The Nullification of Truth (Part 2)

Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in the shape of openings for an even greater variety of service.” -Gandhi

Week Three. Contemplate what the impact of post-truth, alternative facts, fake news, and truthiness is on yourself and the world at large. Note that it has become “normal” for emotions, gut feelings, personal beliefs and personal convenience to take precedence over observable facts and data.

Glenn Fairman wrote, Truth is a lot like virtue — in that most everyone claims to desire it, but the general consensus deep down is that they would rather have pie.”  This week notice in what ways your desire for ease, convenience, and personal preference determine your willingness to settle for “pie” rather than to seek Truth.

Week Four. The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

How might you guard against “critical thinking fatigue”? In what ways can you nourish, sharpen, protect, and guard this faculty of critical thinking for the long haul? Gandhi found strength and fortitude by tapping into Satyagraha, “the force which is born of truth.” Have you ever felt connected to this “force which is born of truth”? How might you root yourself in the power and resources of this force to sustain your potency and integrity in these times?

For further study and reflection:

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The Nullification of Truth (Part 1)

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Truth has often been a long time sufferer. Under dictatorships the comedians, journalists, artists, and educators, who are often some of the most poignant truth tellers, are first to disappear from the scene (along with whatever group of people is being scapegoated). We know that truth is often at stake in our personal lives as we do mental gymnastics to avoid or enhance certain details about ourselves. Partial truths are often advantageous.

Yet, when Patanjali reveals the 2nd restraint, he is clear. He does not say “non-lying”, he says “truthfulness”, a direct mandate to stop at nothing short of the full truth. I call this a “go all the way” yama. What is the difference between non-lying and truthfulness? This is an interesting question among many in a world where truth has become dangerously irrelevant.

Week One. I’m reminded of a cartoon where a little boy is in dialogue with his mother. The caption catches the little boy saying, “Suppose honesty isn’t going to work in this situation, what’s my next best option?”

Do you remember the first time you lied as a child? What were the repercussions, if any? What did you gain by lying, if anything? Who taught you to distinguish between truth and a lie? What is your current criteria for knowing “truth” in your personal life? In the world at large?

Week Two. Consider these words of Gandhi, “The seeker after Truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after Truth should be so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of Truth.”

This week watch your level of humility as you find your judgment, criticism, self-righteousness, animosity, and disgust rising in response to current events. What would it be like to be humble? What does your attempt at humility change?   Can you be both strong in speaking truth to power and humble in your recognition that truth is bigger than you know?

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Conversation with Nonviolence; What We Can Learn

“The ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Germany. He possessed a great intellectual capacity and faced a promising academic career as a Lutheran theologian that was abruptly altered when Hitler ascended to power on January 30, 1933. From the start, Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, yet he stood firm in his pacifist views.

All of this began to change as Bonhoeffer learned the full scale of atrocities being committed in his homeland. In what must have been an agonizing conversation with morality and ethical choices, this pacifist began to turn his attention toward stopping Hitler and eventually joined in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He was imprisoned and ultimately hanged for this failed attempt.

Bonhoeffer began with an ideological conception of nonviolence; for him that meant pacifism. Yet, as events unfolded in the horrors of the time he was living, as he began to see the murderous acts and injustices being routinely executed, he began to struggle with what it meant to be ethical in that moment in time.

Bonhoeffer was courageous enough to re-open his conversation with nonviolence. He was willing to reflect and soul-search and agonize with current events. He concluded that that “the ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” These are words we too might ask ourselves as we watch the events of our times unfold.

This is not a post inviting us to become would-be assassins. Nor is it a post holding up Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the poster child for non-violence. I have trouble believing that Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr would have made the same choice. I doubt that Bonhoeffer himself felt morally justified by his action.

The key point for all of us I think, is that ethical principles are not so much rules to be followed, but a way of being in the context of our times. They are not nouns; they are verbs. They are not stand-alone concepts; they are a living breathing experience of living in relationship. They are an ongoing conversation with our lives in relation to all life, living and yet to come.

These times are inviting us all to have this conversation.

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“I’m not a violent person…”

There is a danger to these times we live in, and that is the ease with which we can let ourselves off the hook. Violence is in its glory, and we, by comparison, can look pretty good. It’s the ole’ good apples, bad apples thing….we certainly don’t belong in the bad apple basket so we must belong in the good one.

But in the essence of our hearts and minds, there is only one basket, the human basket, and it is a mixed bag. Now, more than ever we are called to scrutinize the deep corners of our being for signs of our own moral weaknesses.

