In the Flow

This morning I walked through my City of Sydney, drinking in the sights with these eyes for the last time before heading off for a month long adventure. In nine years, this will be the longest I have left this city and I am sitting here somewhere between being nervous and excited. It is a bit like going on a first date with someone who you’ve had your eye on for a while and you know it’s going to be a game changer. I am leaving my home, my cat, my students and my community but this is the next chapter of a story that started a long time ago. Finally, after three years of dreaming of it, I am hopping on a plane to undertake a 200 Hour Prana Flow Teacher Training with Shiva Rea in Greece.

It feels like I am standing here on the edge of change – ready to let go of what was, honouring what is and completely open to what will happen.

My first 200 Hour Teacher Training was done locally, with BodyMindLife in 2012. It was no doubt a life altering experience. So much changed for me during this time including a shedding of a long-term relationship and a huge change in career. I’m glad I had opted to do it part time to allow me the chance for slow integration into all aspects of my life. This time however, I am taking the plunge. I am immersing myself completely in the experience, limiting my contact to the outer world to a minimum.

Every time I go deeper into this path something of what I was, is stripped away so that I can become more of what I was meant to be both as a person and as a teacher. These events are magical even though they might not always be easy. They have a way of releasing an old way of being, a way of thinking that no longer serves us and sometimes even old relationships. Leading into this, I have been very careful not to make big commitments as I know that these are very personal journeys and it would not be fair to make a promise that I am not sure I will be able to keep.

There is so much to experience and so much to learn within yoga and we are lucky to be in Australia at this time as the tribe is continuously growing. We have had an influx of great international teachers including Ana Forrest, Maty Ezraty and Bryan Kest, each bringing with them a wealth of knowledge that has fed my own practice and my teaching.

Prana Flow however, has always been close to my heart.

This was a style that was introduced to me more than two years ago by Chanel Luck and Simon Park. Being an ex traditional dancer, something about the ritual and ceremony in combination with discipline, intelligent sequencing and the freedom of flow spoke to me. It was like the practice was telling a story and my body opened to participating in this tale that was being spun.

I am in love with how elements including the weather, the cycle of the moon and the energy of the students in the class are all welcomed into the space to create a complete experience. I am fascinated by how the more Tantric philosophies that honour the feminine are involved.   The way the flow is taught has given my body and soul a freedom that can only be found when my mind can get out of the way. There is an intuitive intelligence to it that can only be felt. There is a fullness and wholeness to it that feeds the soul.

And so we unfold.

When I decided to become a yoga teacher, it also meant that I had committed to a lifetime of learning. It meant a dedication to self-enquiry. Yoga is a lifelong process, a loop that keeps looping. We learn and we practice so that we can keep teaching. Sometimes we have to go back to our own lessons in life and in practice to be able to give. If the day ever comes when I don’t want to practice and feel that I have nothing more to learn, then it is probably a sign that I should stop teaching.

For now, the path is taking me deeper into knowledge of myself as a person. This is the knowledge that informs me as a teacher to be able to offer more to my students on their own paths and I am so grateful to the teachers and life lessons, hard as they may have been, that have brought me here.

So here I head into the next leg of this journey. It’s hard to be away from loved ones and the support that I’ve come to cherish from my community but we are in continuous flow and sometimes, the river has to take us in a solitary direction before we can come back to the sea. I look forward to returning to my city and my community with a new way of seeing things, more to share and so much more compassion.

greece-santorini-tours

Advertisements

One in Four – A Walk through Shadow and Flame

According to statistics, one in four children in the US have been sexually molested. I don’t know what the statistics are in other parts of the country, but that is a big number. It means that every fourth person you meet has been in some way or other, sexually taken advantage of. I don’t know what the statistics are in Malaysia or in the UK where it happened to me but it could be similar. And yes, it did happen to me.

This was 29 years ago, when parents thought that the world was a safe place and that you could allow children to play securely and innocently. He was an acquaintance of my mother’s, someone she was taking a course with in Manchester, UK. It was already a rough time, as my father had sent me to my mother along with a letter that he was leaving her for a younger woman. She was devastated and I was confused.

