Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Meeting Hate with Love: Cultivating Compassion Through Asana

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tells us to practice equanimity/upeksha in the face of wickedness. Equanimity is the ability to remain compassionate and calm in the face of wickedness and the ability to see both sides.  Thich Naht Hanh says that “upeksha” means “upa” over and “eksha” look. According to Hanh, upeksha is the ability to “climb the mountain and look over the whole situation. ”

For most, this is very difficult. We struggle with the idea that, if we allow ourselves to understand someone who has done an evil act, that we are somehow condoning their behavior.  We struggle with that fact that, if we allow ourselves to understand those who have wronged us, our hearts might just open.  We might soften. We might let go of the anger that is giving us so much purpose. We might let go of the story that is shoring up our sense of identity. We feel that we will fade away into inaction.

That is the ego talking. Because deep down we know that love is a powerful force that moves people.  The only thing we every loose through pure love is our attachment to our sense of self.  That is why we call it “falling in love”. It is an action that loosens the grip that pain and suffering has on our hearts so that we free fall into the beingness of our beloved. Through this love comes equanimity.

One of the greatest examples of love is the relationship of parent and child. When a child is “naughty”,  all parents know that the child is acting within the confines of their level of consciousness and development. If their children act out in school, a good parent seeks to understand what is causing their child’s behavior and what they can do to help. Even when the child is older and struggling to make it on their own, most parents ask themselves, “what could I have done differently to prepare my child? Did I overlook something? What can I do now to help them?” Because of love, a good parent first seeks to understand. From the mountain of their maturity, with upeksha, they look down and attempt to see the whole picture. If they need to correct the child, a good parent does it from a place of love. They understand how, continuing to head down a certain path, may potentially cause pain and suffering in the future. A good parent corrects, not for the sake of hurting the child, but so the child can avoid future suffering.

A yogi understands that we are all someone’s child and we are all worthy of the patient understanding of a good parent because this is true love. They understand that no one can act outside of their level of consciousness.   This is hard. What usually happens is that we judge the other person on the scale of our own consciousness and through a filter of who we think they should have been. We don’t see them. Not really. We see what they represented to us and how they have failed at being that. We cannot practice equanimity if we cannot even have an objective view.

If a wrong needs to be corrected, like a loving parent, a yogi does not do it with the intention of hurting someone or proving how right they are, they do it with the intention of curtailing future suffering.  Like a good parent loves their wild and naughty children, the yogi loves the person who is wicked. Because they love everyone equally, they don’t play favorites, or as the Yoga Sutras says, they don’ t deal in the play of opposites. They remain able and ready to compassionately understand all situations.

So what to do if this is not possible for you? What to do if you find yourselves judge and jury for all of the Earth’s children? Practice compassion with yourself first. The Yoga Sutras tells us that an asana should be steady and comfortable, we should be able to meditate on the infinite while performing it and that it should not be effected by the play of opposites aka it should be equanimous.

The next time you are holding a pose and your inner judge and jury starts to hold court, find compassion for your suffering. Embrace what is coming up for you and shine the light of love upon yourself. Seek to understand why this may be happening to you.  Are you a runner? Did you eat before practice? Is it genetics? Do you practice infrequently? Understand that, because of those circumstances, this pose couldn’t be any different then it is now. Accept that you have no power over the present moment. The ship, that resulted in your current struggle, has sailed. The only thing you have control over in this present moment is your thoughts about the moment. That is it.  When you go home, you can plan to make different choices that will have positive results on future practices.

After doing this with yourself on a daily basis, start to extend it to others. See how, just like with you, their inner judge and jury is tearing them apart. See if you can have compassion for the internal struggle that brought them to this point. See how, just like you, everything they did has led them to this point and they are helpless to change this moment.  How can you make choices that will bring love to that person and to others who may also be struggling in the same way? It is only thorough your love and understanding that someone else will ever open up and allow you into their heart, right? If you feel that someone is judging you and condemning you, do you want their help? No. Love really is the only way you can every be effective.

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”-MLK Jr.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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