Who are WE to condemn Kanye West? A Yogic perspective
The last teacher training had an ongoing theme – Kanye West. This was done lightheartedly to infuse some humour into the training. Perhaps it started when I mentioned my favourite pair of sneakers (Adidas Yeezys), which then led me to don "the world's most comfortable hoodie" (Gap x Yeezy). At some point during the training, while discussing introspection (defined as an examination of one's own conscious thoughts and feelings), I posed a significant question which I believe can help us learn a lot about who we are and aid our spiritual evolution. The question was, "Who are we to condemn Kanye West?" Now, the name Kanye West could be substituted with anyone else. In fact, someone in the class even suggested Donald Trump.
The purpose of this exercise was to encourage us to ponder this profound question. Do we simply join the crowd, agreeing with cancel culture and banishing anything we don't resonate with, or can we evolve as individuals and spiritually by taking time to understand before we condemn? Before pushing aside Kanye West, should we strive to understand him better? What can we learn about ourselves through understanding him?
On another note, our modern cancel culture doesn't foster healthy human development. It is absolutely toxic, as it induces us to suppress our views and authenticity out of fear of backlash. However, that's a rant for another blog.
I hope I have managed to coherently transcribe my thoughts. By reading this blog, my hope is that you'll ask yourself the same question, and by having the courage to pose the question in the first place, you will evolve spiritually. Leave the condemnation to modern media; let's not blindly follow the narrative of today's cancel culture. Let's grow rather than merely morphing into agreeable 'yes men', essentially zombies doing everything we're told. It's okay to think for ourselves.
Notes part 1 -
Our discussion began with a recurring question that we've asked throughout the course: "What is yoga?"
Yoga is defined as the stillness of mind by Patanjali (200 BCE – 200 CE). But what does that mean?
Notes part 2 – What is ‘Mind’?
Carl Jung once famously stated, "Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."
Picture the mind as a restless traveller, incessantly moving between the past—our memories—and the future—our imagination. Both the past and the future, as they exist within our thoughts, are akin to dreams. Frequently, we find ourselves engrossed in these daydreams, bouncing from one to another.
In its ceaseless motion, the mind is rarely truly centred, hopping back and forth, projecting the past or envisaging the future. Sometimes we are aware of this constant daydreaming, but often we are not.
The goal of yoga is to move beyond this state of dreaming and achieve a centred, still mind.
Notes part 3 – How Can We "Still" the Mind?
In my opinion, focusing on trying to “still” the mind is a misstep. The mind is too clever and elusive for us to pin down directly. I believe all we can do is try to outsmart the mind. We can achieve this by seeking to understand ourselves and our behaviour because all we are is what the mind constructs. Rather than trying to decipher the mind directly, we should (indirectly) endeavour to understand ourselves. We must embark on a journey of self-discovery and unravel our own behaviour and moral compass. This requires introspection, self-analysis, personal growth, self-criticism, and potentially professional guidance if needed. By understanding our patterns and behaviours, we start to comprehend the intricate workings of the human mind.
Aristotle once wisely said, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." But how do we truly acquaint ourselves with our own being?
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali guides us to understand the workings of the mind by introducing us to its modifications. Through this analysis, we can grasp just how much of our everyday behaviour is controlled by our minds rather than our conscious self.
Notes Part 4 – Judgement & Understanding
What has greatly assisted me in understanding myself and the intricacy of my mind is scrutinising my judgement and condemnation of others. For instance, I shared how I was bullied by someone much older than me when I was younger. As an exceptionally shy and sensitive child, this bullying was very hard for me to handle. I believed I could never forgive this person for how they made me feel. Fast forward 30 years, and I find myself on good terms with this person. I realized that I had moved beyond the concept of forgiveness simply by striving to understand them. What leads someone to become a bully? Taking the time to understand them has allowed me to let go of my resentment, grow, and evolve. I realized I never needed to forgive them because I simply moved past it.
