mumble through the prayers. I played the game myself, bringing my own reading material to hide behind the prayer-book so that I wouldn’t go out of my mind with boredom listening to what I felt was an incredibly archaic system of demonstrating one’s faith. I have since heard similar experiences being recounted my friends from other faiths, which reinforced my aversion to religion. All of that combined with the knowledge that mostly all religions across the spectrum are exclusive, telling us that we are the chosen people, that others are somehow “less than” we are, completed my break from organized religion. Yoga teaches that we are all connected, that there are no levels of worth and that the ego is our greatest enemy, something I have believed from the time that I first learned to think for myself.

With all that said, I do believe in a higher power from which we all derive and from where the essence that we all possess resides. I understand that it is this power and essence that is referred to in the Yogic teachings, but I still have a problem with that word which has been appropriated to many of the world’s greatest organized religions…that word God. It is with this aversion that I find myself passing on my teachings carefully and with full awareness of my words. Yoga is often mistaken for a religion by those who have dipped a toe or two in the teachings, and who have subsequently ran away from the unbelievable possibilities that yoga can bring us. I firmly believe that before the word God is brought into a class, a workshop, an article or a teacher training, it needs to be redefined and clarified as having nothing to do with religion.

I believe that despite there being many common teachings throughout Yoga and religion (restrictions as to lying, stealing, coveting, etc…), I have found that Yoga endorses laws of the Universe, those that apply to all, as opposed to those that apply to some which are proselytized through religious laws. The notion that Karma guides us all, that everything you do has a consequence, that your words and deeds carry immeasurable weight…this all falls under universal law. Yoga encourages love and gratitude…for oneself, for all others, and for everything around us. It allows us to be as spiritual as we want to be with absolutely no association of fear or guilt attached, and allows us to become more than we ever thought possible as opposed to feeling suppressed and repressed. Again, this is what I believe based on my life experience, and I would never insinuate that those who are finding light and love through religion are misguided. Whatever works, as far as I’m concerned.

For those of you who find yourselves sharing a yoga class with me, please keep all this in mind when I relay the Yogic teachings. Understand that the word god can be replaced with light, or love, or energy, or a million other all-encompassing beauty-laden words. Understand that if it separates us, it can’t be good. Understand that we are one. We always have been and we always have been. These are the teachings that we’re born with under the guise of intuition and that get smothered by conditioning and conformity. Allow yourselves to tap back into the source of all things…back into light, back into love…back into God.