by Neal Pollack
Election Day is almost upon us in the States, at merciful last. Stress runs high; people are stressed, anxious, angry, sleepless, and appalled, their future uncertain, their country’s ultimate fate unknown. Despite my vast spiritual powers accumulated over several years of intermittently hard work on the mat, I’m not immune. Over the weekend, I found myself yelling at my very Republican father about global warming, despite the fact that he was talking about something else. My mind swims with apocalyptic “what if” scenarios. But then, to calm myself, I ponder yoga. What is the proper yogic response, I wonder, to campaign-induced craziness?
One’s first thought is: Vote Democrat. After all, if only card-carrying Yoga Alliance teachers were allowed to vote in the election, President Obama would win the biggest landslide in history. The Huffington Post sponsored a yoga-based chill-out tent during both the RNC and the DNC. Sometimes it seems that yogis are a bunch of naive hippies who want to end war and give free towels and Luna bars to the poor.
Then again, I know quite a few Republicans, my father included, who practice yoga regularly. Despite the admonitions of a few backwards preachers and seminary intellectuals, “Christian yoga” has never been more popular. The most Republican precincts in Orange County, CA, boast as many yoga studios as they do drive-through tanning salons. Republicans enjoy having a clear mind and a healthy body as they hatch their evil plot to permanently starve the national treasury.
Yoga knows no political party or ideological affiliation. Politics, like everything else on this precious Earth, are temporary. The sutras present a series of philosophical principles, but they are undogmatic, a sketch, general rules for civil conduct, like the Ten Commandments or the editorial page of the Sunday New York Times. Also, they were written thousands of years ago, long before the births of Thomas Jefferson or Willard “Mitt” Romney.
The Buddhist philosophical system called samkhya, which doesn’t apply to 100 percent of yoga but still greatly influences the styles of yoga most often practiced in the West today, posits that reality can be divided into two categories: purusha, an eternal, unknowable, unchanging cosmic spirit, and pakriti, the material world. Pakriti makes up what we objectively know, and it’s always changing. Our thoughts, feelings, and material surroundings are pakriti. So are our party affiliations and political preferences. Everything is temporary, a beautiful dance, all illumined by the eternal light of purusha’s pure awareness.
In other words, 400 years ago, there were no Democrats or Republicans, just a few Puritans and the Native Americans they were destined to slaughter. Four hundred years from now, when the world is ruled by an overlord cultural triumvirate of aliens, vampires, and the Chinese, our political parties will probably have long ceased to exist, and the massive stresses of the 2012 election season will seem as distant as the Black Plague. It’s all as ephemeral as the morning’s sunlight or the weird zit I have on my left elbow right now.
That’s not to say politics don’t matter, because of course they do. Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values. That will make you unique among Americans. Seriously, though, you should vote, though not more than once, and you should realize that your vote matters even if you live in a state that Romney is going to win regardless of what you do. We have to remember that whether we’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or, god forbid, French, we’re all just renting a little physical space here for a short while, and it’s our mission and duty to love and treat one another with kindness.
But if Obama loses, I’m moving to India. That place has no political problems at all.