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Hitting The Mat And Taking Names

Hitting The Mat And Taking Names

Recently, I read this article by Mischa Allen of Yoga with Mischa in southern California. In her author bio in Elephant Journal, Allen describes herself as a “meat-eating, whiskey-drinking yogi.” Reading her bio reminded me of the writings of Noah Levine, yoga teacher and author of Dharma Punx. Levine came of age during the punk rock, grunge era of the 1990s. His youthful anger and rebellion led him to drinking and drugs. Eventually, he realized he wanted a more fulfilling life – but he wasn’t about to turn his back on his grunge background. As Levine’s website states, “Fueled by his anger and so much injustice, Levine now uses that energy and the practice of Buddhism to awaken his natural wisdom and compassion.” In short, Allen and Levine are hard-ass yogis.

While I don’t have that kind of personality myself, there is something very appealing to me about Allen and Levine’s approach to spirituality. It is easy to view spirituality as the domain of saints. We imagine vegetarian monks living in Zen austerity – celibate and leading lives devoid of many common pleasures. We imagine that maintaining a spiritual practice means we must give up foods we enjoy, wake up at dawn to chant mantras, and refrain from emotional reactions. But that simply isn’t true.

True spirituality comes down to authenticity. It is about not lying to ourselves – and doing our best to be honest and compassionate. Having a spiritual practice simply means we strive to examine our beliefs and emotions and determine if they are well-founded or if they are the result of underlying misconceptions or emotional traumas. It means we realize our innate connection with our fellow humans and that we work to respect it. But all of that can be done in the real world. We don’t have to attend meditation retreats that cost thousands of dollars or deprive ourselves things we enjoy to be spiritual. Life itself is the practice. Aiming to live mindfully every day is all that is required to practice spirituality.

What is more, Allen and Levin’s approach to spirituality circumvents the tendency of some to become ensnared by the trappings of spirituality. I have met my share of people who eat vegan, organic food and practice yoga and meditation religiously, but fail to demonstrate real compassion or respect for others.

There are also those who believe themselves to be open-minded because they are supposedly spiritual and politically progressive, but in truth, they harbor hateful thoughts about those who don’t share their beliefs. In that sense, they are just as closed-minded as the more conservative people they criticize – and even more pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be very progressive politically – but voting for Obama and practicing yoga don’t make a person spiritual. While I’m not the perfect picture of spirituality, I try to live according to my belief that real spirituality is about being honest with myself and compassionate towards others. Allen and Levin’s approach certainly makes it easier to practice real spirituality, because they simply don’t care about the outward expressions of spirituality that, alone, often lead only to pretentiousness and self-delusion.



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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


+ add your own
2:00AM PST on Feb 25, 2013

thank you

1:59AM PST on Feb 25, 2013

thank you

11:08AM PST on Nov 21, 2012


5:49AM PDT on Oct 31, 2012

Thanks for sharing.

11:57PM PDT on Oct 11, 2012

Nice one, Sarah!
And no spirituality is not just the domain of Saints..."A Saint is but a sinner, who never stopped trying"...

2:13AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

there is no one definition of spirituality and it takes different forms and persona. its just like different religions believe themselves to be the one true calling. its really what's inside a person, the condition of their hearth to say if they are sinless or not.

1:07AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

1. I am sorry but yogi is much more than one who does yoga (yogasan-yogic exercises)
2. the term hard-ass yogis is very disrespectful to the very context of being a yogi
3.Yoga means much more than mental, physical, emotional discipline.
4.Accepting what one does not justify anything. It only means you are not a liar.
5.if a yogi is austere but not outwardly an activist/rebel-gooder, none of us can judge their spiritual development - its between them and the maker.

6:20PM PDT on Oct 7, 2012

I agree. Do not let anybody else decide what is 'spiritual' because it all is, and the more you refuse to admitt your own hateful thoughts, the more others will act them out for you. That's how we got hoodwinked in the first place.And if you own your own garbage, you don't need to take on anybody elses, which you can't change. Your own, you can evolve.

7:53PM PDT on Oct 5, 2012

Thanks for sharing this.

8:37AM PDT on Oct 5, 2012

Thank you for the reminder that genuine spirituality and compassion may take many unexpected forms.

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