Sutra Sunday: Love and Community

Today’s study is about love and community.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8; 14:1 (The Voice)

I could give all that I have to feed the poor, I could surrender my body to be burned as a martyr, but if I do not live in love, I gain nothing by my selfless acts.  Love is patient; love is kind.  Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag or strut about.  There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude or indecent – it’s not self-absorbed.  Love isn’t easily upset.  Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth- yes, truth- is love’s delight.  Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes and endures no matter what.  Love will never become obsolete.  So in everything strive to love.

This passage is often read at weddings.  It is definitely a beautiful reminder for couples embarking on a new chapter of their love.  However, I feel, this neglects the true message of these words.  Love is not limited to our partner.  It is not limited to our families and friends.  The message can’t be any clearer “In everything strive to love.” 

Earlier in the book of Corinthians, Paul talks about the gifts each one of us is given to use during this life.  Some gifts or talents are given more weight than others.  This was a divisive element in the early church and is a divisive element of our society as a whole today.  Some talents are more valuable than others.  “…Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13.  Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together.  Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of love.” (The Voice Commentary)

On some level we know this.  Sometimes love is the only thing we can share with someone who we don’t understand or agree with on any other level.  Though Paul is clearly addressing church members, this does not exclude non-Christians from the conversation.  If we can think of the body as this global community that we are all a part of, it is clear that love is the thread that was meant to bind us all together.  It is not enough to love our neighbors.  We are asked to love our enemies as well.  We are called to love complete strangers, as well as our closest friends.

This “we” I gather together is not the Church of Christ.  It is not a satsang of yogis.  It includes us all; all of the fabulous human beings participating in this crazy mess of life.  Everyone who is and was and will be.  The words of this particular book may be aimed at those who follow Christ, but those who choose another path are no less obligated to love those around them with all they are.

As a global community, we must find ways to allow the gifts of each person to shine.  The more we cultivate the talents of others with love rather than disdain, the more we allow others to become who they are, the more we discover how each person’s contribution can work together, the stronger this community will grow.  I realize we are a long way from this, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts.  One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach.  One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community. (1 Cor 14:26)

Sutra Sunday: The Truth Hurts?

Bringing back the Sutras!

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives five yamas, or restraints.  These are the things we should not do.  I outlined the yamas in Being A Bad-@ss YoginiThe first two yamas are ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth).  During teacher training, we discussed how sometimes these two ideas seem to work against one another.  As we often hear, “The truth hurts.”  Right?

I was taught by my teacher that ahimsa always comes first.  Above all, do no harm.  All other yamas are subsequent to this.  However, this does not give us a free pass to lie.  Little white lies are an easy way of preserving someone’s feelings, but this is not the lesson that we should be learning through these two yamas.  The real lesson here is awareness.

Some truths are simple.  They are harmful and therefore probably don’t need to be heard by anyone else.  A character from How I Met Your Mother put it this way, “Just because something needs to be said, doesn’t mean it needs to be heard.”  Taking a moment before you say something gives you the power.  It makes you a deliberate speaker and one who is an advocate for non-harm through real action.

Other truths are more tricky.  Sometimes the possibility of hurt feelings may save someone from harm in the long run.  This takes more discernment than deciding whether or not to say something.  Discerning what your intention is in saying something comes first.  Jake at InstantKarma.org says,

“Often, people say hurtful words and than justify these words by  saying that they had good intentions – they only wanted to help the other  person. This is usually associated with the idea that a person wants to teach someone  how to be a “better” person. If someone leaves their clothes on their floor, they  are given a lecture on how lazy and sloppy they are to help them become a  better person. The intentions of the lecture are to “help” this person. The truth  is, these lectures have very little to do with improving the person, these lectures are  given to change something about a person that someone does not want to live  with. A person usually does not give lectures on being sloppy or lazy because they  really want to help the other person – they give the lecture because they are  tired of cleaning up after them. The motives of such speeches are completely  for oneself.”

If the intention of the speech is truly to help someone, then the task is to decide how it should be said.  Creating a positive sentence takes more time and care than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.  However, it can often save people’s feelings as well as motivate them to take action.

“We can see that the idea of hurtful words and intention do  go together. Telling someone that they are lazy, forgetful, thoughtless,  uncaring, etc. are all hurtful words. Even if they are said with good  intention, i.e. to help “improve” the person, the hurtful words will create a  negative affect. There is an amazing difference in the affect that “Please,  honey, could you put your dirty clothes in the hamper instead of the floor” has  than “Would you stop being such a lazy pig dropping your dirty clothes all over  the damn floor!”. ”

Often we feel that people will be motivated by a blunt or somewhat harmful version of the truth.  This is probably true.  When people say hurtful things to me I automatically find a way to change so that I do not have to hear them again.  It is pain avoidance.  Not true learning.  Sometimes, as Jake stated, the person really does not need to change, you would like them to change to make you more comfortable.

