Doing The Next Right Thing.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve harbored rather an anxious disposition.
Possibly influenced by a desire to know everything, I’ve spent countless hours worrying about subjects as diverse as ecological collapse, predatory capitalism, and whether girls will like me.
In the end, these concerns all add up to a single preoccupation: fear of the future.
I’ve often contemplated the relationship between Yoga practice and these fears. I’d like to say that Yoga has somehow resolved them completely, and that we’re all now living in an immaculately-organized, ecologically-sustainable paradise as a result of my increased aptitude for downward dog.
Clearly, that’s not the case. On the other hand, I worry a bit less than I used to. And I think I’m a bit kinder than I used to be.
Sometimes, of course, I even worry about that. Shouldn’t I be out on the front lines fighting the battle against catastrophic climate change, rather than here in Bali, in a nice warm Yoga studio, practicing handstands?
Maybe, I suppose. I notice, though, that the more I focus on what’s within my sphere of influence, the more my sense of anxiety about the future recedes and the more my capacity for doing good expands. Plus, girls seem to like me more.
It’s a process I’ve come to think of as doing the next right thing. Instead of worrying about intractable global problems, I get up, I practice Yoga, I write. I take small, achievable steps towards creating the world I want to live in. Sometimes, I eat cake.
It’s not a perfect solution, of course. Sometimes (like now) what appears to be the next right thing involves using a laptop, which means operating a machine that was probably built by workers whose conditions of employment were harsh, even cruel. Sometimes it means boarding an aeroplane or riding a scooter (thereby burning fossil fuels).
I don’t pretend that I can adequately untangle these paradoxes, but perhaps I can illustrate how I relate to them.
A few weeks ago, I stopped for petrol on the way home and noticed a woman sitting on some steps leading from the forecourt of the petrol station to a couple of cash machines. She had two kids with her: one in her arms, the other a little girl who was, I guess, about five years old.
It was dark, almost 10 pm, and when I asked her whether she’d like something to eat, she responded enthusiastically.
I crossed the street and chatted, in rudimentary Bahasa Indonesia, to the street vendors who represented my best chance of purchasing some hot food. I did manage to learn a bit about the guy selling satay, and (briefly) how to say Thank You in Madurese.
I bought some chicken satay (which I imagine came from a bird that had lived its entire life in a cage), peanut sauce (probably loaded with MSG) and some vegetables (likely fried in low-quality oil) and returned to the woman, who received them gratefully.
I felt that I’d done the next right thing.
Robert Wolf Petersen is the founder of YogaLiterate, a writing and editing service aimed specifically at Yoga practitioners and teachers. You can also find articles, stories, and tips for yogis and writers on the YogaLiterate blog, along with opportunities for mentorship, workshops, retreats, and courses. Robert has worked as a professional copywriter, editor, and journalist since 2002, and a dedicated Yoga practitioner for almost as long. You could follow YogaLiterate on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re interested in working with Robert, you can get in touch with him via email.