Fear and Purpose Amidst a Narrative Collapse

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I’ve had a particularly hard time bringing myself to write. That’s unusual. Two other articles on various topics have already been penned but both feel so entirely inadequate to the moment that I can’t bring myself to publish either. Looking for insights into humanity through an examination of what is happening in the yoga industry has its limitations, and my usual sort of musings seem a trifling contribution given the larger shifts taking place. In the face of profound uncertainty, the impulse to withdraw is hard to resist, but might just as well hold the key to a new direction.

When uncertainty starts to transmute into anxiety, I reflexively start rummaging through every old pattern that has ever worked for me at one time or another. I hear the voice of a directing teacher from my freshman year of college saying: “Turn your liabilities into assets.” But leveraging a creeping sense of impending doom with the last ounce of idealism that I can muster feels more like an act of desperation than certitude. Nonetheless, I maintain that risking hope still remains my best option.

“With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.” - Douglas Rushkoff

Every ounce of my being wants to believe that truth and compassion will ultimately win the day. But there is strong evidence to suggest that this may be more rooted in wishful thinking than any kind of universal wisdom. It’s hard to distinguish where my fear ends and the entrenched narratives bred into me from birth begin, especially when the obfuscation of objective truth has been so thoroughly undermined and hate is being so openly promoted. It seems like so many of the pillars of what I was raised to believe America was built on are collapsing, or maybe they were never really there to begin with.

In looking for answers in the usual places, it is clear that the usual places we look for answers have been deceiving us for a long time. My sense is that we are never really getting the full story, only that which someone in a position of power to control it wants us to see. Is that cynical? Maybe. But better cynical than caught off guard and flamboozled. Fact is, we will never find our way out of an ever-changing maze with a map that was given to us by those in charge of making sure we never find our way through.

Many of us originally found our way to yoga as a means to transcend or sublimate the injustice and suffering of the world only to find that the same suffering and injustice exists within yoga communities all the same.

Just as many of the pillars of American democracy seem to be collapsing, a crisis of honesty and integrity in the lineage traditions of yoga has left many people deeply disillusioned and without any clear ground to stand on. The sincere faith that so many placed in their loveable gurus has been brutally undermined by stark revelations of sexual assaults, abusive behavior, and institutional cover-ups. The myths and origin stories that have long been told, and the lofty claims that are made to effectively sell yoga to the masses, are being challenged by new research and changing science.

As earnest practitioners look to navigate the new waters, testing to see if the teachings can be separated from the teachers, examining the appropriate role of science, and how much needs to be abandoned or preserved on both fronts, the influence of commerce certainly muddies the water. Same as in the money-driven political hamster wheels that our societies are being governed by, industry around yoga is often riding a grossly smudged line between actually being of service and creating revenue. Once again, without any existing models that offer a better way forward, we stand at a precipice gazing into a void.

Trusting our intuition, and holding truths to be self evident, create the resonance that change requires.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I am scared. That is really why it’s been so hard to find any words that feel like they matter. I fear for what might happen if my country continues to go in the direction it seems to be going, and for what the yoga industry might come to stand for if we don’t evolve. I am tired of all the lies. I am saddened by all the abuse. I am disheartened by our lack of foresight and willingness to profit from the suffering of others. Too often, I feel helpless.

But I know what is true inside of me. I know who I am. I know what I believe. Because deep at the center of my being is a place of knowing. And when I make myself quiet inside, I can hear it clear as my mother’s voice. It says: “You are the wonder of this universe, and joy is your birthright. Fear not, dear one. You are taken care of. Be not swayed. Go forth and let your life be your testament.” Regardless of whether this voice is real or imagined, inherent or indoctrinated, operating from a place of awe and wonder is a primary means of overcoming fear and finding purpose. With purpose, the game before us becomes less fixed and more susceptible to our own terms.

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J. Brown

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, New York. A teacher for 15 years, he is known for his pragmatic approach to teaching personal, breath-centered therapeutic yoga that adapt to individual needs. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal and Yogadork.