I heard some pretty grim news yesterday. It was a story that a friend told me about a good friend of hers, but only an acquaintance of mine. It was a story about how this woman's ex-husband had been molesting their 6 year old daughter. Now I've met this family before, and they've been very kind to me and mine in the past, but as I've said, we know each other only peripherally. But this story was hitting my friend very hard, and as I looked forward into the long day of teaching yoga that was ahead of me, having to show up for so many others as a neutral vessel in the facilitation of their embodiment process, I had to wrestle with my own reactions to this news. I kept myself toghether until I was on the road to teach my first class, and then felt a wave of grief and violent anger sweep over me at the gross violation of the innocence of this child. I cried a lot and contemplated what it might feel like to murder someone with my bare hands. Just for a minute. I'm not above addmitting that, because I am a human being and we all experience the gamut of emotions, no matter how much we meditate to open our hearts. And then, I was at the studio, and the situation required my neutrality at the very least and truly, pleastantness, if we're being honest about what a valued customer service experience is in this country. We show up and put on a happy face for those coming in to experience your service. So I wiped my tears and went upstairs.
I've been teaching the Yamas and Niyamas in my classes for about three weeks or a month now in my yoga classes. I begin with a little check in, and then introduce a philosophical element that the Yoga Sutras invites us to contemplate in order to align our lives more resonantly with the virtuous life of integrity that is the yogic path. The Yamas and Niyamas represent precepts of righteous living according to the ancient yogis - what to do and what not to do, to do the least harm and the most good in the world. As the first two limbs on the yogic 8 Fold Path, these concepts are there to teach us how to get our minds right, how to prepare ourselves for the robust life of the yogi and not just the way the body will react to movement, as is often represented here in the western interpretation of yoga. Physical movement is but one of the limbs of the 8 Fold Path. But I digress.
We began a few weeks back with Ahimsa which is about non-harning, or active kindness, compassion and generosity in our lives. Ahimsa is important to practice toward ourselves and outwardly too. It is a complete practice unto itself. But also, upon ahimsa, all other virtues stack. We moved into Satya, or truth telling, and I encouraged the students to contemplate ways that we hide the truth even from ourselves - in the shadow of our consciousness - ways that we manipulate our understanding in the direction of our ego directives, ultimately creating a dissonance with living in integrity. And this week the teaching had moved on to Asteya, or non-stealing. This one seems pretty straight forward - don't steal shit from other people, duh. But there are nuances here too that relate to subtler questions of ways we take from ourselves and others, and this is what I had slated to discuss this week. And truly, it is a very powerful teaching to begin to look into how we steal time from others by being late, how the ego steals wellness and balance from us in a yoga practice by disguising goals and achievement as "the path". But I was a little distracted as I came into the yoga studio that morning.
As I began opening up the studio on Sunday morning, I was about to sweep the floor when a group of people new to the studio walked in, which in and of itself isn't a big deal, but when you also have other duties ot take care of it adds a layer of stress. Then a man currently experiencing homelessness walked in, who was in need of a very real energy download. As I was getting the new people checked in, stressing about the dirty studio floor that I hadn't swept yet, and pushing thoughts of sexual abuse and my own anger out of my mind, I squared up to another challenge - meeting this man with kindness, compassion and openness, and treating him like the human being that he is. He was asking about the malas (preayer beads) that we sell at the studio, and did we have anything that would help him with his mental illnesses including schitzophrenia? Luckily the floor wasn't that dirty, and most people were quite self-sufficient in getting themselves situated in the studio while I was talking with this man. He decided that he wanted to use a part of his very limited funds to purchase one of our malas when I started having a problem inputting his payment information. I asked him to give me some time to teach my class and to return when it was done and we would get him his mala. He said ok.
I'm lucky that I've been teaching for a long time and have a lot of experience focusing on the moment, so the class was undisturbed by all that was in my heart about the innocence stolen from this child, and the dehumanization of people experiencing mental illness and homelessness that is all too often the case. I was able to get accross the idea of Asteya in a much more neutral way than the way I was personally experiencing it. And while teaching, I made the decision that if that man did indeed come back after my class was over, I wanted to buy him the mala and gift it to him, because that kind of thing, while a very helpfull tool in my own life, seems a bit of an extravagance to someone that has $71 to his name. I wanted him to get to have the experience of counting mantra and prayer as much as it could help him through the dark moments of his life, and also be able to buy a meal and a blanket for survival. And I guess I came around to using Asteya in the sense of seeing the light - that is moving forward in a constructive way and actively GIVING to someone else, instead of getting mired down in my own darkness about what is stolen from too many people every day, and allowing the shadow to swallow me up in sadness, fear and anger.
In the end, I really just want to offer my deepest gratitude to the teachings of this path that I started walking when I was 19. Learning how to deal with my own shadow and to turn the light on when I am experiencing those feelings of anger and helplessness and shine it outward instead of suffocating in darkness. To have a foundation in compassion, to be able to be as honest as I can be with myself and with others, to excavate my own shadow first, and to try my very hardest to honor that honesty in treating people with generosity and not shrinking in fear. I pray that that man finds some comfort and closeness to God in repeating his prayers while passing the mala beads between his fingers. I will say some prayers for him, for my friend, for her friend and her daughter and all children who have experienced a theft of their trust and innocence in any way. May we move in the direction that the 8 Fold Path would have us walk - that of integrity and treating ourselves and others with respect and kindness. The path of ultimate love.
Namaste. I bow to you.
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!