SVADHYAYA : SELF-STUDY
Sva means self. Adhyaya means reading or lesson. Svadhyaya means the reading of one’s self, or self study. Included in this is the reading of enlightening or spiritual texts; those which bring us into further reflection and understanding of ourselves.
As I write these stories, I am aware of the world in which they are written, aside from what has been transpiring for me personally since moving to New Mexico. There is a global pandemic. There is an election. There is a rising call for social justice.
For a long time, especially when teaching yoga in Manhattan, I was cautious not to bring anything “too political” into my classes. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I wanted people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable in my classes. I shared what felt true and worthwhile to me, but was mindful to do it in a way that would hopefully not make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I still care very much about these things.
The meaning of comfortable and uncomfortable has shifted for me.
Ever since May 25th, the day that George Floyd was murdered, I have come to realize that there was a lot more self studying I needed to do.
Since that day, I have begun the often uncomfortable process of examining my assumptions around race. I, like many others, did not believe myself to be racist. In May, I began educating myself by reading books and articles I had not read before, listening to podcasts and watching movies I had not heard and seen before, having conversations with people and about topics I had not had before. Through all this, I started to see myself a bit differently. I have come to understand that it’s not enough to “not be racist”. If I was going to do my part in creating an environment where “people of all backgrounds could feel comfortable”, there was active work I needed to do. I realized it was no longer ok for me to care about social justice, but in an effort to not offend anyone, end up staying so quiet that I wasn’t promoting an environment that was actually equal for everyone. I might not have been making anything worse, but I also wasn’t using my voice to make things any better.
I still don’t wish to offend. But I also don’t wish to be silently complicit. I am aware this might have unintended consequences, in which I may alienate some in order to stand up for others. It is a risk I am ready to take. But I take it without the resignation that “agreeing” or “leaving” are the only two options we all have left.
One of the most valuable currencies we have right now is our ability to communicate. And by communication, I mean thoughtful conversation. Far more than any other tool of modern day communication, the ability to have civil conversation with someone you may not see eye to eye with is sorely needed. Otherwise we simply further recede into our own separate corners – and I’m not sure what will come of that other than further division. The more knowledge we have, the more thoughtful and in-depth these conversations can be.
Most of my life I have been a notorious evader of conflict. It’s hard, but I am having the awkward conversations if they are there to be had. And they are happening; amongst family, students and peers. I am grateful for those opportunities. I am especially thankful for the level of trust that is present, from all parties, in order to create the environment for those conversations to happen.
There are always reasons and many ways to practice svadhyaya. Self examination is placed towards the end of the yamas and niyamas because without all the previous precepts, it would be harder to do than it already is. To truly self reflect, one must be established in things like honesty, non-harming, discipline, and non-attachment. Time tested and true spiritual texts are an important part of self study. They act like a mirror, holding up a reflection to the places you are already working. And those texts need not be limited to yoga; spiritual texts from every major religion or philosophy have their own moral codes of conduct. Poetry, insightful articles and modern books can have a similar illuminating effect.
I never wish to lecture, but I do hope to encourage. If you are curious to know what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to, there is a Resources link on my website. I am still very much in the process of learning, and imagine it will be a lifelong endeavor. I’m ok with that. Through self-reflection, I have realized that it has become far better for me to be uncomfortable these days than to be “comfortable”.