How does a six year old even begin to describe the situation? It was a public place, and there was no pain involved but something about the situation didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even find the words to say what had happened and my mother was already upset, so I kept it quiet. Keeping it quiet however, did not mean that nothing manifested of it.

I’ve lived my life panicking every time a man stands too close behind me, and when a man assists me in child’s pose, my initial reaction is to stop breathing and freeze up until the message gets to my brain that I know the person and that it is OK to relax. It took me years to get used to the assist in downward facing dog where someone grabs you from the hips and pulls you back. Even now, there are only a few men I can relax into the assist with and I am extremely sensitive to the intention behind the touch.

It was never spoken of, but it has always been somewhere in the shadows.

And it wasn’t until two years ago that I had a vivid memory of the experience. My abuser had come from behind and he wasn’t rough, but he did touch me in an inappropriate way. A child might not know it in their mind, but children are sensitive receptors of touch. It was a lucky thing that there were other people around on the other side of the room or it could have been worse. I wanted to look out the window and he carried me until I could see. It was subtle but I did feel violated.

The event has been playing in the back of my mind for all this time.

‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears,’ old Buddhist proverb.

And so I must have been ready as the right teacher appeared. She had been through a worse experience than I had, relived the memory and come out the other side. I remember being in her class over a year ago, and the feelings surrounding the situation for me came up. Even from the first class, she noticed that I had trouble connecting to my sacrum and was coaxing me to bring breath into the area. It has been a slow process and part of the thing that made is so was my fear to face the assault.

It takes a lot to face these things but last Wednesday, something clicked. Ana Forrest, my beautiful teacher coaxed us to go on a quest towards identifying the blockages that keep us from being whole. In case of a traumatic event, a part of you remains in that time until you go back and free them. Ana said the magic words, telling us that the worst was over. We had survived and we were alive.

That, I think was what did it for me. I decided at the beginning of class that I would chase this fucker down so he could have less power over me. That intention must have been potent because even from the beginning as I was bringing breath down to my sacrum and pelvic area, the tremors began. They continued through core work and most of the class. Finally, when we got into Shavasana, they took over, wrecking my entire body and causing me to panic to the point of not being able to breathe. Luckily Claire, Ana’s assistant, lovingly stayed with me, gently touching my head and cueing me to keep breathing. As soon as we were out of Shavasana, I was a sobbing wreck.

It did not finish there.

Through the day, when I got home, I would sit down, start breathing into my sacrum and the shaking would start followed by sobs. Emotionally, I had to revisit that time of being confused, scared and betrayed. That feeling of being left alone overtook me, and most of all were the very strong feelings that as this was happening to me, my father, the one who was meant to flex his muscles (he was an ex footie player) and protect me was busy starting a new romance. He had let me down, and that’s where my belief that men leave you when you’re weak started.

There were some positives to it though. I was finally able to speak to my mother about it and gave the six year old a voice. She has been a rock through these times. She continues to be amazing, caring, calling me and supportive in my determination to get through this. She’s stuck through me in my crazy quest and called every day since.

We women are so much stronger in our compassion than we give ourselves credit for.

On Thursday I went back. The tremors started early, and towards the end, we were in a compromising Frog pose with a big roll under our bellies. That’s when they fully took over my body. A big part of me wanted to leave the pose and run out of the room. Another part of me was absolutely adamant to chase this fucker out of my body. Ana stayed with me through almost all five minutes of the tormenting ordeal where there were moments when I truly believed that I might die.

But I didn’t and here I am.

I’ve been a gaping wound all week. The memories, and the feelings surrounding them rise and fall like waves. They take over me and I am a shaking mess all over again. Sleep has been sometimes easy but most of the time not. I’ve had nightmares and gone to some really dark places in my mind, but as much as it scares me, I don’t want to put a temporary salve on this.

This will be a tough ride but I want to live my life fully so I am choosing to go through this. The other option is to live my life behind a safe wall where ‘fine’ and ‘comfortable’ are good enough. They are really not so I am living the days occasionally getting thrown into my past knowing that only by facing the nightmares will I be able to shine light on them.

