Good, Bad, and Yoga

It’s common to see examples of wrong being done. For instance, discrimination is still with us, although now in Britain it can be quite subtle. Sadly, it’s not surprising. Humans have made themselves the dominant species. Any creature that feels the need to dominate is not going to stop at being top of the food chain. Subgroups will seek to dominate other subgroups; individuals within groups seize control. Resources like money and land will be, and are, held by a relatively few people.

Other animals form social groups lead by individuals. Concentrating power in able members helps the species survive. So is the human condition just a generalised natural social ordering, a healthy and natural thing? Or is it pathology, an illness that has the power to actually destroy us, and our world?

Firstly, it’s not surprising that humans take so much. Mammals survived and excelled because their warm bodies allowed them to feed at night. Wasting energy in body heat gave a distinct advantage. Today, wasting energy gives commercial advantages.

Secondly, mammals manipulate their environment; eg giant anteaters harvest from many anthills but never destroy one, stimulating ants to reproduce and ensuring a constant food supply. But neither termites nor anteaters have evolved or changed for 50 million years. Only instability leads to innovation…if nature really is a relentless drive to express life in all it’s magical forms then it must evolve the unstable. And to be unstable means to question actions – to always seek the new rather than staying “stable” in what’s gone before.

In this way, the human condition is an expression of nature: driven, but thoughtful; ruthless, but compassionate; greedy, but caring; logical, but also human. We can see how early cultures would conclude that humans were the pinnacle of divine achievement on earth.

Yoga evolved as a response to the paradox of human life. People could see that, in all its chaos, nature had a productive ordering. They were aware that none of their accomplishments could match the miracle of birth. Governments could build cities, but would never create a sunrise. It seemed there had to be an underlying unity in all this diversity.

Yoga practices developed to transcend the apparent opposites that each individual faces in a single lifetime. The “transcendental experience” – which sounds so mysterious – is literally the resolution of these opposite and the result of Yoga technique. In fact, Yoga translates to “yoking”, as in “yoking together”. One way of viewing this is to say that Yoga practice enables the individual to bring together the opposites in his or her life into one whole (and often more wholesome) experience. A more powerful definition is to say that Yoga practice helps the practitioner identify him or herself with the underlying unity driving their experience, rather than always being caught up in the highs and lows of everyday life.

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