Compassion in yoga is one of the deepest acts of union and love. It is our highest work, erases boundaries, and brings us to a place of connection with ourselves and the world in a deep way. The word in yogic philosophy is Ahimsa, which means to act with deep compassion, or non-harming, toward ourselves and to the world at large. When I am deeply practicing Ahimsa, I find myself observing the way that every thought passes through my mind, every word passes from my lips, and even how I walk and carry myself in the world. Am I harming another, committing an action or using words, that will dissolve unity, create division and barriers, when I speak or even when I think? I try to start this with the way that I think about and speak about myself, too, but for now, I’m thinking about the way I honor the world–or at least, my small piece of it.
I love the “Christmas spirit” that I observe this time of year. I don’t think that Christmas is the only reason or way to celebrate love and light in this world, birth and beauty; however, what I observe is many people becoming their best selves this time of year and attributing it to Christmas spirit. It’s a lovely little riptide that pulls me in with it. Celebratory joy creates a ripple of love that can increase compassion, non-harming and our want to give, I believe. But of course, for all the joy, there is also the other current of deep depression, dread, disillusion, hopelessness that a whole lot of people also feel more acutely this time of year. And so for me to embrace true compassion, true Ahimsa, I have begun considering how I can help to break down the barriers that keep people feeling like outcasts, shamed, in the shadow, hopeless. How can my practice of compassion bring us closer to unity, into a feeling of community and offer even a small bit of peace to even one?
Pema Chodron, an ordained Buddhist nun, writes of compassion and suggests that its truest measure lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. For me, to serve others in a place of compassion in my heart, calls me to first become comfortable and compassionate with my own sense of hopelessness; to acknowledge my own painful disconnected places and feel a kind of compassionate honesty with these feelings that allows me to come to connect with these same feelings in another. Then, in this place of connection, I can give not from a sense of dread or responsibility, but from a place of kinship with people that I do not want to be outcasts from a great and all-encompassing joy, this time of year or ever.
In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, an Episcopal Priest and Founder of Homeboy Industries, writes, “Scripture scholars contend that the original language of the Beatitudes should not be rendered as ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ or ‘blessed are those who struggle for justice.’ Greater precision in translation would say, ‘You’re in the right place if…you are single-hearted or work for peace.’ The Beatitudes is not a spirituality, after all. It’s a geography. It tells us where to stand. Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; its about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, ‘in compassion’ margins get erased. Be compassionate as God is compassionate, means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”
This is the Ahimsa, the kind of non-harming, compassionate connected relationship I intend to build. For me and through Jala, it’s largely been to address the needs of local women and children. If I can break down even the smallest barrier, open up my heart to those who feel they are somehow outside this practice, I will do so. For now, it’s acts that often feel small somehow in the scheme of things–reaching out with love to all who walk through the studio doors, trying to connect to the community in a way that keeps me aware of local needs, and raising money with benefit events for local families–but that keep me standing in the region of the heart, where I can erase the margins between myself and another. Then, the astonishing spirit joy that I keep my eyes looking for now and through the year, is a joy that I can hope, without the falsity of barriers, will be felt by another, even through all that is difficult and painful.