The Beginning of the End of Violence

There’s a lot of talk in the US right now about violence; Where does it begin? Can it be avoided? Are violent video games and movies to silenceblame for recent spate of mass shootings? How do our current gun laws contribute to or prevent violence?

I have lots of opinions, but no answers. The only thing I am sure of is that it is a multifaceted problem, and one that will not be solved only through legislation or personal changes or societal changes, but rather a confluence of all three.

I recently downloaded an album* which contains a song with the lyric, “Will I ever know silence without mental violence?”. What a profound question and one that is probably not unfamiliar to folks who practice meditation or Yoga or anybody, really, who has sought to become aware of their inner dialogue.

I will venture to say that most, if not all of us, struggle with negative self-talk and thoughts that we may not consider to be violent but which are in fact unkind, unhelpful, and can be quite damaging. They go something like this: I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not good-looking enough, I don’t deserve this, I am unlovable.

According to yogic wisdom, the first and most important of the yamas and niyamas (the ethical guidelines for living) is ahimsa. Ahimsa is radical non-violence. Radical, as in fundamental and absolute. Non-violence means not doing harm to any living thing, in word, thought or deed, including towards ourselves. Of the three, not doing harm in thought is the most difficult.

Most people on this planet are good and operate with good intentions. We hear more often about the unfortunate and the bad because that’s what makes money. And why does it make money? Because we continue to consume it. Violence towards ourselves and others is something that we consume with abandon. I’m including in this not only the gloom and doom of the media and unquestionably violent entertainment, but also books and magazines that tell us to lose more weight or to change our hair style to appear more attractive to whomever we’d like to attract. The message coming at us from all sides is the same as the negative self-talk that we hear when we stop long enough to allow it. It is coming from within and from without and it’s hurting everyone. The result is a society full of very busy people avoiding silence and stillness, lest they be confronted with the mental violence head on.

This policy of avoidance does not work. There are people who are mentally ill who have no control and who need our help to protect them from doing harm to themselves or others. But for those of us who have the capability to change our mental patterns and to choose to see ourselves and the world around us differently have an obligation to do so.

I’m not saying everyone should do Yoga and meditate (though I would love to see it!). There are other avenues towards inner peace: religion, therapy, community, to name a few. I’m also not saying that everyone has the support they need or the access to these things. That is an unfortunate reality of modern society. What I am saying is that for there ever to be an end in sight to the senseless violence we have to go to the source. As a wise person once said, you can only begin at the beginning: ourselves.

May all beings be happy

May all beings be safe

May all beings be at peace

May all beings know silence without mental violence

May all beings be free.

* Album: I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers. Song: Incomplete and Insecure


Lent and तपस् (Tapas)

Buckle your seatbelts; it’s February. Yes, already. If, like me, you thought New Year’s was just a few days ago, you might also be Meditation_by_Kokuzosurprised to realize that we’re already several days into the second month of this year.

Ash Wednesday is coming up very soon, marking the beginning of the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. I have never observed Lent as it wasn’t in my tradition growing up, but I have become familiar with it through the years. It is my understanding that it is a time of purification and renewal of commitment to faith proven through sacrifice, prayer, and good works. All of this, of course, in preparation to celebrate Easter Season, specifically the resurrection of Jesus.

These ideals of purification, sacrifice, good works are not unique to Christianity and can be found in all major religions and world philosophies. Yoga is no exception, although there is not a great deal of emphasis in yogic philosophy on penance mainly because the idea of sin doesn’t really exist within Yoga. Impurities, yes. Bad habits, absolutely. Mistaken thoughts, definitely. Bad choices that result in bad karma, most certainly. Original sin? Not so much

Despite this difference, I think there is a lot of common ground to be found between Lent and the yogic tapas, particularly if we choose to see the idea of Christian penance as corollary to the idea of facing karma.  Tapas means heat and the idea is to burn off the negative energy that we gather as we move through life in order to move ever closer to spiritual enlightenment. Tapas are not penance, but they can be done as penance, i.e. a means to liberate oneself from bad karma caused by a wrong thought, word, or deed. More commonly, however, tapas are thought of as a disciplined approach to our practice. They are the efforts and sacrifices we make to be self-disciplined as we purify our hearts and minds through our practice, moving closer to our spiritual goals.

So, as Lent prepares the believer, tapas prepare the practitioner, each for their chosen path. Something I find especially appealing about Lent is the idea of this practice being a form of justice.  The 40 days of prayer, fasting, and good works are forms of justice to God, oneself, and one’s neighbor, respectively. If we think of doing justice as “appreciating properly”, then we can see Lent and/or tapas as a practice that helps us to fully appreciate and recognize the Divine, ourselves, and all others.

The other thing this has me thinking about it how there need not be any conflict between Christianity and Yoga. It seems that a few times a year this debate heats up – can Christians practice Yoga? To me, the answer is clear. Of course they can! Though they may diverge on certain specific beliefs, the overarching message of both is the same: love, kindness, compassion, devotion, forgiveness.

Wishing you all an enlightening Lenten season, if that is your practice. For the first time this year, I am planning on doing my own 40 day meditation practice during Lent. I have done 40-day practices before, but never during the Christian Lenten period. I’m looking forward to sharing the energy of devotion with my Christian brothers and sisters.