Finding Light in Darkness
Last week was a dark week in this country - full of violence and suffering. It is hard to be exposed to so much violence and suffering and not feel it in some way in your body and your mind, perhaps even your spirit. Certainly anyone who is an empath or clairsentient is not immune to the suffering being experienced right now on such a global level. The stress and trauma of bearing witness to the incredible injustice in this country towards African Americans as well as the prevalent gun violence and high incidence of mental illness that many young people are suffering from - perhaps as direct experience of trauma and stress and not having a way to deal with those feelings of pain and suffering - can be overwhelming at times. In many ways we are bearing witness to war in this country. When I think of what families - young men and women and children who are living in war zones have to deal with on a daily basis - even accomplishing simple daily tasks becomes stressful, because you never feel truly "safe" in your own home, in your own neighborhood. I remember talking with a group of women from Sudan in 2004 who were visiting Washington, DC to talk about the struggles they were facing in their country - torn by war, and to ask for help. One of their complaints was about the risk of carrying water from a water source back to their villages - this simple task had become unsafe because they were always at risk of being raped by the Janjaweed (military opposition). What I hear from people of color in this country, is that being black or dark skinned carries a similar fear. Simply driving your car and getting pulled over - for something as simple as a headlight or tail light being out - can put you at risk of being killed. So, how do we move through this darkness? How can we find a lightness of being and share it with our community and spread this lightness to others? How can we lift each other up during dark times? Certainly, there has to be real change in our treatment of people of color in this country - how to achieve that is a longer, more in-depth discussion that must be an INCLUSIVE discussion that listens to the Black Voices at risk. I am not attempting to solve that issue here. I am hoping to give some simple possible answers we can all incorporate into our own lives that might make us better listeners to each other, that might ease our own pain and help us BE WITH one another. Based on the Latin roots of the word "Compassion", means to "Suffer with" or, as writer, Frederick Buechner says, "It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." Because I am a yogini, I often turn to the yoga sutras for insight. What steps do the Yoga Sutras offer us to help relieve our suffering and "enlighten us"? What guidance do they give us for living every day? There are answers found in the 2nd Sutra, Allistair Shearer translates as "Treading the Path". The 2nd sutra is about developing our capacity for self-examination - to lift the veil of ignorance and misapprehension from our own minds and understand the true source of our being. This is the sutra that outlines the 8 limbs of Yoga including the yamas, the niyamas, asana practice, pranayama, pratyahara (restraining the senses), dharana (the ability to direct our minds), dyhana (the ability to interact with what we seek to understand), and samadhi (complete integration with the object to be understood). According to Patanjali, the obstacles that prevent us from clear perception are (from Allistair Shearer's translation): ignorance of our true nature egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear of death, which makes us cling to life (also translated as insecurity) But, he says that, "Ignorance of our real nature is the source of the other four (obstacles)..." (2.4), and that "Ignorance is the failure to discriminate between the permanent and the impermanent, the pure and the impure, bliss and suffering, the Self and the non-Self." (2.5) How do we move past our ignorance? Patanjali says that, "Ignorance is destroyed by the undisturbed discrimination between the Self and the world. (2.26) and "The distinction between pure consciousness and the world is revealed by the light of knowledge, when the nervous system has been purified by the practice of yoga." (2.28) This is where the 8 limbs of yoga come into play. In the United States we tend to think of yoga simply as asana - the physical practice, although there is increasing awareness of the practice of pranayama and meditation. Yoga is a practice that requires constant effort. But if we begin to incorporate the yamas and niyamas - or laws of life and rules for living into our lives, if we practice asana with awareness and relaxation, if we use prayer and devotion to connect with our higher source and we practice meditation and mindfulness of our words and actions, we can begin to lift the veil of ignorance. We may begin to see ourselves, our neighbors, and our world in a different light. We may realize that we are not separate from one another, but simply different expressions of the one Divine light that shines in us all. When these dark times become overwhelming, I suggest, at the very least, taking 10 or 20 minutes to sit somewhere quiet. Turn off the television, your cell phone and all distractions. Close your eyes. First become aware of your physical body - the length of the spine and all the points of contact with the earth you sit upon. Then move your awareness to your breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale through pursed lips like you are blowing through a straw. Take several cooling breaths in this way. Then bring your focus to your heart. Imagine a green light glowing there at your heart center, and see it growing and getting brighter with every inhale until it fills every corner of your being. Continue breathing in this way, and imagine this light shining beyond the borders of your own body and leaking out into the world. Imagine this light touching those around you. Imagine this light inside of them too. Sit in stillness in this light for several minutes.
When you finish your practice, as you begin to move through the world, distance yourself from any negativity and offer a smile or word of kindness to those you interact with. See if you can watch yourself and your actions as an observer without judgement. Sometimes, simply watching our actions is enough to make us stop and think before saying something unkind, dismissing another person or joining in a negative conversation about other people. There is a reason this is called a yoga "practice" - it is something we need to do continually, but the more we "practice", the more second nature it becomes in our lives, and, when combined with the other limbs of yoga, as we begin to move from a place of understanding and compassion instead of ignorance, I believe that we CAN lift ourselves up and lift each other up. Namaste.