The Urban Yoga Den

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Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Four January 26, 2013

One month ago, on the December 28th Full Moon, I started a 30-day practice.

Daily, I lit a stick of Maroma’s “New Energy” incense; asked myself, “How will I sustain my total holly&buenagirl2(edit2012)well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose;” sat to chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (Lead me from unreal to real; from darkness to light; from that which dies off to that which is everlasting.); then posted the day’s thoughts on Facebook.

Each week, I compiled the Facebook posts with additional reflections here, on this Urban Yoga Den blog.  This is the Week-Four compilation.  Today is day 30.  I am done.  So to speak.

This week’s Facebook posts, below.  Tomorrow, a more thorough wrap-up of the outcomes of this month-long effort.  Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

Mon, 01/21/13. Day 25.
Five days left in this exploration. Already I’ve received so many answers to my inquiry, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”

*  *  *

Tue, 01/22/13. Day 26.
Reflecting on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks.
Cultivating gentleness and nurturing toward others is an obvious calling. During our Prison Yoga Project teaching training last December, founder James Fox modeled the nurturing teaching style that works with incarcerated people. I agreed immediately with its appropriateness.
Now, fears are arising. I wonder…
Who will I be if not my trauma-surviving, tough, tell-it-like-it-is, scrappy little punk? Will at-risk communities be able to relate to the gentle yoga lady? Will I lose my ‘street cred’ if I get too soft? Will I lose my street sense, my security in my ‘hood?
Do I have to give up my edge? My tattoos, jeans and boots, my rock-n-roll and my urban excitements for a life of quiet New Age music and loose, flowing clothes?
I do have a soft, gentle nurturing side. I do value vulnerability. Still, for the sake of relationship health and serving others effectively, how will I reconcile my two sides? More will be revealed…
(Pictured – Me with Mucha Lucha cartoon character, “Buena Girl.” She’s tough and she’s girly and…she stands for all things buena!)

*  *  *

Wed, 01/23/13. Day 27.
Continuing to reflect on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks.
At times I feel immense self-doubt after I make a harmful mistake – particularly if I feel unforgiven by others. This comes from a core wound I have from childhood (put briefly) of feeling like a big fat problem and therefore unwanted.
So my internal work when such self-doubt arises is to direct the essence of Yoga Sutra 1.33 toward myself, the same way I would direct it toward others who commit harm: I aim to cultivate compassion and detach from the harmful action. Add to this – I aim to forgive. (After or along with processing my emotions, so as not to “Spiritually Bypass” that essential step in healing.)
Forgiveness does not mean I condone harmfulness. Therefore, when I make a mistake, I must simultaneously reflect and take action on how I can avoid making the same mistake again. How I can observe and exemplify Ahimsa – the avoidance of violence.
This is why I am able to do the work that I aim to do – sharing yoga with people who make mistakes and who commit harm. With people who others might deem unforgivable. I believe in every person’s ability to recover, rehabilitate, grow and serve. I believe in forgiveness of all. Ohhhh, it can be hard at times – I have been seriously harmed! But if I yearn to live a yogic life, to sustain inner peace, and therefore to be able to show up for others in service…processing my emotions AND using Sutra 1.33 as an avenue to forgiveness and moving on is essential.
So…what do I do if mindful reflection on the Sutras does not erase my self doubt? I take Swami Satchidananda’s suggestion to throw myself into loving devotion of a higher power – a devotion, he says, that will remove all doubts. For me, this power is nature. Nature, with all of its organically forgivable, chaotically beautiful messiness of process. Nature affirms that I will continue to drop leaves, tangle branches, flood, blow things down, burn…and…that I will recover with new blooms, deeper roots, a more gentle flow, a softer breeze, a guiding light.
When I plunge into nature, my process, my intentions, my growth and my usefulness are validated. Devotion erases doubt; inner peace returns; and I can serve effectively. And especially when others lack forgiveness and compassion – mine must be doubtless, faithful, sustaining.
So. Into nature I go…

*  *  *

Thu, 01/24/13. Day 28.
The Full Moon in Leo approaches this Saturday – the final day of “Full of Shift.” Continued reflections on what’s come to my attention over recent weeks. On boundaries and integrity:
I’ve been writing and sharing about mistakes. There are some mistakes that I NEVER want to make again – the mistakes that lead to me being harmed, due to my own poor choices, faulty judgment and lack of discernment.
May I always make healthy decisions for myself.
May I enjoy situations, circles and relationships of shared honesty, transparency, truth, trust, reciprocity, accountability, responsibility, respect, loyalty, commitment and anything else that yields non-harming conditions.
May my relationships brew faith, love, devotion, passion, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, tolerance, health, change and growth.
May I continue to work toward embodying, vibrating and sharing all of these values within my own mind, heart, soul and life.
And may I not settle for less.

