Engagement: Post-Election Yoga Thoughts

by Annie Moyer

This is not about a diamond ring, but it is about another sort of union, and it’s a really difficult one.

We are in the aftermath of a Presidential election unprecedented in bitterness. The result has left many in our community feeling emotionally devastated, intellectually stunned and physically ill. And, indeed, there are those who feel happy, optimistic and relieved. How to square this? And what does this have to do with yoga? To both camps, and to both questions, I believe the answer is the same: we must dig as deeply and as relentlessly as we can until our common ground is revealed.

WHAT? Common ground with racists and sexists and xenophobes and anti-LGBTQ-ers and Neo-Nazis? Hear me: the hatred unleashed by the campaign of 2016 is unconscionable, and there are many who stand to lose so much that many others take for granted. But finding common ground is not incompatible with battling intolerance. It does not mean we accept bigotry and violation of any person’s civil and human rights. It does not mean we stand by and allow hostility to poison the public square. It’s precisely the opposite. 

Finding common ground means we must get to work confronting what’s been here all along. It means we must get underneath these loud and obvious differences. It means we must stand up to the face of hatred and disagreement, but don’t shout it down, love it down, in the Gandhi/King/Mandela image. And then dig it up with the spade of your compassionate heart and find out what pain underneath gave it rise. I often say in yoga class that the action is not where the action appears to be. The common struggle in tree pose is a perfect example: the action of balance is not in the apparent show of the lifted leg, it is in the deep anchor of the standing foot. Likewise, the outward show of hostility and prejudice is absolutely driven by some inner compulsion of pain and suffering. Let’s listen up and learn what that’s about, exactly.

Get active. Reach a hand across the aisle of ideological divide. Grab hold of the hand that looks least like your own, and seek to understand it. If someone says something you virulently disagree with, ask every question and really listen until you get an answer you can countenance. They may be willing to do the same in return. It’s not impossible that your answers will land in the pursuit of the same basic human needs. We discovered just this at our Community Dialogue at the studio just before the election, and learned a lot about kind speech and calm listening.

The essential principles of yoga say that all suffering is driven by the illusion of separation, and that union and ease are attained when we practice joy, friendliness, compassion and equanimity – not just when it’s easy and convenient, but when it feels like the last thing we want to do. Hatha yoga means, literally, the union of opposing forces. One force, by definition, has to find its opposite force in order to reconcile the energy of the two. If we remain on the surface and stick with our own kind, we will exhaust ourselves in the entanglement of our like vines, and suffer endlessly while the remedy lies underneath our roots all along.  There’s no denying that we’re all growing in the same soil. Let’s dig up that dirt and plant a new garden.