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Haters Gonna Hate November 7, 2016

“Our world is wounded, fractured, broken and burning. We are products of this place and it is our job to heal the world through the healing of our selves.” ~ Chani Nicholas

The difficulty of maintaining peace of mind during this world’s current upsets is obvious. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Election, I am preparing for a week (or potentially, a much longer span) of holding sacred, peaceful, neutral space for the staff and students of the yoga studio where I teach and manage…the neighbors I pass on the streets…those sharing bus rides with me…social media friends…and many more beings.

How? By clinging to, relying on and willingly using tools that have saved my ass during times of suffering, frustration and discomfort. These practical resources include prayers, yoga and meditation practices, breathing techniques, spiritual teachings and quotes, recovery meetings, talk therapy and more.

I recently saw a meme: “Prayer does not change the world. Prayer changes us, so we can change the world.” Peace begins with me. And perhaps you.

Here, I share readings, tools and experiences that are helping me immensely these days…

* * *

“We put our hope in the awareness and in the promise that there will come a time when greed and injustice will be gone from the earth. We hope for a world completely repaired, all the inhabitants of this planet turning to each other in reconciliation, realizing that no one shall be excluded from the security of life.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

“May all of creation form a single bond with a balanced heart. May this occur soon in our lifetime.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

 

* * *

“OM Sahana Vavatu. Sahanau Bhunaktu. Saha Viriyam Karavavahai. Tejas Vinavadhita Mastu Mavid. Visha Vahai Hi. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. (May we be protected together, be nourished together, work together with great energy. May our study together be enlightening. May there be no hatred between us.)” ~ Sanskrit Chant

Some people love to hate. They use hatred of the Other to validate their own worthiness – when, the only thing that truly validates worthiness is LOVE. Therefore, people who love to hate are actually deficient in love.

People who love to hate fear that, if the Other receives love, there won’t be any left for them. If the Other is validated, they go unheard. If the Other wins, they will lose their security. Haters believe they must blame, alienate and separate from the Other so they can receive praise, acceptance and inclusion.

Some hateful people believe – at their deepest and often most wounded core – that they are not worthy of praise, acceptance, inclusion and love. They do not understand that they are in dire need of positive validation; so instead, they pursue allies in their hatred – fellow haters, bullies, gangs, cliques and activists that validate their negative beliefs of Others, and, that reinforce their negative image of self.

People that love to hate are looking for love in all the wrong places. They cannot recognize true love when they see it.

Until…we choose to love them despite their hatred.

Why do I know so much about haters? Because I’ve been one. And I’m guessing, so have you. What yanks me out of hatred faster than anything? Remembering that we are all human.

“Meditation on the principle of compassion is a means of erasing our own hatred, cruelty, and fear, and replacing these traits with love, kindness, and a deeper understanding for others. Those who meditate on compassion rise above the primitive urge of self-preservation, and thus their reactions toward others are not motivated by fear.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

* * *

“By cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, cheerfulness toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.33

I have forgiven the man that raped me, the men that mugged me, the people who abandoned me, and those who betrayed me. Not overnight. No, no, no. Not overnight. Over years and years of commitment to healing my wounds, I have grown to see my perpetrators as suffering beings who deserve compassion, and, their harmful acts as separate. Consequently, over time and with dedication – and after grieving with support – I became able to let go of the traumas. What do I gain? Liberation. Peace of mind. A healed heart. My whole self.

“These four keys should always be…in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind. From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

* * *

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah. (Yoga clears disturbances of the mind.)” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.2

This promise is the 2nd sentence in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – four long chapters about yoga’s eight-limbed design for living. Because it all comes down to this: the more I know about yoga, the deeper my practice becomes, and, the more inner peace I enjoy.
August in DC was a burning hot month. Hot temperatures. Hot tempers. Heated debates. Desperate actions.

As unrest continued to build, conflicts continued and November approached (you know what I’m talking about), DC only burned hotter.

