Dark Night, Soul's Direction

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I am experiencing all the makings of a mid-life crisis but without the cliche response that I grew up with. I am not going to destroy my marriage and buy a red sports car. All that would do is increase my already overwhelming debt and doom me to the debilitating loneliness of my bachelorhood. Unlike many of my father’s generation, I have dedicated myself to the sorting and tending of my internal landscape. The world outside of me, with all its systemic dysfunction, is what too often feels untenable.

I’d like to blame it all on money. Like if only I had more of it then my angst would abate. But I know better than that. A lot of what I worry about does have to do with paying my bills and whether or not I can provide for my family. And my life would surely be more enjoyable if I wasn’t forever struggling to make the ends meet. However, the pang I feel runs much deeper than that. My heart fears for more than just myself. Addressing my personal difficulties with finance has required me to better understand the prejudices that I have been born into.

I want the “American Dream.” I’m just not sure it exists anymore. Maybe it never did.

Growing up in the eighties, a life defined by a house with a two-car garage, a pretty wife and 2.5 children, were deeply branded into me as the ideal. I always remember this t-shirt my dad used to have that said: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Now that I am the same age as when my father donned that worldview, I can see past the gross materialism of the American Dream to an innate human desire to feel safe and sound gone awry. But having a job with a full pension doesn’t exist anymore, and the notion of a secure future has become more and more a myth to the vast majority of people.

I don’t know if there ever was a check in place on the greed that capitalism's largesse has afforded the oligarchs, but surely it has run rampant to the extreme. Inequality that was once fully obscured has become so pronounced that anyone of good conscience must face profound existential questions that shake the foundations of our societal mores. In my own life, I have had to navigate the impulse to go along with the ways of wealth creation and sacrifice some of my humanity in the process, or see if it’s possible to get by with my integrity intact.

It’s not just personal, it’s systemic.

I have been thinking a lot about the phrase: “white supremacy.” Not in the sense of the Klu Klux Klan but in the fact that were I to release more than one podcast in a row featuring a black yoga teacher it would automatically be a thing, but I can put out an endless stream of consecutive white teachers on and no one will think anything of it. Racism is not just me having bad feelings towards someone because of the color of their skin, it is also the bias of a culture built on exploitation.

The question is how much of just taking care of my own is justified if doing so makes me complicit in the power imbalances that grant me my privilege? And what role might I play in righting the wrongs that have created such horrible conditions? I don’t have any answers. But asking the questions and listening to the voices of those who have been marginalized seems imperative. One thing is for sure, I can no longer abide the neo-liberal narratives that play rough shot with real progressive values and attempt to either absolve or condemn me because of my whiteness or maleness.

Hope is worth the risk and shame is the enemy of conviction.

In college, they used to call me a SNAG or “Sensitive New Age Guy.” I always thought that having good intentions was enough to make me part of the solution. But, really, intentions alone are not enough. I can want to be part of the solution and still acquiesce to “the way things are” as though change is not possible. If I were more of a cynic, then I might just say fuck it all and cash in any way I can. Sure seems like the choice a lot of folks have made. To me, imagining the possibility of a world in which all people are treated respectfully, with care and love, is worth holding hope despite the risk it will likely be dashed.

There are a lot of reasons for me to feel afraid, and for that fear to cause a reflexive acceptance of an unacceptable status quo. But I have choices that many others don’t have. As constrained as I may also feel, I have no right to complain. Embodying the change I want to see is difficult and rarely an optimal business decision. But hedging my values is just not an option. With whatever the rest of this life has to hold for me, I resolve to act not from a place of shame but with the conviction of knowing in myself that I have no regrets.

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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.