*  *  *

Fri, 01/25/13. Day 29.
Leo Full Moon tomorrow – the final day of “Full of Shift.” Continued reflections on “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
On work ethic, discernment and freeing my heart of unresolved pain:
– “Those who want to be prosperous must first make others prosperous.” (Yoga Bhajan)  This I believe. I approach “jobs” – whether corporate, nonprofit or yoga work – with the intention to support my employer’s success. I aim to contribute to a strong, healthy business by doing my assigned job well, by making effort beyond expectation, by being dependable/reliable, and by being a cheerleader for the organization/owner. I don’t know any other way to serve at work.
– “When anything comes to you, first ask yourself, ‘Will I be maintaining my peace by getting this, or will my peace be disturbed?’ Ask that for everything.” (Sri Swami Satchidananda) When I first read this quote years ago, I was reminded of the addiction recovery program inquiry, “Are you going toward or away from a drink?” In early sobriety, I became very accustomed to making decisions by asking myself whether a choice would make me feel serene or not. If a choice made me feel ill at ease, I was at risk of “going toward a drink,” and losing my emotional, or, lord-forbid, my physical sobriety. This style of discernment is still a great gauge for me today.
– I need to address unresolved anger and therefore liberate my heart from pain that makes me overreact to perceived threats of harm from well-intentioned people. With a 47-year history of trauma, violations and abuses…how? Lobotomy? “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” More denial? Hee hee. Seriously, I have spent ample time and energy “doing the work” – looking squarely at, understanding and analyzing my past. I know everything about my pain. I write about it. I teach about it. I can run circles around it. Most of this “work” has been in my brain. Still, there seems to be something very un-brain-related about the residual emotion that gets twisted into misguided emotion today. I know I’ll never be trigger-free – this is the reality of having my past. Still, I (and my friends) would like some solutions. So I’ve been asking, “What can I do to address/process unresolved anger?” Suggestions/reflections thus far: SPEND REGULAR TIME IN NATURE; PRACTICE THE BUDDHIST TONGLEN MEDITATION; WRITING/BURNING RITUALS; RESTORATIVE YOGA & YOGA NIDRA; CHAKRA DANCE PROGRAMS; TAKE A GUIDED YOGA RETREAT; CULTIVATE JOY THROUGH A REJUVENATING VACATION. Anything else you’d like to share?

*  *  *

Sat, 01/26/13. Day 30.
Wrapping up the ritual today, day 30. Under a Leo Full Moon, teaching, practicing, relating, connecting. Kirtan later tonight. Moon peaks after 11:30pm EST. All is good.

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Compassion for Killers, Revisited December 14, 2012

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”

– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

ResponsibilityEnergy(June12)*  *  *

I cannot dwell in resentment.  Because if I do, I am only adding to the pain of the world.

In light of today’s tragedy in Connecticut, I have compiled some segments from a few of my past pieces about Ahimsa (avoidance of violence) and about aphorism 1.33 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Wishing you a mind, heart and soul free of resentment.  Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Final Word,” July 10, 2012

Ahimsa Now.  I just spent 100 days exploring violence, its patterns, its causes and the tools for avoiding it.  (For background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this post.)

What rings true in all of my observations and experiences – when someone is in pain, that person is likely to inflict pain on others.  This is on my mind today, as I consider the news from Aurora, Colorado.  What pains a man so deeply that he must kill?  I am always saddened not only for the victims of violence, but also for those who commit such harm.

I grieve over the profound presence of pain and the cycle of hurting others in our world.

How can I – one breath, one thought, one action, one day at a time – observe, address, process and decrease my own pain in order to decrease the cycle of violence?  How can I modify my actions and interactions to aim high, and to cultivate kindness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love?  This is tough, deep and challenging work.  Ask any of my very kind, accepting, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, loving friends who have been the recipients of my overreactions when I am triggered into great fear or pain.

MorningSadhanaList(July12)I am not trying to be “perfect,” but I do feel responsible for my behavior.  And although often weary from the work, I am committed to discovering and using the tools and practices to cultivate a less reactive, more peaceful Holly.

Once I have those tools and practices in place – and try to use them with the humanness of fallibility, honesty, humility and forgiveness – how can I help decrease, process and decrease the pain of those around me?  Can I influence family, friends, neighbors or strangers?

I can only start by using yoga and other tools that nourish my own inner peace.  By committing to these practices.  Never skipping them.  It’s just too essential.  When I feel peaceful, I share that peace with those around me.  As I maintain accountability for feeding a cycle of peace, that energy inevitably vibrates outward.

I believe that one breath, one thought, one action, one day and one person at a time, this violent world will be touched.  Pain will diminish.  And acts of violence will no longer occupy our hearts, minds, lives.

Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  And after July 13th, I will continue to share my series of “Peace Tools” – practices for cultivating dependable inner peace and living with accountability.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Infinite Compassion,” June 28, 2012

THWL1(18June2011,HandsCrop)The world is full of violence.  And in my experience and observations, people commit violence when they themselves are hurting.

