Just when we get our metaphorical ducks in a row, the universe winds up and sends change our way. Sometimes for good, sometimes we just have a little wobble and keep on going, and sometimes our life as we know it is altered completely. The only thing we can have any kind of control over in this changing world is how we respond to the tides of change.
Our words and deeds are the only ground upon which we can make a stand. So goes the Buddhist teaching in the Upajjhatthana Sutta, the summation of the Four Remembrances. It reminds us that we are of the nature of change. We grow old, we get sick, we have relationships, our relationships end, we die, the people we love die.
This is some pretty heavy stuff, if we’re not diligent we can easily fall prey to the lure that there’s nothing we can do. Just sit it out and hope that eventually change swings back in your favor. There’s a lot of people that live their life thinking this way. It is difficult not to do just this, wait it out and hope that you’ll be able to ride out the hard times. It is far easier to turn avert our eyes from the suffering around us and focus instead upon what will make us happy in the immediate future.
However, our practice isn’t in a bubble. We are a part of the world and our practice gives us tools for living compassionately and ethically. To my mind, both compassion and ethics demand some level of involvement. Practicing ahimsa (nonviolence, the first of the Yamas) isn’t just a directive that we, ourselves cause no direct harm, but that we also do not sit by quietly while others are being harmed. If we practice satya, (truthfulness, the second of the Yamas), it isn’t just upon us to be honest in our thoughts, words, and actions, but that we don’t just ignore it, saying nothing, when the leaders of our countries are lying.
Living our Yoga demands involvement.
This doesn’t mean you must go to the next protest. I personally cause myself more harm than good protesting, something I discovered about myself protesting the first Gulf War. I live with hyper-vigilance, part of life with Complex PTSD from developmental trauma. Being jostled around by any amount of strangers, even perfectly lovely ones, really leaves my energy depleted and my body aching from the muscles tensing. That’s not the only way to be involved. You don’t need to pick the hardest thing, but find something you feel able to do.
At no point in my life have I ever more keenly felt the uncertainty of change then right now. I’ve been trying to find words to talk about this since the election in November. It has taken a great deal to surmount despair and teach some days, but I’m reminded that connecting with community through teaching is vital. I’ve been told by students and friends that my teaching is going to be needed now, more then ever before.
Andre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
With that in mind, I’m committed to offering classes that help people explore how to practice gratitude, compassion, generosity, and kindness. Providing tools to help relieve the stress of our vigilant attention to the changes happening in our world, and the exhaustion that comes from reaching out to help those who will suffer most from the changes that will be coming. To bear witness and speak out against injustice and hatred is hard work, but it is the work that Living our Yoga demands.
In the spirit of reaching out, we need to grow and strengthen our Beloved Community. Reach out to people, invite them to other events. Tell students about other activities you’re involved in. My wife and I are thinking about ways to expand and create community, to get people connected beyond just a workplace. Look into how we start recreating our Third Places. In February I’m coordinating a couple of radical postcard making gatherings to send postcards of support to various organizations fighting for justice.
We can all take more time in every interaction to be kind, to see the person you’re interacting with as a whole being and not “just a clerk” (parking attendant, barista, waiter, etc.). Even if you’re in a hurry, make eye contact, let people know you see them. Tell the stranger at the grocery store her hijab is beautiful, you’ll both have a better day for doing it. Spend more time connecting and less time rushing through the day, caught up inside your own world.
We’re all just humans here, suffering together. We all just want to be valued and seen for who we are. Love everyone, it doesn’t need to be personal, just love more,
Don’t just sit there on your cushion, or move on through your Sun Salutations, hoping that if you just wait it out, things will get better. Do something, find what you’re able to do and help. When you’re tired from doing, from watching, from speaking out, take time to care for yourself. Make a healthy meal, don’t skip your daily practice, connect with people who love you.
When we make time for self-care, we’re making sure we’re going to have the energy for the long struggle for equality and justice for all living beings.
May all beings be free from anxiety and fear.
May all beings be peaceful and content.