Photo: Mila Zinkova
Moral Hypocrisy and Yoga
In his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa taught, “Ego is able to convert everything to its own use, even spirituality.”
It’s no surprise that even when we’re at our most sincere grappling with or surrendering to the path, we think of ourselves and judge ourselves differently than we think of and judge other people, even when we would do exactly what they do. Trungpa’s book is a steady guide through our inevitable attempts to justify ourselves.
In spite of it being no surprise, David DeSteno’s and Piercarlo Valdesolo’s research on moral hypocrisy is still a bit gobsmacking. They put groups of study participants through exercises of moral choice (e.g. dividing up easy and hard work) and found that even when we are able to describe our choices as fair and appropriate,
When other people make the very same choices we do, we find what they do unfair and wrong.
The studies of moral hypocrisy have a very intriguing element. One variation on the experiment gave the participants extracurricular mental work to do while in the process of choosing. These participants were asked to remember a string of irrelevant numbers while making decisions. Their choices and perceptions became less manipulative, less judgmental, and more heart centered. Researchers DeSteno and Valdesolo speculate the participants’s decisions shifted away from deliberative evaluation toward emotionally intuitive evaluation when the details of the numbers preoccupied their thinking.
Yoga postures are a consistent practice of blowing away deliberative evaluation
Yoga practice dissolves judgment by keeping all our habitual numbing evaluation busy with the details of the posture. In asana we use the deliberate act of focus to pull the weeds, clear away ego, and make space for the heart.
DeSteno and Valdesolo’s study seems to reveal neural attributes very similar to the effect of attending to the various difficulties, details, and strange physical oppositions of asana, wherein we’re so often instructed if we aren’t “paying attention” we won’t really reap the benefits.
John Tierney’s article, linked below, starts slow laying the groundwork, so stay with it a bit. You have to get to the wristbands to start shaking your head in amazement. Human beings, what can I say. I love us in all our glorious fecklessness.
Deep Down, We Can’t Fool Even Ourselves by John Tierney
A moral hypocrite convinces himself that he is acting virtuously even when he does something he would condemn in others.
If you have public library or other database access, you can read DeSteno’s papers and reports such as Moral hypocrisy: Social groups and the flexibility of virtue, published in the journal Psychological Science. (2007 vol. 18 (8) pp. 689-690)
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.