The first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training I did, I was recovering from a breakup. This time, I will be so much more vulnerable as I head into another time of big change. Sometimes though, it is in times of darkness like these that you learn to find your own light. I could bury it and stick a positive affirmation on it, but that’s not where the work is done. There is greatness and magic in the world however, as what you need always gets provided to you. In my case, I have a strong and loving bond with my family even though they are far away, a generous and solid community that holds me in their arms, wonderful friends and a nuturing yoga practice.

I am also taking steps to protect myself now. Where I would spread my love without fear of backlash before, right now, I am a bit more cautious. Where I see threat of unnecessary hurt, I step back. Some friends will taper away. This is when you know the ones who are leeching on your life force, the ones who only want you when you are light and easy. If you have a partner, this is when you know a weak person from a strong one.

It is a process of riding the waves day by day, and a transformation through fire. At the other side awaits a stronger person with more compassion and so much more love for self and others.0c136b5c56fd13046766ee65c4826572-d6ha2cv

Ramadan 2013 – The More of Less

Today marks the 20th day of Ramadan for Muslims all over the world.  During this month, among other things, we refrain from food and drink from sunup to sundown.  Of course, seeing as how it’s winter in Australia, it isn’t a very long day at all.

Like others in the world, I am also practicing Ramadan.

I have been practicing this since I was eight years old, but it wasn’t until I started living alone that I really understood the meaning of it.  When you are surrounded by family, every night is a big feast and you end up eating more than you actually need because you’re not really being conscious.  In recent years, this for me has become a month of introspective consideration, of early mornings, waking up before the sun for a solitary meal and revelling in the quiet of that time of day.

This year, Ramadan changed for me yet again.

It is the first year that I have really needed to manage my energy so that I could continue practicing, work, and still serve others in my yoga teaching.  I must admit that the first two weeks were a bit of a trial as I was working six day weeks, running a conference where my shortest day was 10 hours long, and teaching on top of that.

A lot had to change just to remain standing those first two weeks.

Where I would previously go back to sleep after a cup of tea, a date and some water in the morning, this year I have had to carefully consider my meals so they may serve me through the day.  I am lucky as I am not finicky about labelling my food as ‘breakfast food,’ ‘dinner food’ and so on and so forth as it gives me freedom to eat as I feel is needed.  There have been mornings when I have had a bowl of pasta for breakfast, knowing that I would have a strong practice and a long day.

Where the bed beckoned before, this year I have opted for staying up after my meal (that’s from 4:30am for us here and let’s be honest, who can sleep after a bowl of pasta?).  The mornings have been filled with silent meditations, writing in my journal and quiet contemplation in long baths.  There have been many days when I have just indulged myself in long, slow home practices as the day slowly grew light.

My bed time has been modified too as I try to be in bed by 8:30pm or at the latest 9:30pm.  If I wasn’t much into hanging out at pubs and bars before Ramadan, this month, the chances of that have been reduced to zero.

In Ramadan, life is modified.

And on the mat, my practice had to be modified too.

It was a great thing having Les Leventhal here during the second week of Ramadan.  If you’ve practiced his classes, you’ll know that they are advanced classes on steroids.  The heat is on, and you’re doing at least eight poses on one leg before you switch to the other.  In equal parts, he will remind you to breathe and encourage you to go for it.  Now, I’m not as strong as a lot of people are on a good day, and even less so this month but practicing a class like that teaches you things.  You can go hard, end up in a heap halfway through the class or walk out because you get lightheaded, or you could modify your practice and make it through the duration.  When your body says ‘no more,’ you always have the option of sitting in meditation enjoying the positive vibes around you.

There was also a lesson in managing the ego here – that voice which says, ‘yes, go for it, you can do that one more vinyasa! You don’t need child’s pose.’  Did I indulge? Of course I did and then I went to teach and I didn’t have the energy to demonstrate even the simplest pose, let alone support my students.  The class left me so drained I couldn’t even hold a conversation after, which doesn’t help as people might have questions.

And then you learn to receive and be soft.  I have amazingly supportive friends, so my life this month has not been lacking in terms of hugs, mini-massages, and even a 10 minute Reiki boost.  People have been very understanding when I have not been able to show up for parties after a long day at work, and when I haven’t made it to brunch during the daylight.

