One of my favourite concepts that I learned at yoga school is that yoga (and life) is about finding a balance between your internal and external worlds, not just shutting down the external world. Our yoga teachers taught us that it’s very easy to be enlightened when you’re meditating alone in a cave in the mountains somewhere, but it is not so easy to be enlightened as you move through a chaotic, busy marketplace full of people. Yet those who can stay mindful, present and peaceful in the marketplaces of life are those that are truly enlightened.
David Foster Wallace says (in my favourite piece of writing of all time),
“If you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the unity of all things.”
I get choked up just reading those sentences, because the blindingly beautiful truth of them reminds me of what it means to be human. On my very best days, I can get glimpses of this: I have smiled like an idiot on a seriously hellish streetcar ride, truly feeling so connected and grateful for the experience and the souls I’m sharing it with. Don’t get me wrong though, on many days, I’m just anxious to get to my stop and mentally rolling my eyes at “how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like they seem”. But I have experienced the former, and the truth and beauty of those experiences is life, is love, is what it means to be human.
On a funnier (but no less true) note, Ram Dass says, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” And isn’t it always the case? Go home for even a day, and stories and thoughts and annoyances from your childhood appear and you revert back to your high-school aged self. Buttons are pushed, triggers are triggered, etc, etc, etc.
But. Life doesn’t happen in the cave, it happens in the market. Love doesn’t happen in the cave, it happens in the market. Same goes for connection, harmony, and collective joy, not to mention many forms of personal and spiritual growth that can only happen in relationship with others.
I sometimes think that if I could just get my life set up to exclude anything I consider negative or bad, then I’d be happy and life would be perfect. Essentially, I imagine that one day I’ll build myself the perfect cave full of perfect things and live happily ever after. But of course, life happens in the real world, with real people who are maddening and beautiful. The market is where a million things are happening that are outside of your control, things you don’t like and would never have chosen if you’d been given the choice. But the market is also where the magic happens.