One of my friends says, “Violence is not natural for the atma, the spiritual being who is having a human experience.”  But I believe that we are spiritual and human at once – there is no separation.  To me, it seems that if the ancients created a word for “avoidance of violence” (“Ahimsa”), then they knew and accepted that violence was a natural part of being alive.  And therefore yoga – whose goal is to remove disturbances of the mind and whose result is inner peace – presented a system of practices for avoiding causing harm.

One of those practices is compassion.

*  *  *

From “Boy, 9, Dies from Gunshot Wound,” November 16, 2009

A grim headline for a yoga blog.

I was preparing to write a piece about cultivating compassion toward the cat callers who hassle me as I walk to the studio.  Instead I’m writing a piece about cultivating compassion toward killers.

Last night, as I returned home after dinner, I heard sirens, saw a SWAT helicopter circling and sensed that something beyond the typical robbery had happened in our ‘hood.  The DC police officer who guards our lobby told me that just minutes before, a child had been shot in his own home.  I went to sleep wondering whether he was alive.

Then, today’s news confirmed: 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes died after being struck by a stray bullet (* see Correction, below) from the hallway outside of his family’s apartment.

Thankfully, I … remembered to use my yogic tools in order to cultivate compassion.

Here’s my POV.  When I dwell in anger or hatred, resentment consumes me.  I lose my ability to smile through the day, to relate to my loved ones, to be of service where needed.  In this self-centered, negative state, I perpetuate pain.  And when I dwell in pain, I inevitably hurt others.  I believe it is this pattern of being in pain and hurting others that sparks any cycle of violence – from domestic violence to neighborhood killings to world war.

GentleShakeTheWorldGhandi(Dec12)So, when facing the horrific trauma of violence, how can we be true to our emotions, but not live in resentment?  In his commentary on Patanjali’s ancient yogic scriptures, Swami Satchidananda says, “Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.”  Whether interested in yoga or not, he says, one tool will help anyone maintain peacefulness through anything.

Sutra 1:33: “By cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight toward the virtuous and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.”  This tool is known as the four locks and keys.

To use this approach regarding Oscar Fuentes’ death, consider “compassion for the unhappy.”  I would guess that something created a pain-driven unhappiness in the killer long before this crime.  And I certainly have compassion for people who are in pain.  So, I categorize all gun-wielding criminals as painfully unhappy and therefore try to cultivate compassion for them.

And what about the fourth lock and key?  “Indifference toward the non-virtuous.”  Killing is certainly not a virtuous act.  To address this, I’ll adapt from a book called “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by scholar and philosopher Pandit Tigunait.

To label a person as “bad” or non-virtuous, the judgmental part of our personality comes forward.  In judgment, we distance or withdraw from that person.  Alienation sets the stage for violence.  To change this pattern is to change our own attitude – and cultivate indifference toward the deed, not the doer.  Cultivating indifference toward a human being damages our sensitivity and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness and love.

I choose to say, “That person’s actions are harmful, but I will regard the human behind them as unhappy and therefore have compassion.”

Practicing yogic tools does not spare me of my own humanness.  I’m still crying and will probably cry for a while.  A larger grief includes tears for people who have experienced so much pain in life, their only tool is to harm others.  I think I cry the hardest for them.

May all beings be filled with peace, joy, love and light.  AHIMSA NOW.

(* Correction: Monday, 16 November.  Oscar Fuentes was killed by a bullet that was intentionally fired through his family’s front door from the hallway.)

*  *  *

From “Compassion for Killers,” November 17, 2009

“Compassion for the unhappy.”  “Indifference toward non-virtous acts.” – Sutra 1:33

So here I am, again practicing the locks and keys of Sutra 1:33 (see “Boy, 9, Dies…” post for details).  This morning, 26-year-old Josue Peña was arrested for killing 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes a few nights ago.  (* see Update below)  Immediately, I thought, “Josue Peña must be in some kind of pain in order to shoot-to-kill.”  That’s simply where my heart and mind go when I hear about violent crimes.  I know too much about pain’s ability to turn intentions horribly sour.

But I wasn’t always able to access compassion regarding violence.  It’s taken years for my anger about such crimes to soften – and partially from necessity.  As I’ve mentioned before, resentment is a killer for me.  It sucks away my joy and can turn me dangerously destructive – self and otherwise.  So I had to find tools to express my anger, and then promptly transition to more empathic and forgiving feelings toward criminals.

If Sutra 1:33 just isn’t cutting it for you when it comes to killers, check out the “Charter for Compassion” (re-printed below).

When Inter-Faith leader Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in February, 2008, she made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people contributed to the process so that last week the Charter could be unveiled to the world.

My favorite line in the Charter, regarding responding to violence with compassion, is: “To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”  Visit the awe-inspiring and interactive website at http://charterforcompassion.org/ Or, check out the Charter’s text, below.

