Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

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Jon: Yoga retreat

November 2, 2011

For those of you that don’t know, ever since I was fifteen I have rejected the notion of a God as established religions have identified. However, the older I get the more spiritual I have become as well. Some might call it ironically, but the more and more I learn about science the more spiritual I become. I won’t go into this to deeply here but the more I learn about advanced physics the more I reaffirm to myself that there is no God as past religions have identified him/it/her, yet I become more deeply entrenched in the idea that we are all connected. When talking in the very abstract theological ideas I agree with many parts. God is an identity that connects us all, is pure and beyond our comprehension. Sin is the distance we have between us and this concept. And so in the end the issue I have with most religions is that they claim to have some bit of absolute knowledge about this concept. Speaking only for myself though, I have come to believe I know very little about this concept (God/Allah/etc.) And to be honest how can I? We have been around for less than a few thousand years and this concept is so advanced, so beyond us that to say we know anything other than there is something connecting us all seems to be a bit presumptuous. Again, I speak only for myself but what I believe now is that all we can do is constantly search for a better understanding of this concept through any means, whether that be philosophy, traditions (which recognize the work of previous cultures in understanding the concept), or science.

You might be wondering why I am telling you this now. This weekend I went on a yoga retreat in Dana Reserve. You might remember this if you have been reading my blog because my program did take us there briefly a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful reserve where you can see for miles and miles, you can even see parts of Israel. So to help set the scene for this thinking here is a picture of my view the first and second yoga sessions we did.  

First site

Second site and my instructor

So picture yourself on the edge of a cliff, overlooking valleys that saw monumental points in our history. Feeling winds hit you that have crossed the desert a hundred times, blown over the Dead Sea, past Bedouin tribes, and through valleys. Now, for those of you that don’t know much about yoga it is much more than something New Yorkers or hippie L.A. people do. It is a deeply spiritual, physical and mental set of exercises that can help bring everything together. And as someone that is always thinking 100x faster than I should yoga is probably the most close I have ever come to feeling completely at peace. In our world today where we all are going so fast, so focused on certain things this weekend gave me a peak at a way to live our lives and yet keep our focus on each other, ourselves, and always staying connected to where we came from.

I realize this post probably sounds extremely hippie, don’t worry I won’t be joining a commune anytime soon. But, I have become completely in love with yoga and the mind/body/spiritual connection that it brings. I have actually changed my Eid vacation plans now as well. Instead of going through Israel and Egypt I booked a hostel on the beach of Tel Aviv and will be doing a week long intensive yoga vacation. Twice a day with a yoga style that is geared for very physical, core, intensive building. As such, I will keep notes and write a long blog at the end but I won’t be updating my blog along the way as I try to learn more how to live in the moment and not always worry about the future (or be on facebook).

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Jonathan: Preparing for India

January 16, 2011

I left the United States for Israel on 1 January 2011, welcoming in the New Year with a sense of adventure. The week before I departed, the anxiety began to rise: I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been working on this trip for eight months with meticulous precision, paying attention to every detail. And yet, as the date of initial departure drew nearer, I felt lost. It seemed that everyone had a piece of advice for me, usually utilizing a combination of the words “Giardia,” “thieves,” “colorful,” and “Monsoon Wedding.” All advice was well meaning, but I found it isolating, always prefaced with “I’ve never been to India but my friend’s friend said that…”  I threw myself into my books, reading all day trying to find some sort of truth about the experience I was going to embark on. Instead I found a fascinating assortment of paradigms that simplified my struggle in their complexity, yet did little to actually calm my nerves. To make matters worse, I had not thought about my two weeks in Israel at all. I knew I was attending Habonim Dror’s seminar, and that I would be staying with my grandparents, but the rest seemed hazy. Israel, a substantial trip in of itself was merely a stop over. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep for days, and as I became more exhausted the anxiety only mounted. I was leaving my comfortable, if unfulfilling, existence in the United States for something unknown, challenging, and isolating.