Still – you can keep your cool as the heat rises and arises. Practice Sitali Pranayama (the yogic cooling breath) and Naadi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing). Attend Restorative and Slow Flow classes instead of intensely heated or extremely powerful classes. For your own good – and, for the good of those around you – you can keep the peace. You can increase the peace. You can teach peace. You can breathe, embody, sweat peace.

“If my body is made primarily of water and animated by the breath, is it possible to call the water in the body ‘mine’ and the air outside of my lungs ‘the world?’ …and so it becomes hard to talk about a body practice as separate from a world practice. I move my body and I’m moving a corner of the world.
“Yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.
“The world of mind and body, in the nondual tradition of yoga, is inseparable from the larger world… The interconnected reality we call ‘yoga’ orients us toward a mode of perception that sees reality as an interconnected web in which our own small story line is only a part and certain not the most prominent.” ~ Michael Stone

* * *

“Namaste.”

Translated literally from the Sanskrit, “Namaste” is a simple greeting meaning “Salutations to you.” It is not offered to a certain kind of being, nor to a certain part of each being. It is offered to the whole of every being.

Even haters.

“Namaste” cannot mean that one life matters more than another at any time – it means that all lives matter equally at all times. “Namaste” cannot mean that elevation and separation are the keys to justice – when historically, they have been the keys to conflict. “Namaste” cannot mean that out of guilt or pity, we move to “be of service” to those we see as having less than us – it must mean that we see ourselves as equals with those different from us in any way, and, stand together in a solidarity of humanness.

“Namaste” means that compassion is an equal opportunity offering.

It also means that I stop writing about “those haters” and start admitting that I’ve loved to hate.

We cannot truly come together until we can salute the whole of each being and all beings as a whole.

“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.
“Kinship – not serving the other, but being one with the other. 
“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of the circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the  poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'” ~ Father Gregory Boyle

WAIT. FOR. IT.

Haters gonna hate until our love erases their reasons.

Thanks for reading.
Namaste. OM Shanti. Peace.

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Spring Break (Through) March 21, 2013

JoyKid(Dec09)I think I am finally back to my old self.  The one that smiles lovingly, that adores humanity, that feels her body, heart and soul energized by everything in this crazy, amazing, beautiful life.

Welcome back, Holly.  Welcome back.  Stick around.

Phew, what a winter!  I feel like I am waking up from a bad dream.  So to speak.  “Bad dream” is a funny statement for me.  I believe that all dreams – no matter how scary, disturbing or strange – are good dreams.  “Bad” dreams arise to liberate the subconscious, to release darkness from that deeply buried storage space, to shed light on what needs to be seen, and therefore, to relieve us of unreasonable fears or destructive patterns.

Just like the dark phases of waking life.

So, I am looking back at December 2012 through February 2013 as a period of awakening.  As rough as that process felt, with its intense swings, shifts and losses, I am embracing the experience the same way I would embrace my most adored teacher.  Some lessons are harder than others.

This peaceful contentment did not arrive overnight.  The shift started to happen once I honestly admitted (to myself and others) the pain of harboring resentments so fierce, I felt victimized.  It was humbling but freeing to finally see how far into negative emotion my skipping and/or stepping back from healthy practices had taken me.  Emotionally, I was not myself.  No.  Wait.  I don’t want to deny any part of my Self.  I was feeling victimized (a normal part of humanness); and, because I was not taking good care of myself, those feelings hijacked my inward state and outward actions.

I’m neither negating nor celebrating the pattern of feeling like crap and acting accordingly!  I am, rather, honoring the value of being present for and going through difficult phases – as messy as that process can be – rather than hiding, ignoring, stuffing or denying the causes of those dark times.  These past winter months were a nightmare.  At the same time – I was wide awake.  I looked squarely at the situation and took action.  Using yoga, recovery and related practices and resources (see “Love: Anger’s Remedy” for an exhaustive list of pro-active solutions), I reverse-hijacked my Self and gradually trudged back to where I want to be!

To trudge is “to walk with purpose.”  Sometimes, a purposeful gait is the only way through challenge.  Ass dragging or legs sprinting, the trip is always one step at a time.  And of course – it helps to have strong hiking partners.  Grateful to all whom “enjoyed” the journey with me.

