I’m having to work very hard to balance this blog between yoga & some sort of sermon on the perils of habitat destruction . . . so please, do bear with me if I digress a little (or a lot). The main thrust of this story is about breathing and the present moment (yogic themes, I hope!) and not all about man’s crazy greed, wilful habitat destruction and the all to real human consequences.
You may have heard, or you may not, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are suffering from terrible 'haze' at the moment. This basically means, when we pop our heads out of the air conditioned apartment, we’re met with an air quality that is a bit like being in a room with a peat fire without enough ventilation, or beside a bonfire with some carpet chucked on it. It’s not nice but more in an unpleasant way than awful. The way someone falling in water is unpleasant, while someone drowning is awful. We’ve not got it as bad as many do, the Riasu province has had to declare a state of emergency (awful), while Singaporeans are being advised to avoid strenuous activity outdoors (unpleasant or simply limiting). The smoke is coming from huge forest fires, a slash-and-burn approach to land clearing, to produce paper and palm oil on (mainly) the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
In my years working for an environmental charity, I spent a lot of time trying to persuade people that habitat destruction was not just bad for the plants, animals and insects, but that it would ultimately effect us as a human race. Often, we would be lambasted in the papers for caring more about a few birds than employment prospects, more about some silly plants than the economy of the local population. And so we would say it again. If we destroy the habitat that this community is built around, we will ultimately destroy the community. Often, we had to circle and use money (so be it *shaking head* I guess long ago we collectively decided that’s where value lies) to make our argument. This wilful habitat destruction will destroy tourism, you’ll ruin the landscape and no-one will want to live here, never mind visit. Some would make the leap and see the longer game, many didn’t. And yet here, on the other side of the world, I am finding that same story in a nutshell. Only the effect is immediate – you don’t need to wait ten or twenty or fifty years to see the ramifications of habitat destruction. You don't need to have the ability to care about nature as much as money or yourself. The consequences are here, right now, in this present moment. People can’t breath properly. We are part of biodiversity (the variety of life) and if you damage one part of it, you effect all of it. Simply, we all need air to breath.
The ramifications for us personally, here in Singapore, are only limiting. We’ve had to spend a lot of time indoors and have ended up watching a lot of movies. I’ve enjoyed some of the old classics, The Lion Kingand The Jungle Bookand caught up with the Toy Storytrilogy, loving each new movie as much as the last (not often the case with sequels). And I found myself truly moved by these make believe characters and their imagined world - Woody, Buzz, Slink and co. holding hands as they descend towards the incinerator. Andy’s mum clasping her hand to her chest as she looks around her (now grown-up) boy’s empty room. And I felt a real sense of premature-nostalgia – that some day the floor will not be littered with Doggy, Blue Baby, Maximus and Miffy (Molly’s very own Toy Story gang). And Kenny smiles wryly at me tearing up over a kids’ movie and, while I am defending myself, I am finding it ridiculous . . . on about three different levels.
One. Why on earth am I feeling emotional about an event that will (maybe) occur in about 15 – 20 years time? Can I not just enjoy being in the present moment, cooried in on a sofa enjoying this precious time with my wee girl and my husband? In yoga, as well as in mindfulness practices, we are often encouraged to stay in the present, to stay with the breath, but that doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for the future, in fact, quite the opposite. We have to care about the present to shape the future we want.
Our past efforts have brought us to where we are today.
Our efforts today will take us to where we want to be in the future.
Two. Why on earth am I feeling emotional about an 'imagined' story? It is just a story! There are enough 'real' stories out there that are worth getting upset about . . . I am guilty as charged, I am as bad as the next person for getting sucked into a drama and spat out at the other side, truly in danger of living my life vicariously online or through the actions and manufactured storylines of box set producers and screenwriters.
I’ve always struggled with the belief that we should decouple from our emotions, that we should become like the still surface of a loch. Do we really want to become masters of our emotions? Well, in some ways, yes. We don’t want to become slaves to our monkey-minds, a servant to our emotions which can be plucked, tweaked and twanged by all sorts of real and unreal provocations. We want to be able to respond, not react. To breath in and breath out. To think before we act. So no, don’t switch your emotions off, but do guard them and guide them carefully towards being the person you want to be and building the sort of world, the sort of community you want to live in.
Stories serve us when we use them well.
Three. There isn’t an 'on/off switch' in the real world. In our comfortable, air-conditioned apartment we can breath easy. Outside, we can’t. There is an on/off switch for your social media channels and your TV. Use it. Live in the real world for a day – disconnect to connect - and see what is really happening on your doorstep, with your neighbours and your community. See what difference you can make, locally, nationally, internationally . . . otherwise, we’re all just drowning in stories.
Start with your breath. Recognise it for the great gift it is.
Now, what can you give back to the world?
And if you haven't already, check the labels in your grocery trolley and on your beauty products for palm oil.
Stop buying it.
Written while listening to Rachel Sermanni, Breath Easy, to listen, just click.
On and off the mat, yoga philosophy or principles can be applied. This blog catches those meanders as well as some of the extra bits that we don't have time to go too deeply into during class.