A teacher learns from her student.

A scene from Glass's opera. Via PhilipGlass.com.

Because quite a few of my students hadn’t seen it, I showed the now-infamous video of campus police casually pepper spraying a line of peaceful protestors at the University of California, Davis to my class today. I’d seen it many times, but this time I had the unusual position of standing at the front of a classroom, watching the faces of young people as they saw their fellow UC students being violently treated for peacefully protesting the same issues that they are angry about as well.

It was…difficult. There was shock. And anger. Those who had already seen it were shaking their heads in disgust. After class, I got this unexpected question: “Why didn’t the teachers do anything?”

One of the great benefits of the practice of Ashtanga for me has been the way it’s changed my classroom teaching. I’m more compassionate, patient. I’ve learned to expect the best from every single student. The question has given my pause, though. Have I ever actually helped my students in larger ways, ways that would change the world for the better?

Then comes this timely and thoughtful essay from Ian Desai at The New York Times. In it, Desai bids a thoughtful farewell to the  Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park while at the same time pondering the close of Philip Glass’s opera based on Gandhi’s life, Satyagraha. The essay asks, basically, what would Gandhi make of both the opera of his life, and the movement in the park. It’s clear the author finds both lacking

It can be difficult, though, to overlook the incongruity of Champagne corks popping at intermissions, the see-and-be-seen atmosphere and the steep ticket prices at the Met. These trappings have little to do with Gandhi’s ideas of social justice and make opera an uneasy medium for his political vision; in fact they lend an unhappy irony to the very deftness of the rendering of that vision on the stage.

Desai also thinks that Gandhi would find the divisive nature of the protests troubling, that “We are the 100%” would be a better motto. He concludes that our actions are “most meaningful when they set the stage for constructive social action, through which we might begin to mend the world.”

When my student asked me that question, I became painfully aware of how little I’ve really done on their behalf as their tuition skyrockets and budget cuts threaten the quality of their education. This, too, is yoga, yes? What I’ve been taught by my teachers as the real purpose of the practice, in the vein of Hanuman: service.

Desai’s review is a worthy read, but be prepared to question your own practice-in-the-world.

Posted by Bobbie