It is not easy to look at ourselves; it takes great courage. But it is necessary for a kind world, a gentle life, and a peaceful mind. The looking itself is hard, but the seeing begins to free us. Just to be aware begins to heal us. So take heart, this is the most important work of our lives.

As I have traveled and taught and received emails from many of you, one request I hear often is for additional questions to each of the yamas and niyamas. In light of that request and with an attempt to address the challenging times we find ourselves in, I will be blogging new questions to each of the yamas and niyamas throughout the year, beginning with nonviolence.

Week One. Search for your perfect “nonviolence” quote, the one that speaks right into your heart and soul. You will know it when you find it. Then memorize it, embrace it, reflect on it, and post it to your bathroom mirror and your refrigerator door. Read it first thing when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Let it fortify and inspire what is noble in you. And if you feel so inclined share your quote in the comments below or on Facebook.

Week Two. Notice each time you place yourself in the “good apple” basket because of something you have just witnessed or heard on the news. Stop comparing yourself. Instead notice the ways you have that very same quality you are condemning. Just sit quietly in that knowing. [Don’t condemn yourself or try to fix yourself. It actually takes more courage to just sit quietly in the awareness of your own moral weakness than to try to do something about it.]

Week Three. Take a world event, policy, or political leader that is particularly offensive or troubling to you. Every day this week sit quietly with this situation or person in mind for 5 minutes and be a neutral witness. Watch all the commentary your mind parades before you. Watch the intense feelings that may arise. What do you notice from this practice? Please note: this practice is not to condone complacency but to get ourselves out of the way of our own strong reactions, so that any necessary action or inaction will be clear to us and appropriate to the issue. [This idea comes from Thomas Hubl:  5 Minute a Day Practice.]

Week Four. This week be a student of kindness and its qualities. Perhaps you might bake cookies for your neighbor, provide childcare for a single mom, help out in a soup kitchen, let someone go in front of you in the check out line… Explore how little it takes to brighten up the corner of the world you occupy.

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Post-Truth

Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year: post-truth

©MartaDirks2016

In my growing up years, truth was a highly valued commodity. I remember being punished more than once by a parent or a teacher for attempting to alter or bypass this sacred principle. I soon learned that although telling the truth could be painful, not telling the truth was painful also.

In this new “post-truth” era, things are different. Truth is no longer valued, in fact it has become inconvenient, irrelevant, and downright bothersome. It is now unfashionable to entertain the complexity of things or to stick with the facts. We have become prisoners to the ease of a quick answer and the thrill of being emotionally charged. Lies parade as truth and we bow in worship.

In contrast to this era of post-truth, there was a man who lived from 1869-1948. His name was Mahatma Gandhi, and he dedicated his whole life to discovering truth rather than avoiding it. “Truth”, he said, “is God”, and it has its own power, a force he called Satyagraha. Gandhi told us that the way to seek truth was through nonviolence, through studying and learning from ones own life, through facing ones own demons, and by being as humble and lowly as a speck of dust.

There are those who tweet lies in the middle of the night arrogantly seeking to define truth. And then there was Gandhi who humbly sought to serve truth, not define it.

There are those who fight and kill for their small truth. And then there was Gandhi who respectfully dialogued with his opponents in the hope that no one would be harmed.

None of us can ever hope to hold or know the immensity of truth. But in a time where lies are creating untold suffering for the earth and its inhabitants, we can, like Gandhi, become humble seekers of truth and valiant defenders of its power and complex simplicity.  Gandhi helped show us the way.

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A One-Legged Bull

©MartaDirks2016

It’s over. In the United States we have a new president-elect.

I have close family who are elated at the results, hopeful for the next 4 years, and sleeping better at night now that Trump has been elected. I, however, feel the opposite. I see that hatred has been given a prominent place at the table; hunting season has opened on women, the earth, people of color, and non-Christians; and little girls have been left to wonder about their value. For me, walls are not the answer, the religious right is not the voice of morality, and the unwillingness to hold the common good is suicide.

Ancient yoga texts speak of times such as these where unimaginable corruption, greed, and cruelty find their way into positions of power across the globe; times where injustice, fear, and suffering become the norm. They call these times the Kali Yuga, or Dark Ages. Throughout the cyclical turning of time, these ages weave their way in and out of history.

What I find interesting is the symbol the texts use to portray these dark times: a bull trying to stand on one leg. Quite a visual, isn’t it? Since the election I have been trying to find a place to put all the pieces of craziness swimming around in my head. The symbol of the one-legged bull is that place. This image sums up the instability and imbalance I am feeling within and around me. It explains why everything feels wobbly, chaotic, uncertain, and downright crazy.

