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

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The Yoga of Korean Temple Food

A major bonus of living in Korea is undoubtedly the food. It is simple, colorful, mostly healthy, and often spicy. All of my favorite things.

Korean temple food is the cuisine that has developed in Buddhist temples around the country. It is vegetarian and like all other Korean food, simple and healthful. What makes it such an experience to enjoy, though, is the focus on balance, moderation, and pleasure. There are generally small amounts of many dishes, each dish meant to satisfy different taste buds. There is a seemingly perfect combination of sweet, salty, tangy, bitter, and savory. The food itself is served in a beautiful way, the colors of the food varied and balanced. Some dishes are served hot, others warm, others room temperature, and some cold. There are many different textures.  A meal of temple food is a completely satisfying sensory experience. And because all of the senses are completely engaged, it becomes a very mindful experience.

Yogis have long known the importance of eating with mindfulness and intention, of managing the senses, and of caring for the physical body as a way to ensure the health of the mental and spiritual bodies as well. Temple food is right in line with the yamas and niyamas (attitudes and behaviors towards self and others) which Patanjali laid out in the Yoga Sutras. From the yamas of non-harming and moderation to the niyamas of purity, contentment, and discipline.

How and what we eat is a big part of our life, considering we do it every day, usually at least 3 times a day. And the choices we make do affect our body, our mind, and energy, our intellect, and our spirit. Aphorism 2.43 of the Sutras says that it is by living a disciplined and well-balanced life on all levels that we achieve “perfect mastery over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions”. A healthy body and mind allow us to effectively manage both the quantity and quality of our energy. It is this vital energy that prepares the way for connection with the Divine and Ultimate Reality.

Even when we know this, it can be difficult to maintain balance. When was the last you felt you got exactly enough time for eating well , sleeping well, exercising, spiritual practice, and personal relationships? I know I couldn’t tell you.  There have been pockets of  time and moments, but it remains a challenge. I know the goal for me is to have these pockets and moments of time get longer and longer, until there’s no break in between. (I may have to move somewhere with no access to cream for this to happen)

In the meantime, I am feeling so very grateful for temple food. Grateful to have access to it, to be nourished by it, and to learn from it. Each time we enjoy it, my commitment as a yogini to a well-balanced and healthful life is reinforced and nurtured.  You don’t get that from a McDonald’s, that’s for sure.