08 January, 2013

The Eightfold Path to Political Freedom

There's been a coalescence of forces lately in my life that are shaking many of the so-called "truths that I hold to be self-evident." There are a lot of scattered thoughts here, but I will try to paint a general picture.

The yoga practice, not surprisingly, has helped me to start gaining perspective in my life in all the ways that you'd expect: becoming less reactive, more of an observer, more at peace, better at listening to others, better at pursuing my goals patiently.

A few months ago, I participated in my first "book club" where we read a book by Iyengar, that presented many of the philosophical underpinnings of yoga practice. One of the things that really stuck with me, so much that I set it as my official "intention" moving forward from the book club, was the notion of "Right Action, based on Right Knowledge." That comes from something known as the Noble Eightfold Path, which is full of all sorts of great stuff, which I'll leave you to read the original sources for elaboration. But I wanted to share this figure from the Wikipedia page, which shows the factors:

The reason this stuck with me is because it resonates with the "researcher" in me. Who wouldn't want to take "right" action based on "right" knowledge? Yet, so often we do not. It's essentially an unattainable goal, but something that can always be worked toward. You can get closer and closer, even if never arriving there.

Lately, some of the events in the world, such as the fiscal cliff and the Newtown shootings, had me feeling very strongly about questions of political, economic, and ethical nature. These strong feelings led to my doing a lot of spewing forth of vitriol on my Facebook page, and to anyone who would listen. By and large, this is comprised of a supportive audience of like-minded folks: call them liberals, Democrats, whatever you wish. However, there were a few dissenting voices. Three to be exact. I am generally inclined, in the paradigm of my ideology, to dismiss these dissenting voices as being typical, expected, whatever, based on what I believe I know about the worlds of the individuals who were making the statements.

At many times in my life, this would have been the end of it. I would have held my ground, dismissed the oppositional views as ridiculous, selfish, uninformed, biased, etc. And moved on with my current beliefs. But this time, perhaps because of all this "inner work" (I hate that expression, but it applies) I have been doing, I ended up having a series of discussions and debates with one friend about issues such as gun control, regulation, taxation. In some instances, these discussions have resulted in a change in my views. In other cases, I don't know that I have changed my views, but I understand the issues now to be far less black and white than I thought, and far less about others being stupid, or selfish, or uninformed. Rather, the case is often that issues are extremely complex, and one's philosophy and ethics barely serves as a dim light for navigating situations where there's no clear path.

But what it has made me think about is that, as a nation, and perhaps even when considering most civilizations, "free thinking" is overshadowed by the desire to subscribe to a community that shares beliefs and ideals. The vast majority of us rally behind the labels of Democrat or Republican, even though the vast majority of us, when pressed, have quite different beliefs on a large percentage of the issues than the legislative agendas of either party. We're even told in our culture that supporting a third-party candidate is "throwing your vote away." Even now, for some, Ralph Nader, who actually is a free thinker, has been forever vilified for "delivering" George W Bush to the White House. All that, in spite of the fact that his views actually would have better served many of those who were so angry at his candidacy.

So, what I'm basically saying here is that living by "right action, based on right knowledge," in modern society, might mean having the courage to think about the issues on our own, and come to our own conclusions, based on what data we can find, rather than just subscribe to one of two party-based agendas. That's not easy, because it takes time. And it's also not easy because it means we sometimes will be sacrificing that sense of belonging that comes with saying "Yeah, me too!"

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