Let Go of Drama and Be Compassion in Action
Lotus Mudra - scroll to the end for a close-up and a full description.
I sent off my absentee ballot yesterday for the US presidential election in November. Last week, I wrote to President Obama, and to my Congressman, about the situation in Standing Rock and the mistreatment of the Native Americans protesting the pipeline there. A month ago, I signed up to be a monthly donor to Surfers Against Sewage - a local Cornish charity that protects and cleans up local beaches. Over a year ago, I made a personal pledge to give up shopping at "fast fashion" retailers like H&M, Urban Outfitters, Next, Forever 21, Topshop, etc. that promote rampant consumerism and don't ensure fair pay and humane treatment for their factory workers. I've found smaller, independent brands I like and I also buy most of my clothing secondhand.
Okay, here's me stepping down off my high horse... My point in telling you this is not to make myself look good, it's that I never would have done any of these things ten years ago. I could have. I had the time and the resources. But I didn't even think of it.
Going out of my way to help others and putting forth extra effort engage in my community never really occurred to me - I was too consumed with the drama of my own life.
My willingness to change my life to reflect my values, even when it's inconvenient, is one of the most noticeable and rewarding effects of my yoga practice.
But I had to let go of a lot of drama first.
I had to start loving and accepting myself so I could reclaim all the energy I was wasting on negative and self-deprecating thoughts. I had to let go of friends, lovers, and jobs that didn't honor and support me. I had to start taking care of my health. I had to cut wayyy back on my drinking habit. I had to learn to let other people be where they are, instead of judging and gossiping. In short, I had to start living more like the being that yoga says I am: animated by Divine life force, deeply connected to all other beings.
Friends, I am far from perfect in this.
So many times, I have no idea what is the right action to take, or if I'm making an impact at all. There are places in my life where I still choose convenience over compassion. I'm sure there are thousands of times a day where I could be more compassionate and I'm blind to my own shortcomings...
And yet, the cumulative effects of my practice are leaking out into my life and starting to show. I don't have all the answers, but at least I'm finally asking the question: what can I do?
These days, where I see injustice, I want to take a stand. Where I see suffering, I want to bring comfort. Where I see violence, I want to join a collective voice chanting for peace.
I'm no longer content sitting idly by, concerned only about my little life. This is compassion. Or karuna in Sanskrit.
According to yoga teacher Kathleen Bryant, "Compassion means 'shared feeling,' a level of sympathy so deep that it inspires action to alleviate another’s pain or sorrow." (Emphasis mine.) This attitude, and corresponding action, is the inevitable fruit of a consistent practice. The more you heal yourself, making your energy available to other causes, and the more you start to truly believe that We Are All One - the more compassion in action becomes the only natural path.
"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. She experiences herself, her thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of her consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." - Albert Einstein
In the yogic tradition, Patanjali references compassion in sutra 1.33, which urges compassion in the face of suffering. And he doesn't mean sitting around going "awww, that's too bad." He means exercising compassion in your day-to-day choices. I'm not saying that you can't shop at H&M and call yourself a yogi. How you express your compassion is up to you.
But what I am saying is that the practice will eventually start to seep into your life. And what I am also saying is, when it does...let it. You'll do something habitual and "normal", something you always do, and suddenly think "that didn't feel very good." Or you'll see a news story (or a dozen) that pulls at your heartstrings, and you won't be able to stop thinking about it.
What I'm saying is allow those feelings. Listen to them. Even if it changes your "normal." Even if it challenges you to your core. Even if it means saying some goodbyes.
Let the practice change your life. Isn't that the whole point?
Below is a close-up of Lotus Mudra, or Padma Mudra, in which the heels of the hands, the thumbs, and the pinkies touch, and the rest of the fingers open out like a lotus blossom. This mudra is performed in front of the physical heart, as well as anahatta chakra (the energetic heart), so it symbolizes opening your heart to the world. It encourages heart-centered qualities such as compassion, love, forgiveness, and connection. Try it for several minutes during seated meditation and notice the effects for yourself. Enjoy!!