You may have had a yoga teacher ask you to set an intention for your practice. It wasn’t me because in my experience this narrows the avenues of exploration in both meditation and hatha yoga as these are specific endeavors aimed at expansion. But setting an intention for how you want to practice life, which begins with expansion, might not be a bad idea. At the core of contemporary yoga philosophy is the intention to dispel the veil of illusion that diffuses truth which takes a real magician as truth is cagey. The sword and shield for that is the practice of non-violence. So an objective of yoga is to banish ignorance and one might notice that gentleness begets an open mind. That’s considerably harder than it sounds. Or we may be considerably more ignorant than we realized.
I recently read the Time’s piece on barely paid Chinese factory workers who uniquely excel at suppressing their humanity to make electronics at record speed so that we consumers can have spectacular products at low prices and the suppliers can accrue millions. It’s a win/win for everyone if you discount the Chinese people who are living sub-human lives as sorrowful as dogs in puppy mills.
Consider the Republican cry to deregulate and unleash the private sector as a means to make money flow in this country when you read that an Apple executive said that although Apple makes attempts to reduce the painful conditions of Chinese laborers who make their products it is just too easy to get away with it.
Think of the cry against the business of spending more than we have that precipitated a housing crisis and the habit of credit card debt that fuels our economy, the habit of government debt and borrowing so that we can keep spending and consider that we cannot afford the real cost of all the crap that we want in five minutes. We are getting some of it at the cost of other people’s lives so that we can have it cheaper and faster than if we would if it was produced kindly. It is being gotten by violence. It is being used in ignorance. And what’s the damn hurry, anyway! Was there hardship without the I-Phone 4 or the new I-Pad, for example?
I think I’m a nice person, a person who would not do this but in ignorance I’ve been a party to it by unwittingly purchasing blood products. To be gentle of spirit and not be an ignoramus is harder than it seems.
You are Us, We Are You; Now Set Your Intentions
From the first breath in and out the breath has traveled in time to join one breathing creature to another through the exchange of breath. Even if we are not exchanging breath we are matter and matter is energy and the mind is energy and the breath is energy and that energy that is you is part of the connective tissue of the planet that is me. As I write this, flying in this bumpy seat over the Rockies, I look down at mountains and bodies of water, at the snow, at the clouds, at the wing of this plane, at the man beside me and I feel no division.
I heard a curious thing at a tender age from a Macrobiotic chef who gave cooking lessons to the staff of our little restaurant in Aspen. Cook with a peaceful attitude because the food will absorb your energy and that will affect those who eat it. I hadn’t thought of that.
Another guru taught me that you absorb the energy of the animals you eat and if an animal dies in fear and pain, it becomes yours. I didn’t eat meat but I didn’t know that either.
And I’ve since paused to change an impatient or angry attitude so the food I’m serving will be infused with love. And though I quit eating meat as a kid my desire to proselytize (to mostly annoy) friends and family to not eat meat was heightened after considering an animal screaming at its end; its sorrow and fear becoming a part of another.
But I have been complicit in the suffering of animals too, complicit in my ignorance of how dairy cows are treated, in my ignorance of how chickens are treated. It took me more than a quarter of a century from the time I stopped eating meat and more from the time I became conscious of what emotion I was cooking into my food to discover via the internet the cruelty that afforded me the eggs I baked with and the lovely gourmet cheeses I adore.
I’ve learned the cotton I thought was the natural choice for my clothing is grown with earth murdering pesticides; the natural products I’ve used for my bath and body are packaged in plastic bottles that release unwanted by-products into the earth and into me. I didn’t know how toxic batteries are in a landfill and I didn’t know that fluorescent lights were noxious also.
I have been complicit by ignorance. Things often have a cost we didn’t suspect. We cannot be aware of everything. This is the cost of living. To be aware of every transgression and to make it a business to fight every transgression is a full time and sorrowful job. As students of yoga we are bound to consider the effect of what we do and of who we are. And then not go crazy. Conscious thinking and moving, studying human nature and past and present history, mentored by those who thought this through before we were in this time and place, prepares us better than some others for the not going crazy thing. Taking action with the choices we make and communicating our feelings to those in positions of financial and government power is something we can do that makes a difference.
My intention is the same failed intention I always have. Don’t hurt anyone, don’t be a dumb-ass. I fail at this remarkably well but I keep trying. Now I’m wondering if I am absorbing the pain of Chinese laborers when I use my I-Pod. I tell myself it’s not my fault as it was a recycled gift from a client but I still feel guilty. I make a note to not let this stuff make me crazy. But I think we cannot afford to pay the price of another’s suffering.