Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Onward to Terra Incognita
This past weekend I attended an event which took me by surprise, even though the person I went with tried to prepare me for what was going to happen. Prodigious minds don't always assume the form and persona of big-headed university professors, and once or twice in a lifetime you may meet some ordinary-seeming, ordinary-sounding person who opens a door in your mind you didn't know was there. It's like finding a secret, formerly-hidden door in your house which opens onto a room that stretches to the horizon. It's an experience that causes one to look at the world through a new pair of glasses.
The person I'm describing took Robert Frost's "path less chosen," that's for sure. The year after graduating high school, he traveled to India, found the teacher he was looking for, and settled into this foreign environment for several years, studying new (for him) languages, contemplating new modes of thinking, and absorbing everything he could, in order to pack up as much of this very ancient philosophy as one could carry home to share with others. While treading this strange and singular path, he decided he had found something the land of his birth sorely needed, and he determined to bring it back.
What he has to offer is not "the one truth" or "the right path" in the way such things as religions or cultish philosophies are ordinarily conceived and preached, but simply a set of alternative approaches to life and health that happen to be ancient in pedigree, philosophically abstract but prescriptively concrete, and involve among other things a different method of depth psychology than what we are used to.
"Alternative approaches to what?" you may ask.
The yoga philosophy is an alternative to modern forms of secular humanism and materialism, with their underlying assumption that technology and an elevated standard of living are the only things that can improve human lives. This was once a great and noble philosophy, starting with the spread of science in the seventeenth century and the flowering of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth. It produced tremendous advances in health, material comfort, and tangible knowledge for the human race, and enabled us to throw off the gross superstition and technological stagnation of earlier times. But like any philosophy, modern, western-style secularism has now become ennervated, moribund, and capable of producing only diminishing returns, when not absolutely destructive. By destructive, I'm talking about what our modern notions of "progress" have done to our earthly environment, for example.
This is how a new chapter begins, and it couldn't come at a better time. Because if you read the news today, you already know that we have to change the way we're living and our attitude toward it if we want to survive. Choosing to look at the world through a new pair of glasses is actually no choice at all.