In Search of Mental Equilibrium

There are times in a person’s life when mental equilibrium can be almost impossible to find; and now is such a time for me. There is a man who has lied, cheated, run away and hidden in fridges, stolen journalist’s phones and held talks with the US about our public services, and still enough people are planning to vote for his party to enable him to be Prime Minister. Devastating cuts to public services are not enough to change their minds, nor are threats to the NHS, nor cowardice in the face of Andrew Neil (who, to his credit, did his best to shame Johnson into being interviewed.) Nope, the nation wants this guy and apparently the phrase GET BREXIT DONE, when repeated often enough, is sufficient to overturn all this. I simply cannot believe a single person would vote for him, let alone millions. It makes me wonder what has happened to the world.

It is essential to one’s mental well-being to have a break from all this, and yesterday I took the train down to Leicester to look round the shops and visit a friend in hospital. It was a horrid day, windy and wet, but nevertheless a welcome break and I was able to buy a couple of pressies; however I was less than gruntled to find a TV in the waiting room blasting out a speech by our glorious leader, necessitating a scramble for earphones and music.

Grr.

It’s been a week for egotistical males, as last night we watched a documentary about Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga. I have long been sceptical about this form of yoga as it seems to embody the most anti-yogic characteristics of competitiveness and greed. I was outraged to hear that Bikram was trying to copyright asanas (postures) which he did not invent but which derive from ancient texts and practices and belong to everyone. He did not succeed but the attempt embodies the very worst of capitalism.

Despite studying under his own guru, Bikram seems to have known nothing of the ethical side of yoga; the do’s and don’ts or yamas and niyamas which also come from the ancient texts and include such practices as ahimsa, non-violence; aparigraha, non-greed and most importantly brahmacharya, sexual abstinence or, for those in relationships, sexual continence. This was the most disturbing of the accusations levelled against him; that he did, Weinstein-like, invite young women to massage him and sexually assaulted them in his room. He is also accused of several rapes but has refused to testify.

Sadly the US equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service has declined to make this a criminal case in spite of the wealth of evidence against him, leaving plaintiffs to pursue their own civil cases. Bikram is in the same mould as Trump and Johnson and is still at large running courses in Mexico.

The film is well worth watching for the massive size of Bikram’s ego and for the way he quite literally stands on the backs of his students as they are performing asanas. And unless we vote him out, we can now look forward to five more years of Boris Johnson doing the same thing to the country.

Kirk out

What a Load of Old Santosh

There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment.  Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away.  Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content.  I just need this one thing to be happy.  But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better.  ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’  You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing.  And you really really want The Thing.  The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.

Give me the Thing!

Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga.  What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle.  Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly.  I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell.  There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.

Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:

Santosh

Saucha, or cleanliness,

Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)

Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts

Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).

But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:

Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)

Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)

Asteya, non-stealing

Aparigraha, non-greed

Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/the-yamas-and-niyamas

The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem.  If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed.  That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.

Kirk out