Hello Yoga Friends,
As you may have heard or read, we are going through a difficult, critical period here in Israel. Regardless of political views, whether they are right or left, the current government is promoting measures that undermine democracy and individual freedom and that will change the character of our country drastically and beyond recognition.
Many of us are experiencing difficult feelings these days; anger, frustration, helplessness and fear. I want to share with you a few thoughts about dealing with such feelings from a yogic perspective, as yoga is not merely the practice of asanas, but a way of life – an approach to life and to other people.
When anger erupts unmanaged, it turns into rage, which blinds the mind, and from there the road to hatred, aggression and violence is short. The first principle of yoga is ahimsa – non-harm, non-violence. Violence leads to more hatred and fear and creates an ever-expanding cycle of violence.
The Buddha said, “Hate has never driven out hate, only love can drive out hate.” Do we hate other people just because they have a different opinion? Does the threat we perceive cause our senses and consciousness to blur?
When we get carried away with anger or even experience thoughts of violence, it is important to observe and check how anger manifests itself in our body, observing the anger as simply anger (i.e., not “I’m angry”, but rather, “There is anger”). Anger is a natural emotion. We all experience anger at times, but is it worth acting out of anger? Just turning our gaze to the sensations of our body can create a distance from this difficult emotion and enable us to begin to see things slightly differently – with less emotional upheaval and confrontation and with more self-composure.
Sutra I.33 in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali discusses the four qualities, or virtues, of the heart: “Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, Upeksha.” Maitri means friendliness, and loving kindness – a desire for all living things to be safe and well. The Buddha said we should treat all living beings as a mother treats her only child! True, it sounds a bit far-fetched, yet it serves as a compass that guides us in the general direction.
We shouldn’t let the totality of this suggestion discourage or prevent us from cultivating this beautiful quality – to nurture an attitude of unconditional acceptance and strive for the happiness of others. Begin by setting an intention: be kind and compassionate to yourself, then to the people closest to you. Gradually, expand this practice to more and more people. When one cultivates and is immersed in such a state of mind and suffering arrives, then Karuna – compassion – arises; when you encounter others’ success, –Mudita, paragon and joy arise in the good fortune of others.
But most relevant to our situation is the fourth quality: Upeksha: equanimity in the face of evil. Upeksha means that even when we encounter injustice, aggression and offense, we should not act out of anger or hate.
This does not mean that we must accept injustice; on the contrary! We must oppose it with all our strength – firmly and decisively. We must be determined to do all we can to stop the violence. Equanimity is not indifference nor being disconnected.
Can we do it without hating, without being violent ourselves? This is the big question and the imperative practice that is yoga. Can we oppose the injustice without denying or rejecting the person committing it?
Peace cannot be attained by violence. The Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh said: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
Only if we learn to act in an impartial manner, without automatically reacting to anger and without letting hatred and fear propel us, can we reduce the cycle of violence and harm.
It is not easy and requires a lot of practice. Every challenge in life is an opportunity for practice and growth, and this period provides us (in Israel, but also generally provides anyone confronting a difficult situation) with many challenges.
May we learn to deal with these challenges in the yogic way!
May Ahimsa be our motive and goal!
May all be safe and happy!