How to End the War: Intimacy with all Ordinary Conditions | Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Putin’s war in Ukraine has brought the insanity of authoritarianism inescapably to our attention. We cannot look away. Of course, the actions of totalitarian government have been here for centuries. All the same, the present-day horror of one man’s barbarism is devastating to see. At the time of writing more than four million women have been forced from their homes within Ukraine; a similar number have left the country. Their husbands have stayed in Ukraine to fight for their lives. These are times of unimaginable suffering.

What practical action can we take amid this darkness? What can humanity do now to get ourselves out of this mess?

I was listening recently to the American writer Anne Appalbaum discuss the war and the nature of autocracy. She spoke about the philosopher Hannah Arendt and her 1940s book The Origins of Totalitarianism. Above all, Appalbaum says, Arendt emphasised that the world upon which authoritarian governments depend is one in which people feel lonely and separate from one another. By promising a sense of belonging that seems absent, autocratic leaders draw support from those who feel isolated.

She describes how dictators create an idea of an enclosed community that is defined against an imagined ‘other.’ The ‘other’ is presented as a threat to this community’s very existence, and so, when it comes time to shore up their power, war can break out as a means to intensifying their own identity. All over the world there is deep trouble in people feeling isolated and lonely. And everywhere around the world we see today these dangerous figures with their thought-structures of fear and violence.

So it’s a very important thing for humanity to get this matter of intimacy sorted. We have a deep need to feel connected to one another and to the cosmos.

Our world today though is bereft of useful training around how we participate in our natural state of relatedness; including, relationship with others and especially sex. Intimacy is not understood in the mainstream life as the principle desire of a sane life, despite this being obvious as soon as it is pointed out. Instead we tend to get seriously busy with the glamorous pursuits of career, money, politics, sport, art, sex and travel; or we dissociate from those around us in spiritual and religious seeking.

It is shocking how in the spiritual world too intimacy is largely ignored as the basic process of human participation, as how we enjoy our naturalness. In fact the opposite has been idealised where spiritual teachers claim a ‘higher’ state attained through celibacy or practices of a personal inwardness. That ordinary relationship and sex is less has become synonymous with what spirituality is all about. The repression of sex in spiritual and religious life has only caused it to burst out in a global epidemic of sexual abuse and harm.

On the other side of the coin, tantric cults propose using sex as a desperate method of spiritual seeking, trying to feel something and get somewhere amazing. Yet this only causes pain in the body and mind where practitioners use each other’s bodies for their deluded ends.

The need for education around relationship and sex is why, in 2004, I published my book Yoga of Heart: the healing power of intimate connection and then The Promise (2014), and more recently God and Sex: Now We Get Both (2019). These books are each an attempt to empower humanity to a) live a life of intimate connection to ourselves: to our own body, breath, and Heart; and b) to enjoy relationship with other people, including and especially with our intimate, sexual partner. Yoga is participation only in the related condition: we feel ourselves as already connected, already in a profound harmony with the totality of existence.

Our ancestors inherently understood that it is in relationship with actual others that all healing and spiritual realisation occurs. In relationship we release what is not needed to receive what is needed. Self-discovery, psychological adjustment, and understanding happens in relationship — including sex. Love brings up everything that is unlove to be seen, understood and released. The natural flow of feelings from anger, to its cause, pain, to grief, to compassion and forgiveness is enacted and practiced, in that order. The next more basic emotion is predicted and permitted. Practitioners learn to speed this process, and the overwhelming whole body heart connection to all things is understood to be the point of human life.

In my lifetime I want to see this understanding and practice enter the mainstream life. In the ancient world, yoga sadhana was simply there as each person’s intimate embrace of their own body and breath. This intimacy with oneself formed the basis of a robust life of intimate connection with others and formed the heart of the great darshanam cultures of seeing. As humans we learn to see each other as we actually are: as the intrinsic wonder, harmony, beauty and power that is life itself.

As opposed to the nightmare of autocracy, the yogic cultures in which intimacy and horizontal relationship were cultivated were egalitarian and non-hierarchical. It was a culture in which mutual intimacy between people was given form and place at the centre of the social order. There was no concept of the ‘perfect person’ or of one person being above another. Intimacy with all ordinary conditions — not conquering or celibacy — was the principle orientation of spiritual life.

My teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was fond of saying, “Truth cannot be defeated.” As the war in Ukraine enters a new grim phase of protracted fighting we do our best to clear a path for the sincere practices of human intimacy to enter the world.

May every person soon know that they are the power of the cosmos arising as pure intelligence and beauty. May every person know that their body is in a profound relationship with all kinds of tangible and intangible conditions, including other people. May every person be allowed to have their birthright which is to be intimate with their life in every way. Then we will see the end of autocracy and war.

*Learn the yogas of participation in the heart of yoga online studio. Everybody is welcome.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell

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Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.