If you still feel negative feelings toward Josue Peña and other killers…know that you are human.  And that’s A-OK with me.  Still, I urge you to consider finding room in your heart for empathy, understanding and compassion.

Wishing you truth-to-self…and liberation from resentment.  OM Shanti.

(* Update: A few days after being incarcerated, Josue Peña hung himself in his prison cell.  No further comment.)

CHARTER FOR COMPASSION

A call to bring the world together…

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

Me June09We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

(reprinted from charterforcompassion.org)

 

Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Final Word July 20, 2012

Ahimsa Now.  I just spent 100 days exploring violence, its patterns, its causes and the tools for avoiding it.  (For background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this post.)

What rings true in all of my observations and experiences – when someone is in pain, that person is likely to inflict pain on others.  This is on my mind today, as I consider the news from Aurora, Colorado.  What pains a man so deeply that he must kill?  I am always saddened not only for the victims of violence, but also for those who commit such harm.

I grieve over the profound presence of pain and the cycle of hurting others in our world.

How can I – one breath, one thought, one action, one day at a time – observe, address, process and decrease my own pain in order to decrease the cycle of violence?  How can I modify my actions and interactions to aim high, and to cultivate kindness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love?  This is tough, deep and challenging work.  Ask any of my very kind, accepting, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, loving friends who have been the recipients of my overreactions when I am triggered into great fear or pain.

I am not trying to be “perfect,” but I do feel responsible for my behavior.  And although often weary from the work, I am committed to discovering and using the tools and practices to cultivate a less reactive, more peaceful Holly.

Once I have those tools and practices in place – and try to use them with the humanness of fallibility, honesty, humility and forgiveness – how can I help decrease, process and decrease the pain of those around me?  Can I influence family, friends, neighbors or strangers?

I can only start by using yoga and other tools that nourish my own inner peace.  By committing to these practices.  Never skipping them.  It’s just too essential.  When I feel peaceful, I share that peace with those around me.  As I maintain accountability for feeding a cycle of peace, that energy inevitably vibrates outward.

I believe that one breath, one thought, one action, one day and one person at a time, this violent world will be touched.  Pain will diminish.  And acts of violence will no longer occupy our hearts, minds, lives.

Ahimsa Now.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  And after July 13th, I will continue to share my series of “Peace Tools” – practices for cultivating dependable inner peace and living with accountability.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Peace Tools: Gaining Counsel July 9, 2012

Clearly it is my life practice to find the tools to:
pause, assess, gain counsel, decide, then communicate.
Rather than cutting and running.
Yup.
Trying.

– Day 94 of Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention

*  *  *

For the final quarter of my 100-day exploration of Ahimsa (for a brief background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this page), I am compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.

*  *  *

In these final days of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention,” I continue to identify and work on how my own fears and pain can make me act harmfully toward others.  Same old story, I know.  As described in past blogs, I have a history of being harmed, which makes me over-react at times.

There’s nothing like a moment of pause to keep me from striking out (with words or other actions) or running like hell (often in the form of quitting something or someone) when I think I might be in danger.

And in that moment of pause, there’s nothing like remembering to ask for an ear, for perspective, for guidance, for help.

Yoga trains me to take that pause.  And community reminds me to gain counsel.

*  *  *

A friend once remarked that his mind is a dangerous neighborhood…too dangerous to walk through alone.

I possess a great talent for conjuring up and telling myself negative stories.  Under this false reality and stress, I can make some pretty rash decisions on my own!  What if instead I paused to gained counsel…and then made a decision?  In my experience, every time I reach out and get honest with others about my feelings on a stressful situation, I receive immense love, compassion and understanding.  I might also receive rigorously frank opinions and lectures!  Either way, gaining counsel restores my peace instead of allowing me to stew in negativity.

Whether or not I follow my friends’, teachers’ and other guides’ advice, hearing opinions and cultivating perspective always makes my decisions more mature and sane.  And even if the final belief is that, yes, my well-being is at risk and I should get out…I at least leave in a responsible and accountable manner.

Gaining counsel is a Peace Tool for me.  I do it for the sake of my own peace and others’.

Ahimsa Now!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Home Stretch July 1, 2012

“The internal practice of meditation and the external attitudes and habits we adopt in our daily lives are the means of healing the split between the selfless and the selfish, between wisdom and ignorance.”  – Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), from “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy

*  *  *

Today is Day 88.

On April 5th, motivated by my strong emotions about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman situation, I started a 100-day exploration of “Ahimsa,” which is a Sanskrit term from yoga’s ancient texts, meaning “avoidance of violence.”  Back in the Spring, I was witnessing the violence around me – violent thoughts, violent speech, violent actions, violent faces.  The Martin/Zimmerman story was strongly triggering for many; and people were conflicted, angry, heartbroken and grieving like I’ve not noticed in recent years around DC (and beyond).

