Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Man of the People May 23, 2013

Filed under: reflections,TV — R. H. Ward @ 12:40 pm
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Recently F and I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Man of the People.” In this episode, the Enterprise is transporting Ramid Ves Alkar, an ambassador and peace negotiator, along with his elderly mother, to a war-torn planet. When Alkar’s mother dies en-route, he remains calm and composed, and no one thinks much of it since she seemed to be old and sick, suffering dementia. Then Counselor Troi starts exhibiting strange behavior: acting angrily and maliciously, dressing seductively, making inappropriate lewd comments to other crew members. When she begins aging prematurely, the crew discovers that Alkar has created a psychic and empathic link with Troi: in order to stay so tranquil in his work at the negotiating table, he dumps all his negative emotions into Troi, and the onslaught is killing her. Captain Picard discovers that Alkar has done this many times, and the woman they thought was his mother was actually just his latest victim. Alkar argues that his success in negotiating peace is worth the women’s sacrifice because millions of people will be saved from death in war. The Enterprise crew disagrees and finds a way to break Alkar’s link with Troi. The overload of negative emotions rebounds onto Alkar, ending his life.

From a yogic and moral perspective, there’s a lot going on in this episode! Many people would agree with Alkar that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. However, Picard disagrees, saying, “You cannot explain away a wantonly immoral act because you think that it is connected to some higher purpose.” As Captain, Picard’s primary responsibility here is for the safety of his crew member, but Picard also refuses to let Alkar continue using others; when the Enterprise crew makes their plan to save Troi, they know that Alkar will choose another “receptacle” for his emotions, and they keep that woman’s safety in mind as well. They must rescue Troi, but sacrificing another innocent person is an unacceptable alternative, even if it means that Alkar will be unable to negotiate a peace treaty for the warring factions. Compromise isn’t acceptable here. Picard acts in keeping with the yogic principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence.

From a yogic perspective, I’m interested in Alkar’s chosen method of dealing with negative emotions. While we can’t create a psychic link and channel our emotions directly into another person, most of us do have some experience with pushing negative emotions away so we don’t have to feel them, or taking our hurt, fear, or anger out on another person with negative consequences. It’s perfectly natural not to want to deal with dark emotions – it’s not fun! But learning how to be with our emotions, how to experience them and then set them aside, makes us stronger people, calmer in the long run, and better able to enjoy happiness when it comes our way.

Alkar had chosen to work as an ambassador and peace negotiator, which is a noble aim, but it’s telling that, with an entire galaxy to explore and the meditation techniques of thousands of races to choose from, Alkar instead chose to oppress another person to accomplish his goals. Alkar tells Picard, “I get no payment. I have no power base, no agenda. I’m willing to risk my life simply to help others,” and Picard responds, “Do you think that makes you appear courageous? Because you’re mistaken. You’re a coward, Alkar. You exploit the innocent, because you’re unwilling to shoulder the burdens of unpleasant emotions.” Cowardly and selfish, Alkar is not the hero he thinks he is. He took the easy way out of dealing with emotion, unconcerned about the harm it did to others. Meditation is difficult, and learning to deal with strong emotion is difficult, but in the end, the rewards are far greater.

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The Inner Light February 14, 2013

Filed under: reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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My husband F and I have been watching our way through every episode Star Trek: The Next Generation. F had never seen it before, and I hadn’t seen it since it originally aired. Right now we’re almost done with season 5, which is some of the best Star Trek I’ve ever seen. And the other night we saw “The Inner Light”, one of my all-time favorite episodes.*

In this episode, the Enterprise encounters an ancient alien probe, which emits a strange energy beam, rendering Picard unconscious. In the space of about 25 minutes, Picard lives a full, long lifetime on a long-dead alien world. The people of Kataan knew that their world was dying; they didn’t have the technology to save themselves, but they were able to create and launch this probe, intended to share with one individual their culture from the perspective of a native.

There are a few interesting things here (at least, from a yogic point of view; there are lots of interesting and wonderful things about the episode!). The people of Kataan could have chosen to put any number of things on their probe: books, musical recordings, works of art. How about computer files containing the sum of their race’s scientific, artistic, and literary accomplishments? But they knew that this wouldn’t truly represent them; they knew that life, culture, art, and emotion have to be experienced and lived in order to be understood. No amount of book learning or data could communicate who they truly were as a people, so they found a way to give someone that experience for himself.

And that’s the other thing. The probe was only good for one go. It shared Kataan with Picard, and then its systems terminated. The people of Kataan hoped that their probe would reach someone wise, a teacher who would share their culture and way of life with others. They hoped that by giving this gift to one person, they would live on. They weren’t trying to share their entire history with another race as a whole – they shared one man’s life and memories, with one person.

And what did Picard learn from Kataan, besides how to play the flute? Several times during the episode, the importance of living in the present moment is emphasized. It’s what Picard tells each of “his” children: to seize the moment, embrace love or pursue their passions now. The experience of life on a dying world made him more aware of the present moment. And, along with the hopes, dreams, and loves of an entire lost civilization, that’s what he brought back to the Enterprise with him.

