Yoga’s kiss with small town politics: 3 steps you, too, can use

Last spring, I noticed a sign at the post office. There was an opening on our town’s selectboard. The Selectboard is New England’s version of a town council. I’d been wanting to meet more people in the town and participate more. This seemed like a great opportunity!

 

I volunteered and was appointed, serving a nine-month term until the next Town Meeting. The Town Clerk told me it was pretty easy. Everyone else thought I was crazy. They all warned me. But I just wanted to give back, maybe do something good. I knew so few people I figured I couldn’t get too caught up in small town politics. I thanked the naysayers for their concern, knowing that the experience would be whatever I made it.

 

The first couple meetings were fine, but odd. There had actually been two openings, so we were essentially a brand new board starting two months late. Around the third meeting, I started seeing what people had warned me about- the first was the small town politics and the other was a challenging selectboard member.

 

The only actual elected official was obstinate, feisty, unpredictable, and disrespectful. He would show up with alcohol on his breath and we never knew what was coming. While self-described as “passionate”, he also proclaimed, laughing, (after spending an hour arguing) that he “didn’t actually care one way or another” about the situation at hand. WTF?!

 

He triggered in me painful memories of my childhood with a bi-polar mom. I remembered always having to be on my toes, quick to dissolve any mounting tension or suffering the consequences. I found myself in the same boat again. Even the meetings that went smoothly were draining because I spent all day psyching myself up.

He often would spend his evenings at the local watering hole talking shop about the town. I witnessed it a few times. He knew exactly what to say to trigger people. As the months went on, I noticed how different people were to me when I would go to the watering hole myself; people who had once been neutral to me were now actually turning their backs to me or smirking at me. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

 

Then there were the town members who suddenly decided to become passionate about a specific issue. Many a meeting, I felt like a witch at a witch-hunt, even though it wasn’t personal to me. Every comment made was stated on the defensive and felt like an attack.

Though I practiced every ounce of yogic knowledge amassed over 15 years, I became averse to my counterpart, the town, even my own neighbors. My trust worn thin, I started to put up my protective guard to stay safe. I noticed I went out less in the town and I kept my head low when I went to check mail. Even my conversations became guarded because in a small town, everyone knows each other’s business. I just wanted to go back to being mostly anonymous.

 

Dvesha, in yoga, is all the things we avoid in order to be okay. It is one of the five kleshas, or shadows, that humans like to play with. I use the word “play” because contacting into the limitations is Divine Play. Consider it hide and seek between our soul and ego.

 

We all try to avoid criticism, paralyzing fear, doubt, judgment, losing our place in the tribe, losing love. Dvesha is seen when we avoid people and situations. We can see it in the things that make us shake our heads in disbelief or cringe just before judging someone for their words or actions that are not aligned with our wisdom and beliefs.

Though I know that we are all equal, my counterpart frustrated, angered, even disappointed and embarrassed me. Honestly, I felt superior even though, on a soul level, I knew I had no reason. Some of the people in our town made me feel inadequate and elitist because I did not agree with or even understand their point of view, despite how hard I tried. My soul longed for balance and peace while my ego just wanted out of the situation.

 

I knew that everything I was feeling, especially what felt limiting, was a signal that something in me needed healing. We attract people and situations to rebalance that which is not congruent with our soul’s truth. Clearly, I had put myself smack dab into a situation for the child in me that still held resentment for my mom’s mental illness to heal.

Just like yoga asanas build physical strength, we can strengthen our inner weakness to aversions. I had a Tibetan classmate in graduate school who said, “They (the government) can tell us all day what we can do. They can try to even tell us what to think. But they cannot know what is in our heart. We are responsible for keeping that alive in spite of their attempts to control our minds.”

 

Regardless of what the mind believes, there is an essence within each of us that is untouchable. No words can harm it. Weather cannot reach it. Nothing can kill it. It cannot be drowned, burned, or beaten. It is changeless. We can separate from it, hiding it in a ludicrous, yet honest, attempt to keep it safe.

 

There is a beautiful yoga mantra, So Hum, or “I Am That.” The mantra serves as a pathway back to our truest essence. As I felt my anxiety mounting on the days prior to and of our selectboard meetings, I would take a few deep breaths to pull myself back into the present and begin to repeat So Hum. I would imagine my counterpart’s actions and say, “So Hum”. I would see my own poor actions and reaction reflected back with each “So Hum.” I would find myself thinking, “He is not his actions. So Hum.” I would remember I am not my actions. I would see the defensive stance of the residents as people who just wanted to be heard, “So Hum.” I just wanted to be heard. So Hum. Slowly, I would find myself calm, remembering that we were both playing within our limitations, but we didn’t have to keep playing there. I wanted to play differently and I did. So Hum.

 

Like getting coldcocked in a bar fight, every once in awhile, I’d find myself disoriented and off balance, but I would take a deep breath and return to my mantra, “So Hum”, repeating it silently until I felt the shift in myself to a state of equilibrium.

 

Something interesting began to occur. Though I chose not to continue with an elected term, I stopped resisting my aversion to the meetings and my counterpart. He took an extended vacation and stopped coming to the meetings. People began to be friendlier to me in town. It was almost like my aversion aggravated their aversion and we made each other defensive. So Hum.

 

Three steps to freedom and power.

Mind your breath as you come into the present moment with the intention to explore your being.

  1. Take notice of all the things you avoid. From ice cream to ice queens, from situations to people, from emotions to responsibilities.
  2. Invite all your aversions to figuratively be with you for tea. Talk to them. Get to know them. Find out where they came from and why they’re here now. Doesn’t everyone just want to be heard?
  3. Thank each one of the aversions for the role it’s played in your life. Let it know that you’re upgrading your operating system and won’t be needing it anymore. Then simply surrender any need to hang on.

Pay attention daily to what lingers in the aversions and lovingly soothe it with “So Hum” repeated silently and compassionately. Remain mindful of what shifts around you, what closes and what opens, remembering So Hum.
I’d love to hear how these steps work for you if you’re willing to share. Leave a comment below. I read and respond to all of them. May you experience the freedom and peace from your aversion, reconnect to your essence, and know that you are THAT.

4 thoughts on “Yoga’s kiss with small town politics: 3 steps you, too, can use”

  1. I know what you are going through. It’s the same scenario in other small towns. I have had several friends over the years who have served on town boards and everyone of them felt that they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t when it came to town issues. We have our own set of issues here in Killington. Being on a town board can be a frustrating experience especially if you are the “new kid in town”. It’s seems that there is a general lack of civility in all things political from the small town to the national level. If you happen to disagree somehow you are the enemy. No wonder the presidential campaign is getting so ugly. Knowing you you always have everyone’s best interest at heart but sometimes it is better not to get too involved just for your own sanity. Thinking of you always.

    1. Thank you. I try to hold space for the best interest of all + the town. No, it’s not been easy. And yet, very rewarding.

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