News of Elon Musk purchasing the Twitter has the world abuzz. One of my favorite podcasts, Your Undivided Attention, did a spotlight feature on what this means, specifically as it pertains to how to create a world where our attention isn’t purchased by the highest bidder.
I’m not a regular tweeter and only rarely tune in, so my feelings on the ordeal are minimal. It’s clear to me that Musk doesn’t have a large family that demands fresh berries in their lunches amid a spike of inflation, or he’d be spending his billions on horticulture and sustainable earth practices. But, no, he wants twitter, in the name of “free speech.”
Armchair Expert had a timely release with a 1st Amendment attorney, where Floyd Abrams highlighted how this amendment doesn’t just protect the individual’s freedom to say what they believe. It also protects the collective to be able to hear information and ideas that people in the position of power may not want you to know, such as the Watergate scandal.
As one who writes, creates, and teaches, this freedom for individuals is something I value. To stifle that 5th chakra is to lead to other energetic challenges. (I’m also a strong proponent that just because you share the opinion, even loudly, it does not make it right, true, or good. Also, exercising your freedom of expression or press does not mean you’re free to avoid the consequences of sharing said information.)
I’m now understanding this freedom as hearing, as in speech.
In The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg poses the idea that the sacred teachings put a particular order to the divine act of obedience and listening. Tradition has it that the Hebrew people followed the Golden Calf incident with the utterance of a commitment to their God: We shall do and we shall hear! Zornberg poses that the obedience comes first with a purpose: hearing is the spiritual horizon of doing. Obedience isn’t the final goal.
“When the people desire to return to Egypt, to the condition of slavery, they resist this divine demand [to hear]. To return to Egypt is the easy option, falling back on habit, on the constricted life of the slave for whom obedience is all. Freedom means turning toward the future and its possibilities, its difficult demands.”Zornberg, p. XVI, emphasis and brackets mine.
This is why, Zornberg explains, a Hebrew slave who returned to his master would have his earlobe pierced against a door lintel. “He has sinned against that passion for hearing more that is to inform spiritual life… to opt for slavery is to betray, to immobilize, one’s ear for the sacred, for freedom and responsibility.”
Here’s where Musk, Abrams, and Zornberg converge: our first amendment right is also the sacred act of choosing to listen to – or for – particular voices. IMHO, Musk didn’t purchase his right to speak, he purchased our freedom to choose the voices we want to hear (presumably so he could elevate his own voice.)
It’s not a distant translation to see our own propensity in our yoga practice. How easy it is to step your right foot forward to the front edge of the mat, anchor your back heel and open to warrior 2, as you are told? Perhaps the first few times we partake in the practice it feels odd and requires more attention, but soon enough mere obedience requires nothing from us. But to listen to the body and her response to a posture: that is the real work.
How often do we short ourselves the true freedom of the practice? Zornberg brings it home for me: A certain quality of attention (tension, desire) is invoked in this listening. Perhaps the na’aseh ve-nishma [we shall do and we shall hear!] response conceals a reservation about the larger aspiration of listening. By putting obedience before listening, one may be reserving the option of making do with mere performance.
We can perform the acts of our yoga. And it might even be beneficial to us, and the world, when we do, much the same way we can perform the yamas and niyamas or the 10 commandments, obeying the precepts of right inner and outer living.
And – and I love this – this is only the initiation. Beyond the doing there is also the listening. Bending our ear to the divine to hear where our obedience can continue to free us. Doing the right thing is only the first invitation. We’re offered to a more relationally-driven way of living on our mat, in our homes, and in our community. This way requires that we pay attention and that we are free to listen.