I am delighted to get back to posting and to share some ideas from yoga and Buddhist philosophy with you. These past 24 hours were truly historical yet our reactions to these unprecedented events may not be so new! Yesterday, when my husband ran in to uncover the TV and reveal the events at the Capitol, I reached for my familiar friends of blame, anger, and disgust. They show up instantly to help me avoid feeling helpless, and afraid about what might come next. They’re not really my friends but they are so quick to hijack my nervous system that they seem real and familiar. I can get very soapboxy when I am under their spell.
It took me a long time to recognize what had happened to me. Like most humans, I don’t like to feel afraid or naive and the aggressive surprise of the demonstration-turned-riot mainlined adrenaline into my body. Even though the DC event was televised, bringing news from thousands of miles away, my senses read it as a threat.
Dualism split “me” from “them” and I wanted to know who abandoned their post and how they would meet the consequences! Who should have been keeping me safe? How did this even happen? There is no mystery as to how the crowd became riled up and ready to rumble: that is a sad, old story we can revisit in any tale with a bully and his minions. Without even learning the names of these pawns, the antagonizer retreats to safety, feeding them into the chipper-shredder. Oopsie, look at what just happened! I jumped on my own stage and started sorting folks into keepers and duds again! My mind is so quick.
It is so easy to notice the ways in which we are different, and that division always causes pain. The way we are all alike, always the same, is that we all want to be happy and none of us want to have pain, ever. We are all human and our desire for liberation from suffering is unending. Even if we get to have what we want, it never lasts, we want more. You can test this with hunger: eat your breakfast, maybe some eggs benedict, a glass of prosecco, a nice coffee, and you are sated, stuffed, without desire for anything more! Just wait a few hours and the hunger returns. We cannot escape our longing for happiness any more than we can overrule our hunger for food.
Everyone is trying to be happy, whether they are a cop in the capitol, a protester or an elected representative of the people. Buddhism says that we cannot sustain happiness by just trying to get what we want. We do keep trying, no matter how futile. Knowing this can help propagate compassion in us, as we recognize that all of us are hoping we can be the one to hoodwink the system and find eternal joy!
The good news is that we all have been bestowed with the blessing of being human, with free will. We can choose how we want to behave, how we want to speak and even our thoughts. This isn’t easy and it takes lots and lots of practice. We’ll need to keep it up as long as we’re humans.
Is it worth it? Why should you spend your time trying to tame your mind when you could be watching that new thing on Netflix? Or planning your next trip? Or criticizing someone for doing things you don’t like? I think it is worthy of your time. The show will eventually end (after 18 seasons), the trip will happen and you’ll crave another, you will feel toxic after a time in the negative environment of aversion.
Here’s a place to start: put one or both hands on your heart. Feel the pulsating there, this heart that’s keeping you alive. Feel the embodiment of your blessing to have been born human, now. You have a life and you can use it so many ways. Even if you are only thinking of yourself, you probably don’t want to spend your day marinating in negativity, distracted, or fantasizing about the future. This human heart does more than regulate the flow of your blood, it is your reminder of limitless love. This heart can expand to fit any need, no matter how hopeless it may seem. This heart of yours is bottomless, fathomless, infinite.
In the enormous political arena of this country, it is easy to feel insignificant, wondering if it will really matter if I sign that petition or boycott a business. But there is something you can do, anytime. You can stay calm and steady, maybe after you tend to your initial response to a news story. From a place of calm, you can access your heart, by placing a hand there or just envisioning that part of you. You can extend, expand and super-size this vast well of compassion to include one more person, several more, maybe all beings! After all, just like you, they just want to be happy and don’t want to have pain. We free-will folks each have our individualized strategies that we hope will bring happiness. Once you know the above-mentioned secret, that it is futile to have lasting happiness, your compassion expands like a golf umbrella opening, to shelter so many.
Further, you can dedicate your actions to someone in need. Many of our fellows have no time for spiritual enrichment, or even time to sleep! You were born into auspicious circumstances, you have the luxury to do what you want some of the time. Whatever you do, exercising your body or baking muffins, you can dedicate your good will and hard work to someone who doesn’t have these things, wishing that their suffering could be slightly less. It really doesn’t even matter what you do, whether you take those muffins to the firefighters or the homeless camp or eat them all yourself. You can dedicate your effort to someone in need.
I hope this is helpful. I know these are confusing times and my hope is to offer possibilities to you all.
Take super good care of yourself.
January 30 I will offer Yoga for Anxiety, via zoom, at 3 Oms Yoga.
Many thanks to those donors to my scholarship program, allowing me to be of service to front line workers who need support. Please let me know if you would like to be part of this program, as a donor or a recipient.