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.
Last night, Paul Muller-Ortega, as part of the introductory talk for the meditation intensive, spoke at some length about the principles of ardha, kama, dharma, moksha.
As I have written about before, in the classical yoga view, it is the renunciation of the first three–material well-being, love and relationship, and right work or path, that leads us to the fourth–liberation. From a tantric yoga perspective, it is living and having the first three from the perspective of illuminated wisdom and discerning (viveka) insight (pratibha) that makes us free (jivanmukti) in this life.
One of the most exquisite things about a steady practice and study, is that each time we revisit a core concept, we hear and understand new aspects to bring into our lives.
When speaking of approaching these elemental aspects of human being, Paul noted that ardha includes not only material well-being, even wealth, but also the power that wealth brings and how we use it. Although he only mentioned that briefly amidst several other concepts, it really resonated with the current state of my being in relationship to the world and our country.
I have been contemplating deeply about wealth and power in this time of budget debate, and how they can and should be used to bring nurture, peace, and health to the maximum degree possible. (You might guess that I don’t think increasing spending for war and decreasing spending for education and health is going to bring us freedom).
Thinking about the power of money as part of our contemplation of our material well-being is something of critical importance at this time. If we shun or disdain in our minds wealth and power while still yearning for our own comforts, than we have lost an opportunity to bring the yoga principles into our lives as optimally as possible. (Of course, grasping and coveting money and power is completely destructive of the possibility of happiness, but most of us think about that, and it is why some say they are bad — money being the root of all evil, etc.).
If we are really in the world and want to be happy and to share and spread happiness, while living in accordance with the principles of the yamas and niyamas, especially the yamas: ahimsa, satya, aparigraha, brahmacharya, asteya (non-harming, truthfulness, non-greediness, aligning with spirit, and non-stealing), that is when we will start opening up the possibility of true living liberation.
Imagine, instead of thinking about material well-being as a “guilty pleasure” thinking of ways in which you can use your own well-being (and work through your practice to discover greater health and strength) to be a voice and power for good in your own individual way.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
I am subbing Fusion Flow tonight up at Willow Street. Natalie, for whom – am subbing, has been teaching the yamas and niyamas this session. She asked me to cover “samtosha” tonight.
In contemplating this principle of practice again (it is high on my contemplation list), I thought of the what was drafted by the “Founding Fathers.” We are not guaranteed the right to happiness, but the right and freedom to pursue it.
That leaves open the question of what is happiness and whether and how to pursue it. It contains, I think, a hidden agreement that to keep the right open to all that happiness cannot be realized by the acquisition of external power and things that will prevent others from having the same freedom.
When I get caught up in our current societal vision of what we are supposed to have or be, a reminder that “samtosha” — contentment — doesn’t just happen, but is a practice, always regrounds me. I choose to come back to a space of gratitude, and my my whole self eases. I return to a place that serves me and enhances my own freedom to find happiness, while bringing me to a place that is aligned with that freedom growing for what and whom I touch.