Why I Left the "Conscious Community"
December 31, 2015 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
I stopped teaching yoga a few months ago.
Then I stopped practicing. Completely. And what followed was a total pulling-apart of my entire belief system, of my personality, and of the way I was living my life.
It’s honestly something I don’t like to talk about very much. Mostly because people want to challenge everything I say over and over and over again, and I feel like trying to explain all of my thoughts about it is exhausting, or because I feel like the jumble in my head comes out not making a lot of sense.
But I got that question again today, from a yoga teacher, after I mentioned that I felt like I left the “yoga world.”
She said, “You stopped teaching?” And when I said yes, that I don’t really practice anymore either, she said, “You don’t practice? Why?”
And when I started to write back to explain, I realized that I just have so many mixed-up thoughts about this that it might serve everybody better if I wrote an essay instead. And then maybe I could organize those thoughts into a way that made more sense. And hopefully people who were feeling similarly to me could relate.
I am not trying to accomplish anything by writing this piece. I do not need to convince anybody else to stop teaching yoga, nor do I need to tell people to stop practicing, especially if their practice really benefits them. I do not pretend to know how other people are feeling about their own relationship with yoga or with their own spiritual beliefs. I know that a piece like this can cause people to feel a lot of different ways, and while that is not my purpose, I want to point out that if you react to it, it might be worth questioning why. Most importantly, I can only relate to all of this from my experience as a blonde, white girl from America. So I do not intend to make any assumptions about the experience of people of other ethnicities or cultures or anything else.
I just want to be able to release all of the thoughts that I’m still carrying around about this subject. I want to get my own thoughts organized so they make more sense to me as well. And I want this piece to be here for people who do relate to it, because I don’t think I’m all that unique in my experience, yet writings about this subject are lacking.
I stopped teaching yoga because I felt I was participating in cultural appropriation and I did not feel comfortable with it anymore. I have written my thoughts on this before, and I have also shared somebody else’s essay that explains it better than I did. You may access my essay here and theirs here if you either don’t believe yoga is cultural appropriation or that racism exists or whatever else.
All of that has been discussed before, so I don’t really want to spend my time talking about it. Also, I don’t really think that particular discussion can be led by white people. I think the discussion of white people teaching yoga is something that needs to be explained by people of South Asian cultures, and I have tried my best to educate myself on those views, which have solidified mine.
What hasn’t been discussed, and what I haven’t talked about at all, is how I’ve felt since I’ve stopped practicing.
I didn’t plan on stopping my practice, since I credit yoga with basically saving my life four years ago. I thought that yoga was the only thing that kept me sane. I told people that if I went a few days without practicing I noticed; I started to be anxious and depressed and on edge. That was true.
But once I stopped teaching, I was just so fed up with the whole yoga scene. I was fed up with the selfies, with the videos, with the constant self-promotion and the social media “look at me” community – which I fully, totally had been participating in. I was fed up with the drama in the yoga world, between teachers and studio owners and students. I was fed up with the fact that most white people would rather blindly cling to their teaching and their practice instead of even allowing themselves to question it.
And every time I started to practice, I couldn’t separate it from all of that. All I felt was fake.
So I just stopped. I didn’t tell anybody I was stopping. I just stopped.
I want to define a term here before I start to use it.
When I say “conscious community,” I am including the yoga world, but I am also including this new-age wave that has started to spread throughout the US. This group of people that is centered around energy and spirit and creating our own realities. This group that eats organic food and expresses themselves through dance and that believes in manifesting and rainbows and butterflies. Where life is “exactly how it’s supposed to be.” Where there is a divine plan. Where “everything happens for a reason.”
I do not want to imply that any of these things are bad, the same way I wouldn’t say having a religion is bad (because that’s basically what it is.) They aren’t. In fact, some of them I still think are helpful. But what I am saying is that for me, most of these things were subconsciously very damaging, and that when I removed them from my life, I was totally set free.
My world didn’t end when I stopped doing yoga. Maybe I became less flexible. Being away for the past month with zero physical activity definitely made me lose some strength.
In the beginning I was irritable, but more than that, I was sad. Just overwhelmingly sad. I didn’t want to practice because it just didn’t feel right, and I knew that it was time for it to end. I felt like I had lost something; like I was grieving this loss of something that had been such a huge part of my life.