Today, I feel lighter.  I tenderly cradle the parts of me that wrestled and wrangled through December, January and February.  I offer myself forgiveness, compassion and love.  And as I meander through my neighborhood, through this city, through the world…I offer the same to all around me.

It feels great to be walking in my favorite shoes again.

Happy Spring, y’all!  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

 

Not Love: Anger February 13, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  (Or maybe not.)

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MinimalChairI am sooooo tired of my brain right now.

Tired of flip-flopping between compassion/anger, yoga/rawness, awakened/avoidance, should/shouldn’t.  Yesterday afternoon I was verbally attacked by someone who was obviously stressed before our encounter, poised to pounce and way out of line.  I was yelled at, insulted and shamed in public.  The person was in such a state that she could not and would not hear any reasoning or response.  Thankfully I walked away from the situation; but I headed home in a traumatized cloud.  And today I am plagued by a pinball machine of mixed emotions.

My immediate response was the correct one: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of injustice, a high-adrenaline buzz.

I quickly collapsed into my 2nd response: Depression.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of futility and hopelessness, a soul-sucking energy drain.

And then it returned: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, an overwhelming sense of “F*** them,” a hardening shell.

All of this flip-flopping within 30 minutes of the attack.  When I arrived home, I mindfully addressed my imbalanced emotions.  I practiced calming Pranayama, took Bach’s Rescue Remedy and drank Relaxed Mind tea to soothe my shocked nerves.  I shared on Facebook, drafting the post and re-reading for accuracy and fairness before publishing.  I listened to friends’ opinions, expressed frustrations and absorbed support.  I gained perspective on the attack, cultivated compassion for my attacker and normalized a bit.

After teaching an evening class, celebrating Mardi Gras with awesome yogis and offering to be of service to a non-profit organization, I evolved into my next response: OK-ness.  Forgetting the feeling of being harmed, a sense of being useful, a gentle embrace of community.

But by the time I went to bed, I was restless, depressed and back in “F*** them” mode.

*  *  *

I awoke with my next emotional response: “Don’t F*** With Me.”  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of being threatened, toughening up like the scrappy little punk that I can become.  A great disposition for someone preparing to teach Sunrise Flow & Meditation at 7am!  Before leaving home, I resolved to get right back into bed after class.

The pre-dawn walk to the studio was hyper-vigilant with my heart center protected.  Yet when I arrived to greet our amazing group of dedicated yogis, I softened.  The energy in the room was sleepy and silly and sweet.  Together we centered, breathed deeply, set intentions, awakened with the sun and greeted a new day.  After class I had rich conversations with two students about their inspiring work and lives.

And again, here arose: OK-ness.  An undoing of the feeling of being harmed, a sense of presence, celebrating the beauty of humanity.

Each Wednesday morning, after the students leave, I stay to chant.  Today I repeated “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”  (may the entire universe and all of its beings realize freedom from suffering) 108 times.  It seemed like the appropriate meditation in response to yesterday’s encounter.  During the practice, these visions arose: writing a letter to the person who harmed me yesterday, apologizing for any suffering I may have caused to incite her upset with me; writing the same letter to all the people who have harmed me; telling the person who harmed me yesterday how angry I am; telling all the people who have harmed me the same thing.  Hmmmm…

The whole way home from the studio my brain was a ping pong table, bouncing from one emotion to the next.  I wanted to crawl into bed, cancel my evening service commitment, hide from the world.

Sinking again: Depression.  An overwhelming feeling of being harmed; frustration and anger and futility; and feeling exhausted.  After writing the first half of this blog, I listened to a Yoga Nidra CD then slept for a couple of hours.

*  *  *

My “normal” response to being harmed can manifest in any shade of these emotional ups and downs.  Thankfully, I have an amazing toolbox for regaining balance.  For instance, mentioned above: Rescue Remedy, soothing tea, Pranayama, sharing, gaining compassion, showing up to be of service, and so on.  At the same time, anger is only calmed with these tools.  It is not addressed, processed and released.

