Maitri—adishu—balani (YS, III. 23)
Through friendless, kindness, and compassion, strength comes.
Many of us are very grateful that this week has drawn to a close. It has been a difficult week. And it will no doubt be marked for a long time to come by the terror, violence and fear that gripped so many Americans as a result of the attacks in Boston and the explosion of a Texas fertilizer plan. Our hearts have ached as we witnessed such suffering, and many of us have experienced frustration by not being able to do more to help. Although it can be difficult to find gratitude in dark times, we are indeed blessed to live in a country where this sort of violence is actually rare; too many people throughout the world today endure mass destruction and terror on a daily basis, even those living in the most beautiful and holiest of lands. We find ourselves unprepared, certainly emotionally, but perhaps even spiritually too, for confronting this sort of tragedy and senseless violence.
The Jivamukti Focus of the Month asks us to take a closer look at those cultural practices that we take for granted but which might be deeply rooted in violence and the suffering of others. In yoga class the last few weeks we have explored things like the very food we eat, the way we treat those we call “foreign” or “alien,” income inequality, and the use of violent imagery to sell products or ideas. We’ve asked ourselves what we can do to make a difference, to start to dismantle harmful practices and replace them with more compassionate, other-regarding ways of living.
My teachers’ words have resonated deeply with me this past week, as the recent events have thrown into such sharp relief the way in which terror, violence and fear are themselves cultural practices that permeate so many aspects of our lives, though often in the subtlest of ways. Of course, we can see violence in the bombings intended to kill and direct harm caused by the explosion of a plant owned by a corporation that sells fertilizer for profit. That terror we feel on a very visceral level. But the terror and the fear have stretched out into the entire week. As we witness public servants losing their lives in the service of others, people unable to leave their homes, go to work, or take their children to school. And we have become frightened ourselves of the very world in which we live.
Some of that fear has sadly turned quickly into rage, and violence has been met with more violence—in speech and thoughts, primarily. Some have called for the death of the surviving perpetrator of the bombings in Boston, while others have used the events to express the desire still for more guns, more surveillance, more weapons, and an even stricter immigration policy to keep perceived threats out. We have experienced violence and some have responded thusly.
And how often do we do this in our own lives? In our interpersonal relationships, at work, or even with perfect strangers. We experience hurt and, without even thinking, we respond in a hurtful manner. Humans often feel a short-term reward, some perceived benefit, when we puff ourselves up and exert some power and control over others. We do this in and with our physical bodies, of course, but also through psychological manipulation and hurtful words, which can be more damaging.
I have found a sutra that helps me in dark times to remember that we can choose a different response to hurt and fear. Maitri adishu balani (III. 23). And it means this: Through friendliness, kindness, and compassion, strength comes. Here, Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, is suggesting that when we focus all of our attention, energy, and efforts on one feeling—like friendliness, kindness, or compassion—then the intensity of that total absorption pervades our entire being and our body, mind, and spirit become charged with that feeling such that it radiates outward and affects others. And through this practice, the practioner gains mental, emotional, and physical strength. In the Sutras, this power of strength—which I conceive of us as the courage of conviction, which fuels further kind, compassionate actions—is a kind of sidhi, a special power that is acquired through the practice of yoga. Most commentators refer to this as a kind of magic. But for those of us who believe in a Higher Being, it might be more useful to think of these powers as quite simply the revelation of the Divine at work in our lives. How else can we understand those holy beings who continue to be beacons of light in times of darkness?
This is how I have met all of you in class this week. Through your intentions and your efforts, you have brought so much love and light into a world that went dark for a time. I am grateful for your presence in my life and your place in this world. Continue to bring light to all you meet. Remind others in everything you do that by turning away from violence and fear, we can walk together towards Love and Light.