No matter how kind the words, the truth might still sting.  We cannot always predict someone’s reaction to our truth.  But we can use kind words.  We can have good intentions behind our words.  And we can take a moment before we speak to decide.  Tap into your breath, become fully aware of your body in space, repeat a mantra, whatever brings you into the present moment.  Take that moment and make a choice.  Taking control of our words is a powerful message to the world, and ourselves.  We all have the potential to be messengers of truth AND love!

Sutra Sunday: Hoarding likes

Aparigraha is the fifth of the yamas in the Yoga Sutras.  Here is a silly lesson Facebook taught me on being a hoarder.  

Aparigraha Sthairye Janmakathamta Sambodhah

“When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why or one’s birth comes.”

Greed reaches into our lives in the most inane ways, especially in this age of over-sharing through media and social networks.  Lately, I’ve been learning my lesson through the often anxiety producing Facebook like button.  I often find myself sitting at the computer completely confused as to why no one has given their thumbs up to my awesome picture of a tree in the snow yet.  It has gotten a whole lot easier with the iPhone upgrade.  (Admit it, you also have checked your phone incessantly after a new status to find out how many people think you are awesome.)

So all this anxiety caused me to become a “like hoarder” at times.  I was convinced if I saved my likes for those things I really found special that it would matter.  I knew that the person I had decided to not like would know and somehow realize that they had to step up their game.  I am not pretending that this is rational.  It is ridiculous.  However, it is a symptom of a greater problem.

After noticing this pattern, I sat down and liked anything on Facebook that remotely tickled my fancy.  I liked all the happy announcement statuses, I liked photos of babies laughing, I liked the kittens and puppies and rainbows and frogs.  I became a “like whore”.  I began to see this trickle into the rest of my life.  The more I shared in other peoples little joys on the internet, the more I could share in joys all around me, big and small.  I realize that the internet has caused a lot of disconnectedness, but I also think that it has the potential to spur us forward if we are able to use it to notice the manifestations of bad habits.

I was being greedy and possessive over my joy.  I thought my appreciation of something was important and that if I just went around appreciating everything it wouldn’t mean anything anymore.  This is more than a bit self-aggrandizing.  Hoarding your appreciation and love has to be one of the worst sins out there.  Though, there is a point when the appreciation is no longer genuine and you are just “hitting the like button” without truly feeling anything, if you are conscious of what you are doing, if you do it with feeling, it is never too much.

This behaviour is in direct conflict with aparigraha, non-possessiveness.  I didn’t realize that the more joy that I put out there, the more I would get back.  The small gesture of liking something did not mean that anyone owed me their like back, it did not mean I owed them anything either.  Swami Satchidananda says in his commentary on the sutra:

“Many times we get gifts that are merely an advance for a futur obligation…They are only given to get something in return…If we are strong enough to remain free of obligation, we can accept gifts…When the mind becomes this calm and clear by being free of desires and obligations, we gain the capacity to see how our desires caused our present birth.”

It may be a silly little social network, but it can be a great reflection of how we are living our lives out loud in the real world.  Look at your Facebook behaviour (if you use the site) and notice what patterns emerge.  Are you hoarding your likes?  Or whoring them out?**  Is there something else that your internet behaviour is trying to tell you?

**Funny random story: when I was a kid I got mad at my sister for keeping something away from me.  I yelled to my mom that she was being a “hoard”.  My mom heard “whore” and told me not to use that word.  This didn’t get straightened out until I learned the word whore…

On that note, Namaste!

Justice and Liberty for All

I am forgoing Sutra Sunday this week as I did not prepare ahead of time and I am too exhausted from my weekend at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia to come up with anything meaningful.  So here are a few pictures and highlights from the Conference.  This week I will be unrolling some more thoughts on the many ideas and issues presented by some fabulous speakers.  For now, enjoy this teaser.

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“Any system that is not diverse needs to be challenged.”
-Leroy Barber

“We might be more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing it.”
-Eugene Cho

“We can’t fix the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.”
-Ken Wytsma

“Women and girls aren’t the problem. They are the solution.”
-Sheryl WuDunn

“They had the right, but that doesn’t mean it is right.”
-Shane Claiborne

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Sutra Sunday: A lesson in Non-attachment

A little late… What completely destroying my cell phone taught me.

drstanusraikavisayavitrsnasya vasikarasamjna vairagyam

“The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.”