I’d like to improve my ability to respond appropriately, healthily and immediately to harmful situations and the related emotions.

I want to revisit my first response:  Anger.  A feeling of being harmed, a sense of injustice, a high-adrenaline buzz.  That would have been the time to wholeheartedly express my emotion.  But it’s hard for me to know how to constructively express anger.  In childhood I was conditioned to do one of two things with anger: express it inappropriately (physical or verbal rage); or deny it completely (stuffing it wayyyy down).

I have a recent instance of constructively expressing anger.  Last summer, a man I was dating revealed that he was married.  In a text message.  (!)  Response: Anger.  A feeling of being harmed; a sense of injustice; a high-adrenaline buzz.  After about two hours, I texted that I don’t want any apologies unless he is ready to tell me – in person – the whole story.  He asked me to meet him in two days.  In those 48 hours, I talked to friends and I talked to myself.  I got clear about my feelings – hurt and anger – and I got firm with my response – never to see him again.  When we met, I simply said, “Start talking.”  I listened to his story, his excuses, his apologies.  And then I let him know, strongly and frankly – yet without rage, without raising my voice and without dwelling on his faults – that I felt extremely angry, that I was horribly hurt, that our entire relationship was a lie to me and that I would never see him again.  I walked away from that encounter free and clear of anger.  Really.  Although I can recall the anger when I recall the situation, I have never felt a drop of anger toward that man since.

I addressed, processed and released my anger rather than storing it for potential misdirection or residual depression later.

As for yesterday.  Where did that adrenaline go?  I stuffed it.  I stuffed it because of that old pattern of internalizing.  So no wonder today my mind is ping-ponging between polar emotions today.

I am at a loss.  What do I do with this anger now?

*  *  *

Just after the New Year, I wrote that I would like to share less of my internal process and start writing about the solution more often.  Well, lookee here – back to my old ways!  And y’know what – I am glad.  After all, this blog’s purpose is to describe my journey honestly, and to share yoga and related resources, tools and solutions for addressing the challenges of everyday life.

I’d rather openly share my process in hopes to decrease the separation that many of us feel when our imperfect humanness baffles us, dangerously hardening our hearts and annoyingly exhausting our brains.

I’d rather reveal my messy, processing insides than project that I am beyond problems and have total command of the perfect fix-it list.  “10 Solutions for Conquering Anger and Living a Joyful Life,” by perfectly liberated Holly Meyers just doesn’t sound authentic coming from me!

I’d rather ask what works for you.  Because I don’t have all the answers.

*  *  *

Where am I now?  I am still angry.  At the same time, I am hopeful for cultivating healthy responses and emotions.  Preparing to go out for my evening service commitment.  Listening to uplifting music.  In the face of inner conflict, I must manage it.  I must show up for and offer my best to life.  Because despite periodic unrest, I still have a lot to offer.

So tell me, dear readers – how do you acknowledge, process and release anger?  Thanks for reading (and responding)!  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace Peace Peace.

(P.S. – Thanks to The Minimalists for this powerful photo that, to me, portrays the separation felt when strong emotions challenge us.)

*  *  *

How do we recognize and trust our hearts’ desires?  How can we harness the impulses tugging at our hearts, and shape them into a deeper purpose?  Join me on Saturday, February 23rd, 3-5:30pm at Quiet Mind Yoga in Washington, DC for “Follow Your Heart.”  In this Sankalpa Vinyasa practice, Holly facilitates heart-centered Asana, self-inquiry and journeying, so students can tap into the flow of their deepest intentions. Re-ignite your 2013 resolutions – or, discover a completely new direction.

 

My Heart Exploded December 22, 2012

Photo by Best DSC!The night before the world would end, my heart exploded.

I’d been asleep for about an hour, when my eyes gently opened.  I was lying on my back, with my hands resting on my chest.  Suddenly, in the core of my heart center, I sensed a feeling that is hard to describe.  At once heavy and liberating, full and breathless, sinking and expanding.  Something profoundly beautiful softly exploded in my heart.  After a little while of witnessing, I went back to sleep.