As the days passed and I continued observing others’ and my reactions and responses, I reflected deeply about where our tendencies toward violence come from.  Where harmful thoughts, speech, actions and faces originated.  I felt people were righteously emotional; yet at the same time, I suspected that our fierce exclamations of blame and our demands for justice were coming from somewhere much older and deeper than the current situation.  I felt that perhaps, people were attaching long-stifled feelings from past injustices to a current situation.

Makes sense to me.  Feelings bubble up like that sometimes.  And sometimes they boil over.

Over time, the same conclusions kept arising for me: Yes, I believe Zimmerman should be arrested and held accountable for killing someone; No, I don’t believe it was a Hate Crime.

I believe it was a Fear Crime.

*  *  *

The funny thing is, when I started this “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I expected to observe the violence around me, like some kind of sociological experiment, and then identify tools and resources from yoga and related practices that could address and decrease those tendencies (as related to my vision to start a non-profit organization that does this work – see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention'” at the bottom of this post).

Instead, what came up over and over during these early Spring days – as DC boiled with cries of Hate and Injustice – was my own, taunting, terrorizing fear of being harmed.

I have been a victim of violence many, many times.  I have been beaten, raped, robbed, verbally assaulted and emotionally abused.  Some of the actions were by people I knew, who were supposed to be trustworthy and loving.  Some were by strangers.  Some were Hate Crimes, where it was very, very clear that I was attacked because I was white.  I have felt that hatred.  It sucks.  Especially knowing that I have never thought, felt or acted violently because of skin color.  And the people who know me – including current and life-long friends of all races, religions and backgrounds – know that I could not act out of that motivation.  Since I was a child, I could not understand people’s tendency to divide based on skin color.  All I saw was what we had in common.  So it just made no sense to me.

But that’s a whole other conversation.

Back to the fun stuff…being a victim of violence!  Woohoo!  So yes, I can be triggered into great fear when my environment is boiling over.  In the Spring, Occupy DC’s battle cries were intensifying, Hate Crimes against the LGBT community were escalating, and Martin/Zimmerman fighters were in the ring.  Crime waves that typically spike in August were at high tide in April and May.

During those early days of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention,” as the city around me boiled with emotion, I ran with it.  I wore my hoodie and went to rallies.  And then I started to really listen – to myself, and to others.  And something was very, very familiar.  I started to recognize – yet again – my own impulses to act harmfully because of my fear.  Historically, I had acted out classic fight or flight patterns.  I physically struck out, I judged, I blamed.  I abandoned relationships, I quit jobs, I left communities.  I created sooooo much separation.

And finally, in 1993, yoga and its unifying powers found me.

It has taken decades of dedicated, gut-wrenching, dreadful, beautiful, liberating, healing work to get to the bottom of why and how – due to a variety of circumstances – my unfortunate lack of processing being harmed when it happened lead to my own harmful actions toward myself and others.  And it has taken decades of dedication to learn and use the infinite tools from yoga and related practices, in order to avoid causing harm and being violent.  This process of digging deep, going through and growing through has been 100% worth it.

I highly recommend it.

*  *  *

Approaching the 3/4 mark of my “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I noticed a pronounced shift from managing my own fears toward feeling safe observing the violence around me.  As was my original intention.  And believe me, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the violence up-close and personal!  Last Saturday, a young kid in my neighborhood assaulted me on the street (see my last blog entry, “Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion”).  I’ve also witnessed how this unusual early-Summer heat (around 100 degrees in DC many times this week) and deadly storms are affecting everyone’s tempers.  Plus, I started teaching Summer Camp, which is always a hot bed for discomfort and triggers for all involved!

Interesting how, once I have done my own work, and examined my self, my motivations, my tendencies…once I have really gotten in touch with what triggers me and what tools address those triggers…then, I am tested!

Ideas and quotes like that above, from philosopher and teacher Eknath Easwaran, keep me going.  They give me hope that, if I continue the yoga and related practices that reinforce my own well-being, my own peace of mind, my own commitment to Ahimsa – there will be results beyond my own benefit.  They give me faith that my own wellness will decrease my separation from others, from life itself, allowing me to be of service.  That movement from selfish to selfless can decrease the energy of division around me.  And consequently, the negativity between people because of skin color or whatever difference they choose to dwell upon will decrease.  And violence will decrease.

Ahimsa Now!

Maybe I’m simplifying based on my own self-study and my very un-academic study of the world around me.  But this is what I believe.

*  *  *

I’ll admit, I still have a healthy dose of fear as I walk around my neighborhood.  I am still fearful of making terminal mistakes at my jobs.  I still fear being hurt by someone I know.  I am human, and if I want to engage with life the way that I have been inspired to engage with it since I was a child – I will have to navigate these possibilities until the day I die.  Therefore, until that day, I must continue to seek and use the amazingly effective approaches toward managing my fear so it does not spark harmful actions.  It’s an ongoing process, this journey between emotion and solution.  I’ve been dedicated to it for decades; I certainly don’t expect the work to end on July 13th, when this 100-day “Ahimsa Now” exploration wraps up!

