Your Barbaric Yawp  


    It's a dramatic scene in the film, Dead Poet's Society, when Todd Anderson, a painfully shy and lonely young private school student, played by Ethan Hawke, is encouraged by his English teacher, Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, to "sound his barbaric yawp across the rooftops." (Walt Whitman)

 Thus emboldened and in front of his classmates, the young man gave expression to the poetry within him which, up until that point, had been denied and suppressed. 

 Todd's 'barbaric yawp’ was like a dam breaking! Blocked energy gushed forth in a flood of inspiration.

 Todd's 'yawp’ was indeed, some kind of moral force, an expression of integrity, paradoxically both wild and holy, for it created in his classmates, the kind of deep, rich silence that only occurs when truth is spoken. 

 All of those who heard Todd's 'yawp' that day were delivered into a state of aesthetic arrest, which is to say, their minds stopped in response to the beauty of truth.

 It was an unforgettable moment of revelatory, moral power.

 In the classroom that day there was a shared recognition that the young man's soul had appeared for probably the first time in his life. 

 Thus, Todd's yawp was a real yawp! For a real yawp is not just 'any old sound.’ 

  Other sounds don’t qualify as true yawps. Neither little squeaks or loud screeches make the cut.   

 No! A true yawp is a sound that arrests the mind and stirs the soul. 

 A real yawp, as I said, is a deeply moral sound, which has in it at once, the holding together of contraries. The sound made is simultaneously barbaric and holy, wild and virtuous.  

 It is therefore not an authentic yawp, an authentic sound, unless it has a certain untamed quality, but simultaneously contained.  

 A real, true yawp is the best sound you've ever made! You'll never be the same again, if you are able to utter a true yawp!   

 It was for instance a true yawp sound that I made when I vowed to be faithful to my wife - 'To you alone,' thirty six years ago in a marriage vow.

 It was one of the best sounds I ever made!  

 In Siddha Yoga Meditation, similarly, people engage in holy yawping. They call it chanting. 

 These chants are authentic yawps, for they are ecstatic and contained at once.

 There is a deep letting go as one chants, but with a tradition that is very consciously a 'right-current' movement.’ 

 Which is to say that it adheres to "strict rules of purity and moral conduct." (Meditation Revolution, A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage, Douglas Renfrew Brooks p. 327) 

 As Douglas Brooks states: "The Siddha Yoga gurus are unambiguous in their affirmation of ethically pure practice and in this way, set themselves apart from the 'Left-Current,' that is, from practitioners who indulge in explicitly antinominan rituals that might include the use of intoxicants, nonvegetarian food or illicit sexual pleasure."  

 Gurumayi, the leader of Siddha Yoga Meditation, has made it "a central part of her teaching to emphasize the cultivation of virtue and the need for a continuous cleansing of body, mind and spirit."

 The 'left-current' idea of freedom, in contrast, is expressed as "boundary-defying actions. The left-current practice is to transcend boundaries established by society or tradition through deliberate acts of boundary-defiance. 

 The gutter sounds you're likely to hear in these 'left-current’ contexts will be, to say the very least, unedifying.    

 Siddha Yoga will have none of this. It 'right-current' vision is of boundless freedom, but within a context of being subject to boundaries.

 It's about disciplined or constrained expression, not unbridled expressiveness.  

 Gurumayi often writes about bliss, but it’s within a context of discipline: "The vast Lord dwells in every heart. What stops a person from knowing this?  The light of God burns brilliantly in every heart. Then, what stops a person from seeing it?  What weakens a person so much that he does not have the power to go within?"

 "The answer is that person's own impurity and layers and layers of consequences, piles and piles of debris from the past.

 Not only is he staggering under the weight of his actions, he's attached to them.

 He's going to have to heave-ho the debris, before any true, clear yawp is sounded!

 In chapter eight of the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God) the seeker, Arjuna, asks the god Krishna: "Show me in what way a disciplined person can know You at the time of his death?" The Gita teaches that it is a disciplined being who can know God, not a reckless one.  

 It is the disciplined person who will find his way to God through 'the fuel of dispassion and the fire of restraint.

 Such a disciplined person 'confines his mind in the heart.' He 'fixes his mind in the innermost cave of the heart and curbs his tendency to run after sense objects.'   

Your possible barbaric yawp is therefore the disciplined, holy, sanctified sound you make when you are being true to yourself - true to your deepest intuition.  

 There were, in this regard, true yawps coming from working-class people in a MacDonald's restaurant when three stories were told to them, designed to provoke a moral response.

 The stories, created by the social scientist, Jonathan Heidt, were about, in the first instance, a family who ate their dog after it had died of natural causes. 

 The second story was about a woman using an old American flag as a cleaning rag. 

 The third story described a man having sex with a chicken, which he later eats.

 Jonathan Haidt states that the MaDonald's people responded immediately that "doing these sort of things is wrong - 'no ifs ands or buts.’ 

 When he pushed for reasons why, they would often be shocked that he imagined reasons were necessary. With one accord they exclaimed: "People just don't do those things!" (First Things, R.R. Reno on Jonathan Haidt, June/July 2012 p. 3-5) 

 Haidt then told the same three stories to students at the University of Pensylvania, and the results were quite different.  

 The first response of the Penn State students was just like the MacDonald's people - feelings of disgust, but, "for the most part, they set those feelings aside and judged the actions to be morally permissible." 

 After hearing the chicken story, for example, one Penn student said: "It may be ugly, but as long as nobody else is harmed and no one's rights are violated, it's OK.” 

 He and the other Penn State students, says Haidt, "actively suppressed their emotional responses.”  In other words, they buried what they knew to be true.

 Haidt has a whole book about this called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

 Haidt's evaluation is that the Penn state students had been socialized to disregard their intuitions and emotional responses. They'd been socialized into 'relativism', our societies' ruling idealogy, where the mantra is 'you must not judge.’ 

 The tragic effect of attending Penn state had been to learn how to disregard one's innate moral sensibilities.  

 This is a challenge, I think, that we all face. 

 In certain environments, the pressure may be to relativize one's intuitions, one's possibilities and one's moral sense, which can sometimes mean putting aside the best that is within us. 

 There is, I believe a holy, barbaric yawp residing within each of us. 

 I have in mind our highest and best intuitions longing for expression.  

  I believe in the yawp.