Tapping into Ahimsa (the yama, or restraint, of non-violence) in a mantra-like fashion, this student found an almost surprising ability to be present. In this awareness was found the “hidden pockets and places” the ego likes to hide. This experience in an everyday setting revealed the path for further exploration into Yoga’s yamas and niyamas.
For a soft-spoken someone who rescues spiders (capturing them and putting them outside instead of squishing them), it was seemingly strange and somewhat confusing as to why I had chosen Ahimsa for my Yama-Niyama experiment. Once in our groups however, the intrinsic appropriateness of this choice became clear, like the color. Let me explain.
Even though I am a particularly considerate and nonviolent person in many regards, put me in a box with a windshield and wheels for any extended length of time, prior to this experiment, and I had this amazing ability to magically transform into a not so adorable monster spewing fourth inane verbal atrocities at other drivers blocking “the flow” of getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Also, and to my own embarrassment, red lights were even sometimes the recipient of this not so pleasant verbiage. This is not a joke and this experiment came at a good time because this issue was growing out of control due to an increase of driving when not wishing to do so. As our group gathered around and someone mentioned road rage, the light bulb went off. I knew then that was exactly what needed my immediate focus.
For being known as such a calm and quiet person, such harmful words and states of being directed at others once inside an automobile seemed an anomaly. Why the incongruity? In Richard Freeman’s “The Mirror of Yoga” he mentions and brings to light why practicing yoga in all aspects of daily life is necessary. The ego has its hidden pockets and places that it likes to hide. Ahhhh. So that’s what is going on here. The car was most certainly the hiding place my ego had found to dwell. How fitting that I figure this out during an assignment with the intent to bring yoga beyond the mat into daily life.
So many interesting discoveries were the result of this focus. The most significant and obvious would be the awareness that was cultivated around my unconscious patterns. Step one: catch the exact moment frustration or impatience made an appearance in the car with me. The very first day of the experiment I was waiting at a green light to turn left. I could go as soon as the three cars at the intersection had passed. The first two cars went by and the third seemed excessively sluggish. In a loud voice I started to whine, “GO” and at the exact moment the toxic ooze spilled from my mouth I remembered the experiment! Shocked at forgetting about it so soon I covered my mouth and whispered a very considerate “please.”
The observations that arose from catching these slips were very informative. First of all, I discovered I was not even that angry with others driving (which is indicative of yelling at inanimate red lights) or even in that much of a rush to get anywhere. I was just in a rush to not be in the car anymore. I have many reasons and justifications for this, but I figured out that this attitude of resistance is the seed in which the hostility stems. I’m mad that someone is in my way only because they are keeping me in this thing I don’t want to be in longer than I might be if they weren’t in my way. Oh. Okay. It’s almost comical at that point. Once I realized this, the awareness carried me to a calm place beautifully. I was able to focus on my breath, come back to the moment, and stopped striving to get to the destination. I even questioned if I should switch groups to Aparigraha because this non-grasping seemed to be the answer in addition to the Santosha that arose. It was surprisingly easy to switch gears and no longer be affected so negatively by others driving. This shift in perception seemed to also be reflected in my reality. Suddenly people where no longer cutting me off or getting in my way. The observation gave rise to the insight of how much our mental states create the reality we experience.
In addition to all of this, perhaps my favorite discovery of the entire experiment came a few weeks into it. It had been going exceptionally well. I would take notice of when it was more challenging, such as the long drive home after work or if I didn’t give myself enough time to get somewhere, but overall the awareness of my conscious states would bring me back to this new found peace while driving. Long distances traveled became my friend instead of my enemy. The few moments I would catch myself getting upset I started saying “Ahimsa, Ahimsa, Ahimsa” almost as its own mantra to remind me to be aware of focusing on behaving in a way that does not harm others or myself. It was all going so well. Then, one day, out of the blue, leaving a restorative yoga class no less, someone pulled out in front of me driving incredibly slowly. Instead of patiently accepting the situation, incessant whining and grumbling begin happening. What? I thought this verbal abusing of the surround air had taken its leave, why was I unnerved with this white sedan suddenly in front of me? Luckily, before it really took root and wrecked the relaxed mood just cultivated, I had the insight to remind myself that now would be an exceptional time to practice my Ahimsa instead of succumbing to annoyance even though it was really tempting to. At first it seemed it would be a difficult task in that moment, however, as soon as I acknowledged I was not present, immediately and with great relief, I suddenly was. This was the great aha moment. There was no struggle, no fight, no trying. All I had to do was simply acknowledge I was not present and I immediately became so. Even though I had previously read that this was possible in a book year’s prior, witnessing this experience first hand, and for myself, was the most profound part of the process for me.