May all beings have the courage to dig deeply into their past pain, to seek teachers with whom to go through it, and to use the tools to grow because of it.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion June 28, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 3:13 am
Tags: , , , , ,

“For as long as space endures and the world exists,

may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”

– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

*  *  *

For the final quarter of my 100-day exploration of Ahimsa (for a brief background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this page), I am compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.

*  *  *

Finally!

For three days, I have been trying to write a blog about being assaulted by a little kid (about 7 years old) from my neighborhood last Saturday – just days before the 1-year anniversary of being robbed by a bigger kid (about 13 years old) from my neighborhood.

Totally different situations.

For instance, last year, although I ran after my mugger, he got away.  Although I envisioned the police catching him and the court sentencing him to 90-days of yoga with me, that lofty dream never happened.  (Yet.)

In contrast, last weekend, there was a conversation following the assault.  The little kid’s friends told me that he was angry because he just learned about slavery.  They angrily pointed out, “You’re white, and we’re black.”  I stood my ground, reminded them that we all have red blood, pointed out that I didn’t do anything to hurt them, and demanded an apology.  After the apology I reminded the group of kids that we’d met numerous times, and they were even more apologetic.  I said that we can’t just go around hitting people because we’re angry.  And then the kid that hit me told me that earlier the same day, a man smashed his toy gun – he was shooting his cap gun and a man took it, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it.  So how is this little guy going to learn how to constructively process his anger?

Ahimsa Now.

When I was a little kid, I struck out plenty.  I was full of pain and anger and rage.  Not because I learned about slavery (although I guess I could have acted out about the Holocaust, coming from a Jewish family) or because someone on my street broke my treasured toy.  I was full of pain and anger and rage because of the pain and anger and rage surrounding me in my own home.  Now, I could guess that my little 7-year-old friend has pain and anger and rage in his household, as well.  But I can’t be certain.  What I can relate to, however, is his feeling of being hurt, and the lack of tools, guidance or experience for processing related emotions.  In my case – I harmed others, I harmed myself.  It took me until adulthood, when yoga came into my life in 1993, to start (start) to learn how to healthily process my own pain so I would stop causing more.  I am still learning.

This is why I want to start a nonprofit called “Ahimsa Now,” where the mission is to share yoga and related practices in order to increase inner peace within at-risk youth and therefore decrease violence in at-risk communities.  Haha – so, really, it’s a selfish mission.  I just don’t want to be attacked in my neighborhood again!

*  *  *

Now seriously – how do I maintain my peace when I am violated?  In my neighborhood, near my home, by kids I see, smile at and even chat with day after day?

It is hard work.  And I am devoted to it.

Yoga promises peace of mind, IF I take certain actions.  I have written numerous times about aphorism I.33 in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness for the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

So without fail, when someone hurts me, I aim to separate the harmful act from the person, to view the person as unhappy, and to have compassion for that person.

This does not mean that I condone harmful actions.  It does not mean that I skip making police reports and holding people accountable.  It does not mean that I bypass feeling anger and other emotions when harmed (although I have – only to have those emotions come out sideways in unrelated situations).

It means that I allow myself the humanness to process the trauma…to recount, to vent, to rage, to cry, to grieve – in safe spaces and constructive ways.  Then as soon as possible, I shift my mind into compassion.

A very adult way of approaching harmful situations.  Will it work for kids?

*  *  *

I love this group of kids, the ones from the street last Saturday.

Back in April, we had a super-fun bus ride home from downtown.  I had just come from the Trayvon Martin rally, and was weary from seriousness and activism.  The kids were sitting at the back of the bus, loud and boisterous and avoided by all.  Except me.  I bee-lined straight back there and sat in the middle of the group.

One of the girls was pretending to stealthily shoot riders with her umbrella.  I took out my umbrella and started to do the same.  They got a kick out of that and we started talking.

Holly: “What were you guys up to today?”

Kids: “We saw The Hunger Games!”

Holly: “Oh, cool, was it good?”

The excited remarks flowed.  They described all of the violence with such detail, right down to the part where a dog eats some humans.  (Yes?)

Holly (after some time): “So, was it just a bunch of killing, or was there a story?”  (I seriously know nothing about The Hunger Games.)

Kids: “Yeah, all the teenagers have to kill each other.  There’s one girl who saves her little sister by volunteering.  And the last one alive wins.”

Holly: “What do they win?”

Kids: “They get to be rich!  They get to live in a big house and have whatever they want!”

Wow.  A movie about kids who have to kill each other – unless they are saved by their sibling, apparently – in order to live a comfortable life.  Wow.

Holly: “Ahhhh, so if they win, they get to be safe?!?!”

Kids (a little more quietly): “Yeah.”

I’ve run into these kids regularly in our ‘hood since then.  Every time, I reintroduce myself as “the lady from the bus, after The Hunger Games” and we chat for a bit.  They range from about 6 to 12.  Their boldness, their excitement, their mischievousness strikes a chord with me.  They boss each other around like siblings or even parents.  At least a few of them always hang together at any given time.  Always.

