Today we celebrate Independence Day as a nation. My neighbors have been testing their fireworks sporadically this week in preparation. I have seen all manner of water craft being towed toward any one of a zillion local lakes and rivers. I am off work today, as are many. And I am filled with gratitiude for everyone who has made this possible.
But I am also celebrating a different kind of freedom. Over the last few years I have opened up to new ways of thinking, living, loving-myself and others. I have been freed in a way from old ways that are no longer serving me. I realize that they still show up occasionally…they are old “friends” that help me by reminding me to practice what I preach.
Early this morning I sat for a brief meditation…brief being the operative word. Some days are just better than others. Today I couldn’t stop the merry-go-round in my head. I’ll attempt to meditate again later, hopefully with better results. But the result of this aborted attempt was that I had to come face to face with the Yamas…now, if you are a practitioner of yoga and you know these-good for you. I practiced for years, blissfully ignorant, until I went through teacher training, so no worries if you are reading this and asking yourself what on earth is this person talking about. Some thoughts crystallized as to the direction I want this blog to go. I’ll explain as I go.
First, to define loosely: the yamas are the first step on the eight limbed path of yoga. Observing the yamas (and niyamas, more on that later) help us move along the path. They are the base on which the practice can be built and sustained.
So today I start with AHIMSA. At it’s simplest, ahimsa is the practice of compassion and non-violence. Here is the tricky part: it’s the practice of compassion and non-violence toward the world around us and TOWARD OURSELVES. This is the first yama of the five and the one I struggle with most. I had a big dose of the why me’s when I got up from the mat…why can’t I get my head quiet, why can’t I be better at_______, blah blah blah. The follow up to that was a littany of the I’m nots…I’m not ______. We can all fill in our own blanks. But, that’s when it hit. Even these seemingly small words uttered to no one but myself have a huge impact. And they are violent; not in the obvious way we as a group think of violence, but in a more devious and, I believe, damaging way. We say things to ourselves we’d never say to another person. And if another person spoke to us this way, we would not associate with them.
Why do we maintain that space for others, but not for ourselves? I can’t answer that for anyone but me. But I can say with satisfaction that I recognized this quickly and was able to arrest the thoughts before they arrested me. I had to step back, say some kind things and be grateful that after all these years, I am starting to get it.
As I said, I am celebrating freedom of a different sort. Freedom from the old ways, which would have meant giving up before I even got started. I would’ve beaten myself up so badly that my day would have been altered. No today. I am choosing another way. Instead, I am grateful for the merry-go-round. It served a purpose, as most things that cause discomfort do.
Happy Independence Day…may we all find freedom in whatever way we need!