What if there were no such thing as spirit or spirituality? Suppose that we stopped looking for anything beyond the material realm. This intriguing premise was proposed by the late Michael Stone in the TEDx talk shown above. Would there still be room in such a reality for yoga?
Stone defines the Sanskrit word yoga as "intimacy." But what is intimacy? The Latin root of intimate means "inmost" or "intrinsic." In yoga, the objective is to recognize our connection to a greater whole, experiencing true intimacy with that whole. If the material world is all there is, then intimacy means that we are each an intrinsic part of the material world. At the same time, we can make the case that the material world is intrinsic to us.
The natural processes and physical laws that are unfolding in the universe around us are also abiding within our bodies. None of us is a closed system. All of the boundaries of our bodies are permeable, which means that there is a constant exchange of materials happening between ourselves and our environment. With each breath, we take in the atmosphere and also add to it. Eating is a truly remarkable act in which we transform plant and animal matter into the cells and tissue of our bodies while capturing some of the energy contained in that food so that we can fuel our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Every atom that exists "out there" has the potential of ending up "in here" because the distinction is arbitrary. The matter that makes up our bodies is changing from one moment to the next. Did you know that the food we eat and the water we drink was probably excreted by some other organism at some point in the past? And everything we excrete--sweat, piss, poop, spit, snot, and cum--will be vital to another organism at some point in the future. There is no such thing as waste, except in our own minds. Absolutely every particle that makes up our bodies right now will be cycled through the greater whole. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and all the other elements that comprise us at this moment have their natural cycles. They are constantly moving through the natural world.
Yoga can exist in perfect harmony with a materialistic worldview. You do not need to believe in anything beyond the material universe to have an intimate relationship with that universe. You just have to embrace one simple idea that is based on scientific fact: What is in me is in you as it is in all things. We live in a universe that is governed by the principles that all matter and energy are conserved at all times. The "stuff" that makes up that universe simply flows from one place to another in a dynamic and continuous stream. If you and I are in the same room for any period of time, we will exchange matter and energy. There is no doubt we will share parts of ourselves with one another.
This leads to what Martin Buber called the "I-Thou" relationship, which is the idea that whatever I love or revere in myself I must also love and revere in you. Why? Because there is no separation. The boundaries between us are relatively meaningless. They change so constantly and inevitably that we would be foolish to enforce them.
Virtually every yoga class ends with the greeting Namaste, which literally means "I bow to you." The reason for this greeting is the recognition that we are made up of the exact same stuff. By saying "Namaste," we are expressing our aspiration to see beyond the mental distinctions that appear to separate us. These distinctions are not consistent in any way with the teachings of physics, chemistry, or biology. If we are going to embrace materialism to the fullest, we have no choice but to assume our natural place in the universe as yogis. Namaste!
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