“My body is my temple, and asanas are my prayers”- BKS Iyengar
Everything is crazy, right? It feels like we are living in a Star Wars movie, and the Evil Empire cannot be quelled. The events of last week are shocking, terrifying, and downright disheartening. I consciously surround myself with kind, compassionate people. I rarely interact with people consumed with rage and hatred, so it’s easy to convince myself that they are just a tiny cross-section of extremist who marinate in hate and racism, and traffic in conspiracy theories…pissed off, gun toting, whack jobs who slink around in the shadows. I am not naïve, but I am intentional in where I place my attention. I try so hard to focus on the good. But lately it seems like the forces of evil and hate are gaining strength and expanding, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it except watch in horror as darkness strives to snuff out the light. I can’t imagine I’m the only one.
Yoga teaches us that we all have a shadow…those base thoughts and feelings that hide in the depths of our unconscious…the yucky stuff we don’t want to look at. The work of the practice is to drag the demons out from under the bed and into the light of our awareness. We cannot evaluate or change what we fail to acknowledge. Well, the dark underbelly of our collective distortions has been exposed, and it ain’t pretty. Fear, anger, hate, intolerance, and bloodlust are wide-awake, and on full display, right here at home. We can’t wish or reason it away. But we also can’t let it go unchecked. We must work like hell to embolden the light. We must challenge the anger and fear we feel in response to the anger and fear we’re seeing in the world. We must dig deeper than ever to liberate the wellspring of love within. To quote Dr. King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” We are made of love. We are all connected in love – even those who have lost sight of it beneath the debris of fear and rage. Let us stoke the flames of love and compassion in our own hearts, until they light up the world, devouring the darkness. We are not powerless. Here are a few practices to explore in these frightening times:
It is very profound to begin each yoga practice with an intention, and end each practice with a dedication. Remember that we do this practice not only for ourselves, but to help raise the collective vibration, and heal all sentient beings. When we set our intention, – “I use my breath and body as instruments of peace.” – every moment on the mat serves that aim. Our actions advance our intentions. Our movement becomes a prayer and benediction. I always end my practice with an offering. I bow my head to the earth and say, “May my efforts here today help to ease the world’s suffering, including my own.” In this way my practice becomes a gift to all.
In this meditation, we slowly expand our sphere of loving kindness to include everyone, everywhere. To begin, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply into your belly. Picture yourself, maybe as an innocent child, and offer yourself this blessing, “May I be happy. May I be healthy, May I be at peace. May I be free.” Repeat this for a few moments. Then invite in someone you love (your child, partner, pet, friend, etc…) Offer this person the same blessing, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace. May you be free.” Next, picture somebody you feel neutral about (a neighbor, the cashier at the grocery store, a coworker, etc…) Extend the prayer to her. Finally, welcome somebody you feel animosity towards (your nemesis, your ex, an enraged neo-nazi, etc…). Look this wounded person in the eye, and tell him, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace. May you be free.” This may not be easy, and you may not feel sincere. But keep practicing and reaching for those same heartfelt feelings of love and compassion you extended to your nearest and dearest.
In this practice we use our breath and loving attention to transmute negativity into positivity, and suffering into love. We offer ourselves as vessels of healing. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. As you inhale, draw in pain, fear and darkness. You might visualize it as a black stream flowing in. Pause and sit with it for a moment, lovingly. On the out breath, offer love and compassion in its place. Maybe your exhale is golden or sparkly. Repeat. Tonglen is a brave and radical practice, and it can be very uncomfortable at first. It encourages us to welcome, examine, and ultimately heal, those feelings we spend so much time trying to avoid. This practice greatly expands our compassion for ourselves, and the universal suffering of all humanity.
Please don’t lose hope! Remember how powerful you are. Be fiercely loving, and fearless in your efforts to help heal the pains of this world. We are peaceful warriors, tender-hearted heroes, and we are needed now more than ever. Charge!!!