Modern Yoga has become like therapy for a lot of us - far from the traditional goal of gaining enlightenment - most are looking for a tool to help us stay sane.
Which sends me spiralling into thought... Where has all the sanity gone? Since the rise of scientific materialism and the church betraying us one too many times, where is it safe to turn? Many of us are and have turned towards New Age Spirituality… and high up on that list is a Yoga practice.
I believe when it comes to our sanity there are many factors to consider, for now I have chosen to focus on what I believe to be a societal foundation - The ‘Blame/Shame’ model of modern societies.
Blame and shame have become so ingrained it’s hard to know where it all began... it is so embedded in our thoughts, language and behaviours. I feel confident in saying most of us living in the modern world have been born into toxic societies, riddled with these ‘Blame/Shame’ cycles of doom! Blaming and shaming is currently how almost everything is run, whether it be the government, within our laws, corporations, businesses (small and large), charities, education systems, the church, family dynamics, interpersonal relationships. IT’S EVERYWHERE.
Blame is the idea ‘I am right, so you are wrong’
Shame is the idea ‘I did something wrong, so I am a worthless person’
Brene Brown defines shame “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
The cycle of Blame and Shame together is toxic, and leads to external behaviours and actions that tend to harm ourselves and others to try and escape the unpleasantness of not feeling connected, loved, right, heard or valued. This cycle makes us lose touch with the fact that we are all individual sacred beings - spiritual beings having a human experience. Every single one of us is sacred and completely worthy.
The model of blame and shame holds the view that only some of us are worthy and only when we are participating in worthy action. A dangerous world view to be born into.
Collectively we are balancing a hugely rich and diverse global community on a narrow world view. A world view outlining that: we must be on top; we must prove ourselves; we must be better than another; we must be right all the time. With these all in place as ‘truths’ we will in turn experience more love and ultimately WIN this game called Life…? I do believe some of this comes from Charles Darwin and René Descartes (among others) and along the way these ideas, theories and philosophies have become distorted, over-simplified and watered down (not by the men themselves, by the followers and simplified ‘tag-line’ delivery of concepts). These underlying theories play an interesting role in our current blame/shame world view, which lacks critical thinking or modern interpretation from it’s many believers. What has occured is a sort of aggressive scientific materialism ‘blackout’, meaning if some authority (preferably a middle aged, white, western, male scientist) said it and we like it, we believe it without bringing anything else relevant into question. This is a highly dangerous place to be and a terrifying world view for the masses to hold. It leads to broken governments, broken families and often very broken and unaware individuals, not to mention the dangerous implications of sexism, racism, and the numerous other forms of separating and segregating minorities.
It’s not difficult to look outside of ourselves and see all that is wrong with this world, the injustice that seems to be everywhere - it can be hard sometimes to stay afloat in what can seem very hopeless (Interesting side note: our brain registers the pain of shame exactly how it registers physical pain). The root of a lot of this suffering and confusion comes from these toxic blame/shame cycles. Without the ability (or sometimes permission) to question why, we become blind to the hurt and pain that is caused by blaming and shaming each other. I could not count how many Yoga students and clients I have worked with who have experienced this hurt within their family dynamic. I think what is important to understand is that when you experience the behaviour and interactions of blame and shame as a young person it does affect your ability to step out of this paradigm within your adult life. You may become an excessive victim to this behaviour or you tend to become the perpetrator of it, or even more common, both. I have been personally affected by these cycles deeply within my own family dynamic and it has taken many years of peeling back the layers to understand where some of my beliefs and hurt have come from.
One of the first things that triggered the desire to start to unpack all of this for myself was arriving back to NZ after being in India, I was ready to jump into my Yoga studies and was overly enthusiastic about the optimistic and magical world this new path now had to offer me. What I found was a lot of judgment, self deprecation and competition within the yoga world. Us ‘Yogis’ were not lifting each up.. Why?
