It is so much easier to tell someone else or an organization to change than to actually change ourselves. How many times have you made a statement that Ashtanga, the government, your job, your yoga studio should change but you cannot even clean out your closets without having a meltdown?
For most people, switching careers, cities, boyfriends or hairstyles is a harrowing ordeal, but your democracy, that should change overnight. Not only should everyone change but they should do it smoothly and quickly without disrupting YOUR life. Hmm…how realistic is that?
I have been yearning for change in my own life and I have made no steps in any direction. Zero. How about you? I know I am not the only one lamenting my life and then getting up every morning doing the exact same thing in the exact same way.
It is so easy to get on social media, do podcasts, write blogs and books about how other people need to change and yet we ourselves cannot change. Is it possible that others are just as immobilized by the fear of the unknown as we are? Is it possible that others are just as comfortable in their everyday routine as we are? That they enjoy the consistency of the cash flowing into their bank accounts just as much as we enjoy the money coming into our own?
We want to believe that politicians, famous people, heads of organizations are “superhuman”. That they somehow don’t have the same issues that we do. That they should have a reservoir of strength to pull from that normal humans don’t have. That they have a “do the right thing” muscle that normal humans don’t have. It is not true. Just as normal people, who are afraid of change, sit around in jobs, relationships and situations that sap away their joy, these “superhumans” do as well.
So what are we to do when our leaders fear the repercussions of change? When their daily decisions, based on a need to keep the status quo, are negatively affecting not just our lives but generations to come?
We have to become the change agents ourselves. How can we influence someone else to change their minds when we cannot even change our own? If we are afraid of our own voices, how can we help someone else find their own? If we cannot clean out our actual closets, how can we help someone else clean out their mental one?
We have to start by getting comfortable with the fear of change ourselves. Yogis call the fear of death, Abinivesha. Abinhivesha is so hard to get over that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali even says that the wisest men have trouble overcoming it. Learning to deal with the death of our own stories, lives, images, relationships, jobs, bank accounts etc can be one of the most difficult hurdles we can ever overcome.
Depending on how big a change you are trying to make, like MLK Jr, you may even have to deal with the fear of physical death. MLK didn’t just give speeches and preach sermons. In our modern world, that would be akin to putting stuff on social media, doing some podcasts and speaking on some panels. He marched, organized, boycotted, and actively worked for change in the community.
Who is doing that? How many people are willing to lose their jobs, place in the community, reputations, bank account and comfortable lives for the things they bitch and moan about on social media? Who is organizing? Who is willing to take the chance on losing money at their yoga studios by hiring teachers of color and talking about the other 7 limbs of yoga instead of nice abs? Who is willing to figure out a way to directly speak with people in power face to face and ask them the hard questions? Who is going to unionize Yoga teachers so that they can make a living wage? Who is going to stop the yoga teacher farms that supply us with more teachers then the market demands which results in such low pay? These are actions. See the difference?
Whatever it is that you are bitching and moaning about, what are you willing to do other than bitch and moan? If you are not willing to lose something, don’t expect other people to be willing to either.
That is the place I am in right now. I am taking a hard look at what I am willing to change in my life before I start telling other people what they should change. Anything I am not willing to personally go to bat for, I don’t feel I have the right to tell someone else to go to bat for it either. There is another reason, other than confronting my own fear of change, that this is important.
It is easy to say what we would do until we are in the situation. I will never forget being in Mysore and Sharath asked me a question and my mind went completely blank. I waited 16 years to go to Mysore. I have had 1000’s of conversations with Sharath in my brain prior to going. When it was time to actually speak, nothing. Radio silence. The truth is until I put myself out there, I have no clue what I am going to do. It is so easy for me to say, “if I owned my own yoga studio, I would do this”, “if I had an opportunity to talk to Trump, I would say this”, “If I was the head of KPJAYI, I would do this”, but the truth is, I have no clue what I would do. I have no clue because I am not doing anything that remotely puts me in the same level of risk. Deciding between Purina and Rachel Ray cat food has not prepared me for any of those situations. My hardest decision today will be whether or not I should have a donut after dinner.
So I am starting with me. I am increasing my level of risk. I am facing my own fears of change. I am putting myself in the line of fire and patching up bullet wounds. I am asking myself to change first. I am looking for the courage to change my own small world. I will deal with the world at large after my donut.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail email@example.com.