Crisis 101

In Chinese the characters making up the word 'crisis' are described as consisting of two elements. The first is danger and the second is opportunity. Understood as a fashionable and perhaps esoteric way of decoding Chinese characters, it is meant to imply a crisis equals a challenge or benefit.

Some linguists, however, disagree with this interpretation stating that it is muddled way of not only unravelling Chinese characters but looking at life. Victor Mair (a Chinese professor) states the understanding of the characters as implying an opportunity in the midst of danger is inaccurate. Furthermore, he feels it is foolish to go looking for benefits during a crisis. Mair's position is one in which he feels many people have been led "astray" by a romantic notion of there being a benefit from an unstable situation. Read: danger + crisis

Being curious about these arguments it is interesting how several self-help books and pseudo spiritual ones have rested on this description. But when a crisis like the recent one in Japan happens, it is almost a human need to try to find the good in this serious bad. Such a crisis can feel unreal, unfathomable and somehow distant. This distance should heighten not decrease the seriousness of the state of our world today. Is it enough, however, to recognize the global warning? Do we see this, but fail to commit ourselves to how we can make a difference? Why does it take a crisis to wake us up?

We probably need to be reminded how we are all part of this crisis (both near and far away). If we fail to recognize our part it is similiar to what the Buddhists and Yogis claim as ‘wrong-view’ or avidya (i.e., lacking the right understanding or perception). While it seems as if we are losing sensitivity and becoming disconnected to nature, each other and events around the world the truth is we are interconnected, and interdependent. What happens over there affect us on a global level, if not on a personal one. Slowly, slowly, we are seeing the effects of this on many levels; i.e., food, environment, products, water, air, etc., etc.

The crisis in Japan has become a call all over the world for help and to ACT. In many ways, it also forces us to re-evaluate our position; both economically and socially. Some people write blogs, tweet or send out mass e-mails. Some people are more private in their reflection. But no one stands immune.

In the West we live in a relatively comfortable environment. Few of us know or fear war or natural disasters. After making a dozen trips to India and having lived in South Korea for two yeras, there is a difference in the way Eastern people see, react and view life. What Georg Feuerstein (a Sanskrit scholar and historian) referred to as the West not having the context to insert the traditions of the East in, is now a growing concern in how we live and see ourselves in relation to others. He states in Yoga Unveiled (a DVD documentary on the history and tradition of Yoga) that the East is closer to death and impermanence; in the West we cover it up. While this may feel like a huge generalization it carries validity. People are more isolated in the West (re: a larger number of people live alone) and often lack a sense of family and possibly even community.

Far too often we have begun to see and treat each other as separate; moving away from our connection to the Earth itself. A recent study found that people who live closer to nature are less aggressive than those who are around a single tree (reference source from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Other studies have also shown there is a part of the brain understood to be rejuvenated by spending time in nature as well as animals. This explains why people feel refreshed by taking a walk or going to the park.

But why don’t we respect nature more?

Just the other day I watched someone throw their garbage out their car window. It is this kind of ignorance on a small level that ruins Mother Earth. We can rationalize our way out of our behaviours, but in the end it only speaks to the sense of ‘lack’, non-caring and disconnectedness.

According to the ancient texts we are living in the Kali Yuga age (the Dark or Iron age). This is understood as a time in which human beings are the furtherest away from the divine, inner peace and even God (if you will). There is no doubt we live in very uncertain, unsteady and unexpected times. Swami Veda Bharati (a direct disciple of Swami Rama and meditation teacher) wrote the following in reaction to the Japanese crisis:

It is said in the Puranas (the great cosmological epics
of India in Sanskrit) that when the earth can bear no more the burden of human sins,
she, our mother, turns on her sides and we all come tumbling down all over.

Some people may claim this is hog-wash and a natural disaster is a natural disaster. But are we not to blame for the imbalances that exist in the world? Or take responsibility? Krishnamurti (a great Indian spiritual teacher) used to say if we blame society we should blame ourselves as well. After all who is society? There are so many troubles going on right now. It has already been predicted in the year 2050 we will have lost 20% of our birds. The ocean will be more corroded than in its entire history of existence. Who has caused this to happen? Who lives on this planet Earth? Krishnamurti's questions are right on.

I started this essay with the confusion over the elements of the Chinese characters in the word 'crisis'. It often being described as the equation DANGER = OPPORTUNITY. While I do not think anyone would naturally go looking for this, I am prone to believe we almost have to come to this conclusion or at least consider the possibility. That is, what good can arise from the bad? It is perhaps a human need to make sense of the senseless even if illogical and inaccurate. If we cannot change the world, perhaps it will be enough to reflect on what we are doing right now. When we eat something, buy something, gather more possessions or decide to do anything, can we remind ourselves of its greater impact? Does it hurt me? The environment? Other people?

The rock band Coldplay puts it nicely, “Am I a part of the cure or Am I a part of the disease?”

Join me at The Yoga Way on April 2nd for a Karma Class in support of the crisis in Japan!

Visit The Yoga Way News for more details.


Hildo said...

I do agree on most of what you wrote. We are far removed from nature and we always need the pressure of war or any other crisis before we act. I think this lies in the human nature. If things go well we become easy and feel that this last for ever! I disagree that the esoteric view is "romantic". Of course, the first stage of a crisis is making sure how to survive, however after the first shock there can well be advantages (re thinking the use of nuclear power etc.) I have one in my back yard so to speak and it is a weird feeling. There is a balance in everything. Death is the beginning of new life and so can a crisis be a challenge as well.

Heather said...

For certain death is the start of something else, a new chapter other than life on Earth! But I am confident in saying most people find that hard to relate to or understand. If we understood death as we probably should and as described by Buddhnist monks (re: like we've stolen something that we have to give back w/out warning), we might live life differently.

And it is not by hearing this news that we have to get sad or gloomy. It is about living with a wisdom that acknowledges or respects the ebb & flow, change, impermanance, etc. It is what the Yogis call learning "the art of life".

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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