Here are some thoughts.
I believe, first and foremost, that we need to be clear about what yoga is, and what it is not. Yoga, by its broad and time-honored definition (Y.S. 1.2) is the science of mind and its training. The primary result of this training and its mind-training techniques is the ability to move beyond the willy-nilly states and moods of thought, emotion, desires and ,yes, even identity, to access deeper states of consciousness that reveal realities behind those of appearances only. This is essentially mental focus and flow training from the states of conscious, to subconscious, to unconscious and eventually to super-conscious, while being fully awake and present within each state. Yoga is an expansion of greater and greater conscious awareness within all states of mind, and its practice has three main approaches: via the vehicle of the body and breath, directly via the vehicle of mind (and sound) and via surrender of the limited ego identity to one grander and unlimited in potential scope. (Y.S. 2.1)
Many assume that even a bit of mastery of this “state training” would then cause all practitioners to see the world politic through one common lens, one that would be the same for all beings striving to train and focus their minds. But this is where we can see what yoga is not.
Each human being resides within the coordinates of a particular world view, and mental state training may not (at least not automatically, immediately or surely) make much of a shift on that level. A stage level can be thought of as the particular lens through which you view your world and your relationship to it, i.e. cognitively, morally, politically, ethically, artistically, kinesthetically etc. This is commonly called your “world view”.
Whether through upbringing, karma, peer-pressure, cultural norms, general societal influence, education or the other “usual suspects” used to determine our temperaments, we each seem to be born and pulled almost gravitationally towards a world view stage where we feel comfortable and that is familiar to us. It is literally the stage on which we perform our duty and perceived purpose, no matter what state of mind we are in, or what mind-mastery and consciousness wizardry we have learned. (Both “good” wizards and “bad” wizards think they are doing the correct thing!)
The super-conscious revelations of a traditionalist and those of a progressive are both seen to be valid to them, the traditionalist seeing the experience as the need to be even more traditional, and a progressive seeing the experience as the need to be even more progressive!
States of mind and stages of world political view are two different things. Yoga state training techniques will not necessarily bring two differently staged individuals into the same ideology. One’s ideology is often deeply sedimented, and state shifting very well may further support that worldview.
For example, take someone who is a devout Christian traditionalist has a super-conscious state experience of ultimate bliss and peace. He or she might interpret it as a personal revelation of Jesus Christ, or as evidence that only through Jesus can we find salvation. Someone who has a socially progressive temperament might interpret the same experience as the oneness of all humanity, and use it to support their social reform policies. A rational materialist might interpret it as super-organized brain activity only and use it to support more rational scientific experiments, possibly on animals or even humans!
We may also use this information as to what yoga is not to better understand some of the more distasteful breaches some practitioners have in their moral code, abuse of power and dishonorable behaviors. State training and expansion does not necessarily affect moral development. We’ve seen from LSD experimentation in the 1960’s that state-shifting abilities, albeit brought about by drugs, did nothing to elevate moral codes, or necessarily change the individual’s political views.
So yoga practices do not automatically shift our world stage views, but with our trained minds we can begin to use our powerful introspection to focus on some very practical ends, namely safeguarding our peace of mind while still engaging in the world of many “stages” and dramas!
The philosopher Ken Wilber calls this ability to not only master state changes in consciousness at will but to understand and recognize stage development an “integral world view”. And he says that a post-modern version of full enlightenment must include both STATE training and STAGE awareness. Not only is it my opinion that what he says is true for modern yogis, but I also feel that because of the fluid, albeit cryptic tone of the Yoga Sūtras, they can instruct us for this fully integral world view. Although composed in ancient times, the ambiguity of the Yoga Sūtras has allowed their various re-interpretations to remain meaningful for rational, modern and post-modern times.
The technique that I offer below, though simple, is very challenging, and its secret is hidden away in a stanza from the Yoga Sutras (1.12). Not only is it prescribed that one perform state training practices, but full state and stage development also requires the ability to “let-go”, to not take things personally, to transcend and include all points of view – our own, others and even the cultural reality of the things and situations around us. Ultimately, we have all three points of view as our tools to adapt to the situation at hand: the contentious political climate where highly traditional, conservative and ethnocentric world views exist alongside highly progressive, liberal and pluralistic world views.
How do we manage? Try looking at a view other than your own with “new eyes”, by attempting to “see” it through the other’s lens and by “walking a mile in another’s shoes”.
First, take a look at my summation on the two polarized political views. I’ve simplified those as best as I can, and I deviated a bit from political correctness, for clarity’s sake.
You will pick the stage view that is most different from your own. In a relaxed, safe and comfortable environment, allow yourself to pretend to take this other stage view. Really see yourself championing its cause. Try to feel why this stage works and makes sense, how it can make you feel true to yourself, or perhaps how you might want to occasionally adopt it for practical purposes.
(Example: after September 11, 2001 a lot of my friends in NYC who never felt any sort of “kinship” with our firefighters, police force and military shifted their world views then to support a more “traditional” and ethnocentric outlook. Conversely, during the early 1960s, the economic boom made life comfortable enough for folks to “swing out” with more avant-garde dress and ideas, and to adopt progressive outlook. My blue-collar worker dad and stay-at-home mom were at that time Social Democrats.)
You might also ponder if you sometimes naturally have some of the traits of your polar opposite view.
Notice what comes up as you look at this polar-opposite view. Try it a few times. Look at it as an objective truth, and then look at it as your subjective realtiy. Is there a difference? Just a few minutes of this transcending practice might be plenty, at first. You may find it uncomfortable and disconcerting.
Take a few breaths, and then “try on” your preferred stage view. How does it feel now? Notice its subjectivity. Try to then see it objectively as someone with the alternate view might see it.
Take a few breaths… Try switching from one to the other view a few times, like you were trying on different outfits.
Take a few breaths and finish up. Ponder your experiences. Notice if they were of value in any way.
Any living tradition like yoga will continually evolve as the experiences of each of its participants contribute to its evolution and adaptation. I believe that it is important today to practice the state training techniques of traditions from thousands of years ago, but also to adopt and understand the stage models that began to coalesce only a few hundred years ago. These new humanist mapping systems are shaping the face of yoga as we speak. The investigation of recently put-forth chakra schemas that include philosophical, emotional and biological perspectives, the Alchemical Qabalah work of The Golden Dawn, Ken Wilber’s Spiral Dynamics and even developmental psychology studies support an integral, integrated view for modern times. Yoga practices can be valuable tools for the personally transformative, relationship-enhancing and freedom inducing full-spectrum effectiveness of an expansive world view.