How to Be a Yogi and Still Read the News
It was a bad week for news. This week’s news made me feel angry, helpless, and sick. So what’s a good yogi to do? Focus on her breath and try to forget all about injustice?
The Hindu god Shiva sits in a cave in the Himalayan mountains, meditating for eons. He represents the ideal many of us think of when we consider yoga and meditation—a life that renounces material goods, physical comfort, and personal attachments. You don’t get the newspaper in your Himalayan cave. There’s no wi-fi in there.
But Shiva also has a job to do. He is the Great Destroyer, and along with Brahma the Creator and Vishnu the Sustainer, he is an important part of the cycle of the universe. When he is deep in meditation, he’s not ending things, so nothing new can be born. This threatens the very existence of the universe.
Desperate, the gods ask Shakti, the Great Goddess, to help. She agrees, and takes form as a beautiful woman who will become Shiva’s wife, drawing him out of his meditation and back to the real world. Shiva resists—he even destroys the God of Love, Kama, when he dares to interrupt his contemplation with the stirrings of lust. Eventually the gods get through, though, and Shiva falls deeply in love with Shakti, who teaches him the value of love, work, play, and learning along with spiritual practice. He even restores Kama back to life. The world keeps spinning for another day.
This Tantric story teaches us that some of our sacred work must be done in the world, with others. There’s a time and a place for hiding out in your Himalayan cave, but if that’s all you are doing, you are connected on only a very individualistic level.
From the Tantric perspective, everything that exists is a manifestation of the divine. Everything is God—not just you and your quiet space for reflection, but also other people, global warming, and the perpetrators of violence that you read about in the news.
This does not mean, to be clear, that everything is “good.” It just means that we are all a part of the same stuff—that your choices matter and have consequences. That you participate in some way in the society that created the situation that makes you want to cry.
This is a much more challenging worldview than imagining that God is somewhere else that we can only get to when we are far away from the bustle of everyday life. It’s much easier to separate out terrible situations into some other category than to ask ourselves what it has to do with us. The yoga of reading the news, seeing yourself in it, and seeing God in it, is a very difficult and very rich spiritual practice.
So we read the news. We get upset. We learn. We grieve. We empathize with our global community. We ask ourselves how we can do better, and when we can’t, we feel helpless. We ask ourselves how we participate in a world that creates this injustice, and we try to do better. Sometimes we need to go back to the cave for a while. We try to remember that destruction is a part of a larger cycle that often makes way for new birth, new forms of thought, for new possibilities we never could have thought of before we got so hurt. That the work we are doing may help give birth to something new, even if we can’t see it yet. It could be hope.