Saturday, December 14, 2013

YogaGlo patent - how far is too far?

The recent granting of a patent to Yogaglo - a business that offers online yoga classes - has created some controversy.  To yoga folk, it seems that protecting a certain way of offering yoga is at odds with the general idea of yoga - union, not separation.  Some critics of the patent state that this time it has “gone too far” - that although they see value in intellectual property rights, Yogaglo has overstepped, in some way.

The core issue to me not whether Yogaglo has gone too far, because the answer to that  question simply depends on where your interests lie.  The core issue to me is not whether  intellectual property is a good idea, but whether the idea of property at all is a good idea.  

We can trace the idea of property back to the agricultural revolution approximately 10,000 years ago.  Prior to this, humans were mostly nomadic hunters and gatherers.  Tribal societies did not have an idea of property in the sense of owning land.  Rather, as was explained to me by a historian friend of mine, many of the nomadic peoples of what we now call Canada had an idea of - “centers of gravity” - that hunting grounds extended out from oneself in a diminishing gravitational field, so that the land was not owned in perpetuity by anyone, but that individual requirements for nourishment were respected.  This wonderful idea of course was no longer possible to implement after my ancestors in Canada appropriated the land from the indigenous peoples.

It is not clear whether humans went from hunting and collecting to farming in one great movement, or whether it was a slow process.  When you walk through the forest collecting food, there I feel  an innate sense of gratitude and wonder at the abundance given us.  Industrial farming now tries to harvest as much as possible from land that has fences around it to protect it, and even the seeds - life itself - are often owned.  There seems to be no recognition of the gift of life here - only expectation.  That is one result of property and ownership.

It might help to pause ask the question “In what ways has ownership been a benefit to mankind?”  Has it been a benefit to:

  • Women?
  • Slaves?
  • The earth?
  • Animals?
  • Creativity?
  • Freedom?

How many lives have been lost through the final step of nationalistic expansion?  Is war not a tool to gain more property?

The wonderful technology of yoga was created before the idea of formal intellectual property rights existed.  Yoga cross-fertilized itself through the free sharing of ideas, and philosophies became stronger for it.  We still have the names and works of the sages responsible for some of the articulations of yoga, and we can thank them in our hearts.   I wonder where we’d be today if Shankara was not able to borrow and re-organize ideas from earlier sages for fear of being sued?  Copyright - literally the right to copy - only came into being after the invention of the printing press, and copyright was limited then to just a few years.  That has changed radically now.  You can make a good living as a lawyer today buying the rights to patents and then suing those who might infringe on those patents in their creation of something new.

So, many of us are infuriated at this next step into ownership Yogaglo has taken.  But it is just another step in a long journey into separation.  As the author and  speaker Charles Eisenstein has pointed out -When you no longer look around you and can say “This is me!” - you are motivated to say “This is mine”.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life feeds on life

You eat breakfast, and breakfast becomes you - the food turns into tissue.  Your breakfast fed on something too, before you ate it and it became you.  Life feeds on life.  Vegetarians may want to reduce the harm they cause sentient beings by not eating animals - a noble desire. Vegans take it further.  But plants too, are sentient.  Some would suggest not eating plants either, or only eating the food that drops from a living plant. We could follow this non - harming scheme to a logical conclusion, in which we stop eating anything or doing any harm.  We would then die ourselves.  Starvation is a form of suffering too, so by not wanting to cause any harm we still cause harm.  Even turning on a light is adversely affecting the planet and the things living on it.  As is updating your status on Facebook.

Every living thing is eventual compost for something new, and that eventual compost is inherent in the thing that is new.  This is true of things that live and grow, and it seems true of more subtle things, like a way of living, thinking or acting.  New ideas move through phases of germination, immaturity, maturity and eventually they become fodder for yet another idea.  

The desire to reduce harm by not eating farmed animals is wonderful.  We could look at alternative farmed foods, or turn to foraging instead of farmed foods.  But we too, are farmed animals.  We are raised in a controlled environment, only able to live and move in certain areas.  We have also been corralled into certain ways of thinking, that once accepted by most seem to be truth.  Ideas like “Marriage is natural”, “There is an afterlife”, “There are universal moral truths”.  So to a certain degree, many can only conceptualize within the confines of accepted truths.  If those truths are incorrect, or if there are no universal truths, it seems the first order of business would be to find out why we think the way we think rather than acting on thinking that may be incorrect.

It is difficult to think objectively when vested interest is present.  If I identify myself as a yoga teacher, I will probably advocate yoga.  I make my living teaching yoga, so this seems natural.  But there are times when my vested interests influence my objectivity.  It may be true that another form of exercise or mindful work would be better for a potential student, but not having much familiarity with other disciplines, I advocate yoga instead.  I am not being entirely objective, in that case. 