Today, as I sit looking out the window at suburban Tel Aviv, I recognize that this half way point is essential. Gone are the sleepless schizoid nights, instead replaced with deep reflection. This trip to Israel has served an important role in its own right, allowing me to settle challenging questions about my ideology and identity that I’ve ignored for years now. But it too acted as a transitionary point between the politically correct culture of the United States with the unknown of India. It is in this context that I can truly reflect on the experiences to come.

The end of World War II in large part marks the beginning of an era of nationhood and the death of colonialism as physical occupation (I would argue colonialism is still alive and well, merely veiled under ‘globalized economics’).  India won independence in 1947 and has since risen to be known as the world’s largest democracy and the second largest country by population. Its neighbor to the northeast, China, has too seen a remarkable rise in power and global prominence, making them very important countries to watch as we enter into the second decade of the twenty first century. Given their vast size, together accounting for over a third of the world’s population, the ways they confront issues of global importance, from the enviornment to labor, becomes ever more pressing. As a student of Public Health, particularly HIV, I’ve become fascinated with looking at the ways that India, a nation not often associated with the disease yet deeply affected by it, has begun to confront the epidemic. But more on that in a few paragraphs.

In ‘the west,’ India has occupied a very particular place within our conception of the ‘developing world.’ It seems that Americans are profoundly unsure of how to feel about the country. We all know the story of Mohandas Ghandi, and often list him amongst our personal heros; yet, we too profoundly fear outsourcing. China has come to represent the loss of low-skilled manufacturing jobs to the ire of many in my native Midwest. India, on the other hand, appears more disturbing, for the perception is that the jobs shipped to there are typically replacing those of university graduates, the who tried to do the right thing by getting a degree. We as a nation seem unsure of how to address this far off land of over one billion, often settling for a mixture of jealousy, anger, and respect. But the characterization that interest me the most is that of ‘spiritual.’ At every turn in this process, people have wanted to talk about spirituality. How the Indians are, and I quote verbatim, “the most spiritual people in the world.” How they embody such wisdom in their teachings. How the land affects one’s soul. [Please, note the sarcasm.]  For a non-spiritual person such as myself, it has been exhausting. Yet, it is profoundly interesting. Yoga and meditation have become India’s least profitable but most discussed export, becoming in vogue and very fashionable for the American and European gentry. I find this characterization of India as the “über-spirit” as problematic in that it seems to paint a highly inaccurate picture of the country, and one that I feel is even damaging. Foremost, to paint India as spiritual ignores many of the cut-throat reality that occurs throughout the country. After all, the situation with Pakistan and Indian Muslims is anything but based in righteousness. Female infanticide, which occurs throughout much of India’s most traditional (read, spiritual) locales is not very righteous either. Bride-burning too lacks the piousness many in the ‘west’ attribute to the country.  Yes, India does have a well developed construct of Spiritualism, but it also has many of the vexing human rights dilemmas. The author Edward Luce writes in his book In Spite of the Gods, ”No visitor in India can fail to notice the juxtaposition of great human deprivation with its deeply religious culture. In India the sacred and the profane always seem to be liked.”  Second, it serves to create two India’s, that which we do our morning stretches to and that which we fear will consume us (or at least our paychecks).

I am asked frequently why I chose India for study abroad and not some more western country such as France or Switzerland. The answer lies hidden between the lines of the paragraph above. As many reading this know, I am a Social Work and Gender Studies student with a primary focus on HIV. My path is towards Public Health and Medicine, but more importantly with developing a critical understanding of the health disparities experiences by queer men in the United States. While the work I do in America is complex, it boils down to the simple thesis that the academic, professional, and activist community addressing queer health dispairities has profoundly lost touch with queer men themselves. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, dramatic activism fought not just for justice, but also for the right type of justice. It told the CDC, the FDA, doctors, medical schools, and health educators not to moralize to queer men about their culture but to act in a way that integrated its rich complexity and diversity. Essentially, it demanded a culturally competent response. Most important, this was a community effort. HIV brought people together rather than drive them apart. Today, I and others argue, that HIV has undergone a ‘medicalization’ that funnels people away from each other into private clinic offices and focuses on HIV as an individual issue not a community problem. Rising rates of HIV indicate not that young queer men are irresponsible or uneducated, but instead that the messages we send out are so out of touch with their realities that they simply cannot hear them. Read the rest of this entry ?

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