Duality Free (Part II)
In our last post, we discussed a few ways that dualistic thinking can get inhibit the growth of our yoga practice. In this post, I’d like to dig deeper into a particular characteristic of dualistic thinking — its contagiousness.
When we say that a disease is contagious, we generally know what that means. Here in Markham, it’s very common even for children to have a good sense of what the word means — we see kids avoiding each other on the playground, whether for fear of cooties or the common cold, just as we see adults giving each other the evil eye when they show up at work with a tissue box and a bad case of faucet-nose.
What does it mean, however, for a way of thinking to be contagious? Does this mean that we should treat some forms of thinking — as a disease?
The simple answer is yes. Some forms of thinking are disease-like, and this is for the same reason that so-called “physical ailments” are called diseases: because they prevent our natural growth from occurring, they make our lives more difficult, and they inhibit the body’s natural instinct to stay healthy, happy and alive. When put this way, is it at all radical to believe that certain forms of thinking can inhibit our growth? —And moreover, not just our growth, but the growth of those around us?
Let’s take a closer look at this process — because it is extremely common, and often overlooked for what it is:
Say Molly walks into a room. Molly is wearing a beautiful blue dress with sneakers. Meanwhile, Lauren, on the other side of the room, holds a dualistic belief that dresses and sneakers cannot be worn together; that in fact, if you wear a dress and sneakers together, that makes you unfashionable, and that you shouldn’t go out in public.
(So far, so familiar, right?)
Now, as Molly reaches the center of the room, Lauren notices her and makes a comment: “Molly, what do you think you’re wearing!?”
How do you think Molly feels at this moment?
The truth is, we have all been Molly, and we have all been Lauren in this situation. We all hold beliefs that sort people into categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ whether those beliefs fall along the lines of religion, faith, economic status, behaviour in public, educational status, or the perceived fitness of other people’s bodies.
Now, it goes without saying that these beliefs can be hurtful — both for others and ourselves (because, through believing them, we systematically close ourselves off from higher and truer possibilities of experience), but what is not so obvious, is the fact that these beliefs very quickly spread like a contagious disease among the people we love. For example: how many of us grew up hearing parents or opinionated relatives expressing a nasty thought about “those people” or “people like that” — essentially passing judgement that was not theirs to pass? How many of us then grew up believing that such judgement was right for them to pass, or in fact began to pass that kind of judgement ourselves?
Or how about this: how many of us can remember doing something in the full innocence of childhood, maybe exploring too far in the woods, or asking about a new friend’s family history, and being “caught” by an adult who then proceeded to scold us for doing something “bad”? Can you remember how instant that moment was, when curiousity turned to shame? When that something was — just a moment before — without judgement, without expectations, then suddenly burdened with the dualistic concept of “bad” and “good”?
In all these moments, when we feel shame, it is because we are catching the disease of dualistic thinking — because someone else’s strong judgement about a particular set of behaviours, or people, becomes our own.
In yoga, we have the unique opportunity to begin to address these beliefs through the soil they grow in. We can create a ground — both for ourselves and others — of openness, faith and trust, wherein we can begin to live in a way that doesn’t presuppose, that doesn’t pass judgement, and that doesn’t insist things should be one way or another. The more we are anchored in this practice, the easier our life becomes — not because bad things will cease to happen to us, but because we will begin to see “bad” things as what they are: just another part of this practice of living.
Through this practice of yoga, we can begin to forge our own cures for dualistic thinking. And when our healing is done, we will know it — by our collective flourishing.