By Brett Sculthorp
Yesterday, at the Enka Campus of AB Tech Community College the Land of Sky Regional Council hosted the first public meeting to establish working groups for GroWNC, Western North Carolina’s Livable Communities Initiative.It is a 3-year project to develop regional and local strategies for economic prosperity, quality growth, and sustainable development with a focus on Haywood, Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and Madison Counties.
The work groups were divided up into: “Economic Development”, “Energy”, “Housing”, “Land Use”, “Natural and Cultural Resources”, “Transportation” and “Health”.
(Interestingly, “Health” was actually only added after some public feedback about the process.)
Here’s the issue – the Health Work Group was not attended by yoga professionals (or any other Complementary and Alternative Medicine practitioner for that matter). Why? Because as a culture we tend to see yoga as being in a certain little box (usually labeled “studio or gym-based exercise”) and CAM is for individuals with money, not for struggling communities – there are not many yoga professionals engaged in local public policy processes, even though they may personally subscribe to concepts like sustainability, prevention or community empowerment, and work on these things from a bottom up, or grassroots perspective.
But yoga has much to offer individuals and communities on a policy level – from treatment of diseases, and mental health conditions through to health promotion and on from there to human flourishing.
Most local and regional planning is still focused on physical development – how well are people doing physically – Got enough to eat and a job? Got the blood pressure or diabetes under control? Sometimes mental health and cultural issues are mentioned at this level, but the paradigm is still largely materialistic.
The yoga worldview is centrally spiritual and yet even yoga professionals are challenged in taking this to the street – because we’re part of that materialistic paradigm and we’re still figuring out how to break out of it.
Spirituality as a factor in sustainability is a radical idea in public discourse but it is central for yogis – at least ideally.
Andrew Harvey’s Sacred Activism asks us to look more deeply into our spiritual process:
“A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions. When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as Sacred Activism.”
– Andrew Harvey
Harvey’s vision takes time – and requires psychology flexibility in order to expand out of typical ways of thinking and informing ourselves, to establish new networks, and to take on new roles in our communities.
The process at AB Tech yesterday didn’t require any new kinds of thinking about social problems – it was just business as usual. It appears that future meetings will be about choosing priority strategies based on nothing more creative than reorganizing existing data. No one embraced any progressive methods that could give us new power and perspectives. Einstein famously said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” I would suggest that yoga is a technology for that helps us to continually “see the world anew.”
In yoga we often talk about personal transformation and leading business thinkers like Peter Senge are also comfortable with such challenges but we have a dearth of people really striving for this on policy level who are demanding really meaningful change in these kinds of public processes. I hope this vacuum will eventually draw more of us out of the studios and gyms, out to do seva that radically juxtaposes the status quo – and eventually integrates yoga into public/community policy work.