Compassion in Action: Being a Peaceful Warrior in Troubled Times
As I sit down to write this, the country is still reeling from the terrible, tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia that happened last weekend, during which a neo-Nazi, white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors and killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year old woman. Today was Heather's memorial service and her mother took the opportunity to encourage all of us to rise above the anger, fear, and hatred Heather's senseless death may have triggered in us and to "channel that anger into righteous action." More specifically, she challenged each of us "to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. What is there that I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?" and then to "take that extra step... to make a difference in the world."
Heather's mom's words touched me deeply and reminded me how important it is in these chaotic, troubling times for each of us to stay connected to our hearts and to commit even more firmly to the principles of love, compassion, and non-violence upheld by most of the world's spiritual traditions. Life in the modern world has increasingly become characterized by rampant materialism, religious and political fundamentalism, and disregard for the sacredness of all human, animal, and plant life on the planet. It is imperative that each of us resist these toxic developments within our national and global society and to find within us the strength to live within and act out of the truth of love and compassion on a daily basis. Keeping our personal practice of yoga and meditation active and alive is key to this process of also keeping our hearts open and finding ways in which we can contribute positively and constructively to our world. By going within and contemplating our internal state of being from a standpoint of curiosity and non-judgment, we are more able to become aware of our disturbed, neurotic states of being and to begin the process of transmuting negative physical, mental, and emotional states into more positive, workable situations so that we do not cause harm to self or others. This involves acknowledging that we alone are responsible for our state of being and that no one or nothing can disturb our peace of mind unless we allow them to. In this way yoga and meditation become practices of both radical self-acceptance and accountability. From such a standpoint, we are less likely to blame others for our problems or feelings and to look outside of ourselves for the sources of either our happiness or our misery. Thus yoga and meditation can be used as tools to combat racism and xenophobia in that they shift the focus back onto ourselves and away from the neurotic tendency to blame and scapegoat others for our problems and disatisfaction with our lives. In other words, in order to transcend the hateful elements in our society it is crucial that each one of us does this work of taking accountability for ourselves and healing the emotional and psychological wounds which cause us to shut down, close our hearts, and fall into the traps of hatred, fear, and blame. But as Heather's mother said, we cannot stop there, we must continue to search our hearts to "find that spark of conviction. [To] find in ourselves that action." Ultimately, spiritual practices like yoga and meditation should not be wholly focused on the small self and resolving our own personal problems. Ultimately, they are intended to be gateways to a larger Self which feels a real connection to the source of life and sees and acknowledges the interconnectedness and sacredness of all beings. From such a standpoint, personal challenges help us to become more viscerally aware of the suffering of others and a genuine desire naturally arises to help relieve the suffering of others along with our own. Once we have connected with the innate tenderness of our own human heart, we must seek to translate and share that connection with the world. When we feel our heart's aching and breaking from witnessing inhumane cruelty and injustice in our world, it is our duty to ourselves and to others to express that feeling and to channel it into words and actions that again seek to heal those wounds and to sow more seeds of love and compassion. Ultimately, when we live in the truth of love and compassion it is not hard to find ways to express that truth in the world. Everyday there are myriad opportunities to "be the change we want to see in the world," as they say. It can be as simple as smiling and saying "hello" to the stranger who is packing our groceries or as scary and complicated as speaking up when an immigrant/person of color/woman is being openly harassed in a public space. The key is to stay in connection with, listen to, and act from your heart- it naturally knows when something is wrong, hurtful, or unjust and it will tell you what role you should play in the situ