Yoga tends to attract positive people. Or to put it more correctly, yoga tends to attract people who value the notion of positivity. I’m not sure if this has more to do with it’s relationship to physical fitness, with it’s self-improvement veneer, or its deeper relationship to spirituality. I expect it’s ultimately the former. Spirituality, framed a certain way, has a type of self-improvement as it’s goal which could be interpreted as positive, but more often then not the zealous spiritual seeker is initially driven towards that goal by deep-seated existential dread. However, it is obvious that the popular language of yoga does tend to be in the vein of “everything’s gonna be alright.”
The trouble with this is that yoga is supposed to be, if nothing else, a search for truth. A search for truth requires, by necessity, what I have referred to in the past as “the unflinching gaze,” and this unflinching gaze must include within its purview all of the blood and shit and bile of life that one normally shrinks from in order to ensure the impenetrability of ones positive worldview. For me, and this is actually slightly controversial in the literature, the practice of yoga encourages an expanded field of awareness, and not merely a redistribution of awareness. This means you need to hold within your understanding every level of your experience. This includes the more cosmic, interpenetrated, transdimensional levels where everything is indeed going to be alright, but it also includes the level of the ego and its perpetually frustrated will to power, the insatiable desires of the flesh and the intolerable sensitivity of the nervous system, a domain in which the alright-ness of a thing is completely provisional and subject to abrupt perturbation and eventual destruction. With this understanding in mind, the more yogic statement would be: “The extent to which everything’s going to be alright is the same as the extent to which one dis-identifies with the domain of awareness in which everything is not going to be alright.” It’s important to note that dis-identification is not the same as turning away from, because if one is in any way afraid of, or escaping from, a level of awareness, it is proof that they are indeed very much identified with it. In this way it is vexing that so many in the yoga community seem to be so uncomfortable with their own shadow.
Carl Jung described the shadow as “that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.” It is not only an important part of our psychological make-up that we have to come to terms with in order to grow our understanding, but the awareness of it also links us to an aspect of our being that is trans-personal, collective and motivated by evolutionary paradigms. There may be some truth to the understanding that the human psychology occupies a more conscious sphere of apprehension then the animal psychology, but if a human wishes to transcend its psychology, it must connect with that part of itself that is still an animal.
I’ve spent over 15 years of my life participating in a community that, perhaps more then any other, values its connection with the shadow; the underground Heavy Metal community. If you are at all curious about some of my own meagre contributions to said community you may indulge yourself here:
And here are a few more examples of intelligent, imaginative and extreme Heavy Metal if you feel so inclined:
This sort of music employs a number of rather stark aesthetic choices that will not be to everyone’s taste. It reaches out to the mind of a person coming to terms with the chaos, brutality and uncertainty of the world in which they live and invites them not to turn away from it, but to celebrate it. It invites you to turn all that blood, shit and bile into gold by consuming it, and initiates you into a practice of inversion. Through inverting the traditional values of society it asks you to face the world on your own terms, eschewing public authority as a source of knowledge. Through inverting ones ordinary reactions to qualities like harshness, dissonance and aggression it asks you to discover the beauty hidden in the dark corners of our experience that people normally hide from. Through inverting the common rules of aesthetic decency it asks you to consider the way that social conventions hijack your imagination and force you to inhabit a world not of your own making. It’s an incredible artistic discipline when its done with conviction and vision, and it’s capable of producing an experience with as much a claim to the mystical as any music traditionally associated with spirituality. This idea of consuming that which repels you as an act of reverence towards the totality of life is actually fundamental to the philosophy of Tantra, through which the practice of Hatha Yoga emerges, particularly those schools which concern themselves with worship of Kali, the blood-drenched goddess of destruction. This concept is played out metaphorically and ritually in a variety of ways, and in the more extreme sects of what is called the Vama Marga, or “Left Hand Path,” (A term most metalheads will be well-acquainted with) it is taken quite literally and can actually involve consuming things like arsenic and human remains, along with the ritual sex and intoxication that has come to define the western vision of tantra.
Because of how effective this practice of inversion can be you often find a certain amount of fanaticism and factionalism in Metal. People can become very committed to metal above all else and very purist about what constitutes good or correct metal. Many in the yoga community will recognize the parallels. Yogis will waste unbelievable amounts of energy wringing their hands over the correct interpretation of the Sutras in defense of the style of practice that they pursue: Iyengar vs. Ashtanga, Vinyasa vs. Hatha, Black Metal vs. Death Metal, Traditional Black Metal vs. Experimental Black Metal. Sometimes people who think they have nothing in common can be remarkably alike.
The metal community tends to have the opposite problem that the yoga community has. You find alot of people who are very comfortable with their shadow, but super uncomfortable with things like joy, beauty and love. This is unfortunate because if there is one thing that both yoga and metal have taught me its that the reason you come to terms with your shadow isn’t just to experience and celebrate your shadow, it’s to experience and celebrate everything. The sorrow that implies joy. The ugliness that implies beauty. The disillusionment that implies love. Destruction and creation. Light and dark. The self and the other. It’s all spun together inextricably and if you can’t hold all of it in your heart, then you’re not holding any of it. Whether you land on the side of optimism or pessimism you’re just fantasizing about a world that you wish was real but isn’t. Many spiritual people gain some comfort from the idea that the world is a creation of their mind and that this affords them some measure of control over their situation, but anyone who spends a significant period of time meditating quickly realizes that these uncomfortable dichotomies are properties of your mind first and foremost.
Unfortunately what all of this means is that a lot of people in the metal community have come, one way or another, to use this music less as a way of experiencing veneration at the astonishing absurdity, the terrible beauty, the divine awe-inspiring horror of the human condition and more to reinforce the power and presence of their own negative emotions so that now far too many of these incredibly deep, insightful and beautiful people are suffering with terrible anxiety and depression which is made worse by the economic instability that comes from being an artist in uncertain times. In many cases this is laid on top of a sense of social alienation that drew them towards metal in the first place.
Many people feel like it’s important to feel this way, like it’s the only honest way to live. Many think that misery and instability is a necessary prerequisite to create meaningful art. I think it’s important that we reject these notions.
At the end of the day it’s not appropriate to generalize too much about any group of people. Some of the most spiritually connected people I’ve ever met were die-hard metalheads, and of course everybody knows that alot of the most visible figureheads of spirituality can be the most petty, vicious and materially obsessed people on the planet. Metal has a real sense of community, friendship and support that is rare in the modern world. Ultimately I had to to take a step away from it in an attempt to reconnect with the lighter side of my being. To become more comfortable with joy, beauty and love. I decided to do this through studying yoga. But sometimes it takes leaving a thing to realize what you had right in front of you all along. I hope one day I can find the balance to play out these seemingly opposing roles as metalhead and spiritual practitioner while enjoying both and identifying with neither but I’m not quite there yet. Despite their differences I really believe that at their core metal and yoga are both after the same thing.
To see the world exactly as it is and figure out a way to love it.