Experiment conclusion: successful. Even though it doesn’t end here. I will continue practicing this Ahimsa in other aspects of my life. Also, my curiosity for exploring the other Yama’s and Niyama’s has been heightened due to watching aspects of them weave in and out of this one. As it stands, the first Yama has been explored in a way that has benefited my interior space and anyone else driving in close proximity to me. Whether this seems like a big accomplishment or not, having had a close friend and beautiful human being recently lose her younger brother to an unnecessary road rage accident one year ago, and watching how that grief has turned her life inside out, it is a significant achievement in my eyes to not only honor her essence, but his as well. Even though the idea of non-harming can go so much further beyond the scope of driving, this seemed like a good place to start as the gears continue to turn around this concept.
This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student shares a personal journey into the yama (restraint) of aparigraha. By weaving together knowledge of various spiritual and daily life practices, the experience continues to ripen and offer the possibility of healing and personal enrichment.
A Rabbi was worried about having enough food to help the poor during an extremely desperate time, with many families needing help. He made visits to many different people who lived in their village, asking people to donate money to help others.
The Rabbi decided to visit the most stingy, miserly member of their village. This penny-pinching man, known as the most tightfisted mean spirited man, was the richest man in the whole countryside. The Rabbi’s students thought the Rabbi was crazy to waste his time, but they decided to go with the Rabbi on his visit.
The stingy man, dressed in his best clothes, cracked the door open to the Rabbi and his students. The Rabbi asked to come in out of the cold to speak to him. He grudgingly opened the door and allowed them to come into the entryway. The Rabbi explained that there were many families that were close to starving this winter and could he spare any extra money to help these families?
The man sighed. “I don’t have anything to give. Is there was any one else you could ask?”
“No, I have already asked all that I can ask.” replied the Rabbi. “We would appreciate anything you can spare.”
This miserly man sighed again and left the room. He returned with his fist closed tightly over one small coin, equivalent to one cent. The Rabbi put out his hand and the man dropped the coin onto his outstretched hand.
“Thank you so much!” the Rabbi spoke with happiness, “We so appreciate your giving. May you lead a blessed life for your generosity.”
As soon as they walked outside, the students expressed their outrage. “Why did you give him a blessing for being so stingy?! He could have easily donated enough money so that no one would go without!”
“Yes, indeed it would appear that way.” The Rabbi replied, “…but he gave what he could give.”
“But he hoards his money! He believes that he is poor.” they argued.
Several days passed and the Rabbi went again to this stingy man’s house. Again he asked for money. This time the man sighed and gave him a fist full of small coins. Once again, the Rabbi thanked him and gave him his blessing. Each visit this tightfisted man gave a little more. In the fourth visit, the Rabbi was invited in and offered some tea. They talked for quite some time until the Rabbi needed to leave. The man asked him to wait. This time he brought a whole chest of coins to donate. He gave the Rabbi a big hug and thanked him for allowing him to give what he could give.
Just like the Rabbi acted towards this stingy man, Aparigraha takes patience, persistence, presence and lovingkindness to alter the habits of grasping, hoarding, and holding onto beliefs that no longer serve me. This Yama is an ethical precept of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. This restraint represents nongrasping, non-hoarding, reducing the amount of input or stimulation, and asks the question of what will you let go of?
As I sit down to write this paper, I find myself lucky to have another opportunity to practice letting go – not grasping onto fear. Our daughter, Sarah, skyped from China to tell us she is having another new round of symptoms.
