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!

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Memory [writing]

I wrote this during the last full moon.

In Namibia I could never sleep during the full moon. The light was overbearing. On a clear night, the light illuminated the sand, a cold white sea. The silhouette of the palms like tall stately ladies, long hair blowing in the breeze.

I listened to the crickets and the silence. So much silence you could almost hear the pull of the moon on your skin.

Now I lay awake and remember the restless nights. The cat gone out to hunt. My spirit longing to follow her through the darkness. If only for something to do, somewhere to be. Because the full moon has no use for sleep. She calls you to something more. To something wild. Something deep in all our memories.

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Instruments of Peace

I don’t watch the news or read the newspaper. Not everyday at least. Not even with any sort of regularity. Still I know people died today. People die everyday. Not in their beds at the ripe age of 97. They die of violence.

Everyday people die of violence. Somewhere. Out there. Beyond my window. My little world has never been closely attacked. I have not experienced violent death or injury. I cannot begin to know what it would feel like to be invaded in such a way. Yet, I can imagine. Because I am not just my little world. I am one part of the millions and billions and each tragedy is my tragedy.

It is hard to talk about tragedies without sounding flippant, cliche or overly sentimental. These are real lives that were lost and real people who are left behind in the wake. Nothing I or anyone else can say will change this. There are no memes or inspirational quotes to take away the pain that will be felt. There is no comfort in violence. That is its nature. The comfort comes later. Or never at all.

I believe it is important to acknowledge the deaths in Boston. These are “our” people. Americans. Each time we are hit with a large-scale tragedy in the United States, I am reminded that these things, guns and bombs and death, are “normal” occurrences for some people. And there is little I can do about that.

Today in Baghdad, 200 were wounded and 50 killed. In Somalia, 20 are dead. In Syria, 12 died. Too many people to count died due to gun violence alone here in America over the weekend. Each one of these numbers represents a living human being, someone’s someone. These do not discount the pain of the victims in Boston, they add to it. This is just those ripped from the NYT headlines and they can leave you feeling empty and helpless, knowing the extent of senseless acts of violence across the globe.

All we can really do is be a weapon of peace. It is unrealistic to demand the whole world cease to be violent. We cannot stop the whole world, be we can demand of ourselves that we not add to the violence. As yogis, we are asked to practice ahimsa, the Yoga Sutra of “non-violence”. This encompasses all violence towards others and oneself in thoughts, word and deed. You don’t have to punch someone in the face to be violent towards them. It is not an easy practice, even in times of our lives where we are not angry or upset. It is that much harder when we have real anger and real reasons for revenge.

It is easier to hate someone for their differences than learn to love them for what is the same. To do that we must see our brothers as ourselves, and that as I wrote earlier is “The Greatest Challenge.” If we are going to make any impact in this world, it will be because we were able to be an instrument of peace and through our actions, teach others to be the same.

It is true that everyday there is violence, but it is equally true that everyday there are people who work for peace. These people give me hope. These people make a difference in the lives they save. They may not win the war yet but they keep going to battle.

My sister is a peacemaker. She is a social worker fighting each day for children in rough home situations. I can not understand what she goes through everyday, but I am grateful that she keeps getting up in the morning and going to work. She gives me hope that the decent will always outweigh the terror, good does defeat evil. Every person knows someone in their life that restores their hope. Who is yours?

My heart goes out to all those reeling from the loss of a loved one. I send prayers to all those overwhelmed by tragedy. I am grateful for all those who each day work towards building a more peaceful world, no matter how discouraging it might seem. Om Shanthi.

…Here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

-Patton Oswalt

The disclaimer should read “I judge you”

“I’m not particularly spiritual.” “I’m not a hippie.” “I’m not a vegan.” “I’m not your typical yogi.” I judge you for being that way.

Cut the disclaimers. I’m tired of reading them. I am sure this goes on in other realms, but I cannot tell you how many “yogi blogs” I have come across that start or end with some variation of the disclaimer above. I am not immune. I have often used a disclaimer when speaking to separate myself from something I see as disdainful or uncool, i.e. “I am not religious, but…”.

How very un-yogic of me (now I must judge myself for judging…). This practice of disclaimers feeds into separateness and judgement, two things that yoga warns against. When we judge, we generalize. We use our past knowledge to inform us of a situation and make a call according to what we already know. Holding onto these definitions of what we are and what we are not allows for very little growth. Once we are convinced something is one way, it is very difficult to convince ourselves otherwise.

It may seem harmless to state “I am not a hippie.” Or better “I am not a crook.” But that does not tell me who you are. What does being “not a vegan” make you.

There are many preconceptions about what a yogi must be. As I mentioned in “Isn’t a Yogi a Sandwich?“, it is hard to define what a yogi is, but there are some qualities that we seem to agree fit the yogi stereotype. A hippie dippy flower child who oms between wheatgrass shots and colonics. All of these things may enhance a yogic practice and may be adopted as someone gets deeper into the practice. But they are not necessary.

In truth, it is our attitude that defines who we are. “Actions speak louder than words.” So we need not define ourselves with silly disclaimers. There is a lovely Christian hymn called “They will know we are Christians by our love.” When we live our life out loud, when we let our practice shine through us, people will know. There will be no need for us to tell them. So go out, live loudly, jump outside the box and put the lid on those disclaimers.

Tell me who you are in the comments below. Nothing is off limits!

Isn’t a yogi a sandwich?

I have always been hesitant to call myself a yogi, or a yogini as it may be. I imagined a yogi as a twisty pretzel person or someone who can meditate for 3 hours without opening their eyes every few seconds to check their phone. Someone who does not let the trivial bother them and has the stamina to do every Chaturanga in class. I imagined a yogi as someone other than me.

What makes a yogi? Ten years of practice? Minutes in meditation? Fancy arm balances? Am I a yogi yet? Maybe when I get headstand.

I admit that when I am not finding the whole concept intimidating, I find it completely pretentious. “I am a yogi.” It reeks of bad youtube parodies and wheatgrass. Thing is, I like wheatgrass and I have said at least 80% of the “Sh*t Yogis Say”. Good stuff.

Joking aside, I am not sure what “qualifies” one as a yogi. I suppose it is commitment. It is a feeling, not of complete mastery of the poses or perfect understanding of the text, but of marriage to the journey. It is fully committing to the path and following it in whatever direction it may lead.

In the end it is just a label. It is a way of describing oneself so that others know what to think of you. Just as I call myself a woman and a college grad, I can use yogi to distinguish myself from all those out there not getting their OM on. Or, I can just choose to live it, without the label.

Do you call yourself a yogi? Why or Why not? Click the comment below and tell me what you think.

Enjoy!