I love Winter Solstice.  Well, I love just about any nature-related event, holiday or observance.  When the leaves fall, when the creek swells, when the days lengthen, when the darkness falls.  This year I planned to observe Winter Solstice as a day/evening to celebrate our eternal inner light.  This idea started as a response to the media’s apocalyptic frenzy, which started months ago.  At first I mocked the “end of the world” hype, because I was quiet certain that 12/21/12 was not going to be the end.  If anything, it would be a beginning – as all Winter Solstices are: the beginning of light returning.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, I heard a very serious NPR story about people who were planning their suicides due to their understanding of the 12/21 prophecy.  I deeply absorbed that some people were feeling so much fear and pain that they could just call it quits.  And instead of mocking the apocalypse, I started focusing my energy on sending compassion to those hurting beings.  I stopped commenting on related Facebook posts, I outright avoided conversations about the topic.  Because I wanted to focus on Ahimsa, on kindness, on compassion.  Rather than on the hype and fear, or on those who claimed to know the real deal and sounded preachy.  I was confident about my beliefs on the subject.  So I chose to focus on sending light to the fearful.

On Friday, 12/14, a horrible tragedy struck Connecticut.  I grieved – at the same time, I used the Yoga Sutras in order to show up for others.  In the midst of debates and blame and outbursts and (again) fear, I focused on sharing compassion and on cultivating my own inner peace.

With so much pain and fear and darkness all around, I aimed to share light.

The evening before 12/21, I slipped up.  I commented on someone’s Facebook post about the end of the world.  They responded negatively.  We discussed, we stated our cases, we battled.  He de-friended me.  We continued to dialogue via messages.  We stuck with each other.  We learned, we gained understanding.  In the end, we reached total reconciliation.  We healed.  In my friend’s words, “We burned some samsara together.”  Indeed we did.  We fired up the light.

A few hours later, I participated on a group phone call with a beloved yoga teacher.  The call started with a meditation and included a talk about 12/21 – the Winter Solstice, and, the Mayan Prophecy.  My beliefs were reinforced – the world would not end; there would be a fresh beginning.  Over and over, the teacher encouraged listeners to keep doing our inner work, our practices for self-awareness and transformation.  To embrace the shadow, as well as the love and light.  To heal ourselves and then our relationships.  To do our sacred work and therefore be in service to all.

“More of the same!” I thought, happily.  “Onward!”

Wilco2July09(crop)I hung up from the call early so I could be asleep by 10:45pm and awaken in time to meditate through the moment of Solstice – 6:12am EST.

About one hour later, my heart exploded.

Today, 12/21/12, the world did not end.  I woke up and sat in the pre-dawn stillness.  The city was at once silent and buzzing.  This evening, I taught a wacky Winter Solstice yoga class with mood-brightening music and heart-opening poses.  We practiced without lights, to prove that our inner light could not be darkened.

As I prepare to go to sleep, my heart feels at once silent and buzzing.  There’s a little love explosion happening in there.

OM Shanti.

 

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)

 

A Warm & Fuzzy Feeling November 18, 2012

Filed under: Gratitude,Inspiration,Life — Holly Meyers @ 11:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today I am applauding the little kid who assaulted me in June.  I dedicated my morning yoga practice to this child; I am smiling; and my heart is singing.

For the back story, please read “Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion” from June 2012.  To summarize – one evening last spring, a familiar kid (about 7 or 8 years old) from the neighborhood impulsively hit me as I passed; I learned from his pals that he had acted-out due to misguided anger; I insisted on and received an apology; we talked and came to understanding. *

I see this group of neighborhood kids all of the time.  Drawn to their energy and mischievousness, I used to approach them to say “Hey” and chat a bit; but since June, I’ve taken to quickly and kindly greeting them, enjoying their antics from afar and sending Metta.  I figure, regardless of our past interactions, most kids want to be left alone by grownups; and so I give them their space.

