Yoga is a practice of awareness. It is about noticing, observing, and exploring. It is a commitment to being curious about yourself and the people and world around you. And, then using the awareness you cultivate to make intentional choices about how you move through this world.
Yoga is not about things being wrong or right, good or bad or doing things because someone told to do them. Yoga is about learning to act in the service of well-being – our own well-being and the well-being of other people and our planet.
In the midst of the commercialism and extravagance of the coming holiday season, it might be tempting for us yogis to judge some of the things others are doing to celebrate the holiday season as wrong or bad – or even “un-yogic”.
Imagine, for example, that you have an Aunt who loves the Christmas holidays and seems to get an incredible amount of joy from having lavishly wrapped presents under her Christmas tree and from engaging in an extravagant gift exchange with her family and close friends.
In your infinite spiritual wisdom, you may find yourself judging this Aunt for using wrapping paper without concern for the environment and for buying into the “mindless trap of consumerism” during the holiday season. Maybe you even make the judgement that the sense of joy she seems to find in fancy gifts is superficial and based in disillusionment.
Maybe there is some truth to your judgements. But, maybe cultivating a deeper understanding of your own tendency to judge is in greater service of your well-being than endeavouring to change the behaviour of your Aunt. My teacher Judith Lasater once told us to avoid, at all costs, looking at our loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga. She put it simply: “When we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”
As we look out into the world around us, it is easy to focus on how things could be better if other people changed. If everyone else refused to eat factory farmed meat, the impact on the well-being of animals would be incredible. If everyone was more mindful about their consumption of plastics, the impact on the health of our planet and the people and animals living on it would be staggering. If everyone practiced yoga and meditation, the world would be a more peaceful place. And, if no one used wrapping paper, a significant number of trees would not have to be cut down.
Practicing yoga is a source of profound joy for many people. And, it makes sense that as yogis we look at the amount of suffering in the world and we want everyone to do yoga. We want everyone to deepen their level of self-awareness and begin intentionally making choices that support our collective well-being. But again, because it is worth repeating, “when we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”
Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” This teaching is an important one to reconnect with when you find yourself judging others for unnecessary (and perhaps harmful) extravagance, and when you feel like you so clearly see that absence of yoga in another person. Remind yourself that Gandhi does not ask us to change other people; he asks us to be the change.
At the heart of the practice of yoga – and Gandhi’s quote, is the wisdom that change comes from within. I don’t change the world by pushing out into it. I change the world by changing what other people see when they look at it.
This holiday season let your greatest gift be your spirit. Remember that you are what other people see when they look at the world, and choose to radiate love, acceptance and an empathetic understanding of being human.
Best wishes this holiday season.