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Not Woke, But Waking

Alternate Reality: A hypothetical self-contained reality co-existing with one's own. While the terms "parallel universe" and "alternate reality" are generally synonymous and can be used interchangeably in most cases, there is sometimes an additional connotation implied with the term "alternate reality" that the reality is a variant of our own.

Microaggressions: 1) Everyday verbal or nonverbal slights or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate derogatory messages that target people based solely upon their marginalized group membership. 2) Umbrella term coined and formalized in social studies describing "the little things" of living in a socially marginalized group that, over a long period, contribute to a social climate of discomfort, distrust and fear.

Woke: The act of being aware of the social and political environments regarding all demographics and socio-economic standings.

In the past year I’ve noticed some changes in the way I see my world. I’d like to think this new reality is a consequence of my years of studying yoga philosophy, meditating, cleaning up my karma and the energy I put into the world. I’m sure these practices all play a role, but alternate realities have also had a big impact on me.

Years ago I read David Levithan’s young adult novel, Every Day, whose main character, A, is a conscious being that wakes up in a borrowed body for exactly 24 hours. As I read this book, I struggled with my need to attach corporal characteristics to A, such as a permanent body and as the love story unspooled, a permanent gender. This story exemplifies French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s quote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I believe de Chardin, and yet I felt my own bias when reading about the character A.

Yoga philosophy describes the kleshas, or afflictions. These afflictions color my reality like looking at the world through a panel of stained glass; if I view my world through the rose-colored pane, I only see things that are rose-colored. Each color of glass changes how I interpret and act in the world and all are forms of avidya, or spiritual ignorance. If I dislike the color I see then I reject that reality, either orchestrating my life so I don’t have to see it or simply denying it exists. Dvesa is what the yogis call this type of aversion. On the other hand, if I enjoy what I see, then I try to attach (raga) to it, acting in a way that brings more of it in to my life; in the case of Levithan’s story, I rejected the reality he was presenting – where a being could exist without a body, and looked for the reality that I wanted – where a being wasa body. Confusing the soul or Self with the body “sleeve” that houses it is called egoism or asmita. It’s what happens when I identify with things that are impermanent, like when I say, “I am an engineer,” “I am young,” “I am a daughter.” Each of these statements change over time. Some already have. According to yoga philosophy, when I let go of egoism I grow closer to understanding my Self is part of the bigger Source, like a wave understanding it is part of the ocean. Reading Levithan’s fictional reality awakened me to my own reality.

Another part of my reality is that I have experienced life as a woman. On the streets, in the workplace and even in my own home, I’ve lived through sexism ranging from subtle to overt. My views on gender equality were tested when I recently watched a French movie called, I Am Not an Easy Man (Je ne suis pas un homme facile). In this film a male chauvinist is abruptly dropped into an alternate reality where women are the dominant gender in society and men are subjected to micro- and macro-aggressions. The plot is clever and details of these aggressions made me smile, but what bothered me is that I kept checking if the movie was believable based on the thought, “Is that how a man would do it?” The sexism that colors my reality means that I only think of men when I think of dominance. So even if the pane of glass that I’m looking at the world through isn’t a color that I like, I still might cling toit if it’s what I’ve grown used it. In this case, I clung to something that I detest. The alternate reality presented in this movie unearthed this form of avidya, spiritual ignorance, and helped me see how I participate (mentally) in allowing microaggressions to continue.

The opposite of spiritual ignorance is spiritual awakening. I continue to work on the mat with my kleshas to clear ignorance in my own mind and responses, as a path to awakening. There are opportunities off the mat, too. For me, alternate realities teach me about my own reality where I’m not “woke,” but maybe waking.

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