And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” ~ John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Almost 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy shifted the country’s mindset with this now-famous speech. His words echo in the cavern of our current predicament in which a worldwide pandemic has killed 152,000 Americans – and yet some citizens of our country are rejecting a simple, low-cost deterrent to this abhorrent disease.
“A small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective, low-tech solution that can turn the tide favorably in national and global efforts against COVID-19” is how Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes the use of facemasks to fight the spread of COVID-19.
So what’s behind our resistance? Why are Americans outraged by this supposed “submission muzzle” that some feel is being forced upon them when we’ve seen the clear efficacy of this tool in fighting a worldwide pandemic? (Texas A&M study on mask efficacy)
Where is our sense of civic duty that President Kennedy promoted, which he followed with the creation of the Peace Corps? The Peace Corps sent young Americans around the world on a mission to promote social and economic development, offer technical assistance, and nurture mutual understanding. We could certainly use some mutual understanding within our own country about now!
As always, yoga has a brilliant prism through which we can view these current events. Consider the Kleshas, sometimes called “The Poisons.” These human inclinations common to all keep us from being our best selves and living our fullest lives.
Klesha #1: Avidya or Ignorance
What we don’t know, we don’t know about ourselves, about others, or about the way things actually occur. Our lack of information can engender misunderstandings and lead us to create stories that lack any basis in truth.
I’ve got my story, and I’m sticking with it!
Klesha #2: Asmita or Egoism
When “I” become the most important thing in my life, suffering arises. When we become egocentric, instead of expanding and blossoming our souls, our awareness shrinks, and we get selfish.
No mask for me – you’re not the boss of me now!
Kleshas #3 and #4: Raga or Attachment and Dvesha or Aversion / Hatred
We all have deep-seated emotions that we aren’t even aware of that direct our actions. This catalogue of pleasure and pain in our hypothalamus is deeply ingrained in us. As a result, we become attached to and avoid different ideas, thoughts, activities, and people.
I won’t talk to you because your ideas are wrong, and mine are right. So there!
Klesha #5: Abhinivesha or Fear of Death
We all have it – the fear of our passing. Despite the surety of this event, our capacity to deny its inevitability is legendary. This is why we practice Savasana or Corpse pose EVERY practice! We humbly acknowledge both the great gift of a human life and the truth that it is time-limited.
COVID is just a hoax, and I don’t know anyone who’s died of it!
So if our story is that COVID-19 is fake news made up by the media / the Deep State / your favorite YouTube spokesman or Bill Gates, we become attached to that story, and it gives us a sense of security. If we are convinced we are the most important player in this play of life, then wearing a mask for the benefit of others is unnecessary because our needs and wants always trump everyone and anyone else’s needs and wants.
The practice of yoga involves the difficult, internal, and honest work of examining ourselves, our attitudes, our commitment to our highest selves, and to our community. Yoga unequivocally calls us to assist those in need through Seva or selfless service. The victims of COVID-19 have been 23% Black, a much higher rate than the U.S. Black population of 13.4%. In Louisiana, Blacks account for 70% of those COVID-19 deaths. We all bear part of this suffering due to systemic racism and unequal freedoms and opportunities in our country.
Yoga calls us to look at ourselves and to our society and to do the right thing. As my now 100-year-old Mother taught me, we help others; fight against racism, oppression, and ignorance of the truth; and use our yogic practices of meditation, breathing, self-study, and mindful movement to move towards our highest selves.
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