I’ve been reading a book called “The Atheist’s Way: Living Well without Gods” by Eric Maisel. I recommend this book to anyone who has considered him or herself to be a ‘spiritual atheist,’ because I have found a concept in this book that has changed my mind about how atheists should address ideas of ‘spirituality. Continue reading
Haven’t been writing much lately–haven’t had a lot of inspiration or time to write.
I have been working on developing a daily practice. I get up at about 6:40, and go in the spare bedroom and do a couple of sun salutations and a few other poses depending on how I feel. I’ve done that every day since last Sunday. Let’s see if I have the discipline to keep this up.
I’ve said in a previous post that there is some tension present in being an atheist and a yogi. I think it’s more to the point to say there is tension between being a skeptic and a yogi. While in general the teachers whose classes I frequent usually stick with pretty non-controversial claims about the benefits of yoga, every now and then I hear things that make me smirk and squirm a little inside. Stuff like this (not exact quotes):
- We’re going to have a relaxed class today because it’s near the new moon. Our energy levels are lowest during the new moon.
- Anything about chakras.
- Anything about Kundalini.
- Anything about Ayurveda.
- Claims that any of the above must be real and good because it’s been practiced for 1000′s of years.
I’ve tolerated this stuff for the most part, and have even gone along with it for the sake of experimentation. I have found that, in general, these things have not been core to the classes. The chakra talk I can deal with as being symbolic for different areas and characteristics of the body. No problem. Same with Kundalini. The alternative medicine stuff does set me a bit on edge though. Especially when I read about things like this: http://whatstheharm.net/ayurvedicmedicine.html. Maybe I’ll ask my teacher about that. Were all these people just doing it wrong?
I’m into the holistic aspect of yoga, and this is why it’s been the only exercise program I’ve stuck with regularly going on two years now. I’m not in it “just for the workout,” it’s also about the mental and emotional benefit as well. I’m all for the non-rational–I don’t have to reason everything out and understand how everything works in order to accept it. What I can’t accept is the irrational. What if some of these things being practiced as part of yoga can actually be harmful?
When I was a teenager I used to think a lot about the question “Who am I?” Lots of descriptive words would pop into my mind: daughter, student, reader, Christian…the list could go on. But the more I thought about these words the more I realized that they do not say a thing about who I am. They only describe different aspects of me. I read during my exploration of Buddhism that the thing we know of as “I” disappears when you look for it and that indicated that it is does not really exist. This is consistent with my own experience.
However, I still feel some need to identify myself, and my list has changed quite a lot since I was a teen. You will probably note that I listed “Christian” as one of my identity words. Yea, “Christian” was a huge part of my identity and for a time in my life my life practically revolved around that piece. If you asked me who I was when I was a teen, that is likely one of the first words I would think of after my name. A lot has changed since then.
I’m aware that lots of atheists out there do not consider “atheist” to be a large part of their identity. And it’s probably fair to say a lot of Christians do not consider it to be a huge identity issue either. I’m sure that the reason it is for me is the huge importance religion has always had to my sense of self. When I eventually found the teachings to be Christianity to be out of sync with what I knew of the world, I went through a major identity crisis. I was at a bit of a loss on how to act in certain circumstances–like how to react to parents and family members who still strongly identified with Christianity. (From stories I’ve read from other atheists with Christian parents this is a very, very common issue.) Since I’d always been taught that morality comes from God, I had to completely rework my understanding of morality. It was no longer about obedience to a higher power, but about human wellbeing and happiness (a great improvement, since obedience is a very poor and childish basis for morality). One example of major change in my thinking is that I could no longer find any good reason whatsoever why gay people should not be allowed to marry. I am still of the opinion that the reason that Christians are so strongly opposed to homosexuals is that one of the very, very few issues that the Bible seems unambiguous about. Actual unambiguous direction from the Bible? That is something you don’t see every day.
