What I thought was happiness was only part time bliss.
“The Pleasure Principle,” Control (1986), Janet Jackson
In my prior post “Sense, Sensuality, and Sensibility,” I questioned the idea of labeling any peak experience as “yoga” or “yogic.” In turn, some questioned me: Who am I to judge others’ inner lives while eating oysters or bungee jumping?
Certainly, experience is subjective. Here’s my concern: Yoga is being defined as a big high. As pleasure, thrill, passion, bliss. As climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, winning a race, falling in love, or smelling freshly baked bread. Why define yoga only in conventionally defined positive ways?
While perhaps inadvertent, this attitude bypasses people who are down and out. What if you’re alone, poor, ill? What if you’ve lost everything, or never had anything?
It is risky to associate yoga only with sunny, sensory experiences. If our own lives fall apart, what remains?
Brenda P of Grounding Thru the Sit Bones questioned her habit of calling all life activities “yoga.” While she included “both pleasurable and arduous” activities, I’m wondering if we should focus on activity at all. Perhaps due to my exploration of Zen Buddhism, I suspect that yoga and meditation are training us to be very minimalist in our being.
In Zen Buddhism, simply to sit in zazen is the ultimate expression of oneself. Simply to sit. Now, for my personality, sitting still is hard. But the idea that simply sitting is “enough” is quite comforting. When all is lost, when we cannot even walk, eat, or get out of bed, we can still “be.” In the end, that will be our yoga.
While life’s peaks and pleasures might indeed be yogic, consider the following:
- Hunger Do we (privileged North Americans) really need to slow down and sensitize our tastebuds? Most of us already eat with gusto. We also eat from habit. We eat lunch when it’s “lunch time.” We eat when we’re not even really hungry. We actually need to rediscover that pang in the belly, that animal instinct.
- Solitude While a love affair or parental bond can indeed feel yogic, solitude is underrated. People fear and somewhat stigmatize solitude (and definitely singlehood). But those at ease by themselves are often the most authentic. Of course, you need not become a monk (or to chuck your entire normal life, as Strickland did to pursue his art in my favorite Somerset Maugham novel, The Moon and Sixpence) to carve “alone time” for yourself.
- Quiet Modern culture is plugged in and cranked up 24/7. Silence seems to cause uneasiness. We talk to fill the gaps. We’re more apt to classify an engaging conversation as “yoga” than a day at home, uttering not a word. If we talk, we think we’re “saying something”; if we’re quiet, we think we’re “doing nothing.” It might very well be the opposite!