But, the feeling passed. And the more time that went by, the more I began to rediscover myself.
I learned how to handle stress and depression and anxiety without immediately turning to my practice. I didn’t go to my practice to feel and release my feelings; I felt them and thought about them and talked to a therapist about where all this stuff was coming from. About the trauma of the last four years of my life. About growing up and learning certain emotional behaviors. I wrote about it. I stopped focusing so much on myself. And I stopped being constantly influenced by people who told me to forgive and to trust and to be positive and to love everyone and to feel my breath and be in the present moment.
And the more I was away from that, the more I learned how to be in the world again.
I realized that this idea that “everything happens for a reason” was something that was a very damaging belief for me to hold, and something I don’t actually believe is true. I realized that I don’t think that the world is perfect or that we can create whatever we want for ourselves all the time. I think those beliefs place constant pressure on people to be “more spiritual” and that they are beliefs we hold because we want to feel comfortable and safer in a world that is in actuality very unpredictable and unsafe.
Most importantly, I realized that this “conscious community” we have created in the Western world is only accessible if you are a person of some level of privilege.
I spent a month working with Middle Eastern refugees. I saw and heard the horrors that people experience every single day. I heard stories about bombs and looked at scars and heard children scream and saw people really, really suffering.
Who could tell these people don’t worry, they can create their own reality? That everything happens for a reason? That if they just did some yoga or learned to meditate that their lives would get so much better? These are people who will never be able to live in a city like Boulder or Asheville or San Francisco – let alone have access to America. These are people who can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods, to do a “cleanse,” or to take a yoga class. These are people who have a lot more to worry about than their own spiritual growth.
Does this make them less? Does this mean that they just aren’t chosen to do that in this lifetime?
The idea of “karma” was a really good way for some societies to form/justify caste systems.
A few months ago I might have shushed all of that away and said that it just needs to be happening for some reason, that because I have this privilege it means I need to work on my own spiritual growth and my own vibration to help the entire world, that really I am helping the world by “sending out love.” I would have laughed at people who are saying what I’m saying now. I would have said, “They just don’t get it.”
And now I don’t think that’s true.
I think the world is a mess. I think we better wake up to that fact instead of hiding in our worlds full of privilege and pretending that it doesn’t exist. I think we better help, and help doesn’t just mean buying expensive items that are “green!” or “fair-trade!” to pretend we are making a difference.
It means helping. other. people. It means standing up for what we believe in. It means standing up for humanity. It means donating and continuing to donate. It means educating ourselves and continuing to talk about it and not stopping. It means that big issues like the refugee crisis and climate change and racism and sexism don’t just get shared on Facebook and then left alone. It means that we take active physical steps to help the world we live in instead of living in denial.
Because the thing is, we can only create our own reality if we are living in a place of privilege. In America, if we have money, we can shut our eyes to everything happening around us. We can attend an expensive school, we can move off-grid, we can only eat the purest foods, we can focus on energy trainings and the moon cycles and live in total ignorance of the tragedy happening all over the world. We can say that “bad things happen everywhere, all the time, and I can’t help everyone so I’ll just focus on myself.” We can become so overwhelmed by the tragedy that we use that as an excuse to do nothing at all. We can hide and hope that the bad people don’t find us; that other people fix the problems before they affect us.
I’m not against practicing yoga or having spiritual beliefs. But since I’ve let all that go, I’ve realized that maybe there is no “way.” I know that what I am doing and will do will be focused on making a difference in the world, in a way that I feel good about and can truly justify to myself. And I feel stronger, more confident, and more capable than I ever have before.
I want to know how you handle pain, real pain. I want to know how you help people. I want to know what you think about the world and what you believe in and what you think about the systems that rule our society. I want to know how you challenge those systems. I want to know how you take action in your community. I want to know how you take action in the world. I want to know what you stand for. I want to know how hard that is, to always stand up for your opinions. I want to know your dreams. I want to know where you want to go in the world, not to sightsee, but to contribute. I want to know how you deal with criticism. I want to know how you relate to your place in this world. I want to know what that means.
When we let go of the old, we make space for the new.
That’s how this journey has been for me.