“If you don’t like something, take away its only power, your attention.” -Anon
Sounds nice huh? Yes, on one level this is true, but most people who say it, are not on that level. For most, it is simply spiritual bypassing and highly problematic. And often, a seemingly polite way of saying, “not my circus, not my monkeys”. Let me demonstrate. Picture yourself going to a loved one with an issue, if they looked at you and said, “I am not giving this my attention or power”, how would you feel? Would that be cool?
You: “Are you cheating on me?
Your partner: “I don’t like this conversation and I am not giving it any power or attention.”
You: “Son, your teacher called and said you didn’t go to school today. Where were you?”
Son: “I am not giving this any power or attention.”
You: “Mayor, the water in my city is contaminated and undrinkable.”
Mayor: “I am not giving this my power or attention.”
When it is your circus and your monkeys, you want to stand in your power and get everyone’s attention and participation. When you have the privilege of seemingly not having any monkeys in the circus, it’s not.
Privilege is the reason you can take your attention away from things. You are privileged to live in an area where you are not being shot at. Privileged to not fear for your life when you get stopped by police. Privileged to have clean water in your town. Privileged that your skin color never needs to be a concern. Privileged that your history is not being erased by the same people who also tried to erase your people from the planet. Privileged to not have been assaulted by your Yoga teacher.
Turning your attention away does not make the problem go away. Just because people turned their attention away from women being assaulted in their Yoga community, did not mean that it stopped happening. People, turning their attention away as Jews disappeared in their neighborhoods, did not stop the gas chambers from running. People turning away from humans being sold on an auction block did not cause slavery to stop. You may not talk about it but water in Flint is still contaminated.
Just because you turn your head away, does not mean power has been taken away. As a matter of fact, sometimes, the more you turn your head away, the more powerful the problem, person or situation becomes. Sometimes, that is exactly what they want. Turning your head away allows evil to breed, grow and fester. While you take your attention away, it seeps into the skin and the soil of a nation, organization, child, woman or man.
You cannot pick up every cross or your back would break. Don’t become a garbage can for everyone’s trash or the actual bearer of everyone’s bad news. However, the answer is also not to pick up trite sayings that make you feel good about ignoring issues that you feel don’t directly pertain to you. At the very least, don’t invalidate what others are going though. If you can make the situation better, make it better. If you can help someone be heard or amplify someone’s voice, do that. Do what you can, when you can. When you have power that is useful, use it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.