keep (someone) in subservience and hardship,
esp. by the unjust exercise of authority
I’ve been slowly reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed for a second time by Paulo Freire and the renewed insights are amazing! With all this inquiry into mindfulness, yoga, and community development – these lines really stood out for me…
“As individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of their humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity. Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity” (Freire, 2000, p. 45).
For true liberation to occur, this paragraph (and the premise behind the book) speaks to the strength and wisdom being accessed within those who are oppressed. The deeply imbedded understanding of lived oppression serves as a motivator to support the volition and participation necessary to create change. Many individuals, collectives, communities, and populations exist in an oppressive reality. To quote Tiwari, “life has growth in it…existence has no growth”. Existing within an oppressive reality undermines any human or earthly potential–having the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.
So how do those who are oppressed shift into a conscious place and transition into an experience of growth that includes action, participation, engagement, and momentum?
As anything – I would say it begins with a conversation with one’s self or others. This is where I believe mindfulness can creep in and serve the cause of liberation. As people step onto a path of transformation, liberation from oppression, Freire cautions people to not repeat the patterns that have been role modeled by and learned from the oppressor. There is no identification or consciousness that has been fostered within the oppressed, therefore there is an emphasis placed on ensuring the struggle for liberation takes place with a deep sense of self-awareness. Freire places value in the need to re-evaluate and mindfully reassess what the model for humanity is and what people want it to be…
Consider these questions to return to…
~ what was the experience in the past
~ what is the situation in the present
~ what is the ideal vision to create for the future
How do people sustain the clarity in vision and return to the questions through a duration of uncertainty, of struggle, challenge, and conflict?
How do people identify who they are in the struggle for liberation after being told who they are by oppressors?
This is where I believe spirit plays a large role. For example, Al Gore (1992) within Earth in the Balance, refers to the environmental crisis as a “spiritual crisis” because knowing and connecting to spirit challenges us to explore what we hold to be of ultimate importance and value. Mindfulness supports one to focus on the present moment, the experience of who am I now, what am I now…it supports reflection and the expansion of understanding oneself in their reality. Freire speaks often of praxis and the need to continually be engaged with this notion: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.
If liberation is the destination, then perhaps transformation is the journey that demands a process of mindful reflection of inner and external experience in order to not repeat learned patterns, to shift habits yet maintain clarity of what remains part of ones central values and core being…
Freire also speaks of accessing liberation through love opposing the lovelessness of the oppressors–parallel to the yama ahimsa; living with non-violence and compassion, Ghandi; be the change you want to see in the world…be love!
And as always – easier said than done…but isn’t that just an excuse? Through commitment to a mindful practice that supports returning to our true nature, is it not possible to transform? It definitely takes discipline and consciousness to consistently return to one’s will and check in with honesty and love…
…and the urgency to pay attention to now is increasing!
Often when speaking of oppression, the mind thinks of different human individuals, communities or groups–rightly so–however, the greatest system being oppressed is the earth…and because we are creatures imbedded in the habit of verbal communication and language, many cannot hear the cries from the consciousness of the earth!
So what does a mindfulness practice look like if supporting a transformation of consciousness for human beings in order to support the liberation of the earth?
How can we be ally’s in the struggle against oppression of the earth and not repeat the same patterns and habits of the past?
What will motivate us to remain engage in praxis to rise up with love?
“If humankind produced [our] social reality,
then transforming that reality is a historical task,
a task for humanity”
When I asked Tiwari ~ what role yoga could play in contributing to social and community change his response was – “the crux of it is to treat others how you want to be treated” (a saying that I have heard since I was a wee person!)…
…And ultimately it is our responsibility to treat others how we want to be treated – to continue the journey of inner work, transferring it into life and relationships with others and our surroundings. The yama’s within the eight-limbed path are tools to support the natural laws…dharma–choosing to live and act in accordance with the natural order and way of life. Applying western context and language, we may refer to yama’s as ethics or morals to support life, a way of being – they are present in the philosophy to address potential disturbances caused by our conscience (one thing to note however, is the language of ‘ethics and morals’ can feel restrictive and yoga is not a strict structure to be imposed. Instead, it is a path to be curious about, to explore through practice with sincerity).
So where do the yama’s fit in with community development and social change?
When thinking about the present day struggles and pain associated with the ecological crisis, the break down of families and communities, economic and social injustices–I question how closely we are living to the natural laws and way of being (which is nothing new – many people are questioning this, so what are some possibilities to explore)?
Tiwari spoke of spending time with Ghandi and the experience of being in his presence. He said he automatically experienced change within, just through spending time with Ghandi – he was so pure in heart and mind, that it inspired and supported others (a whole country) to transform–aligning with the famous quote – Therefore – living our values, ethics, choices.
The yama’s within yoga philosophy that I speak of are…
Ahimsa ~ live compassionately with non-violence
Aparigraha ~ not asking for and taking more than you need
Brahmacaya ~ walking through life with the right attitude and energy
Satya ~ maintaining honesty and truthfulness
Asteya ~ not taking what is not freely given
I found myself thinking – how does yoga relate to community development and what arises is…the development and healing of individuals is so closely tied and intertwined with the health and transformation of a community. Yoga is simply one practice that people may choose to support their journey along with many other practices that may support the crux – “treat others as you want to be treated”.
