Sunday, August 10, 2008

World-changing Actions

Being and doing are not separate from one another. The two words "being" and "doing" describe different aspects of experience, which really is one huge all-inclusive thing. The reason I am bringing this up, even though it might seem obvious, is because a subtle misunderstanding has tripped me up.

In yoga there seems to be an emphasis on being--almost to the point that doing is bad. "Stop doing so much, and slow down," might be a message that someone would walk away with. And in some cases it might not be a bad idea. Of course I see that we are in a culture that emphasizes the material side of life. Yet it also puts us in a double-bind where being and doing are interfering with one another: in order to be I have to stop doing so much. So I'm stuck because I have things I need to do. Looking a little deeper into Indian philosophy shows a way to work with this apparent conflict.

"In contrast with Western philosophy which acknowledges only five senses, Hindu tradition attributes eleven senses to the body, the five senses of knowledge (the jnanidriyas), i.e. the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch, and the five senses of action (the karmindriyas), i.e. the hands (as the means of action), the feet (as the means of locomotion), the digestion and the elimination (both necessary for the survival of the individual body), and the sex organs (necessary for the survival of the human race). The eleventh sense is the mind, which coordinates the other ten senses..."
-Dona Holleman, Centering Down

Understanding action as a sense offers a possibility that we can perceive the world through our actions, as well as our ability to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. This idea is extremely empowering and hopeful to me. The world is no longer only what I see and hear and so on passively, now the world is also what I do. Suddenly, with this subtle perceptual change, the world becomes a creative and vital place where I can make a difference.

In the Western model, it seems like the truth is outside me, like I need to be told, or see someone do something, before I permit myself to do it. But when I shift my perspective to embrace doing as a natural expression of myself, it gives meaning to what I want because now I can do something about it. It also somehow gives me permission to act, knowing that doing is as natural as seeing or tasting.

It also liberates the western yoga practitioner to know that it's okay to do, and even good to act. We don't have to worry so much about loosing "being" because we have things to do. But, can we also allow our yoga practice to help us to act from a place of increasing awareness, and really consider how our actions are changing the world? Are we making the world a better place?

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