It never felt right to me that there were ‘bad’ people or ‘judgy’ people. I was sure there had to be more to it - How could we be studying one philosophy, which was inclusive and promoted unity and oneness; yet living completely differently? Claiming that one style of Yoga or spiritual practice was better than another…!?
Why was there competition? How was there competition!?
I believe It comes down to belief and perception. We as individuals, and within our own collectives, (whether it be family groups, religious groups, community groups) hold strong beliefs and perceptions about life and how it should be lived. I think most of us as individuals can agree that this is what makes the world beautiful - our differences. Most of us have experienced the desire to travel and meet other people.. to experience another ‘way of life’, yet why then is there so much judgment and competition when beliefs and perceptions are different or clash with our own?
Why does it cause internal turmoil?
Why does business and success need to be based on being better than another?
Why are these questions not being asked more, within the Yoga community especially?
I believe it comes down to the ‘Blame/Shame’ cycles we are basically indoctrinated into from birth. Meaning the depth of our own internal conflict is hard to see, let alone recognise within ourselves and our behaviour. It is a tricky paradox to accept and love others and also accept and love ourselves. Because blame/shame tells us that for one to be successful means another has to fail, and if we are the ones failing it means someone else is succeeding with ease. The reality is that none of this actually reflects the truth. Every single human struggles - in small daily ways, and in large life-changing ways. Why is is so hard to recognise another’s suffering and so easy to keep a narrow minded view on ourselves?
What I experienced when I started my training was a very real reflection of myself and my core beliefs and perceptions. Growing up in the blame/shame dynamic has powerful long term effects on the way we see the word, and probably a huge reason why I have been so drawn to Yoga (like many of us). Yoga offers a pathway OUT, it’s comforting ideals soothe the soul and start to coax us out of the world where competition and winning is given so much merit. Yet just because I started Yoga didn't mean I would rid myself of these toxic patterns overnight.
In fact, I fell face first into the ideals my particular training school and teachers held. I believed the style I was practicing was superior to others. It was the ‘Real Yoga’ and I would achieve the real rewards. It’s humorous now thinking about how I held this view with very little awareness or critical thinking - the painful truth is that I wanted to feel special and better than others. My blame/shame cycles were telling me that for my Yoga to work it had to be better than others (that’s how blame works). Shame quickly followed as I left the comfort of my training and moved into the Yoga world and realised (fast) there was a whole lot more out there, I had to grieve the loss of my comfortable little life living in the studio where we all held the same safe belief that we were superior. Shit. I felt broken and stupid and here my friend, shame kicked in. I realised I wasn't special and the walls come crashing down with that familiar old feeling of being completely unworthy once again.
It’s like floating between two worlds, I didnt know which ship I should jump onto, who’s Yoga? Who’s path? Where should I scramble onto next to make myself feel special again and get myself out of the horrible feelings of shame… Well, to keep it short, I found people and I climbed right back into the comfort of that blame cycle… again making our group special and the rest wrong. It’s amazing how fast this all happens and how it really does appear we are wired for it, the grip that blame and shame has is strong… It was just trying to keep me safe, right? Away from the ‘bad’ guys?
It’s been a real journey since then to unpack so many layers of understanding and ownership of not only where I have been a victim but also where I have been the perpetrator - blaming and shaming others to get my own high. All I can really say is how damn important it is to understand that most, if not all of us, are affected by the cycles of blame and shame. It’s much more unconscious than conscious behavior, but it’s there. I think Yoga has been my saving grace. It shone the torch so brightly on all my own shit and has demanded more from me every day since. I think the key concept for me would be vigilance. It takes serious courage to start unpacking and recognising your own asshole-ness. It takes patience, and it means doing the work EVERY DAY. To liberate myself (to some degree) I have had to find my freedom through and within my discipline. To be vigilant with my thoughts, and actions, to keep balance in my life and to always, always be able to recognise when I am wrong, apologize, forgive others and ultimately forgive myself.