“The streets are paved with gold.
No they are not.
In fact they are not paved at all.
And I just realized I’m going to be the one who paves them.” - 1900’s American Immigrant.
We have all come to yoga as a result of a promised golden path. There is much to savor and explore. The catch is this: you are going to be the one who paves the way. We have to do the work. Let me explain.
In class I have been teaching about Agni and the way sophisticated sacrifice can teach us, as practitioners, how to play with fire without getting burned. At the same time I have been reading a selection of essays by Arundhati Roy and John Cusak, who hold pretty extreme notions about the state of our world, what history looks like and how we should move forward politically. This blog post comes with a warning. Their views are extreme and shared here. They are not necessarily my own, however their voices are powerful and offer an opposing perspective to many of the tenets I assume are inherently good like Nation and Capitalism. In this post I have tried to connect Agni and these essays as a vehicle for my own transformation. I am attempting to widen my view as a means for creating change.
In the yogic tradition, Agni is the god of Fire. His face is bright and his long red hair is made of flames. He wears a golden beard that covers a sharp jaw holding shiny teeth. When Agni opens his mouth, he reveals 7 tongues and they shout the truth. This fire-god carries a banner of deep black smoke announcing his arrival in every home, wealthy or poor.
“Agni exists as fire on the earth, lightening in the sky, and the sun in space. He is a communicator that has the ability to consume, transform and convey.” -Douglas Brooks, yoga teacher
In our body, the fire sits in the center of our belly and is responsible for digestion and assimilation of food and ideas. Our impulse, gut feeling, and intuition all arise from the fire of Agni. Our Agni is what helps us honor our values and work as a force for good on the earth.
In Things That Can and Cannot Be Said co-authors Arundhati Roy and John Cusak pave a new and provocative path. Roy and Cusak along with Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the pentagon papers during the Vietnam War) travel to Moscow — they want to have a conversation with exiled Edward Snowden. The result is a set of essays that undoes much of what I know. The book is a deconstruction of assumptions I make about lifestyle, priorities, power and nation. The book is a civilized arbitration; four minds coming together to understand the state of things and suggest radical change.
Agni too is a means of radical change. We humans take dangerous energies like fire and we tame, civilize, and domesticate its wildness — we learn to cook, forge, and weld. Our very survival is contingent on this understanding, and yet in order to work with fire we must learn to obey its rules.
“Agni’s character is that of a priest, a mouth of the gods and goddesses. He acts as the medium who carries our yearnings to the divine, our inner world.” Douglas Brooks
Agni stands for the voice that makes tasks and our way of doing things acceptable to the gods. Here I use gods as a metaphor for “the right way”. My usage assumes there is not only one right way; there is not only one god. There is a manner of looking inside to a deeper truth; one that honors all beings. Truth arises out of love not fear and it speaks softly and kindly. This is the realm of the gods and Agni. Just sit before a flame and you will know what I mean.
Daniel Berrigan is quoted in the preface ofThings That Can and Cannot Be Said. Berrigan is a catholic priest, author, and one of the most vocal critics of nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War.
He writes, “Every nation-state, by supposition, tends toward the imperial: that is the point. Through banks, armies, secret police, propaganda, courts, jails, treaties, treasuries, taxes, laws and orders, myths of civil obedience, assumption of civic virtue at the top…Still it should be said that of the political left, we expect something better. And correctly. We put more trust in those who show a measure of compassion. We agree, conditionally but instinctively, with those who denounce the hideous social arrangements which make war inevitable and human want omnipresent; which foster corporate selfishness, pander to appetites and disorder, waste the earth.”
His preface gives voice to the yamas and niyamas (the ethical considerations) of our yoga practice. Peacefulness, truth, and shared responsibility abound. He crushes our notion of nation as inherently good and offers a crack in the façade as we face issues concerning privacy and the marginalization of civil liberties in the name of security. A security with no guarantee. Arundhati Roy brings up strong arm techniques used in the name of nation, security, and stability. This history, which is often forgotten or ignored, is considered a “necessary evil” to achieve an end.
As a yoga teacher, my job is to teach you to practice and live without employing “necessary evils” yet still thrive. From one perspective, effort could be misconstrued as pushing to the point of injury. I would ask, is this how we want to treat our bodies, our friends, our world? Yes, our effort builds heat in the body and mind. We can perceive the heat in practice as we sweat and feel the friction of a concentrated effort. Instead of fighting, freezing or running, a sustained yoga practice asks that we turn our attention inward and wake up. Inner gaze is like the light of a candle; when the light illuminates darkness, false perceptions can be seen, evaluated and ultimately changed. It is only when we shine a clear light, as Berrigan does, on false perceptions relating to inevitable war or insatiable appetites, that transformation can take place.
“Deep connectivity with nature and creativity is Agni’s message. He represents the civilization of power. Agni turns us back toward nature reminding us that there are forces in the world we cannot live without. In his somewhat priestly nature Agni asks for sacrifice as we learn the rules of his power, work with them, and create change. He is the stately course of transformation that is the civilization we adore.” Douglas Brooks
He can cook. He can pave the streets.
