Tuesday, November 6, 2012

yoga off the mat: license renewal, pinoy style

I started this evening's class by asking the students if anyone had already practiced yoga today? It was a 7:30pm class at Urban Ashram, Fort High Street in Manila. They looked at me peculiarly as they all nodded in the negative.

"Are you sure? No Yoga?" Was this some strange trick question from the new yoga teacher, they might have wondered.

I explained briefly three classical definitions of yoga.

According to Patanjali: "Yoga is the cessation of the whirlings of the mind."

And Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita said that yoga is "steady ease" and "skillfulness in action."

I asked them to think whether they had practiced any yoga while I shared with them the general flow of my day: I taught morning class, then self-practiced, in the early afternoon went to renew my drivers license, which expired last June, which brought me to two centers, the final one so full that it took just over 5 hours of cueing, waiting for medical tests, picture taking, more cueing before I went to teach my final class in the evening, legally driving to my next location.

I had started the day with yogasana, I was ending the day with yogasana, but the half day sitting, waiting in the backseat of a tediously long bureaucratic (Filipino bureaucracy) process was--I think--me really practicing yoga. This may seem strange.

I mean, I was just sitting there, seemingly so inactive. How could that be yoga?

It didn’t have to be. I could have whiled away the hours staring blankly at the backs of people’s heads. I could have been picked up by the wave of growing dissatisfaction, feeling irritated and restless. I could have checked my watch at each opportunity, slowing time with my unmet expectations of spending most of the afternoon writing in front of the computer and then going to a kirtan at the Art of Living center in Manila before teaching that evening. It could have been yet another event that was happening to me.

Instead, I reminded myself: I choose to be here. I committed to this travesty of civil service for the afternoon because I had a purpose. I was doing what needed doing.

By deciding that, I didn’t spend my time seething at the poor LTO workers drowning in paperwork, surrounded by people whose minds bent towards rioting against them. I accepted, at least for the afternoon, the poor conditions, and just got on with it. I read. And made notes on my book. I did my best to be constructive.

I don’t claim to be the only one practicing yoga that afternoon. There were others who smiled through the process, who I felt calmness from when I was beside them. But there were those who were fidgeting, pacing the space, or even mumbling angrily. They, sadly, were not practicing yoga.

I’m not saying it’s right to wait 5-6 hours, this is definitely an issue to be addressed in terms of operating with more efficiency. I am not condoning the way our government offices are so inefficiently run. But I think we should adopt a good attitude about things, one that’s constructive.

It hit me how difficult the situation was for everybody that day when I asked the woman taking my picture at about the 4th hour, innocently--I swear!, “What time do you think the license will be ready? I ask because I still have work.”

She was sharp with me, “Wait till we call you,” she said in Filipino. I asked again politely, sure that there must be an estimate. But she replied even more irately, “We will call you.”

This is when I felt that I was practicing yoga the most. It was a split second sort of processing: I was struck at how unfair she was being. I had a simple question, one I’m sure she could have answered. And I felt the tide of dissent well up within me. But then I could see that she’d been asked this very question the entire day, maybe in some not so nice ways. And along the way, she allowed herself to be victimized by the faulty system and the stressful situation, and had lost a touch of her own humanity along the way.  By understanding her difficulties, I had created distance from my own potential to be upset by the situation. I would not be another victim.

I stepped away then and asked someone who looked less stressed. At first, she reacted in a similar way. But when I repeated my question, again in a calm and friendly tone, I think she realized I was not making a ridiculous request and that there was no harm in actually sharing that information. It would be done in half an hour.

Why do we make life so hard for ourselves and for each other? Why do we create such enmity? We are all on the same boat, the same planet; we share the same struggles.

What if we practiced yoga all the time, even in the smallest, pedestrian moments such as these? How much more skillful would we be? How much more even-minded? How much more understanding would we have for each other?

Ok, practicing yoga in this way may not solve the world’s many issues, let alone the way the LTO is run, but it would create a shift in how we acted, in our attitudes. I can’t help but think how it’s the kind of shift that will allow us to be in the right state of mind to really work on things with love and with compassion.

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