I’ve recently returned to the US for an extended family visit—six or so weeks in my childhood home. My folks live in a strange in between land—not quite suburbia, not quite city, and definitely not country, rural, remote, or wild.
The neighborhood has changed over the years, this being metro-Detroit, it has been ravaged by major economic fissures, and there are a lot of there-used-to-be-something-here spaces, be it commercial or residential. Here, there existsa strange cultural vacuity, a clear window into the fragility and mortality of our materialist pursuits—displayed everywhere in the hollow storefronts, the tattoos of graffiti, and overgrown play spaces of a foregone time.
There’s a point that could be made here, yet the reason I’m writing this biographical snapshot on a yoga blog is not to document the economic or social tidal shifts that have occurred in one obscure place in middle-America, no—why I’m writing about my childhood home on a yoga blog is to discuss one of the biggest challenges to living in this place (and the countless similar places) in the west—be it suburb, city, or anything in between or thereabouts—waking up to something different.
Life Is More Than What It Seems
I’m not referring to “spiritual awakening” or enlightenment when I say “waking up,” but rather (and simply) the waking up to a different conception of life. Perhaps, you can call it enlightenment-lite, the awareness that life is more than what it seems, even if the “more” doesn’t reveal itself for what it actually is.
The pertinence (and relationship to yoga) is that yoga IS a practice of waking up. It is a practice of dismembering our assumptions, and pre-conceived notions about what life actually is.
So…we begin practicing yoga, and it makes us feel good, and the yoga teacher uses Sanskrit and speaks of things that at first seem strange, but more and more become common to us—the chakra system and Ayurveda, meditation and mindfulness. It begins to charge us with ideas that stand apart from those we were raised with.
And yet…we go home to ‘reality’.
And the mortgage bill comes. We go to a restaurant, or kick back in our home, or (even while we fill our cars with gas), and TV’s blare the repeated (and socially accepted) messages over and over and over—messages that tell us how to see the world.
People at work only discuss the hot political or celebrity topic, our friends and families exert subtle social pressure for us to pursue success (defined socially as productive, wealthy, and secure), and every time we go to the doctor for a check-up we are told how to conceive of the physical human body.
We drive to big shopping centers to satisfy our material needs and the landscape (as a general rule) is devoid of wildness, of nature at its diverse essence.
We see conflict and competition and the pursuit of security, and the separation and sadness and fear, and we think—the world is tough and I’ve got to do things the appropriate way. These messages, this paradigm, beckons us further and further into the space of comfort—finding a lifestyle that doesn’t disrupt how we see ourselves, and the world.
Yet, is that the promise of life—to attain a measure of comfort and security, and to keep the spectacular, the spontaneous, the adventurous, the surreal, and the challenging at arms length?
So how do we do it?
How do we let our experience in yoga infect our lives when we go home, go to work, and return to life as normal?Here are some tips for Finding Yoga in the Suburbs:
1. Get out!
Not forever. (Unless of course you want to!)
However, it’s important to at least occasionally open up your eyes by changing what they’re looking at. If you turn on Fox News everyday after work, it won’t take long for that to become how you see the world. If you take the occasional walk in a new place, go for a weekend bike ride in the nearest wilderness, or travel to somewhere distant and exotic (and slightly challenging) for your next vacation, it can do wonders for your perspective.
2. Find the Silence
Keep the TV off. Devote daily time for reading, writing, meditation, thinking, and personal silent time. Life is going to be a story one way or another, and we do have the power to affect which story rises to the surface through our choice in activity.
3. Engage in a Personally Meaningful Social Group (Create Community)
The suburbs are isolationist by design. And even if you live in a big city, it can often feel like you’re alone.
Yet without a doubt there are tons of people who share similar interests (yoga), who see things similarly, and would love to get together. It’s one thing to chat online. It’s quite another to look into someone’s eyes and chat about a planned (but yet to be initiated) adventure to road bike across the country.
If we’re going to live in the suburbs, we have to make them feel less like suburbs and more like a vibrant community. We must.
4. Actually Go and Do the Things You’ve Been Reluctant to Do
Just go for it already! Isn’t that a much better alternative than beating yourself up for not doing the things you’ve meant to do and just haven’t gotten around to it?
Life in the suburbs can be surprisingly tough. It is generally an impersonal, physically spacious, mono-cultural reality devoid of community and vibrant experience.
Yoga may begin to open doors into re-conceiving life in a broader context and the challenge to you is to let it truly transform your world.