In order to keep going, things had to be modified.

10 days to go and although I am tired, I am doing it because I want to.  After all, who is to stop me if I decide not to fast? It is a lesson that we don’t need as much as we have to survive.  The lessons of Ramadan work hand in hand with the lessons from yoga.  It teaches you of patience and surrender, waiting for a time when you can just have a drink and knowing that the sun won’t set until it is time.  It is a time to take note of when you’re tired and hungry, and how that affects you emotionally.  You learn how your body works or how you react when you don’t have the energy to do as much as you are used to doing.  You are living on less sleep and less food than usual and it is interesting to see how that affects you.  And you start thinking about the people who live like this every day, and not just from when the sun comes up to when the sun comes down.  In a world where it is all about having more, doing more and being more, it is a time for less.

Ramadan Mubarak.

Ramadan Mubarak

The Power of the Symbolic Act

As I reach my 33rd year, and with this new moon in Aries, I am thinking a lot about new beginnings.

Something shifted this year. An old life ended, and a new one is just beginning. Bhairava https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/the-terror-of-my-own-universe/ has been my companion for a while. What I feel is akin to falling in love – my heart is ready to float out of my chest into the unknown, but I am terrified. What was before was familiar, but what is coming is unchartered territory. I can’t go back. I’ve been pushed out of a door that shut and bolted itself right behind me, and strangely all I can think of is my hair.

Why do you wear your hair the way you do? It is part of your identity, the person you want to show the world. A good hair day makes you feel good and a bad one can sometimes stop you from stepping out of the house. Women through history have perfumed their hair on special occasions. Even Muslim women who wear the head cover pays attention to her hair, brushing it until it shines. A successful courtesan tends to her hair painstakingly. When a Hasidic Jewish woman gets married she either shaves off all her hair or wears it very short under a wig. When a person completes the Islamic Haj, he or she is required to cut off a bit of hair to signify a new beginning. The power of symbolism is that one simple act can signify a million different things to different people.

Sometimes it’s not about the hair at all. It is an act that signifies something greater.

And there is something romantic, beautiful and strong about this kind of symbolic act.

Symbolism through history has had a strong impact. It is the ring on a finger, the burning of old love letters, the tombstone for a person whose body was lost at sea, the solidarity of standing silently in protest. After intentions are made, a symbolic act gives something just that much more strength. Like Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram instead of his son, a symbolic act can be an act of devotion, of surrender.

The practice of yoga, is amazing for the physical body but it also feeds our souls with posture that signify more than the obvious. There is mountain pose symbolizing the balance of Ardhanaishvara even without perfect symmetry. There is Hanuman Asana, signifying the devotion of the Monkey God as he leaped to Sri Lanka to rescue the beautiful Sita. In Natarajasana, there the peace and balance of Lord Shiva in the face of destruction. Then there is Shavasana, corpse pose, signifying that all things must end. And of course there are the mudras, each a symbol of the intention.

So based on all this, this year, I feel like something symbolic is needed, so I did something terrifying.

I chopped off all my hair.

The process :-)

The process 🙂

The last time I did this I was 19 and fearless. At that age, I fell hard and fast, mourned deeply and then would do it all over again the next week. I didn’t worry if any man would find my short hair attractive and if I didn’t have dates, then I would find something else to do (getting caught smoking by the campus guard and running because we thought it was a ghost perhaps?). We did stupid things, and then we laughed about them. Life was simpler, and so was I.

Without my mane, I feel a bit exposed, vulnerable. A lot more visible are the wrinkles, the dark circles, the freckles that I’ve just recently stopped trying to cover with makeup. More than that, every emotion I feel seen through eyes that can’t be hidden with a flip of the hair. In cutting it all off, I am allowing myself to be vulnerable.

So this is my act of surrender along with an intention to let go of the past and a prayer for the future. This is my goodbye, hello, sacrifice, gratitude, asking for blessing, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, letting go of love and inviting love in, shedding old skin so that a new one can take shape. This is me allowing myself to stop waiting for my father to come home.  This is one book closing so that a new chapter can begin.