Last night we were all out and about in the ‘hood – it was inevitable on a beautiful autumn evening.  I kept my distance and sent loving energy their way.  At one point, I was chatting with some street vendors and the crew passed by.  My kid – the one who hit me last spring – veered away from the others, walked over, gave a little wave and said “Hi.”

My soul softened.  I felt such love, hope and joy for this boy.

His greeting showed me that he is not harboring resentment about what happened in June.  He knows that everything is OK between us.  Some children never get the chance to experience the process of reconciliation after harm has been committed – by or against them.  For example, in the midst of troubles at home, I grew up trying to navigate very complex thoughts and feelings without guidance, which led to unprocessed (aka “stuffed”) or misguided (aka “acted out”) emotions.  In my case, unaddressed emotions lead to depression, addiction and destructive behaviors – toward me and others. **

So last night, when my little neighbor approached me with kindness, my heart swelled.  Our efforts last spring – addressing the violation, listening to each other, taking responsibility and coming to understanding – truly healed the situation.  We experienced reconciliation.  Now, we have both moved on and can interact normally.

Ahhh…  This is my warm and fuzzy story.  I hope to bring you more and more and more.

Infinitely grateful for yoga and all that it offers.  OM Shanti.

+  +  +  +  +

* This is a separate incident from my mugging, which happened in June of 2011, involving a different pair of older neighborhood boys, and about which I have little closure. (For background, see The Yoga of Being Mugged from June 2011)

 ** Out of respect for my family, with whom I am experiencing great healing, I want to reinforce that I am not blaming anyone for my challenges.  My upbringing was the result of two parents – whom I love deeply and who navigated their own troubled upbringings – doing their absolute best.

 

Peace Tools: Raja Yoga August 14, 2012

(Note: Much of this is adapted from my May 2010 post on “Transition & Balance.”)

According to my teachers, the ancients invented Hatha Yoga so people could sit longer during a specific task.

Back then, yogis were sages who were meditating toward the highest state of harmony, otherwise known as Samadhi.  In his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Hatha founder Swami Satchidananda describes physical yoga as a process created for practitioners to eliminate physical distractions such as body aches and digestive imbalances through Asana (poses); enhance detoxification and energize the body using Pranayama (breathing exercises); reach Pratyahara (softening of the senses) as a result; then, settle comfortably into long periods of contemplation via Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation).  These are just five of yoga’s Eight Limbs – an eight-step system for reaching Samadhi – which are thoroughly explored within Patanjali’s ancient Sutras.  The Yama andNiyama (ethical considerations) comprise the 1st two limbs; and Samadhi is the 8th limb.

Today, yogis are regular-old-people who are sitting through work days, concentrating on family affairs, digesting world crises and seeking peace in daily challenges.  Our contemporary version of reaching Samadhi might be fulfilling our highest intentions for living mindfully on any given day.  Personally, the Eight Limbs have taught me tools for addressing all of this and more.  Their physical and ideological recommendations have been the greatest gift of my life.  Thus far.

Contemporary commentary on the Sutras has become progressive and expansive, enhancing what used to be mere physical exercise for many modern yogis.  Thankfully, there are more and more writings on Raja Yoga – the philosophy and ethics behind yoga’s “spiritual” side, or values-based practices.

When I say “spiritual,” I generally mean ethical, mindful and service-oriented; to me, a spiritual life maintains these qualities.  To achieve this intention for a values-based life, I focus on the tangible benefits of Hatha Yoga; and, I also contemplate the “spiritual” foundations for cultivating emotional and psychological balance within myself in order to share it with the world.

In my understanding, Patanjali’s Sutras are recognized as the most comprehensive treatment of Raja Yoga.  I have been most influenced by the following explorations of the Sutras:

  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
  • Raja Yoga – by Swami Vivekananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
  • Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace – by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (www.HimalayanInstitute.org)
  • Yoga Journal, May 2010 Issue – “Love In Full Bloom” by Frank Jude Boccio; “Journey to the Light” by Kate Holcombe (www.YogaJournal.com)
  • Integral Yoga Magazine, Spring 2010 Issue – “Yoga Sutras Unveiled” section with multiple authors (www.IYMagazine.org)
  • And numerous teachers’ blogs.

