Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke

“Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke” – Chai Chats podcast, 2017

 

I was listening to Chai Chats, one of my favourite podcasts (the one on boundaries literally changed my life – and I’m using literally literally) yesterday and one of the hosts was talking about their interest and subsequent critiques of Buddha and Buddhism. Religious philosophy isn’t really my jam and I have been sleeping an average of 4 hours a night for 3 weeks so I was just about to drift off, when the above quote jumped out at me. “Just because you’re enlightened doesn’t mean you’re woke.” Holy fuck, the truth of that statement hit me with the kind of realness that travels from the mind to those deep places in the soul that are so easy to ignore as we move through life.

 

I love self-care, I have felt the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and I strongly believe in practicing yoga on and off the mat. I also believe in the power of collective care and get lost in daydreams of a future built on justice, equity and reciprocity. Unfortunately, sometimes communities that promote the former do so at the detriment of the latter.

 

Late capitalism, first coined by German economist Werner Sombart and later popularized by Ernst Mandel, originally referred to the period between 1945 and the early 1970s. However, the meaning has adapted as the so-called golden age of capitalism has come to an end. Late Capitalism could easily refer to the ultra rich kids of Instagram, the Kardashian/Jenner clan or wellness and yoga movements that co-opt, commodify and pervert the true meaning.

 

Last summer, I saw a sign outside a yoga studio that said “Namaslay”, once I was done audibly groaning, I snapped a photo and posted it online. A bunch of people I have on social media responded with both words and emojis showing they too were annoyed at this obvious appropriation of a sacred word (namaste) and a popular term in African American Vernacular English (slay). I felt slightly better that I wasn’t the only one upset but this sign. This was comforting at the time, but actually made no difference. This studio’s websites that’s that, “We believe in the power of breaking down doors of tradition and structure to introduce variety, music, and a taste of our own rock and soul.” That’s great, hun, but it’s not your tradition to break. The studio, similar to other yoga studios and various lululemon locations, employ phrases like “sweat tribe” or “find your tribe”, the words “zen”, “namaste” and various sanskrit terms are plastered everywhere and I have seen more white girls covered with imagery of mandalas and Hindu gods and goddess than in all the temples I have ever been in.

 

This is not to say that white people or non-Hindus can’t learn about and embrace the spiritual, and at times physical, benefits of yoga and Hindu philosophy. Unfortunately, many people involved in western yoga/mindfulness/wellness circles embrace this kind of faux spirituality that appropriates and then commodifies meaningful cultural practices and traditions.

 

Those in the wellness/yoga/hippie/new age (I know these can be different but share some common traits) often borrow and patch together “eastern” traditions while simultaneously benefitting from black culture to create sometime lucrative business and trends. Golden milk seems suddenly trendy as does big hoop earrings and long nails. I feel a certain bitterness at this. I’m not complaining about the ease of buying earrings or fresh turmeric, but it stings to think that they same people who once mocked my yellow stained fingers and who made “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe” a catchphrase throughout high school now are all over IG with golden lattes and the so-called ‘baddie’ aesthetic.

 

I am not above mentioning my own guilt in this. There was a time when I embraced the ‘hippie’ aesthetic of “zen” and images of Buddha without having any knowledge of the cultural significance of these traditions and practices. We all fuck up. We all fuck up multiple times. What we have to ask ourselves is, are we learning from this? Can we admit our guilt without be frozen by it? Guilt is not useful unless we are using it to grow our understanding and change our practices.

 

My own yoga practice, along with my journey of healing from anorexia and related traumas, is meaningless unless it ties practices of mindfulness and wokeness. I can’t fully embrace the healing power of yoga if I’m not unpacking the historical trauma that colonialism has inflicted on my peoples. I can’t continue learning and unlearning – because woke is not a destination but like yoga it is a practice – if I don’t learn to care for myself. I can’t embody gratitude and peace if I do not embody liberation and practice intersectional solidarity, in both the personal and public spheres.

 

Enlightenment ™ , as exemplified in late capitalism, will not lead to true enlightenment and liberation if the majority of our earth’s populations are suffering the effects of systemic oppression. Care and liberation must go hand in hand. This is a journey and a process of learning/unlearning, so be gentle with yourself, admit your mistakes and move forward. That is a path to enlightenment that just may work.

The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.