Kindness. Consideration. Friendliness. These words embody ahimsa meaning non-violence and one of the yamas in the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. In the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada, Ashtanga is referred to as the eight practical integrated steps leading to a greater gradual awakening of yoga. The first limb or step is yama, our social observances and behaviors, in other words, how we relate to others. In Yoga Sutra 2.35, ahimsapratisthayam tatsannidhau vairatyagah, it is explained that when we live in a state of non-violence, those around us will cease to be hostile. It’s rather simple really…as old adages go…it takes two to tango or two hands to clap. If we do not react when someone has a conflict with us, no dance, no sound, the conflict will end. This interpretation does not imply to just turn the other way and ignore it. In fact, it is far from that.
My heart has been really heavy from the repeated and increasing gun violence in our American culture over the last two decades. It can’t be ignored which is exactly what we are doing. We hear of another deadly mass shooting as we say, oh god not again. We see the homeless on the street and look away. We go into a difficult asana and hold our breath. If we don’t like something we move away from it instead of working through the uncomfortable depths of ourselves. How about we look into the person’s eyes who we have conflict with and see ourselves responding with empathy and compassion? How about we look into the homeless person’s eyes and see ourselves with a genuine smile? How about we speak kind words to ourselves to build positive attitudes? When we cease harmful actions, speech and thoughts, love can shine through. It is the force that underlies the energetic structure of the universe. When we align ourselves with love others will no longer feel angry, fearful, and alone because there is nothing that separates us. And in that peace, harmony begins. Ultimately we help one another remember that we are all part of something so much greater than each of us as individuals. Cultivate love yogis, Namaste.
Kindness, the first of the yamas called ahimsa, is a virtue and something we all strive for. It is a characteristic valued as promoting collective or individual greatness. We are kind through our intentions, decisions and actions. What is our purpose when speaking to someone? Why are we doing this? How will our actions influence others? All of these things are in our control if we are aware and conscious of them moment to moment in all our interactions. These thoughts and actions are like stones dropped in a pond. How they are thrown determines the type of effect we will have on others. Will the water be muddied or gently ripple across the surface?
To understand the deeper meaning behind our decisions is to relate it to the planting of seeds. What we see in our life is a direct result of seeds we have planted in the past. What does your life look like today? Is it filled with joy and connection or chaos and turmoil? These are not only the growth of the seeds we’ve planted along the way, but also the seeds that continue to sprout off shoots and spread into all areas of our life.
We are all incredibly connected. This is evident in the exquisite interwoven tapestry of Nature. Each one of us exists within this tapestry and everything we do and think affects the people in our lives and their reactions in turn affect others. The choices we make have far-reaching consequences. Through mindful awareness we carry within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse. Imagining kindness in our fingertips and how we will touch the world keeps us present in the moment. Asking “what would love do?” keeps us connected to the greatest universal good. We are all one. Shine on yogis, Namaste.
I was recently asked why do we want to find stillness of the mind. Why has Eastern philosophy stressed this importance whereas Western civilization strives to do more, be more, think more? In stillness we are not attached to our thoughts. Thoughts are notions and opinion driven by our ego which is the lens in which we experience physical reality. Ego takes in all the sensory inputs from our body, our physical surroundings, and our present physical needs. Its job is protector and sustainer of the physical reality. It is the identity of self-contrasted from the world. And right now the world needs way more togetherness than division.
Consciousness on the other hand is the part of you that existed before you were born. Consciousness is that inner voice, that intuition, that is here to experience things and right now that experience is physically based. Consciousness is the witness, the neutral observer, to our experience. Ego is the needs and wants of our experience. When we operate from a sense of stillness, we become mindful of the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. Good or bad. That process of stepping back takes us out of being submerged in our experiences and thoughts and sensory input and into awareness. It is through this awareness of genuine experience we awaken to our Self. Our true authentic Self in sincerity of action and character.
Truth resonates. It doesn’t need persuasion or manipulation. It relates harmoniously; it strikes a chord with us, in our gut, our intuition. We understand it immediately without the need for reasoning because it is a knowledge we have always known. A cosmic consciousness. Our ancestral DNA. Much of the social and political climate right now is about righteousness not truthfulness. About ego and not awareness. In stillness we become aware of truth, the second yama called satya. Shine on yogis, Namaste.
The theme for the month of November in one of my yoga studios is contentment, one of the niyamas called santosha. A state of happiness and satisfaction, of being at ease with things as they are. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within”, and this inner peace is a result of a calm mind. For at that very moment the mind is relieved from the compulsion of constant thinking, from planning, worrying or striving, we experience peace and happiness. Our mind is able to fully experience each moment. In the now. And we are able to love every moment. In its perfection. And it is why we come to yoga practice again and again.
There are 196 Yoga Sutras which are threads of knowledge, aphorisms, that have been passed on for thousands of years. They were originally disseminated by word of mouth from Rishi to student until a great sage Patanjali compiled and articulated them into Sanskrit literature. In the second sutra, Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yogas citta vrtti nirodah, the goal of Yoga is revealed. Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff. So do the yoga, our mind will be calm and we will become peaceful, happy and content. I’ll be the first to admit, way easier said than done.
Once we bring our awareness to our thoughts we can begin to acknowledge what they truly are, mostly habitual behaviors, opinions and judgments conditioned over time. A wise yogi once told me we don’t always have to buy everything the mind tells us. When we stop to observe and not respond to our thoughts, we can begin to truly experience what is happening in the present moment instead of living in the past or looking towards the future. The mind is calm, like a still clear lake, and we are able to then see our true Self in its reflection. We are free of the mind-stuff.
So what happens when it is tough to let go, to not attach to our thoughts? I struggle with meditation and completely relate to how calming the mind is hard work. Savasana (corpse pose) is one of the most difficult poses in my opinion. Fortunately Patanjali goes on further and has lots of options for us. One of my favorites is Yoga Sutra 1.36: Visoka va jyotismati. Translated it means concentrate on the supreme, ever blissful Light within. So try this…imagine there is a beautiful glowing golden orb in the center of your heart, like a lotus flower. And with each breath you fan the flames of that fire, the Light, so it begins to shine a little more brightly and more brilliantly. Your true brilliant Self. The Light in me sees the Light in you. Shine on yogis, Namaste.