Fear seems to be walking with me in many areas of my life right now. So I choose to let go of ~ to not grasp or cling to ~ fear as my first emotional reaction to situations: Our daughter’s continued ups and downs of her illness/condition, her difficult challenges being in China this school year, financial concerns covering her medical bills, our son is buying a house with a girlfriend and it is a “shaky” relationship, my mother’s decline in health – there are so many areas of my life that I have the opportunity to practice non-grasping of fear.
Richard Freeman, The Mirror of Yoga, states that Aparigraha is a tendency of the mind to be under the sway of the ego, to simply snatch at things and claim them to be it’s own. “This I identify with and that I do not.”
So why do I cling to fear as my first emotional reaction? What beliefs no longer serve me? Where does my ego sway my mind, so that I identify with something – like what it means to be a “good mother”? What is under my fear? In Nonviolent Communication emotions are always connected to needs – so that needs are connected to my fear? What is the fear and how does it serve me now and in the past? What does it feel like in my body and where does it live in my body?
My questions seem to spill over into more questions. I begin my experiment with questions.
My journal of drawings, quotes from various readings, meaningful conversations, and journal entries direct and capture my observations. Immediately I find out how often I do react with fear. This looms greater than I realized – a pattern so subtle and yet so loud at other times.
“…obstacle to deep yoga practice ..relationship at the core of practice….love is allowed to flow freely… the foundation right at the center of our lives….overcome with friendliness and compassion….faith and trust… you won’t be discouraged or paralyzed.” (Freeman)
So I bring my attention to my relationship with myself and with the Divine. I use the yoga practice of deepening my questions and holding these questions with great care and lovingkindness. Perhaps this is a special gift from G’nesh? What teaching might be in this obstacle of fear?
On Day two of the experiment I am leading a Circle of Trust at the Mennonite Church. I go into the sanctuary to listen to the last part of the service. We sing a song that has these words:
“…have no fear – hold love and trusting kindness….”
That same night I am reading in Rabbi David Cooper’s book, God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the practice of mystical Judaism, and find the following words: “All we need to do is learn to let go of our fear, for fear maintains the barriers of separation.” (p. 68) “…the presence of Divine is revealed in the fullness of each moment.” “…waiting is self-defeating. We have whatever we need.” (p. 183)
What do I already have? Each day seems to bring such a sharper awareness of the fear – as if it is always walking right next to me. I begin to have a conversation with this fear – what is it that keeps me so tightly woven to this place of ~
Fright, alarm, trepidation, dismay, distress, anxiety, worry, uneasiness, apprehension, f foreboding, jitteriness, panic, scared, worry, dread, to be terrified of….?
I speak to trusted friends and my husband about this journey. Jane Treat, a dear friend from our shared storytelling world and a vision quest leader shares “ Sometimes we need to end something then wait before we begin something new.” So what will begin when I end my fear?
I am living my questions now – stretching myself into the fear inside and moving with it. This is a healthy place to be – to hold my fear with tenderness and care. Yet this is a challenge when my judgment comes up – harsh judgment – when I hear Helena’s story about healing through her trip to Cambodia. How can I think I have lived fear in comparison to her story?!! After one day of this, I move back to holding my own questions – my journey is to be the best Susan I can be – and I am not to answer the questions that others hold. I take Helena’s courage and inspiration to work with my own fear.
Alan Morinis writes about the Mussar (the Jewish tradition that connects our inner traits with how we lead our lives) in his book, Every Day, Holy Day. I read about “ametz lev = strong heart it is what gives rise to courage, what is called for without succumbing to anxiety or fear about its own safety or benefit.”
By now the fear is screaming at me – it seems so pervasive in my life. Our daughter is calling about another major episode and a trip to the hospital again, the VISA bill comes for an extra $700 in medical bills and I can barely keep up all of my work – just trying to pay our bills.
The Denver Yoga Underground began in 2003 at the request of dedicated students who wanted to study yoga as a holistic system. Over the years, a diversity of people, seeking education outside of a studio, found a welcome refuge in DYU.
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