In my personal Raja Yoga studies, I turn to four favorite Sutras for nurturing balance in the midst of life’s twists and turns.  I think of them as Peace Tools.

*  *  *

HOLLY’S FAVORITE SUTRAS FOR CULTIVATING INNER PEACE

1 – A PROMISE

Early in Book One, Sutra 1.2 says, “Yogas Citta Vrtti Nerodhah” or “Yoga restrains the disturbances of the mind.”  We’ve probably experienced a bit of this at the end of a luscious yoga class!  That remarkable liberation of the mind, free of worry and forgetful of fear, glowing with presence and brimming with confidence.  So in the very beginning of Patanjali’s aphorisms, we are assured: using yoga as described in the Sutras, we can still the mind and show up for life with serenity and peace.  We don’t have to force our mind into restraint – YOGA does it for us.

2 – A PRACTICAL TOOL

Sometimes I need more than my regular Asana practice to restrain disturbances of my mind.  If I sneak forward to Book Two, I find the remedy.  Sutra 2.33 says, “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam” or “When disturbed by negative thoughts, contrary thoughts should be employed.”  There are days when I find myself repeating “Pratipaksha Bhavana!” like a mantra, in order to snap out of negativity.  My Uncle Bill was the king of replacing negative with positive.  I remember one conversation in particular.  I was feeling hopeless and believed I’d made too many mistakes during my early adult life to ever repair the damage and pursue my dreams.  I’d been swimming in self-pity and doubt for a while.  As I defended my despair, Uncle Bill interrupted – “Well, Holly,” he said with his soothing Tennessee twang and churchgoers’ faith, “I believe you sort of lived your life backwards – when you were younger, you made all of your mistakes and somehow survived all of your trials.  Now you get to move forward based on what you’ve learned and live a better life!”  And you know what?  Since learning to replace negativity with positive or constructive thoughts, many of my dreams and intentions have been realized!  Pratipaksha Bhavana, indeed!

3 – THE FOUR LOCKS AND KEYS

To further pacify the citta (mind), we backtrack to Book One.  Sutra 1.33 says, “Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhkha Punyapunya Visayanam Bavanatas Citta Prasadanam.” The many lengthy translations and commentaries on this aphorism offer an overall belief that there are four locks in our own minds and in the character of other people: happy, unhappy, virtuous and non-virtuous.  To confront these attitudes – whether ours or others’ – Patanjali suggests: “Befriend the happy; have compassion for the unhappy; delight in the virtuous; be indifferent toward the non-virtuous.”  To properly discuss this Sutra would take many blog entries.  I refer you to the Yoga Journal articles and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait book cited above for my inspirations to have mercy toward unhappy mindsets (i.e. being compassionate with myself when feeling low) and to compassionately detach from non-virtuous acts (i.e. the violence of murder – see my November 2009 “Compassion for Killers” post).

The previous Sutras offer immense assurance.  If we practice yoga in this way, we can count on these results.  When we show up for our practice in this way, we give back to the world with these offerings.

And then comes…

4 – THE ULTIMATE PROMISE OF ALL PROMISES

Sutra 2.16 is my most favorite idea in the whole-wide-world.  “Heyam Duhkham Anagatam.” “The misery which has not yet come is to be avoided.”  By using yoga’s tools on and off the mat, we can avoid future suffering!  Yea!  Not only can we decrease physical injuries by practicing Asana with respect for our bodies, we can also decrease mental anguish by embracing Raja Yoga’s ideas.  This doesn’t mean that we can avoid bad experiences, because life will deal us whatever cards we are meant to hold.  But we can decrease and abbreviate misery and suffering while going through any difficulties by utilizing yoga’s resources.

*  *  *

For me, the most beautiful thing about these promises and suggestions is that, at any time of the day or night, no matter what is happening, I can reach into my Peace Toolbox to deepen my practice, my inner peace and my connections among others.

I don’t ever want to take this for granted.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.