In recent months, I’ve had to admit to changing realities in my neighborhood. I first started noticing that a lot of the original regulars who helped build the yoga center with me haven’t been around as much as they used to. Then, they’ll show up with a refrain that goes something like: “The old man who owned my building passed away; they sold it, and I had to move.” There are still lots of new people coming in every month. But they are not of the same ilk as when I opened. Don’t get me wrong, still great people. It’s just that the artists and counter-culturalists that made the place what it is don’t live here anymore.
The capitalization of culture through real estate is nothing new. First, I lived in Greenwich Village. Then it was the East Village. Then the lower East Side. Then Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But in all of those times there always seemed to be a clear next move. Whereas now there is no obvious place that the outskirts have migrated to. Bushwick? Croton on Hudson? Maplewood, NJ? Detroit? It’s just not clear. One thing is for sure, when that property you bought back in the seventies becomes worth 3-5 million dollars, it’s just downright stupid not to cash in. We’d all like to think that a sense of community is worth more than millions of dollars but that doesn’t hold up when you have medical bills or a family to look after.
Anxiety is the hallmark of a reality that favors trappings over human dignity.
Living in the “real world” usually means having to deal with really annoying stuff that you wish you didn’t have to deal with but you have to because that is how it is in the “real world.” Consequently, our conception of what is real is not pleasant. It’s a chore. It sucks. Reality sucks. And when this version of what is real is predominant, the result is pervasive fear and discontent. Nothing is ever right. We’ll never be able to get on top of it. Even if we made millions. There’s always an existential angst that is bubbling unconscious underneath, and bursts out in uncontrollable and detrimental ways. Other times the weight of it all is too much, function becomes impeded and we are forced to face ourselves, to varying degrees of success.
This idea of reality begs for escape. Yoga offers a rich canon of viewpoints and teachings that offer alternative concepts. Eastern spiritual paradigms generally consider the “real world” of western civilization to be “unreal.” The superficial trappings that undermine our sense of humanity are to be distrusted, even renounced, so that we may know a reality free from fear and anxiety. To westerners who have been born and bred in the reality of anxiety, the notion that this world of suffering is not real is quite appealing. Thus, the spiritual aspirant’s determination to do whatever is necessary to accomplish some transcendental consciousness. Some way to get beyond this crap reality.
Reality acknowledged as the miracle of life needs no transcendence and is not the least bit contingent on time, money or politics.
When I start to get overwhelmed by what I see happening in my neighborhood, my country, and the world, I have to remind myself of the entirety of what I know to be true. Yes, these issues I am pointing to are real and important. But they are only a small part of the experience that life is providing me. The real estate market in my neighborhood is absurd. It’s hard to imagine that rents could forever go up and never hit a peak or come down. (Maybe if the L train actually goes out of service for a year or more then that might do something to slow the real estate locomotive.) Regardless, my life encompasses more.
I am a thinking, feeling, human being who is having a life. I started out as a single cell that was created by my mother and father having sex. I have breath coming in and out of me. My heart is beating. I exist in this body, on a planet, and there is a sun and moon and stars. If I were able to somehow project myself past the force-field that holds me pinned to this planet without imploding than I would be released into infinite space. That is crazy. And that is reality. Just as much as time or money or politics. Maybe, in some ways, more.
This reality we are experiencing is so utterly amazing that we can’t fully comprehend it. So profoundly mind-blowing and all encompassing is the glory of a life that we often can’t even recognize it as such. In the unraveling of this great mystery, between what we identify as important and the inherent magic of its context, is where the riddle becomes undone.
By J. Brown
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com
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