As a “certified” yoga and meditation teacher (for what little that’s worth, let me hasten to add) I agree with this article 💯%. And it’s a damn shame.
(link to the article in the comments)
Plenty of people come to wellness practices (so-called, more on that later) just to learn party tricks or flex their narcissism, and many also teach for these reasons, unfortunately. But some (teacher and student alike) are involved because they want to learn more about themselves, improve their relationship to their mind-body system, or learn to approach the world with greater kindness. These are brave things to seek given the vulnerability such a quest reveals. Whether we admit it or not, we all share this vulnerability. My first yoga teacher, a genuine flawed seeker, used to say that everyone is always prone. Teachers and students who arrive on the mat or the cushion with the goal of coming closer to their vulnerability, no matter their other flaws should be unhesitatingly respected for having the integrity to acknowledge even if only to themselves the confusion of being born into this small human existence. That doesn’t mean they should be given power over our lives or placed on any kind of pedestal. But coming to a place of agnosis is a scary, yet human thing, and having the guts to admit it, even if we agree about nothing else, is worthy of recognition.
But when the ache of that innocent yet insightful “don’t-know mind” is exploited by profiteering charmers, it is an abomination. I don’t teach anymore, so it’s not as if I’m interested in protectingsome professional reputation. Neither is it the throwing away of money by these students that particularly bothers me, nor is it the profit-making by peddlers of so-called wellness. What embitters me to the industry of wellness is (deep breath): to have people come so far as to openly admit (to themselves if no one else) that they are in existential pain, and to have them seek ways of making sense of that, only to be derailed for years or turned off by slick neoliberal productisation curtails the potential of people just as they are on the verge of unlocking deep insight and compassion. These are qualities that will not only ease the pain of our own lives, but bring us together in ways that our culture as a whole needs – and lacks. To cut that off for the sake of a quick money grab or fame grab is to me an abhorrent kind of predation.
What makes these people (I was one for a while) vulnerable to this kind of exploitation is the goal of seeking “wellness” in the first place, which we’ve been told is the same as seeking happiness and meaning. This is pure BS. To seek “wellness” involves a tacit assumption that we are not well to begin with. Such thinking encourages us to place responsibility for our (so-called, future, hypothetical, and – it turns out – unattainable) “wellness” in some external force or entity. Forces and entities that just so happen to have what we supposedly need, if we have enough money.
We all have survival instincts and we all share mortality, too. That conflict comes together in an embodied, inescapable way as we age and are affected by the passing of time. It is built into our existence. The occult, dizzying, and if left unexamined depressing spectacle of simply being alive – with enough consciousness to KNOW that we are alive, without enough to understand it.
Because spirituality (true spirituality, the unsee-able, non-Instagram version) addresses the paradox of our towering yet prone ego, I think we should approach practices like meditation and Yoga as an artistic, creative expression. Not one to be consumed by others scrolling through our Instagram feed. You can’t, in fact, see anyone’s yoga. You can only see them posing.
Just like any creative process, nothing will dry it up and strangle our insights more than trying to put on a show for others, because a preoccupation with what others think will lead only to conformance. Yes, art is an expression that we want others to understand (and this dance of self and other lies at the heart of mysticism too), but it needs to come from within, from a fearless place where we don’t try to have anyone approve of it. Understanding does not require approval.
Many artists, musicians, and writers address the very same questions as I’m talking about. In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the character Jaques says “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women, merely players.”
Each interaction we have with the world is causally linked to the conditioning and experiences that led up to it. How any moment plays out, and how we perceive it, is a result of who we are, who we think we are, who and what we notice through our senses and how we relate to it. And those all arise – including what we notice, how we perceive it, and how we relate to it – as a result of how the previous moment arose for us as a subjectivity through a marvellously intricate web of interconnectedness. Our perception is fabricated instantaneously from our previous perceptions, each one delusional, deeply unreal and massively incomplete — no matter how many arm balances we do or how many hours we sit in meditation. But what these ancient practices, like all art, can teach us if we let them, is that while fundamental reality is unknowable, it’s also intensely beautiful, even while being so often heart-breaking.
AI researchers agonise over consciousness to this day – what defines it, how do we test for it, how does it arise? Is it real? Any answers to these, I think, will always fail to describe the embodied, experiential, subjective reality that shimmers like a mirage in each mind moment. Every experience is richer and so much stranger than can be summed up in science or even art. Although many wiser and more articulate people than I may come close.
The practices of mysticism and wellness are not significantly related to one another. To think otherwise, besides being ludicrous, cheapens what it means to be a human being. Human experience is poetic, creative, and indescribably unique to each of us, in ways that go thoroughly beyond longevity, athletic prowess, or concentration skills.
I don’t teach at studios any more, I don’t run any classes, I don’t advertise any kind of service and I wouldn’t take any kind of teaching position for this reason. While some part of me wanted to take on that role and did so for a few years, nothing I have learned leads me to believe I am or will ever be ready for it. I share my own experience freely with others who are into the same stuff, humbly hoping I can help them with their confusion as much as they can definitely help me with mine. Not by showing each other the way to something “better”, but just by being open and inquisitive together about our lives.
“Good companions are the whole of the spiritual life” – Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”)
There is nothing to fix. When we try to fix and polish our experiences, we distort ourselves and the world in ways that lessen it and us, that remove the dimensionality that gives it (and us) vibrancy.
Life, as a human, is a dream. Life is the most ecstatic, magical and frightening dream. And thank fuck that’s all it can ever be. Learn to dream massively, openly, dive into the nightmare and fly the shit out of it.