Thursday, November 20, 2008

the only thing to fear .....

photo: the los angeles 'river'

i'm having another one of those 'it'll sure be great when i don't have to live on this crazy planet anymore' kind of days.

now before you send the cops to climb in my window and take me to the house of mental dysfunction and stuff me full of pills, let me clarify --- it's not that i'm suicidal, i've always been too chicken for that, it's just that some days it's more difficult than others to look at the world, to really see it, and to just move through it as though nothing's inherently wrong with it. i'm not afraid to acknowledge that some days, especially november days, are more difficult than others. in addition to that, here we are on the brink of extinction but people are still dressing up to serve their corporate masters, shopping for stuff that they don't really need, walking past homeless panhandlers, pumping increasingly rare (and artificially cheap) petrol into their often unnecessary vehicles.

i can't imagine what i'd feel like if i didn't at least have important right-livelihood work to do every day ... though many people manage it. that's the part i find so crazy. people seem to move through their lives without really thinking about what they're doing - who built the products they're buying, what kind of tortured animal part are they putting into their bodies, how their lifestyle choices impact the health of the planet. i suppose this is the quiet desperation that henry david thoreau was referring to.

at yoga this morning we spent some time talking about fear - its source, its implications, its manifestations, and how we can best deal with it. i suggested that our november fear is coded into our dna -- it's the consequence of our ancestors observing, over generations, the increasing darkness, wondering if and when the light might return. a story was told about folks talking on the cbc, concerned over the economic crisis. apparently people are all freaked out about it and willing to offer up whatever is necessary in order to remedy it. the cbc people apparently also talked about how accredited scientists have been warning us of the implications of global climate change for many years, decades in fact, but in comparison many people are still reluctant to offer up much of anything by way of real changes that can remedy that situation. the moral of the story is that if it hits them personally, in their pocket books, they get scared into action. the lesson of new orleans, it seems, wasn't enough for people to 'get' global warming. it has to hit individuals personally before they get it.

i thought about this very phenomenon when the results of the american election were in. i know there are a lot of very cool americans, and i'm glad obama won (though i would have voted for ralph nader or cynthia mckinney since we knew obama's as corporate as the next guy), but it seems it's taken an economic crisis to actually get our goofy neighbours to vote for some (real or imagined, but at least promised) change. my canadian sister naomi klein has already written about the impacts of the economic crisis on obama's political career in great detail. it was the turning point - when the grand facade of capitalism fell, obama's popularity soared. not a surprising correlation, i suppose, from the land of rugged individualism.

back to yoga class -- i sat surrounded by women and men of varying ages, all listening to and learning from the wonderful shirley, founder of victoria's iyengar yoga studio. we are all so privileged just being here, i thought, as they shared their opinions. one woman told about her family's decision to stop using their dishwasher, in an effort to be a part of the collective that cares enough for the world to join in the work to live more gently. with ahimsa. she said the house is much quieter, more peaceful, without the dishwasher. i was silently grateful for her decision, but another part of me recoiled in horror at the thought that there are many hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions more who haven't yet thought to make that small sacrifice. the fact that the people surrounding me live in houses also rose to my consciousness.

there was some discussion about how our actions don't, ultimately, actually change anything except our own selves. i wanted to disagree aloud, but it wasn't the right time. if more people were to refuse to use their dishwashers, i thought, if they were to buy only local and organic, if they were to boycott the consumer frenzy of the usurped solstice celebration more commonly known as christmas, if they were to park their cars once in a while, that would indeed make a significant difference to the world. perhaps i haven't studied enough indian philosophy to really understand what they were trying to say, but certainly if gandhi's comrades hadn't believed that their collective boycott would produce some overall result we would all be living in a very different world.

we are a privileged bunch, i thought, as they told their stories, and i'm not sure that they appreciate that. as we sat in our comfortable yoga clothing, in the warm space, talking philosophy and awaiting a physical workout that would go a long way towards healing our physical, mental, and spiritual ailments, i thought of the people who live outside. i couldn't help it. there are so many people who can't even get through that yoga door - they're not clean enough, they can't afford it, they'd feel so out of place. i listened to the entitled yogis sharing their fears - the children aren't street smart anymore, and they've lost the ability to run through the woods without fear. there was talk of everyone's fundamental fear of death and pain and i realized that if i'd lived all my life as i lived the first part of it, in a middle income way, my own fear, and my perception of the fear that others feel, would be very different.

i left the yoga studio feeling somewhat more energized, thankful for shirley's teachings and the sharing in the class, and looked at the people on the streets, and all the stuff in the store windows. some of these people have chosen a new mayor, a man who refuses to help the homeless and destitute build their own communities. he participated in his first photo-op this week, our new mayor did, handing out winter coats to the poor. another band-aid on a gaping wound. as i write this it's cold and windy and raining outside. tonight many hundreds of people will sleep outside - in doorways, under bushes, perhaps thankful that a supreme court judge has finally stopped the police from preventing them from setting up a tent or a tarp. but our new mayor has moved to appeal that judge's decision. and the people i pass on the street, some of them, voted for him. at least, i suppose, those people will have nice new coats to maybe keep them warm through the nights.

it's tough, sometimes, not to be angry, and bitter. i will continue to go to my yoga classes, thankful for the opportunity. i will get up every day and do my best to dredge up some hope that the work i do, the work my friends do, will collectively make some kind of difference in the lives of those who are so often victimized by the very society that so many others so often move through without even thinking. i will learn philosophy and theories about non-attachment, and niyama and ahimsa. and i will spend my vegan days trying, as best i can, to influence a tiny amount of change in a big and often cruel society. maybe it doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world .... but it's work that needs to be done and i can't honestly think of doing anything else.