yoga, meditation, the west, and rowing a boat tied to a dock

in an episode of on being that i listened to recently (sharon salzberg and robert thurman – meeting our enemies and our suffering), an indian buddhist teacher named manindra was quoted as having said the following:

“Sometimes people in the West remind me of people sitting in a rowboat, and with great sincerity and earnestness, they’re rowing and rowing and rowing, but they refuse to untie the boat from the dock. Sometimes I think people are mostly interested in these great transcendent experiences and altered states of consciousness, but they’re not all that interested in how they speak to their neighbor or how they are with their children.”

​this resonates a ton with things i’ve been noticing as well as a thought my friend ambroise shared with me a few weeks ago. the basic thought is this: if individuals (and society by extension) aren’t actually desiring change, practicing yoga and meditation in these shallow ways are just hobbies. i think about all the yoga studios i’ve been to where people are clearly there to get exercise and not much else. or all the people i know who talk about meditating as a way to reduce stress… and yet they never seem to recognize the sources of stress in their lives.

these practices are, at their sources, situated in larger/broader spiritual practices with goals nothing short of life transformation. but, like many things extracted from their sources, without the overarching framework these practices originated in, the practices themselves are little more than pastimes.

ambroise was telling me he’s already experienced a similar type of disillusionment with yoga in its modern incarnation. i can’t remember if we talked about this or i read his writing about it [insert link someday maybe], but either way, it’s happened. and for him it’s gotten so bad that he’s actually decided to step away from it because the results that it can deliver are gained by so few people.

in light of manidra’s words, it’s likely that the people practicing don’t actually want to disconnect from the dock.