What to do when things are wobbling all around us? Remember the name of God, the texts tell us, with a constant prayer in your heart and a constant repetition of mantra on your lips. Looking for stability and balance? You will find it in the constant remembering of God’s name. Looking for clarity and courage to act with right speech and right action? You will find it in the constant prayer of your heart.

This turning of our hearts and minds towards the holy, towards beauty, goodness, and truth is not easy when hatred and blame are in the air. But the texts remind us that this is the sacred place where we find our balance and stability, and this is the sacred place where we find the clarity and strength for right action while the one-legged bull wobbles around us.

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Election 2016

©MartaDirks2016

In the US, we are nearing Election Day 2016. The events leading up to this day have been marked with extreme polarization and civic insanity. Far from insignificant, the outcome of this upcoming collective decision promises to have far-reaching implications not only for the United States but for the planet and all its inhabitants. This is a big day and a big vote that none of us can afford to take lightly.

Various comedians have made valiant attempts to find humor, irrationality, and downright bizarreness in the events leading up to this election. Talented political analysts have raised their voices, pointing out insights and implications that may have escaped our consideration. And many of us find ourselves taking refuge in the company of like-minded people where our confoundment and concern can be shared.

When the choice seems so obvious to us, and one of the candidates such an inexcusable possibility for reasons that seem endless, it is easy to forget that those same disgusting, inexcusable qualities can be found within each one of us.

The truth is that not only is there an important election about to happen in the United States, but there is an important election happening all the time within us. There are two candidates that constantly vie for the allegiance of our heart. One candidate is self-centered, tyrannical, and downright dangerous. The other candidate cares about the common good and is willing to make some sacrifices to that end. Both candidates are constantly asking for our vote; both are seeking to rule our hearts.

If civility holds sway, the battle for president of the United States will end on Nov 8th for another 4 years. But the inner battle will rage on as two candidates continue to vie for our attention. One candidate seeks to rule our hearts with fear and self-centeredness. The other candidate’s platform seeks ways where all can thrive and harmony can prevail. This, too, is a vote none of us can afford to make lightly, and we cast this vote day after day, moment after moment, with our every word and action.

We are familiar with Michelle Obama’s words, “When they go low, we go high.” May these words continue to guide us as we carry out our civic duty and vote for the next president of the United States. May these words also guide us as we engage our human possibility and vote for the inner ruler of our hearts.

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We Love Answers

©MartaGertiser2016

As I teach on yoga’s ethical system at various studios around the country, I am invariably asked about a real life situation and the pressing question of what to do. Although the situation is always unique, the dilemma has a constant theme: how to be both non-violent and truthful in that particular situation. When I reply, “What a great question; keep asking it,” silence takes over the room. The disappointment in my “non-answer” is palpable.

I am becoming familiar with how much we love answers to the lived experience of our complex relationships. I hear it from others; I know it all too well in myself. It seems like a pervasive inner plea to make life easier by being told what the “right” thing is. But the ready-made solution that answers give tends to cheat us by preventing a deeper dialogue with the complexities these experiences bring us.

On one of my travels, I met a studio owner who shared her experience of conversing with nonviolence and truthfulness when her husband of 10 years suddenly said to her, “Honey, I’m working on myself and I want you to tell me all the things that you see I need to work on.” Wanting to honor his earnestness, yet knowing her response could prove disastrous to their relationship, she wisely asked her spouse to let her think about his request for a few days.

She had no idea what to do, she told me. But she was willing to sit in the chaos of not knowing and the complexity of her spouse’s request. She was willing to reflect on what it would mean to respond from a place where both truthfulness and nonviolence prevailed. She was willing to trust that the question itself would reveal an answer. Eventually she was able to say to her husband, “I’ll tell you what, I will give you three things I think you need to work on and 3 things that are awesome about you.”

She didn’t give her spouse a 10-page list of quirks. Nor did she play it safe by denying his request. She masterfully limited the list to 3 weaknesses and then balanced these weaknesses by including 3 strengths. Being able to sit in the “not knowing” allowed her to tap into a kind, authentic response that had previously been unavailable to her.

Simple answers hold an important place in our lives, but they can also steal opportunities for growth. The next time we hear our inner voice longing for things to be easier, perhaps is the time to welcome the gifts waiting to be discovered if we are willing to sit in the complexity.

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