I completely destroyed my cellphone.  Annihilated it.  Sent it to cellphone heaven.  And I’m ok with it.

I had an iphone.  It was expensive.  I loved it.  It held all my appointments and contacts and synced everything to my computer.  I checked it a million times a day.  I was amazed at how efficient I felt while banking in a parking lot or emailing from the bank line.  Amazing what these smartphones help you do.  I quickly became attached.

The other day I dropped it on the floor.  I had taken the cover off to help the phone fit in a dock player at the yoga studio and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it.  I liked how little it felt without my big bulky case.  In a matter of seconds the screen was smashed.  Still the phone worked.

It was difficult to read anything on the screen.  The glass kept pulling up in small chunks, threatening to slice a finger.  So I googled what to do and found you could buy and replace the screen yourself.  I bought the kit on Amazon and waited the two days.

My dad helped me carefully take the phone apart.  It was almost beautiful to see how all the tiny little pieces sat inside.  It is truly wondrous how people were able to create such a tiny masterpiece (not quite as wondrous as the efficient function of the human body or the world ecosystems, but almost!).  I was having a good time.

Until the entire phone was apart, guts splayed out on the table and we realized that I had bought the wrong screen replacement.  Oops.  All that wrestling with the tiniest screws in the world, and no work to show.  We placed the old screen back on and had almost finished putting all the pieces back together, when we ripped one of the connector wires (well, my dad ripped the wire).

I said some expletive, looked at the damage and then decided to put everything back together.  When it was all back in place, I tested the phone, even though I was positive it wouldn’t turn on.  It didn’t.  By then I didn’t even care.  I had had fun taking apart the phone and putting it back together.  I had spent some fun time with my dad learning a bit more about electronics.  And I had learned that my phone doesn’t define me.  I mean, I knew this on one level, but it is easy to become attached to this metal extension of our brain.  Google is always with me and I can get anywhere, even if the directions are a little off.

I was disappointed that my phone no longer worked.  I was disappointed that I would need to get a new one (which I did).  However, I was ok.  I have lost or damaged a phone before, had my camera stolen, had a hard drive completely wiped of my photos and so on.  All of these things were important to me, but none of this is entirely tragic.

In these situations we tend to try to “look on the bright-side”.  At least I’m ok, at least I can get a new one, at least… This is a good way to start.  The yoga sutras ask us to go a little deeper.  In looking on the bright-side, we are still experiencing attachment to something.  I was more worried about the interview I had missed than my broken cell phone.  This made me feel better, but it was just trading one attachment for another.  I was trading my attachment to an object (my cellphone) for an attachment to an event (the interview) or possibly an attachment to a way I saw myself (as a trustworthy person).

Breaking away from these attachments is not easy.  It is a journey.  We are given many opportunities to work on our attachments, many lenses which to see them through.  Yoga is not asking us to have no emotion, but recognizes that attachment to the material world causes suffering.  We do not need to suffer in this life.

This is a subject that requires much study an contemplation and this small post only scratches the surface.  I am certain I will return to this subject many times.  Feel free to share below any lessons you have had in non-attachment, small or large!

Being a Bad-@ss Yogini

We all wanna be bad-ass.  Here are lessons in bad-assery I am learning through the yamas of the Yoga Sutras.

The Yamas:

Ahimsa ~ Nonviolence
Then: When I was first learning to drive I thought I was bad-ass because I liked to speed.
Working on: Being a safe driver.  It is bad-ass to try to not kill other people on the road.  Driving with the flow of traffic and stopping at stop signs is my MO.

Satya ~ Truthfulness
Then: I was a bad-ass for telling my mom I was going to the library when I really went to the shooting range.
Working on: Keeping my parents in the loop.  It is totally bad-ass to help others avoid the harm of worrying.

Asteya ~ Nonstealing
Then: I thought it was bad-ass to bring ice-cream cones to school in order to steal ice-cream from the machine.
Now: I’m bad-ass enough to pay for the things I want or not have them.

Brahmacharya ~ Nonexcess
Then: In college I thought it was bad-ass to go out and get wasted.
Working on: Practicing moderation.  It is bad-ass to take total care of my body.

Aparigraha ~ Nongreed
Then: I thought it was bad-ass to do all the best poses.  Nothing less than perfection will do.
Working on: Being a bad-ass at the level I am.  There is no need to be possessive over my poses.  Through letting go, I will go farther than I imagined possible.