Notes part 5 – Forgiveness
When we claim to forgive people, the truth is we rarely truly forgive anyone. All we do is gratify our egos by claiming the moral high ground: "I will forgive you for what you have done." To really evolve spiritually, we must surpass the notion of forgiveness. If we follow the path of understanding, we realize upon reflection that we no longer need to forgive someone for what they have done. Through understanding, our compassionate nature blossoms, leading us to realize that we are no one to forgive them in the first place.
Notes part 6 – Kanye West ‘Ye’
Now, let's address the elephant in the room—Kanye West. "I could never listen to or forgive Kanye West," someone once exclaimed to me in the gym as I was blasting “Donda” on my earphones. They made this remark because his parents were Jewish and 'Ye' has said some pretty outlandish things about Jewish people at that point. I could certainly empathize with his perspective.
However, I posed to my gym buddy a thought-provoking question: "Who are you to grant forgiveness to Kanye West, or anyone else for that matter?" Echoing what I heard Denzel Washington say on TV, "Who are we to condemn Kanye West?" (In retrospect, I think Denzel referred to 'Will Smith' after the Oscar slap, but that's beside the point).
I asked my gym friend, "Before passing judgment, shouldn't we strive to understand him better? Isn't joining the cancel culture the easy thing to do? No effort required. No brain capacity needed. No thought, no analysis. Just plain simple condemnation."
I explained that by engaging in the arduous task of comprehending Kanye, we might uncover a genius lost in a world that relentlessly tries to control his every word and action. In his explosive rants, he lashes out at those he perceives as threats to his life, even expressing concerns about the control over his children. While we may disagree with his beliefs, delving deeper into his story reveals a man desperately seeking to hold his family and life together. The complexities of Kanye's journey offer us valuable insights not only about him but also about ourselves. By choosing understanding over condemnation, we embark on a transformative learning path about the individuals we seek to comprehend and our capacity for growth.
I recall telling my gym friend, "Any fool can know. The point is to understand." That’s an Einstein quote I remember seeing in a coffee shop that very morning.
"Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love." - John Steinbeck
Notes Part 7 – Wrapping it all up
I gave an example here of someone I know who, in my opinion, has been making the same mistakes over and over again during his adult life. He can't move past things and would never forgive someone, let alone move past forgiveness. Similarly, I believe he also never forgives himself. He makes the same toxic decisions over and over again and almost chooses to punish himself. If he can take a moment to reflect, he might uncover a pattern of bad choices and decisions, knowingly subjecting himself to toxic environments. Perhaps his and our unhappiness with a partner stems from a subconscious decision to be with someone who is detrimental to our well-being. Could it be a form of self-punishment at a deeper level? If we embark on the path of introspection and truly understand ourselves and our behavior, we may break free from this cycle of self-inflicted toxicity. This newfound understanding can lead us to make better decisions and cultivate self-compassion, ultimately freeing ourselves from self-punishment. The kindness we show ourselves can naturally extend to others.
So, which comes first: being kinder to ourselves or showing compassion to others? Or should we begin by trying to understand those we may have developed feelings of dislike or hatred towards?
In this introspective journey, we discover that these processes are intertwined. As we make a commitment to understand and grow ourselves, our capacity for compassion expands, allowing us to approach others with greater empathy and insight. It is in this process that we take the first steps toward self-realization, as yoga teaches.
Now, when someone exclaims, "I could never listen to or forgive Kanye West", I understand their perspective. However, as a fellow work in progress, I pose the question: Who are we to grant forgiveness to anyone? Shouldn't we strive to understand people before passing judgment? By engaging in the arduous task of comprehending our enemies or those we dislike, we discover someone who has been hurt just as we have. The point is that choosing understanding over condemnation allows us to learn not only about the person in question but also about ourselves.
“Everything I'm not, made me everything I am", a poignant line from Kanye's 'Everything I Am'. It's about understanding ourselves and making a commitment to be an ongoing work in progress, which may just be the most "yogic" thing we can do."
Zahir Akram - eternal seeker
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