IMG_2525

A symbolic act need not be great. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone but you. It can be as simple as a new journal or as complicated as a move to a different country. It can be laying your forehead down on the mat in surrender, or holding your hands in a mudra. What matters most is the intention behind it. It is your journey, your choice, your story. Doing something symbolic is, in itself, a form of therapy.

What symbolic acts would you like to bring in to your life, your practice, and perhaps to seal your intentions?

Disconnected Connections

Earlier this month, as some people or all people I know would know, I had issues with my debit card, https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/from-light-to-dark-and-back-again-a-trip-through-the-gunas/. Long story short on that one, no the disputes have not yet been settled, and no, I don’t really know what’s going on. In fact, judging by the daily phone calls I’m getting about how I owe them money, it seems like they don’t know what’s going on either.  It almost feels to me, that as a customer, I am chopped up into different pieces instead of being seen as a whole person.

This whole situation along with a conference I ran earlier this week however, have got me thinking.  Yes, we know that organisations exist to make a profit.  I mean, no organisation exists just to be there and pay employees money.  You make a profit, you grow, you take over other markets.  It’s sort of like collonisation, only it’s done through commerce. There is a status quo to achieve, to be in the top 500 or whatever list there is in the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I know organisations play a part in ensuring that economies run, and people have jobs.  I do wonder however, about the role of organisations in wealth distribution, and how many people are trampled in their run to become the top whatever company, for God knows what reason.

Smaller organisations might be more ethical because one customer can make the difference between this year’s profit and next year’s profit.  Often, one act of kindness now, although it might cause you a loss, will be the thing that generates good word to ensure a bigger profit in coming times.  Of course, the more customers you have, the harder it is to keep track of all the small acts of kindness, and lets be honest, there comes a point where as a corporation you weigh up the costs and benefits, and think, “hey, losing one customer who in terms of cash is really a small stakeholder, won’t make much of a difference to our future.”

One thing we seem to forget however, it that corporations are made of people.  Boards are made of people. Policies are made by people. And as people, at which point do we start thinking that hiding behind a corporate name makes what we’re doing alright? Did we just let go of the responsibility of making a choice by saying things like, “our policy is….” Yes, I know you can’t just walk away from your job, as I can’t walk away from my job even when I don’t agree with what people are doing.  The reality is that we need the money we make to live, pay rent, put food on the table, buy things.  I like money because it gets me a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes over my body, and some things that are not a necessity, but really nice to have, like my yoga mat.

Coming back to what makes an organisation (duh people), how often in the day do you stop to think if what you’re doing is ethical?  Well, yes, it might be legal, but legal might not always be ethical.  As a Muslim, you might want to stop and think if the money you make is halal.  People seem to think that halal only refers to having food slaughtered a certain way, but it is so much bigger than that.  Sure you can say that someone working in a company that makes a non-halal product like alcohol is not making halal money, but is it that simple?  Is it halal if you are part of an organisation making more than 50% of profit on a single thing? Is it halal if you got your contract through the people you know because they can’t be bothered to sit through tenders and actually assess if someone else might be better for the job?  And the chicken that you eat, sure it’s meant to be slaughtered in a way that causes the least suffering (very sharp knife ensuring that it dies with a single cut), but what about the way it lived? Does it matter that it was living in a chicken coup with 1000 other chickens in the worst condition, actually suffering through its life?

Of course, of course, if we thought about all these things we would never eat, or work for a corporation, but maybe by starting to think about these things we can start questioning.  Without questions, we wouldn’t be looking for answers would we?  I am one person. What I say in a blog won’t really change much and for every person who agrees with me, about 10 will think I’m mad or have too much time on my hands (i.e not doing what I should do in that race to become the Manager or Director of such and such) to be thinking about all these things.

We all think we’re individuals, and we do things to benefit ourselves, which makes sense of course, but the truth is we are not really separate.  When a bomb hits or a tsunami hits, are the policy makers separate from the homeless?  When a fire burns down a village, will it choose to burn down one race over another? If a large earthquake hits can we only feel the tremors in one country? Every person definitely has every right to be the centre of their own universe, but does being in an ivory tower, or holding the biggest weapons of mass destruction makes you the centre of THE world?  News flash, the world is a globe.

