This has been a challenging week for many observing the protests taking place outside of Parliament Hill in Ottawa and at the Coutts border crossing in Alberta. These protests were initially touted as a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers, but the one in Ottawa clearly morphed into something different.
As a 24 year resident of Ottawa, I know about protests. There is a lot that occurs at our national figurehead of democracy. Never have I witnessed a group of protesters take over the Parliament Hill precinct with seemingly little consequence (it’s day six of the protest at the time of writing this).
The streets around Parliament have essentially become a parking lot for semis and other vehicles belonging to protesters. Safe passage for emergency vehicles is marginal at best.
At this point, the protest has devolved into an occupation. The tens of thousands of residents near the precinct are subject to deafening horns honking throughout the day, diesel fumes permeating the air and abusive behaviour from some of the occupiers. Workers in business are having to deal with protesters who refuse to wear masks while on their premises. There are reports of workers being ridiculed, spat on and treated very poorly.
To add to the miserable situation, the elderly and those living with disabilities are being held hostage in their homes as they are unable to freely get around in their own community and access amenities such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
The most peculiar thing is why law enforcement is permitting this to continue. If it were any other group, arguably not a group of largely white men, you have to wonder if it would not have already been quashed. We can only speculate on this point.
The reason I’m bringing this topic to you this week is that it is a perfect example of avidya. Vidya is knowledge. Avidya is the opposite, often described as ignorance. According to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait of the Himalayan Institute, avidya is a debilitating mental condition, the essence of which is powerlessness. It saps our mental genius, empties us, and fills the void with a false sense of I-am-ness, attachment, aversion, and fear. Avidya uses the mind to exert its influence on all aspects of our being and the world around us veiling our essential nature.
There is however a spark of inner intelligence that remains unveiled by ignorance. It contradicts the veiled mind’s projections providing an impetus to lift the veil of ignorance and rediscover our core being. This is the work of yoga.
The protestors/occupiers are a good case study in avidya. Many refuse to accept the science of vaccinations, some believe the minority government is acting in an authoritarian manner, their notion of freedom is individually focused not about the collective whole and one that is devoid of any social responsibility. At the base of their beliefs is fear. Fear of vaccinations, government, those who follow science and sadly fear of those who don’t agree with them. Though, most would not perceive any of this as fear.
I don’t want to single out the protestors/occupiers only. Avidya afflicts all of us. We misapprehend who and what we truly are. We misapprehend what it is we think we know. It plays out every day and in many ways. For example, I am reading Is This Yoga? a scholarly account of all things yoga. It sheds light on the history of yoga tropes many of us use, myself included. The history of yoga is very complex with many contradictions. I’ll leave it at that. In reading this book my misapprehension or avidya of the history of yoga is unveiled.
As far as avidya goes, the adage ”we don’t know what we don’t know until we don’t know less” is apt.
We overcome avidya by doing the work of yoga. We remove the veils of ignorance that keep us stuck, small and connected to a false sense of self by getting still through meditation.
The Yoga Sutras provides the road map for addressing avidya. There are essentially three paths with varying degrees of difficulty. Most of us use the 8-limb path, ashtanga, to do this important work. The limbs are outer and inner observances, asana (poses), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (cultivating single-pointedness), dharana (concentration on an object of meditation), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption of the object and subject of meditation).
The eight-limb path works when followed with reverence and humility. The Sutras state that in time and with practice the veil over the light will be lifted so vidya shines through.
If you’re looking for guidance in going deeper in your yoga journey and busting through avidya, one step at a time, consider joining my online membership. Why wait?