The COVID Shift Part 2: Disruption, Worldview, and Yoga
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | April 21, 2021
One day when I was in college in the 1980s, sporting big hair, a red mini-skirt, and black pumps, I wandered into a class called “American Literature: Legacies of Race, Class, and Gender.” I was a little late registering and it was the only class left. So, while I needed the credits, I wasn’t all that interested. I’d rather be studying Shakespeare or Joyce.
I sat down and was handed a photocopy of an essay about the history of Native American displacement. Professor Cheyfitz began to weave a story of pain, suffering, trauma, dislocation, and oppression which, in my previous 22 years of life, I had never considered at all – Indians were just relics from the past whose images sold butter and cigars.
The next week he unpacked a heart-rendering narrative of African American history.
The week after that the history of sexism and misogyny.
And on it went…
I don’t think I was ever able to scoop my jaw up off the floor that semester.
Over the next few months, I began to see that my personal struggles with body image, depression, and eating disorders were not really about me at all – they were the result of toxic aspects of my culture that I had insinuated themselves into my consciousness and become internalized and somaticized.
One day after class I impulsively overhauled my wardrobe.
I went back to my apartment, stuffed my heels, mini-skirts, makeup, and big hair products into a trash bag, and then dumped it at a thrift store and bought overalls.
My world turned upside down. I was forced to think differently.
When I began studying yoga more seriously a few years later, I went through another shift – regular, lengthy meditation practice unveiled a spiritual presence that compelled my mind to expand, a jnana shakti if you will. That realization helped me contextualize my previous awakening around social justice issues.
After I met my husband Brett, a futures studies focused, systems-thinking Kiwi, I experienced another expansion as well as the intellectually and emotionally satisfying synergy of caring collaboration.
It began to dawn on me that expansion was important, and that leaps in consciousness were pretty much what I needed from life – for my own growth and also for providing a foundation to do something useful in the world.
I believe that humans always have opportunities to change and expand the way we think. In fact, I think it’s part of our dharma, or our purpose. Yogic texts teach that the expansion of consciousness is built into the fabric of the universe. Consciousness uses us to grow. It wants to expand so badly that it forces us, at various points whether we like it or not, to hop on and ride the train.
Which leads me to COVID.
This pandemic has been a deep disruption – both personally and socially. It is, beyond a doubt, the greatest disruptor of our times. Which means it also offers a profound potential for the expansion of consciousness.
At the heart of many ancient teachings from the Indian traditions – whether it’s the Upanisads, the Tantras, or the Bhagavad Gita – is the concept of interconnectedness and interdependency.
Considering this reality demands a shift in worldview.
But the worldview of interconnectedness and interdependency is sort of new to the west, which has been mired in scientific materialism and its ensuing isolation and crisis of perception for several hundred years.
The traditional Indian worldview maintains that the world is spirit concretized into material form and human dharma is to realize or evolve back into spirit. We are not matter that has evolved randomly. Our minds are not epiphenomena of our brains – we are spirit, we always have been. Our physicality is merely a concretization of spirit. Our purpose for being here is to realize that.
I think Vandana Shiva can say this better than I:
“We live in a sacred universe, which is for the well-being of all. Enjoy the gifts without greed. Taking more than your share is theft… Which is why India, for more than 10,000 years, lived a very high level of living without taking from anyone else…And we never adopted anthropocentrism because we had all these anecdotes, that we are part of a web of life, we are part of one earth family.” –Vandana Shiva
Everything in this material world, according to these wisdom teachings, is sacred, and everything is a manifestation of the divine. This isn’t just philosophy to ponder, it’s practice to engage in. It’s the practice of taking time out of the rat-race to remember where I’ve come from, where I’m going, and that I’m part of a river of life and consciousness.
Every moment, every breath, presents an opportunity to remember, to practice.
The domination of a scientific materialistic worldview over western culture has divorced contemporary life from the awareness of this interconnected reality. It’s left our culture isolated, spiritually bereft, relationally starved, and riddled with chronic health issues.
Because at their root, all of these problems emanate from a dysfunctional worldview – and have left us with a huge crisis of perception.
Physicist David Bohm coined the term.
He was working on quantum theory when he had an epiphany. He realized that his work with subatomic particles was misguided. There are no individual components of matter – the reality is that everything is interconnected.
“The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.”
― David Bohm, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory
Contemporary society operates out of this crisis of perception – we continually default to individualism, isolation, and the idea that everything is fragmented.
“Some might say: ‘Fragmentation of cities, religions, political systems, conflict in the form of wars, general violence, fratricide, etc., are the reality. Wholeness is only an ideal, toward which we should perhaps strive.’ But this is not what is being said here. Rather, what should be said is that wholeness is what is real, and that fragmentation is the response of this whole to man’s action, guided by illusory perception, which is shaped by fragmentary thought.”
― David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
This is exactly what the Indian traditions have always taught.
Right now, we’re presented with the potential for a leap of consciousness. We are presented with an opportunity to reject the Cartesian dualistic ways of knowing that have separated us from each other and the earth, and ushered in so much pain and suffering. We are presented with an opportunity to move toward a deep inner knowing that prioritizes interconnectedness and interdependency – and the divinity inherent in all things.
Could this shift perhaps, en masse, change things? The environment, health, poverty, crime, geo-politics, racism?
We cannot go back to “normal” because there is nothing normal about our previous normal – but we can move forward to new ways of knowing and being – something much more normal, something much more human.
Why is yoga part of the solution? How does yoga practice help?
Whenever you hear an expert trying to discuss real solutions to any intractable problem, you’ll almost always hear them say something like, “We have to change the way we think!”
But, here’s the thing, changing your worldview is an embodied process. It’s not just about doing things differently, or listening to inspiring podcasts, or watching TED talks. It’s about embodying the shift of consciousness that is currently before us.
Yoga practice offers an opportunity to regularly, mindfully, chip away at the stress, fear, anxiety, and clinging to old ways that constrict us and reinforce obsolete ways and thinking and being.
Yoga allow us to have the embodied experience of expansion.
As a yoga teacher, I can’t dictate anyone else’s process of expanding their worldview and I’m highly cognizant of that. But I can give my students a chance to stop and be present with the possibility that there are other ways of thinking and being.
I can give my students the time and space to watch how consciousness moves through them. I can hope that their own personal consciousness shifts will help others expand as well.
The reality is that whether we participate or not, consciousness will expand – that’s the way the universe works.
Our choice is this: do we willingly jump on that train, or do we have to be dragged kicking and screaming?
Keep an Eye out for Part 3, The COVID Shift Part 3: Post Traumatic Growth and Yoga