I strongly identify as an atheist. But having come to the conclusion that it’s not healthy to identify only as one thing (especially something that is just saying what I don’t believe), I’ve branched out into other areas of interest as well. Yoga, of course—though that does at time create some tension with the atheist label. I am also a nature lover, and love camping and kayaking. I’m interested in improving my communication and public speaking skills so I’ve signed up with Toastmasters International. My first meeting as a member is this coming Monday.
Identity is a complex thing. Atheism is only a starting point, and part of a realization that you are responsible for creating your own self –according to what kind of person you want to be. And not waiting around for a god to “reveal his will for your life.” It’s a start.
There is a Barns and Noble bookstore within a couple minutes drive of my office, so from time to time I hang out there during my lunch break. Last Wednesday I went in and sat by the section in Philosophy with the books of atheism and reflected on some of the things I have learned about atheism in my 7 years of considering myself an atheist. Things I didn’t realize when I started out of this path. Continue reading
Lately in my home practice I’ve been concentrating on Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) and Plow Pose (Halasana). I’ve been starting off in Shoulderstand and lowering my feet to a chair for Plow, but today I lowered my feet all the way to the floor. Still need to work on coming out of the Plow with control, but this is a milestone for me.
When I meditate, this is what I do. I listen.
That’s probably too obscure, so I’ll explain what I mean. Think about a situation when you are listening to another person talk. If you don’t stop talking yourself, and stop thinking about what you want to say next, you can’t really be listening to what they are saying. When I first started meditating a few years ago, I noticed how noisy my mind was. When I stopped to observe what was going on in my head, I found it was like a never-ending cacophony. One thought after another, without end. No wonder I was so distracted so much of the time.
Now I am a firm believer in reason, and I was concerned about the idea that it is ever good to stop thinking, even for a little while. Stop thinking? That is how you get drawn in to irrationality and woo-woo. Never check your brain at the door!
But meditation is not “checking your mind at the door.” Stopping thinking is more like stopping talking for a while so that you can hear what is going on around you. So you can really listen. And I find that when I have stopped the incessent internal conversation, and really listened to what is going on, both inside and outside myself, I am prepared to be even more rational than ever.
With all the noise in my life, I really do enjoy the silence.
I haven’t been to class this week at all–something or other came up every morning. Monday I needed to take the cats to the vet, and Wednesday I woke with nausea and a headache. At least on Tuesday and today I managed to squeeze in a bit of home practice. I do mainly Hatha Yoga, and a bit of seated meditation. The classes I attend are a mix of Hatha Flow (where one pose flows into another), regular Hatha, breathing exercises, and some meditation. The teachers mix it up, so no two classes have the same mix. I take my classes at Yoga East, and have been ever since September of 2007. I had tried the classes at Gold’s Gym some time before but I didn’t like the classes or the attitude of the instructor. Yoga just doesn’t seem to work right when the instructor is really trained to do aerobics or weight training, and hasn’t really focused on yoga. At any rate, Gold’s Gym wasn’t a good fit, even though I still had to pay the membership fee for the rest of my two years contract. At least I got some good use out of their other equipment for a while.
I haven’t studied in depth about yogic philosophy, but I know a bit of it. And the classes seem to work better when the teachers know and care about the philosophical aspect. The ironic part is that I have a bit of trouble with some of it, like the chakras and the kundalini and the like. Sounds very mystical and non-rational. My tenitive approch to this sort of thing is to either ignore it or see if I can get any use of these concepts as metaphore. Fortunately in most of the classes, these things are not really given a big focus in the class though they do get the occasional mention.
Regardless of any “woo” that gets inserted into the class, there is no escaping the fact that I greatly enjoy and benefit from the practice. Even the chanting–even if I have no clue what we are saying I love the feel of the vibration in my chest and the sound of the whole class chanting in unison. It really does clear and center my mind and focus my attention on the present moment. Another thing I have observed in my practice is that in the balancing poses, my ability to balance has at least as much to do with my mental focus as with my ability to find my center of gravity. And all balancing poses (maybe all poses, I’m not sure) rely on a balance of tension and relaxation–the trick is to find that right balance. This has also been the only type of exercise that I have ever been motivated to keep up for over a year. And I intend to stick with it for quite some time.