Let the hostility begin! After all, it’s almost December and we are just warming up for the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” argument. It is such a great example for a time of year where warmth and love is supposed to be the primary objective and it seems like a “no-brainer” to me, but yet, we all know what’s going to happen, right? The Politically Correct will step behind the driver’s seat and steer us into a minefield where the intention of the season is completely lost. And no, this blog is not about Christmas…it’s about Yoga!
If I didn’t confirm this story as being real, I actually thought it was a story in “The Onion”, a self-described farcical newspaper. It seems that free Yoga classes at the University of Ottawa have been cancelled due to concerns by the Student Union of “Cultural Insensitivity”. Whaaaaaat? See what I mean? You can’t believe it either, can you? Unless you are one of “them”. You know who you are. You are usually over-sensitive and hyper-critical of things the majority of humanity just get over, or more importantly…respect! Let’s use the Christmas argument briefly. We stopped saying “Merry Christmas” due to the risk of offending people who don’t believe in or celebrate the event that happens every December 25th. I truly believe most people care not about this absurd debate but they get sucked into the vortex of the politics, or more directly, politically correct. I have written and spoken extensively about this subject ever since it surfaced 25 years ago and I address it every year not because I think I am right but because I am profoundly concerned about how a small minority of voices get to drive the proverbial car I referenced earlier.
My first encounter with “these people” happened when I got involved in “disability advocacy” in 1981. I found myself completely intimidated by other handicapped folks who I deemed as extremely angry about the inequity in their lives. I will not dive into the deep end of the pool here as this subject alone could be a book but let me simply connect some dots here. If you have met me, heard me, read me or just heard about me, would you characterize me as angry or joyous? I have grumpy moments, especially when my Saskatchewan Roughriders suck, but I am the real deal! I am not boasting.
Having a positive attitude to me is not just about my work. I like to state that I became a positive person who became a motivational speaker. My parents were my guides. They were never, ever, angry or hostile, or mean spirited and bluntly, they dealt with a lot of idiots who saw me as nothing more than a freak of nature! The names I have heard, the jokes at my expense, and yes a multitude of bullies should have made me “one of them”, but I don’t like “them”, so why would I want to be one? And don’t get me wrong. Activism has changed many things that needed changing and our attitude towards some issues have made a huge difference. One of my favourite examples is after the Vietnam War, returning veterans were often called “baby killers”! Our newest returning vets are called “Wounded Warriors”. Big difference, huh? And that is my exact point.
We are allowing “them” to divide our society instead of using these discussions to grow empathy and understanding. Let’s get back to the Yoga. So, color me surprised when I found out that the practice of Yoga had its origins in India. I was pretty sure it wasn’t created in Calfornia, but India makes sense. Yoga is described in Wikipedia as a ” physical, mental and spiritual practice” and like India itself, is ancient. I always laugh at people who describe things like yoga, meditation and like my wife practices, Feng Shui, as “new age”. Please, it is ancient and I can understand “pride of ownership” but here’s how Alvin sees this…”Who cares who invented it as long as people practice and grow from it”! Frankly, whoever complained about this issue at the University of Ottawa should apologize. This element was cloudy in the story so I apologize if I get it wrong but wasn’t the spotlight on this subject lit up because the class was being offered to people with disabilities? It seems that changing some of the poses to accommodate the handicap offended some purist who filed this under the category of yet another “Western” practice being disrespectful of its origins. Really? Remember, this was a very small group of “the offended”, not 25,000 students who signed a petition and held a protest. Why can’t such a small number see the the truth that the clear majority see? Why can’t they be proud that someone from Canada is celebrating a spiritual practice that brings opposing cultures closer together instead of farther apart? I have no arms so if I attempt the yoga pose where one puts their hands and arms above their head to form a diamond shape using my legs and feet, am I offending the sensibilities of a Hindu? Give me a fricking break!! Let me ask a bigger question; Is traditional Indian Yoga only practiced by the able-bodied? You do see where this could go, huh? The thing is, as offended as I am by this story, I will simply blog and move on, something “they” can’t seem to do.
To yours truly, this I yet another symptom of the “It’s All About Me” mentality where the bigger picture is lost in the “selfie culture” which is as non-spiritual as it gets. Do you not see the irony that the Hindu faith embraces our human space in the non-physical world.
When my wife Darlene and I were in Singapore, we wondered into an ancient Hindu temple. It was open to the public but there was an actual prayer service going on that tourists were asked to respect and allow their privacy. While Darlene explored some of the amazing sculptures and historic images, I wondered over to the service and listened to them pray. It was mesmerizing. It was not in my language so I didn’t understand what they were saying in their prayers but I knew it was highly spiritual and I got shivers. When they were done, the Hindu priest gave all present the small, red mark on their forehead symbolizing their faith (I made that assumption) and then he spotted me. I felt like I was eavesdropping so blushed and apologized beginning to walk away, but the priest invited me to the front of the church. It was just him and I and he was a bit of a caricature in that he was very old wth beautiful, glowing brown skin and almost pure, white hair. He emitted an amazing aura. He was extremely hospitable and curious. Not surprising, he asked where I was from and how I came to be here to which I replied with my usual I was born without arms in Canada and as a professional speaker, was in Singapore to speak at a business event. He smiled and said with a very thick accent, “With respect my son, you weren’t born without arms, you are like Vishnu, who has many arms and you are not a business speaker, you are also like Vishnu by preserving our faith! You are a true blessing, young man. May I pray with you?” Wow! I was overwhelmed. He asked me to kneel, placed his hand on my head, said a prayer in Hindu then placed his finger In a dye and pressed it to my forehead telling me I could not remove this symbol until sundown. No problem.
I was born Catholic, raised Protestant and in that moment, have never felt more blessed. It was a great moment of enlightenment for me. When I finally found Darlene she asked where I was and why I looked spaced out. I told her about my encounter referring to my mark on my forehead and the priest’s observation of Vishnu. It was a truly special moment, for me, for us. What that priest had given me was impossible to describe but it was in the spirit of humanity. Perhaps if more of “them” could understand that, I wouldn’t have to write about this subject and the world would be more connected with each other by celebrating our similarities instead of our differences!