If I identify as a vegetarian, I will tend to defend vegetarianism.  When I look through articles on diet, I may unconsciously gravitate to those articles that support my beliefs about diet.  I may even argue against another point of view before understanding that point of view, or its benefits, or the vested interest that point of view may be coming from.

Perhaps a more objective and more helpful approach would be to admit:

  1. We have vested interests
  2. What those interests are
  3. How those interests might affect our objectivity
  4. That we really don’t know it all and we may very well change our minds, ‘cause it has happened before.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Our current currency crisis

We may be nearing the end of cycle of a set of values and expectations that have created the world we inhabit.  There is a lot of talk about what money is, what value it is based on, and the relevance of alternative currencies as an option to the debt-based money system that has created the necessity to see everything as a potential resource to be exploited.

Many of us understand gold to have “intrinsic” value.  Hence the gold standard as a touchstone of value.  Gold is a precious metal, it can be used to make beautiful jewelry, it is portable and relatively scarce.  These attributes place it well as a metal of high value.  The economist and gold trader Peter Schiff would agree.  But before we go too far in this direction, it might help to ask the question “what is value?”.  

Value creates a graph of desirability. Things of high value would cost more than things of low value.  But we mean value to a human being.  A new Ipad is valuable to most human beings, but not to dogs, and not to humans too old to understand how to use one.

There are collectors of rare things like ancient books who find great value in something others may overlook.  So when we assign value, we must look at what most people (not dogs or cats) find most valuable most of the time.  So value is a best guess, an average.

What is most valuable to most humans most of the time?  I would say things that promote survival and happiness.  Most humans want to live, and to live we all have a shared need in certain essentials.  This also depends on the circumstances of each human.  Someone addicted to cigarettes might value a pack over human contact.  Someone suffering from a painful and incurable disease might value a painless death over all else.  There are many variables, but in general, value is found in:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Food
  • Warmth
  • Human contact
  • Love
  • A sense of being valuable

If you put 100 people in a large locked warehouse for the rest of their lives with only these things or the possible means to attain them scattered around, as well as a pile of gold, the people would not gravitate to the gold.  In fact, the gold facilitates none of what is essential to life.  So gold is not intrinsically valuable like water or air.  It is an agreement of value - an agreement that has persisted for a very long time to be sure, but a symbol of value nonetheless.

After some time, years perhaps, these 100 people might seek out raw materials to make art from, and at that point the gold would become more interesting and beautiful things made from gold  - things that could adorn someone to make them more beautiful - might attain value.  Things like water, food and a bed to sleep in might be occasionally traded for gold.  But gold is not intrinsically valuable - it is only valuable in a certain context - that of a society that has enough of the essentials necessary to live comfortably and has extra to allot to something of beauty.  But even then value must be added to the gold in the form of artistry - no one would just carry a gold brick around to look more beautiful.

Intrinsic means to “belong naturally”.  So when we speak of intrinsic value, we mean value that belongs naturally - not value that is added to or created.  Intrinsic value depends on the relationship between that which is valued, and the valuer in order to assign a specific value.  So “intrinsic” requires relationship as well as the qualities of the thing of value.

We are getting down to the true meaning of intrinsic.  Gold, money, jewelry or even the next breath would not have any value if it were not an event held in our awareness.  If I were in a coma, my last breath would not be an event I was aware of.  The Mona Lisa would have no value in the land of the blind.  Bach’s work holds not beauty to the deaf.  Gold is only valuable if others hold the agreement - the awareness - that has a certain value.

So it is awareness itself that holds the highest value, and it is an intrinsic value because awareness is aware - that is its fundamental attribute, one that cannot be removed and does not rely on opinion or agreement.  Even death may not affect awareness itself.  This puts us in an interesting position when offering one’s gift, because your gift, as a form of awareness, is more valuable than money or gold. However, others may not see the value of your gift even when it is ready to be shared, for value to them may still mean only money, gold or things that facilitate survival.

The quip “Do what you love and the money will follow” assumes money is inherently valuable, and the term “love” implies “do that which is full of awareness”.  While it is true there has historically been a correlation between how beautiful (full of awareness) something is and how much it costs, this correlation is becoming more and more tenuous as we move toward the end of our collective agreement that money has value.  Currencies have lost all of their value before, and it will very likely happen again - this time to the currency we are using.

Your gift has inherent value.  Your ability to see the beauty in another and explain what you see to them in terms they understand and can accept is valuable.  Your capacity to listen to someone work through a painful or joyful event and through this process become more aware and mature in their understanding is valuable.  The ability to sit with yourself comfortably without becoming so uneasy with arising memories and emotions you are driven to distract yourself by shopping for things you don’t need, made by someone who does not want to be making what your are buying, brought to you by someone who doesn’t want to drive the truck that brought it there,  sold to you by a cashier who doesn’t want to be there but must, to pay for the things she bought that she doesn’t valuable.  The gifts of awareness lie outside the bounds of what our ancestors may have agreed is valuable.