Yoga, Conspiracy Theories, and Fear of the Unknown

Let me start by saying I love Las Vegas. I don’t think I am supposed to, though. I am a yoga teacher. I am supposed to love Bali, Sedona, and Tofino. I have never been to any of those places. But I have been to Las Vegas and I think it’s an amazing place. So the terror attack at the Mandalay Bay this fall really shook me up.

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I kept on searching for it and reading about it online. I wanted more information to try to make sense of it. Then I slipped into the rabbit hole. Things started getting all kinds of weird.

 

On October 4th YouTube changed its search algorithms around the Las Vegas mass shooting as a result of incidentally promoting conspiracy theories. There were so many conspiracies floating around the web that when people searched for “Las Vegas” on YouTube they were led to videos about FBI cover-ups, ISIS plots, and all sorts of unveiling how the illuminati were pulling the wool over our collective eyes.

 

It worked. Shortly after making the change the front page of searches for “Las Vegas” contained much more reputable sources. Thank goodness. Not only do conspiracy theories trivialize the horrific loss of life that takes place during terror attacks, they also divert attention from the real issues that these attacks raise. Gun control, religious extremism and mental illness and alienation may not be as fun as the illuminati, but they are real issues that we can actually address.

I realize that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Because people are often sneaky and manipulative. I imagine the Bay of Pigs and Golf of Tonkin were both conspiracy theories at one point. But it was years of careful research and people risking their careers that got that information out. Not cheap YouTube videos.

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What does this have to do with yoga, you ask? Well, I’m a yoga teacher. And I have a knack for making everything about yoga.

 

One of the many gifts of my yoga practice is comfort with uncertainty. I have had the rug pulled out from me so many times. Every time I think I know how and why a posture functions, I learn something new that throws the whole thing into doubt.

 

I used to do physical adjustments on my students because I learned so much from my teacher who did them to me. Then I learned about trauma sensitivity and stopped. Then I learned about the role of touch in depression and anxiety. This is not an article about consent and yoga adjustments…but I have learned to be so much more open to differing perspectives because my own perspective has changed so over the years.

 

Back in the 1990s I was an angry, militant vegan. Then I fell in love with somebody who eats cheese. So I became an angry, militant vegetarian. Then it dawned on me that everybody needs to figure out a diet that works for him or her. Then I became a happy, tolerant vegetarian. And who knows what the future holds? I don’t’ think I will become a meat-eater at some point…but I don’t know for sure.

 

I am uncertain. So are you.

 

And I am totally comfortable with that.

 

I do not know what the future holds. Neither do you.

 

Sometimes we like to make plans as though we know what will happen next. But that is all in our imagination. The reality is that that we don’t even know if we will have another day on this beautiful planet. Our future is not promised to any of us.

 

What motivated that heavily armed lunatic in my favorite hotel? Why did the Vegas shooting happen? Why do any of them happen? What makes somebody take the life of a total stranger? If we knew, maybe we could prevent the next one.

 

But sadly we do not know. If you are not comfortable with uncertainty it can drive you crazy. You could end up diving headlong in the YouTube rabbit hole and swimming in the utter madness of the uneducated and misinformed theories of random Internet trolls and quasi-fascist talking heads.

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So lets take a breath here, ok? Your thoughts are fleeting wisps that form and shift in your mind like clouds drifting across treetops. You don’t even know what you are thinking most of the time. Seriously. Pay attention to your thoughts. It is a mess up there. Your thoughts are an example of the uncertainty that characterizes our lives. And that is not a problem.

 

Embrace it. You don’t know why things happen the way they do. You don’t know what is going to happen next. We are hanging off the front of a train engine throwing tracks ahead of us as we plow forward into the future. Lets not kid ourselves into thinking that we know the truth. All we have is a provisional kind of faith that what we are doing is good enough for now.

 

In yoga and in life, just keep throwing down those tracks. Take things as they come. Don’t share crazy conspiracy theories on your social media, but don’t judge people who do. Stay kind, thoughtful, and open-minded…just not so open that your brain falls out.

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