“If there is something to be done, then one thing is for sure: those who created the problem will not be the ones who come up with the solution. Encrypting our e-mails will help, but not very much. Recalibrating our understanding of what love means, what happiness means—and yes what countries mean—might. Recalibrating our priorities might. An old growth forest, a mountain range, or a river valley is more important and certainly more lovable than any country will ever be. I could weep for a river valley, and I have. But for a country? Oh Man, I don’t know.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said.
Agni turns us toward nature to remind us there are primal powers that are part of the world and we cannot survive without them. With them we can cook, be warm, and nourish ourselves. Agni teaches us that how we act counts. He reminds of us the importance of our tone, tenor, and means while working with fire. He is the messenger through which we touch the depth of our inner experience. Agni will burn us if we misuse or misplace him. If we do not follow the rules of playing with fire, we will get scorched.
The ideas offered in this book are not flawless, but in their imperfection they also got my brain moving in ways I had never considered. Is it possible that international trade agreements like the TTIP gives multinational corporations the right to sue sovereign governments for acts that threatens its profits?
“Such offenses could include, governments increasing minimum wage, not seen as cracking down on terrorist villagers who impede the work of mining companies, or say having the temerity to turn down Monsanto’s offer of genetically modified corporate-patented seeds. Is it possible that global trade is just another weapon like intrusive surveillance or depleted uranium, to be used in the Lifestyle wars.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said
How can we even begin to we betray the consumer ideology? Do we have the courage to be with the discomfort of saying no thank you.
“If Agni is not civilized then he is dangerous. On the other hand, we can take the primal energy of fire and allow it to be creative, nourishing, and warming. Agni is a representation of our next destiny, our future.” Douglass Brooks
Agni is any force that consumes and dispels a state of darkness procreating and transforming that state into an enlightened realm. Agni will not put up with our ignorance, the rules of the fire will burn down any house that leaves the hearth untended, it will also provide sustenance to any home that honors it’s power.
“Our tragedy today is not just that millions of people who called themselves communist or socialist were physically liquidated in Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, not just that China and Russia, after all the revolution, have become capitalist economies, not just that the working class in the United states have been marginalized and its unions dismantled, not just that Greece has been brought to its knees, or that Cuba will soon be assimilated into the free market- it is also that the language of the left, the discourse of the Left, has been marginalized and is sought to be eradicated.”–Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said
Agni’s creation myth tells us: before there was anything, Prajapati, the father of all things sat in the unlimited causal ocean; Agni emerged from his third eye. The light and heat of fire brought forth day and night. From this duality all of nature was formed.
“Isn’t the greatness of great nations directly proportionate to their ability to be ruthless, genocidal? Doesn’t the height of a country’s success usually also mark the depths of its moral failure? Our best first strike, then and now, has never, for a moment—since the mid ‘50s—been able to keep the Soviets from annihilating every last person in West Europe. By the way, you know we were going to kill—depending on how the wind blew—which depended on the season…our private, top secret estimates were that we kill every European, a hundred million Europeans, without a single US or Soviet missile landing on West Europe. Just the fallout, just the fallout.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said
An additional creation myth names Agni’s parents as “two pieces of kindling”. Their loving rubbing made an initial spark. Agni is described to have emerged delicate and easily destroyed. Agni needs care and tending so that he, as a roaring fire, can become big and powerful. At this point Agni consumes his own creators, he embodies change.
“What mattered, perhaps even more than what was said, was the spirit in the room. There was Edward Snowden…what the two of them (Snowden and Ellsberg) clearly had in common was a strong, almost corporeal sense of moral righteousness—of right and wrong. A sense of righteousness that was obviously at work not just when they decided to blow the whistle on what they thought was morally unacceptable, but also when they signed up for their jobs—Dan to save his country from communism, Ed to save it from Islamist terrorism...We talked about war and greed, about terrorism and what an accurate definition of it would be. We spoke about countries, flags and the meaning of patriotism. We talked about public opinion and the concept of public morality and how fickle it could be, and how easily manipulated.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said
The content of the conversation between Roy, Cusak, Snowden and Ellsberg, did not draw any conclusion. It did shine a light. Both Cusak and Roy, in their respective essays, were moved by connections both physically in Moscow and ideologically. All four have taken great risks and made great sacrifices to embody truths they believe in. Their thinking is not dangerous but free. Although I may not agree with everything the authors say, I am grateful for their willingness to gather, speak and share. I learned a lot about history from a different perspective. I learned a lot about taking action. Mostly I learned to pay attention, our reality is changing quicker than any of us could have ever expected
Our spark is tender and easily extinguished. Many of us live a life of luxury where our daily struggles shade in comparison to Snowden and Ellsberg. It will be difficult to tend the fire of change we desire. Agni always requires discipline and sacrifice.
Change is a practice and that is why we are on the mat. We want Agni to become big and powerful. We want him to be fueled by love and devotion. We want him in our lives. We, as yogis, need our flame to consume the kindling that gave it birth. On the other hand, we have to pave the streets.
Keep the fire burning and do your practice.