Here’s some useful, along with some merely anecdotal and highly subjective discussion on the impending arrival of more cicadas than usual. I don’t remember them being overwhelming in 2004, but vividly remember being astonished by them 17 years earlier than that–more cicadas than I ever dreamed possible. A Jain would have had much trouble walking down the street for worry about stepping on one (or dozens).
Ahimsa, which is the first of the yamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and thus is the first practice or principle of the eight-limbed path, is usually translated as non-violence or non-harming. Over my years of practice and study, I have read and heard many versions–some general, some personal beliefs–as to what it means to practice nonviolence as part of a path of yoga. As I watch the way people around me are behaving and reacting to the heat and drought, I thought about how, for me, the practice ahimsa is as much about seeking to be in alignment with the movements and shifts around us that we cannot change as about refraining from specific acts of violence (though that is obviously a basic element).
In terms of aligning with the world arounds us and the cycles of our own body-mind, when we are sensitive to what will best serve our own self while having the least impact on the environment, we are practicing ahimsa, in other words, “opening to grace.” How does practicing ahimsa by behaving mindfully incorporate many aspects of the Anusara first principle of opening to grace? Opening to grace, as a practice principle, invites us to be open, sensitive, spacious, and radically affirm what is so that we can expand, shift, and serve ourselves and others in the best way possible under the circumstance. To be open in this way, try not to rage at the heat–or whatever is your weather. Soften, listen, and mindfully discover how you can live at your fullest, kindest, and most generous with what you cannot change.
When the temperature soars above 95F for days in a row, it is an act of violence to rage against it or to consume outrageous amounts of fossil fuels to cool our businesses and homes enough to wear warm clothes, sleep under blankets, cook and eat hot foods, or do an athletic asana practice or workout (lest we feel that we are not fulfilling some externally motivated personal notion of fitness–having external notions of how we should look, act govern us without accepting the actual situation is its own form of violence against ourselves) that we would not do if we could not artificially cool our environment.
Perhaps I have no call to speak on this: my central air conditioning is on, though I’ve been keeping it between 78-82F and I have been moving, dressing, and eating in a way that honors the fact that those temperatures are as cool as it is going to be until the heat wave breaks. Some might argue that using any air conditioning or even an electric fan or a refrigerator is doing excessive harm to the environment. That may in fact be true, but asking for more than we can do just makes things seem impossible, and then we are less likely to make any shift at all.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
When I was waiting for the metro to go to Willow Street Yoga this Saturday morning to offer a free gentle/therapeutics class (new session starts for the class next Saturday, January 15th–all welcome), I heard a very disturbing announcement on Metro. I only take Metro once or twice a week. I am pretty certain I would have noticed it if I had heard it before; in rush hour, of course, it is hard to hear the announcements when the platforms are full. What I heard was this: “Metro police have advised that all passengers are subject to random searches of their carry ons.” A reasonable person might want to know what is a “carry on” for these purposes. My first question to myself was “don’t random searches of this type violate the Constitution?” (Yes, the American Civil Liberties Union is actively engaged in the issue).
I find random searches just for boarding the metro with a carry on an unfortunately not particularly shocking example of how far we have allowed the “war on terror” to be waged against all of us. Perhaps there are readers of this blog who are not shocked or perhaps believe that these searches are warranted; I am open to listening to why. I know that it was not front page news, and my friends have not been talking about it. This was just another one of those awful things we have started taking for granted, which is something that I hope is getting progressively harder to do.
My biggest question for myself was what I would do if the police asked to search my handbag. The odds are slim to none that “random” would in practice include a reasonably well-dressed, clean, small, middle-aged, middle class, fairly evidently American-born, white woman. But what if random was really random and I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Would I refuse to let my bag be searched on principle? Would I be willing to lose my job and possibly go to jail for my conviction that such a practice misses the mark completely for its intended purposes and tears at the very fabric of a free society and our individual liberties? I find that I do not know the answer. Partly it is attachment to my own security. Partly it is that I do not know whether it would be better just to allow my bag to be searched and not engender conflict than to engage in conflict that will certainly harm me, severely limit my ability to give financial support for important fights and causes, and potentially could harm others around me, even if ultimately, with the help of many I am sure, I were to be a participant in reason prevailing and the practice ceasing.
In thinking about how unsure I was of my ability to act if I were to be put to the test, I was reminded of the situation at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is paralyzed by inability to act in the face of the hideous spector of violent death and destruction that would result from going to battle even to rectify an injustice. Arjuna looks out on the battlefield where battle is enjoined because of the injustices that have been done (we’ll leave it for another day as to whether the violations of law in the Mahabharata are ones that a modern thinker might agree should give rise to the epic battle in the Bhagavad Gita.) Krishna explains to Arjuna that it is his dharma to go to battle; he is a warrior and these wrongs must be rectified. The general day to day principle that governs the life of a yogi — ahimsa or non-harming — is trumped by the greater need to rectify the societal injustice. Arjuna must join in battle because leaving the injustice uncorrected will in result in greater harm to the order of society, even the cosmological order itself. See Stephen Phillips, “Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth” (discussing the interrelationship between the individual practice of ahimsa and the need for cosmological order in Indian philosophy).
I am not likely to be put to the test here, but that is part of the evil of the practice. What can I do? What should I be doing in the face of a direction in society that gives rise to policies like these and the gunning in Arizona yesterday? It takes great discrimination (viveka), more perhaps than I have, to know how and when to act. I do know that it is not right for me as a citizen or a yogi to stand aside. I offer this very public statement of my beliefs and I gave a generous donation to the ACLU yesterday. I am sure that is not enough, but it is a start. As our society moves in the direction it is moving, more and more of us must contemplate, evaluate, and begin to expand how we act and participate to see a world where ahimsa is not just personal, but all persons and beings have the possibility of being free from suffering.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.