What happens here, affects there. Burn your neighbour’s house and the smoke might come your way.  And no matter how different we are, there are the four relationships we have in our lives:

Our relationships with ourselves

Our relationships with God (or any higher power)

Our relationships with others

And our relationships with our environment and nature

It’s easy to think that someone else is worrying about these things, but who’s worrying about these things if everyone i thinking that way? And the truth is, no matter how big we think we look in the mirror, in the grand scheme of things, we’re really not.

Stepping Over the Fence

Over the weekend there was a huge Muslim riot in Sydney.  Bottles were thrown and tear gas was used. In this matter, I am torn.  I am a Muslim, a practicing, but liberal one and living in Sydney. Hearing people say that “Islam is a violent religion,” followed by a rhetoric on what these people have done here and there has become very normal. To me, it makes them no different from the people who are protesting without really knowing what they are protesting about, and people who say things like, “it is stated in the Quran…., “without ever having actually read the Quran.  When you get down to it, what’s written in the Quran, Bible and Torah do not differ by much in principle.

Personally, I agree that it seems like religion can be the catalyst for violence, but to be completely honest, I think Australians are generally rather ignorant about different cultures and religions, especially “non-Western” ones.  From the outside, it looks like Australia is a multi-racial and established country, but when you look closer it is in fact culturally, a very young country. Unlike the UK where almost everyone would know someone from a different culture or background, or even Malaysia where having a neighbour of a different race and visiting them during festivities is a common thing, different races are still very segregated over here.  There seems to be a barrier between the cultures that has yet to be broken.  And to be honest, protests to me denote a problem that is bigger than just what the protest is about.

Go back to the Occupy moment and their series of protests. They were not doing it for fun or to create a stir for no reason. There was some form of injustice being done and a protest was how they felt they would be heard.  They were protesting oppression, unfairness, unjust treatment of a group, and discrimination.  Unfortunately, it is very easy for a protest to become a riot. It is like a forest where all the trees are dried up and a small flicker could easily ignite the entire forest.  People don’t protest if everything is all good.  They protest to be heard.

The question is what is not being heard?

I know for a fact that for a few white Australians, I am the only Muslim person that they personally know, and it’s more than likely that the same people would not know any Hindus or Chinese Buddhists personally either.  Or if they do know some, they have not had the privilege of being part of some of the amazingly beautiful practices like a Pooja or a Chinese Tea Ceremony.  It is only a very small minority that has mingled to that extent.  I’ve been questioned about my beliefs, and to be honest, a lot of the time, the questions are posed as a challenge instead of an enquiry, there is a tone of “how could you believe….?” People (religious protesters, Occupiers, your friend who lives next door) have reasons to believe what they believe in, and just because they do not subscribe to your logic doesn’t make them stupid or any less than you.

One of the things I am thankful for is that I have friends from all walks of life, and friends who make me question things. Had I not had this, I would be one of the many believing everything that is said in the newspapers.  We forget that newspapers have a business agenda.  They are “selling” news, and with that in mind, although they are a good source of information for things that are going on in the world, they will tell a story from an angle that is most “saleable.”  If I believed the newspaper, I would think that the Occupy movement was made up of lazy jobless, homeless people with a grudge against the rich, but having friends who were part of it gave me an “inside story” so to speak. I was able to understand the motivations for their actions if not completely agree. If I didn’t know any firemen, I would believe that they were heartless for going on strike when they should be saving lives.

The thing about people is that they sympathise with things that affect them.  If you work in a bank, you’d think that the Occupy movement was made of a bunch of idiots, but should the bank make you redundant, you might end up right there in Martin place with them.  As a parent you might think that teachers have it easy, but if your sister was a teacher and she came home telling you stories of ill brought up children, you might have a different view altogether.

