Has The Whole World Gone Crazy?


lebowski_WorldOfPainThis past week was one where I felt spontaneously immersed in feelings of gratitude. For starters, I felt grateful for not having had my legs blown off by a couple of psychos with a twisted idea of how to use a pressure cooker. And I felt grateful that I don’t live in Syria, where massacres far, far worse than the Boston Marathon bombing happen every day.

I also found myself feeling oddly grateful that I live in the District of Columbia, where I’m not entitled to congressional representation by a United States Senator. Usually that bothers me but since it became clear last week that, if I did have a Senator, there would be an even-money chance that they would be more interested in who’s picking up their restaurant tab than what most people in America want, it doesn’t bother me so much.

And I felt grateful that I didn’t live in Texas near any fertilizer plants that were storing about 270 tons of ammonium nitrate—the highly explosive chemical compound used in the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building 18 years ago.

It was a week when I felt compelled to ask, “what the hell is wrong with people?” I’m betting I wasn’t the only one.

I know a very advanced yogi who makes the same New Year’s resolution every year: to avoid any and all direct contact with the news media. The idea has some merit: for a time I followed the same rule and discovered that the world went on just fine without my paying any attention to it. The only difference was that I didn’t get caught up in the outer world’s insanity while I was trying to cultivate a sane inner life. It was helpful.

But how do we cultivate a sane inner life while staying engaged with an insane outside world?

Yoga is not just a coping strategy, not just something that we do on a yoga mat to work out all the stress that we accumulate simply by living in an inherently stressful world. Our yoga practice is really meant to give us some perspective on the world, to help us to see a bigger picture, and to understand how to find sobriety amid the insanity.

Yoga has a metaphysical function: it facilitates our ability to see the underlying causes that make the world the crazy place that it is. This is important because if we understand how something works then we’ll know how to use it. Yoga also has a teleological function: it tells us the purpose the world’s existence is meant to serve. That’s just as important because if we understand the world’s purpose then we’ll know what to do with it.

From the standpoint of yoga, our first objective is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Obviously, if we understand why the world exists and how the world works then we won’t be as likely to get bent out of shape when we experience the world in all its craziness.

And that leads into the psychological function of yoga: yoga provides us with a process that alters our consciousness in such a way as to support the ability to live peacefully in the world under any circumstances. And that’s great because the world is crazy and being in it without knowing how it works, what it’s for, and what to do with it can drive you crazy. In fact, if you feel that the world is driving you crazy then that’s another thing to be grateful for: it’s a sign of mental health. After all, if you were well adjusted in an insane world, what would that say about you other than that you’ve become insane?

So, in my next few posts, I’ll offer some ideas about how yoga philosophy describes the way the world works, what the world’s reason for being is, and how we can be happy in it no matter how crazy the world may be. After all, I can’t be the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules.

5 Comments

  1. Posted April 22, 2013 at 10:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    When I was in elementary school (Grade…5?), I listened to WTOP radio every morning. I thought I was mature, listening to the news like adults did. I became very depressed. I stopped setting my clock radio alarm to WTOP. I became less depressed. The world went on, and I treated myself and others better when I did not pile bad news on top of my shoulders. OM Shanti.

    • Posted April 23, 2013 at 4:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Holly. Letting the world do it’s thing while we do ours is one way to deal with the world’s news and, having done that, I sympathize with your solution. I try to convince my perpetually stressed-out 80 year-old mother to stop watching CNN all day if she wants to lower her agitation quotient. Another advanced yogi I know replied to the same issue by telling me that he reads the New York Times as a way to understand the Bhagavad Gita, so it’s possible to turn the situation on its head. I’ll explore that possibility in my next post.

  2. Posted April 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m looking forward to your future posts, because for sure, the world does sometimes seem like it’s going mad. I used to be really up to date with the news but am investigating and trying to pursue the spiritual path of bhakti yoga right now so find myself focusing less on the affairs of the world, though they do have a way of crashing into our awareness-especially when they are negative. It seems like there’s no escaping hearing about them and feeling a sense of sadness that people are driven to such extremes and like there’s really no easy answer to solve the world’s problems and end people’s sufferings. Everything seems like a complicated, interrelated web of problems, one part giving rise to another part, nobody is innocent or an inactive participant.

    Sorry for writing so much.

    Looking forward to your upcoming posts.

    If you have the time, I’d love your thoughts on this article:

    http://ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-unsettling-nature-of-uncertainty.html

    • Posted April 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Jessica. The same Bhakti Yogi to whom I referred in my post said that if we want to find out what’s happening in the world all we have to do is ask someone. Odds are people will tell us even if we don’t ask. Arjuna asked Krishna to solve the world’s problems but Krishna changed the premise of the conversation to teach Arjuna (and us) how to live with the world’s problems without getting caught up in them. And a good thing since, as long as we’re here, we’re all participants in one way or another.

      I had a similar reaction to Huston Smith’s “Why Religion Matters”; I’ll share some thoughts about it in your site soon.

      • Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:16 AM | Permalink

        Thanks for responding to my comment. 🙂 I agree that if something noteworthy is happening usually we hear about it enough from others making turning on the news turning on the news to find out about it unnecessary. That’s one thing with fb-seems like anything of any importance is all over my feed keeping me up to date all too well with worldly affairs!

        I really like the idea that you mentioned, that Krishna taught Arjuna, as well as us, about how to live with the world’s problems without getting caught up in them. I think that’s easier to do when they seem distant problems but it seems a lot harder when they seem to directly affect us. I’m still working on figuring out how to do that, and probably would make good use of my time by reading my Gita As It Is for a second time to help me work that out! It seems chanting really helps and remembering the impermanent nature of this material world.

        Looking forward to your thoughts on my post…Thanks for reading it. 🙂

One Trackback

  1. By Thoughts on Boston | YIOM Site on April 23, 2013 at 9:23 PM

    […] hopes that yoga can give us some perspective on the world but can’t help but wonder “what the hell is wrong with […]

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