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Addressing the Sixth Kosha

There's a tool our brains use in order to process the myriad of sensations that rain down on us with each moment. It's a coping mechanism so we're not overwhelmed. Consider the undercurrent of drum beats in a song that you only notice when it's missing or the vibration of your home's electricity you only feel once the power goes out; these sensations are woven so tightly into the tapestry of our sensory fabric that we typically only recognize them once they are gone. Our brains work in a similar way when we hear ideas so often that they become part of the background and we store them in our brains as "truth" without giving them a second thought.

The problem with our coping mechanisms is that they are unreliable and outdated; it's as if we're looking at the world through a pair of glasses made with an old prescription and whose lenses are constantly getting dirty. Our yoga practice asks us to direct our awareness to these background sensations and truths we've stored, sift through them and discern what is real and what is a product of our coping mechanisms. The inability to see what is real is called avidyā in yoga philosophy.

Everything we do in yoga - whether it is āsana practice, prānāyāma, or meditation, whether it is attentive obervation, self-searching, or the examination of a particular question - all have as their goal the reduction of avidyā. (T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga)

This past year I turned 50 and as many of my female mentors who reached this milestone ahead of me described, this age brought me new insights - a new prescription through which is examine my own truths as well as the world around me. These insights are evolving and I hope they continue to grow. Further down I'll share the meditations I'm currently working with, but first I want to discuss the concept of pancha kosha, which refers to the concept in yoga philosophy (Taittirîya-Upanishad, passages 25-41 in this reference) that there are five layers of awareness through which all experience is filtered. Looking at the graphic below, you see the different elements that make up all earthly beings, with an additional kosha, the "Social Kosha." This is not found in ancient texts; instead it's an extension of the pancha kosha model that reiterates our interconnectedness to each other. I can sit in a cave (or my house) and meditate to clean my own lenses all day long but if I call myself a part of the human race I must apply these tools to everyone. I felt this past year that I had neglected this kosha and instead used my practices to retreat into myself rather than be with others in uncomfortable settings. I wonder if many of us in the yoga world have been doing this? When I realized I needed to work with my societal lens, I dove in with enthusiasm. I enrolled in a course, I took implicit bias tests, I ingested media about social justice and I started having very open, honest, uncomfortable and sometimes cringe-worthy conversations. Sometimes the lens gets cleaned with a brief wiping of a soft cloth and sometimes it needs grinding and sanding because the distortion runs so deep.

Read on for the meditations that I'm now using.

Meditations to Clean the Lens

As a white American, I have benefitted from an unjust system

Feel the guilt that arises when you acknowledge this and pause... Slowly begin to process that guilt, transforming it into a less-charged statement.

Some of my ancestors contributed to this unjust system

Feel the shame that arises when you acknowledge this and pause... Slowly begin to process that shame, transforming it into a less-charged statement.

My ancestors struggled and so did I

Feel the entitlement that arises when you acknowledge this and pause... Slowly begin to process that entitlement, transforming it into a less-charged statement.

I want to tell my friends who are Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC) to trust me and that I'm their ally, but first I have to step back and remember Maya Angelou's words:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How do I want my BIPOC friends to feel? I want them to feel that with me they have a voice, that they are respected and that they are safe. For those reasons I invite all of us white Americans to take loving these actions:

  • Listen to our BIPOC friends without turning the conversation back to me and my experiences (an idea called de-centering whiteness)

  • Elevating our BIPOC friends using social media "takeovers" or variations of sharing our platforms

  • Protecting them in spaces that are predominantly white; this means potentially losing social capital

  • Learn, unlearn and learn some more... The lens does not get polished with one book, one course or one conversation

I welcome your respectful input as long as it's made in good faith. Where are you on this path? If you have other tools to share with your "social kosha" I'd love to hear them!

A note to those of you who are offended by this post... You may not have yet reached this point in your life, or it may not be the path you're on at all this time around; if you haven't done this work, please don't get in the way of those of us who are doing it. It's imperfect and messy and if we think you're going to point out all the mistakes along the way, we may never take it on. My advice is to pause when you feel offended or agitated by what's written and use that as a place for you to explore in your own practice before you respond. What's underneath the discomfort for you?


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