When we look at the world around us, we can be amazed at the kind of progress that we now experience. Changes seem so fast and the modern day mantra seems to be: newer, faster, more convenient, more efficient. Seems innocent enough at first glance, until we start to weigh in the high cost that we pay. What defines contemporary living are fast food, internet, iPhones, GMOs, the pursuit of money. We want newer technology, so we change our phones every six months, creating more waste on Earth. We want faster food and more of them too, so there are faster kill lines to keep up with the demand. (Not that slow kill lines are better. Killing animals is violent in any situation.) We want more convenience so corporations have become more powerful than ever. Monsanto is in so much of our food, their pesticides killing our bees, their seeds oppressing our farmers. We want to be more efficient, get more bang for our buck, and the companies we buy cheap trendy clothes from are using sweat shops and subjecting people to horrible inhumane working conditions. All that so-called progress has a price I am sure we are unwilling to pay had we been on the receiving end of this oppression. The only reason we may think we are not affected by all of this is the illusion of our separation from others.
How about a paradigm shift in how we define progress? How about instead of lining up to get new Apple products, we instead use that time to think of solutions to our biggest problems? How about instead of obssessing about how many megapixels our camera is, we focus our attention on how many hungry mouths we can feed? How about instead of being consumed with consumption, we free ourselves and really look at things that matter? How about instead of seeing progress as newer, faster, more efficient, more convenient, we start thinking along the lines of kinder, more compassionate, more aware, more connected?
If we think the world around us is messed up, can we see that we are part of it and that we may possibly even be the cause of it? In many cases, it is not enough to take a neutral stand. As Desmond Tutu said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". This is how the activism of my teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life and their teacher Swami Nirmalananda inspires me. Being a yogi does not mean we stand back and do nothing. Being a yogi means that we not only chant Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu within the safe walls of the practice room, it means we truly understand that all of our thoughts and words and actions matter all the time.
When we acquire newer technologies as a consequence of destroying the Earth that we live in, is that progress? When we create faster ways of killing animals, making something wrong more economically viable, is that progress? When we yield more crops that last longer at the cost of the extinction of bees and oppression of humans and sabotage of our health, is that progress? When trendy clothes become cheap because the workers at the factory making these clothes are treated like slaves, is that progress?
If we do nothing but conform to the current wrongs, we may think we are being kind by keeping the peace. But keeping the peace when the status quo is violence is not being kind. Kindness may at times have a strong voice, even an aggressive voice, because it is about standing up to bullies while having compassion for them, and protecting the bullied while empowering them. Kindness may be loud because courage is often heard.
And so we must ask ourselves as yogis: What is progress? Can our yoga practice inspire us to be kinder, more compassionate, more aware, more connected? The teachings of yoga are different and yet the same. We learn about ahimsa or nonviolence, karuna or compassion, maitri or friendliness, yoga or oneness, and they all point to the same thing. They all point to love.
What is progress if we desire yoga? It is beyond the asana and penetrates into acceptance that we are all connected. It is awakening to the truth that the only direction in which progress matters is towards kindness. It is learning that love is free and democratic and unconditional and unbound. It does not pick or choose or discriminate or isolate. The progress of yoga is the progress towards kindness. The progress towards kindness is active. It requires our voice and commitment to carry it out. It is a progress that cares about sentient beings, not things. It is a progress that drives us to reclaim the meaning of progress.