by Michael Ketterhagen
Although our identity has many layers, the one that has been most on my mind lately is our communal identity.
Because all human life, indeed, all life period (as Yoga would say), is one, and because we are social beings, not just individuals, we all need to identify with some community. It starts out rather simply as we begin to identify with our mothers, our fathers, our family members, both nuclear and extended. Then we expand our communal identity to the school mates, the neighborhood kids, our favorite sports team. Gradually, our community gets larger and larger, including even people who are different from ourselves.
This community identity is even more important than ourselves at times. An example is when a young person joins the military to fight for the freedom of a nation, like when someone joins the battle in Afghanistan, or when one joins a group whose purpose is to free people from oppression, like Black Lives Matter. In many ways, we as individuals become very self-less in these communities, even though Yoga advocates for expanding our reliance on the security of the community beyond our physical group.
Yoga advocates freeing ourselves from the tyranny of “group think” and “group action.” Like Jesus of Nazareth’s early Christian community, yoga says we need to look at humanity as a whole. We need to examine closely whether our current community’s perspective is too narrow. Does our community perspective include “the least” (Matthew 25) of our brothers and sisters? Does it include the stranger (Luke 10: 25-37), who is running from violence in a former country? Does our group/community even go so far as to include the other sentient beings on a planet which are supported by a healthy, vibrant environment?
When community is challenged or threatened, anger and violence rear their Divine Heads (after all, Yoga says that destruction done by evil is a work of God as well). That may be what is happening now during our challenging health, educational, societal world. When community is threated, people reach out for whomever agrees with them. We must have community to sustain ourselves even when that community becomes violent and self-destructive.
When that community self-defense happens, lots of pain occurs, like during the political uprisings at the beginning of this year. What is our job as yogis, then, during this clash of community identities? We must contemplate the role of community in our lives and realize that this contemplation needs to lead to loving, kind, understanding and thoughtful actions. Turning to violence, even in our thinking, is not the yogic path. It is also not the Christian path.
May this Easter time of Catholic Christianity, the Lenten time of Orthodox Christianity, the fasting time of Ramadan, that after-time of Hannukah and the perpetual time of the Yoga world shine new light on our communal identity!