“I have so much energy and joy after each class that I want to jump up and down on my bed…My mind is so fresh the next day, even tho I have to wake up at 5am for work. I’m hooked!” [Thy T.]

Fostering health, serenity, and awareness since 1979

John’s Letter ~ Fall 2017: A Divided America and How Yoga Might View and Address Our Dilemma

Our country appears to be in a state of deep conflict these days. When I googled “divided america”, I got 107,000,000 results!! The AP website, which seemed to capture the essence, says, “Americans are more divided than ever. Gridlocked over social issues, race, gender, and the economy. ….It’s no longer Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1% vs. the 99%, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders have become battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity…the melting pot seems to be boiling over.”

I don’t know if we’re really more divided than ever. We’re not killing each other by the tens of thousands (1861-5). Our leaders aren’t being assassinated (1963, 1968). The cities aren’t burning down (1968). There is no question that the media’s constant stirring of the pot 24/7, as you can see from the above, has a lot to do with the feeling that we are at each other’s throats. Almost all you see in the news is us vs. them. That being said, however, a serious rift in American culture and the body politic clearly exists.

There is no dearth of analyses as to why we are so divided or how to remedy this problem. Even so, I would like to take a look at how yoga might view and address our dilemma.

Perhaps you already know that the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to connect or unite. Our English word yoke has the same root. Since by definition our disassociation from one another lies at the heart of the problem, it seems that in some ways, yoga, a discipline devoted to fostering unity, would be the perfect vehicle for dealing with it. But how? What does Triangle Pose have to do with bathrooms, borders, and Beltway intrigue?

The slightest glance below the surface (where goats and wine reside) reveals that yoga is more than doing yoga postures. One classic definition is that yoga is the calming of the waves in our mind, which, when they are stilled, allows us to see clearly our true nature. And our true nature, say the saints and sages, is pure consciousness, merged with All that exists, undivided.

How come we don’t see this, if it is true? The texts and scriptures offer many causes, but at the core is our ignorance of the underlying conflict created by our identity as a separate entity, apart and distinct from the world around us, including our fellow beings. As far as we know, there is you and there is me. Separate. In one sense, the entire journey that is yoga is a trip to transcend this feeling of separateness, of alienation that assails us on a multitude of levels.

One of these levels includes the physical. Most people are disconnected from their physical being to some degree. They are unaware of what is happening in their own bodies. This is where Triangle Pose comes in. By practicing the asanas conscientiously over a period of time, people begin to tune in to their bodies. They see that when one part moves, other parts are affected. They see that the parts of their body are connected to one another, but in a much more subtle way than just thigh bone connected to the hip bone.  They see that what happens in their body affects what happens in their mind. They begin to realize that mind, breath, and body are an indivisible continuum, and this realization pries opens the door to an experience of integration, of unity, where all the pieces fit together into an undivided whole.

While there are only three sutras on asana in the 196 Yoga Sutras, they are very important. The second sutra says that “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.” Thus, complete mastery of an asana leads us to the timeless present moment and to our true selves. That’s a lot for Trikonasana!

The third asana sutras says that, “From then on, the [practitioner] is undisturbed by dualities.”


And isn’t that where we are today? Buffeted by all the dualities enumerated in the opening paragraph: Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, 1% vs. 99%, urban vs. rural, and on and on.

Can the practice of asanas really help us become undisturbed by dualities, and if so, how is that going to translate into overcoming the divisions that beset our world?

Duality implies unease, discontent, conflict. I’m hot; I’m cold. I’m excited; I’m depressed. When we do an asana practice – and let me say here, I’m not talking about going through the motions of some exercises, but rather a deep internal exploration of ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually –  we create a laboratory in a more or less controlled environment where we can examine who we are and how we act as we challenge and examine ourselves on all these levels. These challenges reveal to us the conflicts we harbor within – stay in the pose; come out; go deeper; back off; do a forward bend next; do a back bend – and how we deal with these conflicts – aggression, quitting, denial, distraction.

We know, of course, that polarization occurs because those other guys are ridiculous and just don’t get it. But it’s the idea of those “other guys” that creates the problem in the first place. For “other guys” to exist, we have to see them as separate from us; we have to see them as “other”, and as long as we are doing that, we are divided. We have to begin to realize, not just say the words, but real-ize that truly we are all in this together.

The Upanishads and various other yoga scriptures speak of human existence and the body in particular as a microcosm, a representation of the macrocosm, the Cosmos. Everything manifest in the Universe has a corollary within us. In other words, the conflicts in the world are manifestations of the conflicts within us. All that stuff going on out there, ain’t just them. It’s our screwy vibes coming to life.

You may be familiar with the bumper sticker “Peace begins with us”, which is to say that for there to be peace in the world, we must be at peace ourselves.  If we are not at peace, if we are conflicted, angry, fearful, then that is what we project out into the world.

It’s tempting to say that what that means is we should double down on our yoga, get our own stuff together, and then the world will become a better place. And we should and it would. Do your Trikonasana to save the world.

But I think it would be a good idea to keep in mind the Boddhisattva vow of the Buddhists, which essentially says no enlightenment for me until everyone is enlightened. Why? Because if you and I are both part of the same Cosmic Ooze, then if you’re not enlightened, I’m not either. So we need to do our work to integrate our own bodies, emotions and minds. And at the same time, we also need to do what we can to help our fellow beings to wake up to the inescapable fact that we are all connected, related to one another, like the body, breath, and the mind in masterful Trikonasana, inseparable.  Then there is no us and them. There is only we: One, in tune with the Universe, indivisible, with liberation for all.


“We are but a moment’s sunlight fading in the grass

Come on people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another

Right now”

      –  Jesse Colin Young

If you’ re interested in talking about the ideas presented in this newsletter, you’re welcome to come to the Fall Discussion Group at Unity Woods Bethesda on Sunday, Nov.12. Go to our website at www.unitywoods.com for details.


One response to this post.

  1. Mike Finck says:

    Hi John,

    Beautiful letter, and SO true! You made my day! Thanks for everything you do.



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