One in particular seems to be out on the street a lot.  With wide eyes and a certain urgency he likes to tell me something important – like his favorite part of the Hunger Games movie (where the dog eats the people), or what movies he’s seen lately, and which movie I should go see next.  He’s a little guy, probably around 7 years old, with neck-length braids and a wild yet earnest disposition.

And this past Saturday, in a fit of blind rage, he stepped into my path and hit me in the front of my body with a newspaper.

When I stopped in my tracks, totally shocked, and exclaimed, “No-you-did-not just hit me with that newspaper!”, the kids scattered everywhere, hiding behind the bus stop and each other, shouting remarks about this and that.  And that’s when, sandwiched between my chasing them around the bus stop and them bullying-up on me, I got the whole story, and we came to understanding.

*  *  *

The world is full of violence.  And in my experience and observations, people commit violence when they themselves are hurting.

One of my friends says, “Violence is not natural for the atma, the spiritual being who is having a human experience.”  But I believe that we are spiritual and human at once – there is no separation.  To me, it seems that if the ancients created a word for “avoidance of violence” (“Ahimsa”), then they knew and accepted that violence was a natural part of being alive.  And therefore yoga – whose goal is to remove disturbances of the mind and whose result is inner peace – presented a system of practices for avoiding causing harm.

One of those practices is compassion.

Now that the harmful situations are behind me (now that I have processed them and they are simply memories), if I find myself stewing in resentment, it is imperative that I used every tool possible – a little Pratipaksha Bhavana (described in my last entry), for example – to replace that resentment with the opposite.  I must replace anger with compassion if I want to cultivate a calm mind, and feed the cycle of good will and peace in this world.

Ahimsa Now!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Peace Tools: Pratipaksha Bhavana, Samtosha & Gratitude June 18, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 6:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

For the final quarter of my 100-day exploration of Ahimsa (for a brief background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this page), I am compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.

* * *

Thank god for great teachers.

I got my butt kicked yesterday morning in an Intermediate Vinyasa class.  Well, admittedly, I often get my butt, hips and thighs kicked in this teacher’s classes!  (But it’s a sweet, Ahimsa-like kick.)

Today, however, the real smacker was when the teacher told a story about wanting something she didn’t have.  She was feeling stressed by being without this particular thing (a typical modern household convenience item); and she believed her stress would be relieved if she had this thing.  Life, in general, would be better.  Then, someone close to her pointed out that if she had that thing, she would inevitably be challenged by its related stresses and difficulties.  And, this someone added, there are places where they don’t even have access to such a luxury, and where they make out just fine.

Thank god for great teachers – in the form of those certain someones who bring perspective.

Perspective can bubble up from many sources.  If I am willing to hear it, I can use perspective to practice “Pratipaksha Bhavana” (replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones) and “Samtosha” (contentment).  And, if I really want to live the concept “Ahimsa” (non-harming) and cultivate inner peace, I can carry my positive thought and contentment a step further to practice “Gratitude” (gratitude).

Because by allowing myself to stew in negativity and malcontent, I am harming myself.  When I harm myself, I am far from peace.  And when I am far from peace, I am closer to harming others.

*  *  *

Sunday morning, when my yoga teacher told her story in class, I immediately thought about my long period without full-time employment, the related fear and stress (which has come to quite a head lately), and, my frequently repeated statement of: “If only I had a job, everything would be better.”

Would it?  I can attest to the harmful wear-and-tear of being in the wrong work situation – whether it’s being underpaid, overworked, over-ego-fed, physically strained, sexually harassed, verbally abused or mis-matched in any way – and how that discomfort can negatively affect everything in my life.  So the last thing I want is to desperately jump into any ol’ job.

In addition, having the “right” job can also add stress to life.  Less free time.  More suits.  New relationships.  Office politics.  And so on.  “Everything would be better” is inaccurate after all.

Still, being without a full-time job over the long-term is a seriously challenging state.  I don’t simply “want what I don’t have” – on a fundamental, life-sustaining level, I actually don’t have what I need.  So how do I nurture inner peace when the justifiable anxiety of  “If only I had a job…” pops into my mind?  What is the antidote?

Pratipaksha Bhavana.

In his book “Raja Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda explains, “When thoughts obstructive to yoga arise, contrary thoughts should be employed.”  In simpler terms, when my inner peace is rattled, I can restore serenity by replacing negative beliefs with positive thoughts.  This is Pratipaksha Bhavana, which is mentioned Book Two of the Yoga Sutras.

This doesn’t mean replacing “If only I had a job…” with “If only I had a financially sustaining job that enhances my emotional, physical and spiritual well-being and complements my lifestyle…”  Because the fact is, even if I had this supposedly ideal thing, there is still no guarantee that “everything would be better.”