(* Tied with “Darmok”, also in season 5, which is an awesome episode for two reasons: the idea of a species that communicates entirely in metaphor, which makes my English major’s heart go pitter-pat, and the fact that Picard tells the Gilgamesh story, which I adore and have blogged about before here. And what do these two episodes have in common? Picard gets hijacked by a strange race, and Riker nearly ruins everything by being overly aggressive and trying to rescue him! Seriously if there’s anyone you could trust to handle himself well under strange circumstances, it’s Picard [with the exception being the time Picard was kidnapped by the Borg, which was one time Riker was well justified in his rescue attempts]. Riker almost screwed up two of the best episodes in Star Trek history. He could definitely use a dose of Zen.)

 

books: The Magicians January 24, 2013

Filed under: books,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:03 pm
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The Magicians, by Lev GrossmanLast week I read a book called The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. We meet the main character, Quentin Coldwater, during his senior year in high school. He’s a brilliantly gifted but awkward kid, dreaming of his best friend’s girl and trying to get into Princeton because that’s what seems to be expected of him. Instead, he receives an invitation to attend a secret college for magicians. Quentin had practiced card tricks and sleight of hand, but apparently he has a gift for the real kind of magic also.

Quentin is no Harry Potter. Frequently depressed, Quentin’s life is characterized by disappointment that all the things that were supposed to make him happy never do. This makes some sense when he’s younger – what smart awkward kid is ever happy in high school? – but his disillusionment returns again and again. A magical school is what he’d hoped for his whole life, but after the wonder wears off and the hard work sets in, Quentin isn’t happy there. And later on, with graduation looming and afterward, Quentin still isn’t happy, despite the fact that with his powers he could do, literally, anything he wants.

Quentin keeps expecting the circumstances of his life to bring him happiness. He thinks that if he works hard and does what he’s supposed to do, happiness will happen to him, like a reward. What he doesn’t realize is that he’ll never be happy if he doesn’t change his attitude. Alice, the girl Quentin loves, sees his problem and tells him he needs to recognize just how lucky he is. “You can’t just decide to be happy,” Quentin says, to which Alice responds, “Yes, but you can decide to be miserable.”

Although our problems are less magical, most of us are a lot like Quentin. We work hard and then expect happiness to come to us, always looking ahead to something else that, like magic, will make us happy. We expect happiness to be a country we can inhabit where, if we can just get there, we’ll never be sad again. But happiness has to come from within. It’s an attitude, a state of mind. If we can let go of our expectations about what it means to be happy and open ourselves to the possibility of being happy right here, right now, then we can experience what happiness truly can be.

 

books: The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin June 19, 2012

Filed under: books,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 2:04 pm
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The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le GuinWait a minute, you may be thinking. You come to this blog for yoga, and here is a book with a picture of a dragon on the cover. Now, many of you may not know this, dear readers, but I have loved fantasy novels for far longer than I’ve loved yoga. Being so far along in my pregnancy, I haven’t felt up for reading much nonfiction or anything that feels like a “serious” book – I wanted fun, light reading. It seemed like a good time to revisit some of my favorite fantasy novels. And when something in a fantasy novel jives with my yoga, I can’t help getting all bubbly about it.

The Farthest Shore is the third novel in Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle. It was first published in 1972, and it’s about (roughly) a wizard and a young man taking a journey to figure out what’s going wrong with magic, what darkness is coming across people’s hearts. There are sorcerers and dragons and at least one sword fight, but the thing about Ursula Le Guin is that she doesn’t just write about sorcerers and dragons (or about rocket ships and aliens in her science fiction novels) – she uses these concepts to look at what’s going on in the world, what it means to be a human being. The Earthsea books in particular are ostensibly about wizards and magic but really deal with deeper ideas about life and death that are very powerful.

I’ve read The Farthest Shore before and so I knew it had these life/death themes, but on this read I found even more to love. What struck me most is that our hero, the wizard Ged, is totally a karma yogi! On several occasions, he talks to his companion Arren about what it means to be a man of action, and how the best path is to take no action at all. In particular, their conversation after Ged rescues Arren from slave traders is interesting: Ged talks about maintaining balance, acting with responsibility. He says, “It is much easier for men to act than to refrain from acting…. do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way” (67). This could have come right out of the Bhagavad Gita! I wonder if that’s what LeGuin was reading in the early 1970s? And Ged backs up his statements about action in the way he lives. He goes on this journey only because he must; none of the other wizards will acknowledge the problem or understand what’s needed to solve it. His action is needful to preserve balance in the world. In this and in other books in the series, he only uses magic when it’s necessary, and magic is shown over and over again to have serious consequences when its use is out of balance. I loved finding Ged to be even wiser than I’d remembered him, and I loved finding karma and dragons in the same book.