It is the same with religious/cultural protesters.  As part of the majority you might not understand the anger of the Aboriginal community or the Islamic community, but what happens if one day, you end up in a place where you are a minority and people discriminate against you everyday? We think that tear gassing, arresting and scaring people is a good idea, but we forget that the protest could have been many things. It could have been an act of fear, or an act of saying, “I’ve had enough!” or a few people deciding to take a stand. Either way, there is a lot of passion involved for someone to put their lives in a situation where they could be in danger.  And the thing is, passion, deep seated and fiery passion, could be silenced for a while, but until someone is listening, until there is fairness, it will keep burning.  If any of you know my friend Vicki, you would know the kind of fire and passion that exists here. It’s not one to die down easily. It’s all well and good to call people “un-Australian,” losers, social outcasts and trouble-makers. It’s not as simple as saying that these things have to stop. There is something deeper here. Bigger.  But it takes two sides, and the thing is, nothing will be solved unless both sides decide to step over the fence and listen.

Note: this is a gross simplification of what’s going on as the problems are definitely bigger and rooted deeper in society.

The Death of Religion

Is religion dying?

No, say some. Yes, say others.  As controversial as it is, it is a valid question.  I’m not talking here about the people who believe that there is absolutely no higher power (although there is a growing number of individuals who follow that path).  I am taking here about the growing number of individuals who have noted their belief system as being “spiritual but not religious.”

Why this change though? One of the reasons, I’m pretty sure is because of all the restrictions, but restrictions are everywhere. Without rules, we would be a bunch of rampant animals just pissing and spitting wherever we liked.  So more than the restrictions, I think it’s the delivery of the restrictions that put people off.  When I was growing up, there was so much negative reinforcement coming from my religious teachers and even my family.  It was almost like a threat, “if you don’t do so and so, then you’ll find yourself in hell where you will be swallowing thorns and bathing in flames,” or “if you do so and so, you’ll be boiled alive,” and so on and so forth. You get the picture.  I’m told it’s the general tone across a few religions.

Earlier on, with all the restrictions and threats of burning in hell, my practice was out of fear, pure and simple. Nobody was particularly present to start me on a practice, so religion was issued as a threat. There was no love, and I was not taught to look up to the prophets and/or saints. My introduction to religion was all the “have to” – have to be good, have to do this, have to avoid that.  There was no practice or evolution. To avoid hell, you just do this and that.  You even have to love and respect your parents to avoid hell.  There’s that “have to,” again.

Unfortunately kids don’t stay kids. They grow up and realise that there is some grey woven in between the black and white of the world.  They question, and sometimes, they realise that a place without love is no longer worth staying in.  Religion in a way creates a separation between communities, and even between one person and another.  People who do such and such could have the darkest hearts and yet because they have followed all the rules, they are going to heaven. While people who have so much love, because they did not follow rules, are meant to go to hell.  And of course at some point, certain people actually really believe that they are going to heaven.  That’s where all the problems start.  At what point do the fundamentals steps of being a good Muslim/Christian/Hindu overcame the fundamental aspects of being a human being?

The thing is, “spiritual but not religious,” denotes that people believe in a higher power.  It’s just that religions, with all the hate, bias, wars, power struggles and discrimination, are making it hard for people to believe in them nowadays.  There is nothing wrong with religion itself, I don’t think, but they have somehow managed to give themselves incredibly bad PR in the here and now.

In my personal life, a few years ago, I had given up on religion. Why? Because I had chosen a life that was far from what my religion taught, and I thought that religion had given up on me.  Now, my spiritual practice is yoga, but I supplement that with some religious practices, like prayer and fasting. I’ve cut away the politics of religion, and choose not to take a religious stance on things concerning the choices that other people make.  My religious practice and my yoga practice travel next to each other, but I choose to let neither elevate me above anyone else.  Why? Because we don’t know what is coming.

Perhaps in a time when choice is aplenty, and where people know that they have a choice, a gentler approach is needed.  Religion should not be a club where some are better than others, but more so a practice where every day is a step in the right direction.  Perhaps it’s not exclusion that’s needed but inclusion. And perhaps, it’s not hell that should be promoted as much as love and acceptance.  Why? Because perhaps even though there is a high degree of independence, perhaps what people really want is to be part of something that is safe. And perhaps it’s just time that the world’s religions embark on a whole new PR campaign which is not so much about how other people are going to hell, but more about how “different paths can lead to the same heaven.”