The only true, guaranteed, peace-inducing contrary to “If only I had a job…” is “I have a job.”

Bingo!  I have a job!  In fact, I have many jobs – some with traditional paychecks; some with other types of “payment.”  I teach yoga part-time; I manage a yoga studio part-time; and each year I teach percussion and yoga full-time at a summer camp.  I was recently invited to guide Latin dancing lessons for a group of school kids because of my background in Hispanic culture.  I sometimes accompany great songwriters on tours and gigs.  And because of my music and yoga background, I am invited to play Kirtan.  I play volunteer roles in my community, and I play supportive roles in my family.  I could not ask for more wonderful jobs.  I get paid to pass on the beautiful teachings of yoga.  I get paid to contribute to a yoga business’s well-being.  I get paid to facilitate youth’s arts education.  I get paid to play music.  And I have the opportunity to be of service in many ways.  Through these “jobs,” I receive more than money.  I enjoy unlimited, much-needed, free yoga classes where I teach.  I feel the satisfaction of using my operational skills at the studio.  I get to hang around kids eight hours a day for the six weeks of summer camp.  I get to work alongside amazingly talented musicians.  My yoga and music communities are strong and the circles are widening.  I enjoy true friendships.  Overall, I receive immense “compensation” being involved with yoga, music and youth.

A life of this much purpose and passion certainly can sustain me through tough times…when I focus on the positive.

*  *  *

“If only…” in itself is a negative belief.   When I walk around thinking that everything would be better “if only this or that,” I am existing in illusion.  I am negating the worth of the present moment.  And I am living in complete malcontent.  What is the ultimate remedy for the “If only…” plague?

Samtosha.

Instead of thinking “If only…”, I aim to embrace whatever is directly in front of me as my path, my work, my opportunity.  Life is exactly as it should be, right now, with all its struggles and surprises and ups and downs.  Now is all I have.  So why not accept what currently exists and choose to be content?  And this is Samtosha – being at peace with whatever exists at this very moment.

Can I be content with my nearly jobless, penniless existence?  And if so, how do I get there?

For me, contentment requires a blend of footwork, surrender, acceptance and faith.  Footwork means I am proactive to my best ability.  Surrender means I acknowledge how much is beyond my control.  Acceptance means I embrace all outcomes.  And faith means I believe that I will be OK no matter what.  Inevitably, when I practice this combo, I feel content.

For example, in my work search, I must take appropriate action by applying for jobs that make sense for my long-term goals and sustainability.  After I make these efforts, I must remember that there are way too many factors that figure into these scenarios, and therefore completely let go of the results.  I must accept any news without getting stuck in pride, disappointment or resignation.  And when the news is bad, I must believe that there is something worth waiting for – and what helps most here is remembering exactly how big the “Big Picture” is.

“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy,” Swami Satchidananda says of Samtosha, in his exploration of the Yoga Sutras.  Who could ask for anything more?

*  *  *

Practicing Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, I can be positive and accepting instead of negative and wanting.  Usually.  But can I gain “supreme joy” and true serenity?

The truth is, most days I am still trying to shake off the nagging belief that I might never have what I need; that stability and security are impossible; that I am destined to die homeless, jobless and penniless in a gutter.  Those days, more than any others, it is imperative that I practice Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, and that I take the extra step of doing a Gratitude List.

Monday, 18 June, 2012 – I am grateful for…

  • Part-time work that I absolutely love.
  • Talents, education and experience to lend to new jobs.
  • The “umph” to keep on keepin’-on despite challenges.
  • Free yoga where I teach.
  • Living in a city with many free activities.
  • Friends who treat me to baseball games so I can relax.
  • A caring circle of family, friends and community.
  • My mom’s and dad’s inspirational work ethic.
  • My dad’s unending encouragement, confidence and support.
  • My sister’s love, understanding, advice and periodic butt-kickings.
  • Beautiful spring/summer weather.
  • Living near Rock Creek Park for hiking.
  • A lifetime of tools and resources for trudging this road – and the willingness to use them.
  • So, so much more.

I am truly lucky to have so much.  I may not have everything I need, but I do have a lot.  And when I reinforce appreciation, the self-pity dissolves, the worry of paying the bills decreases, the fear of becoming homeless disappears, the anxiety of the unknown dissipates.

When I practice Gratitude, I can actually forget what the problem is…I can relax…I can smile!

*  *  *

It’s a lot of work to manage and reduce stress.  Why do I do any of this?

The concepts of Pratipaksha Bhavana, Samtosha and Gratitude do not change the fact that, month-after-month, I wonder whether I’ll be able to pay my rent.  That stressful reality definitely exists.  But as practices, they can change my state of mind during these challenging times.  Instead of dwelling in worry, fear and anxiety – when I am willing to hear perspective and embrace these practices – I can dwell in presence, hope and joy.  Instead of harboring self-harming thoughts, I can enjoy inner peace.  And I can share that peace with all around me.

Ahimsa Now!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.