A challenge I see facing the globe is self worth and love being at an all time low in conjunction the presence of apathy within the will of many people.
So how and where do we, people, begin to contribute to change with the overwhelming problems being faced on this planet? Michael and Judie Bopp within Recreating the World developed 16 principles (statement of fundamental truths) to support communities in change processes–principle number 10 is ‘Participation’, being “the active engagement of the minds, hearts and energy of people in the process of their own healing and development…nothing can be achieved in our life unless we engage in our own volition, (the exercise of human will)…a term [referring] to the capacity to focus, to choose, to adopt goals, to persevere and to complete what we set out to do” (p. 85). No only committing to and participating in one’s personal journey of healing but transferring that to their community and web of relationships.
Can we expand our capacity for inner work and reflection, inherently raising self awareness, to be change, supporting its transfer in relationship with others and community?
Hopefully it is already happening and expanding at an exponential pace! “We could say that the world is literally and metaphorically dying for us as a species to come to our senses, and now is the time. Now is the time for us to wake up to the fullness of our beauty, to get on with and amplify the work of healing ourselves, our societies, and the planet, building on everything worthy that has come before and that is flowering now” (Katbat-Zinn, 2005, p.16).
Listening to Tiwari speak on the Yoga-Sutras, within many of the books I have been immersed in and witnessing my practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation ~ yoga is a way of life ~ a practice where science, spirit and art intersect. This idea is not new to myself and I am sure not new to many of you, but I speak of it because it resonates–and I think hearing it again from an Elder who walks the wisdom and way of being, supports the resonance vibrate to deeper level, affirming commitment.
So wherever the commitment to growing and connection to spirit rests, can one’s way of being touch the lives and support change of those whose volition is waning and hope is dimmed?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Bopp, J., & Bopp, M. (2006). Recreating the world: A practical guide to building sustainable communities. Cochrane, AB: Four Worlds Press.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.
Since my last post, life has continued to offer many rich lessons in spirit, community, practice, and intellect!
I was fortunate to create an opportunity to attend a workshop with Sri O.P Tiwari from India. He focused on the Yoga-Sutras and pranayama (prana ~ breath, life force energy; yama ~ to extend, to move…breathing with awareness). It was a weekend full of insights, humour and depth…consistently reminding us to practice with sincerity and not seriousness!
Tiwari also spoke often of duhkha (lack; felt sense of being unsatisfied; suffering) and upon reflection, I think a common quality associated with duhkha is clinging…clinging to ones sense of self, clinging to a reality created by the mind– as it appears to the mind, not necessarily as it is. This clinging can limit possibilities and contract the potential for being intimately tied to life.
One can cling to anything–resistance, loneliness, desires–this quality provides us with a sense of control and ‘simplifies life’ by splitting it into categories…bits and pieces.
Yet is it not this splitting the creates the lack, the splitting that shatters ones sense of belonging, therefore motivating us to find intimacy outside ourselves rather than connecting with the intimacy present within each moment of life?
I am intrigued to explore the concept and action of clinging because it is familiar in sensation and in my mind – and it has been fascinating to dialog with this quality and watch it’s connection to the ego as it tries to become something! In this paragraph I speak of duhkha in reference to ones inner dialog. Being a recent witness to an individual’s suffering largely linked to their experience of clinging…the emotion and sensation that manifested was emptiness and loneliness–sensations familiar to us all! Within the western world, emptiness-loneliness-lack, is often dealt with by grounding ones self in external satisfactions of money, sex, or fame to support a sensation of feeling real in the world as it appears.
What if we were to accept, acknowledge and live with the experience of emptiness?
Consider there is opportunity in lack, in suffering, in the void. Consider that one’s sense of inadequacy is the greatest gift waiting to be explored, an opportunity for transformation! Michael Stone says it well – “if we can open up to that ungroundedness at our core, if we can let go and yield to it, then we find that it’s the source of our creativity and our spirituality; that at the very core of our being…there is something that transcends the self and yet is the basis of the self” (p. 44).
I speak of all this, not only because it feels relevant in life right now, but because I think duhkha and clinging can be closely linked to community change processes. Consider clinging as a form of resistance to accepting ‘what is’ in the present moment…consider the ecological crisis that is occurring on this planet and the resistance to change from many governments and corporations…consider an anthropocentric view that “if we only see nature in terms of accumulation and the marketplace [to fulfill our insatiable lack], the natural world becomes nothing but bits and pieces” (Stone, p. 143). existing in a separate system from humanity. Duhkha is experienced globally which calls for a revolution of the cultural heart.
Is it possible for those advocating for their communities, supporting change processes, investing in a sustainable future to integrate a subtle and mindful ways of being that could shift the roots of communities and migrate up the trunk and branches to impact the broader system?
It begins with one person.
Consider setting the intention to observe experiences where clinging is present, or observe moments of emptiness, loneliness, or lack and ask what lays beneath those sensations.
“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think” – Gregory Bateson
Stone, M. (2009). Yoga for a world out of balance: Teachings on ethics and social action. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.