A number of people took it upon themselves to let me know that I looked like a "bone rack". I felt extremely self-conscious from their input, and felt betrayed by the entitlement they felt, to offer their “concern” for my appearance, without being given an invitation to do so. I was 21 when I saw the movie Baraka, and I walked out of the theatre that night, a decided vegetarian. Having seen in that film, the treatment of chickens in the “food industry”, I just couldn’t pull myself to contribute to that kind of devastation and cruelty, now that my eyes had been opened to it. This was in the days before alternatives for “organic” and “free range” meats. So, with little choice for an option, I remained a vegetarian for ten years.
Vegetarianism, combined with a high metabolism, meant I couldn’t keep the pounds on. I was waif thin and I knew it, so I didn’t need everyone else telling me how unhealthy I looked. It wasn’t until I learned the reason why I remained so thin, that I began eating meat again. Luckily, by this time (as said, ten years later), there were a few butchers in town, selling organic, free range, meat options, from local farms. Otherwise I would have continued on with vegetarianism, unfortunately. I hadn’t known that the mechanics of my body require meat to thrive. So, I came to a juncture where I was met with Ahimsa, a concept I hadn’t been exposed to as a Yogic practice, but obviously I had an innate understanding of it, as all of us do. So, bigger than being faced with the question of Ahimsa, I was met with my own moral dilemma around my feelings of the killing and treatment of an animal, or inflicting further damage to myself. My “dilemma” was the challenge that I learned and grew from, more than if I had just followed the outline of Ahimsa as instructed.
Slowly finding my way through my dilemma taught me, that we do leave a footprint in this world; regardless of how much, with all our hearts, we might not want to. We can’t help making an impact, and we need to find compassion for ourselves within that understanding (Ahimsa in itself). I’m not studied in the Christian Bible, but my personal reflections through this learning process, led me to wonder if this is what it means in saying that we’re born “sinners”. If in fact, the Bible is indicating to have compassion around that as fact. This process taught me that we will do harm or do “the wrong thing”, because we’re human. That’s not to promote a “get out of jail free” card, in fact far from that. It’s part of our Dharma to make mistakes and to see how we correct them.
I always say that guilt in itself, isn’t productive; so a better practice is the self-reflection and the discipline, the personal accountability, of holding ourselves to the standard that we ultimately reveal to our own self. What is productive, is making a conscious choice around what we’re doing. Do we know why we’re doing what we’re doing? Have we considered the impact and consequence of our actions? Are we doing it in moderation (removing something completely can be just as harmful as doing something too much)? Who are we in what we’re doing, regardless of anyone else? Are we living to a moral and ethical code that we can live with?
What’s funny is, that I don’t judge the food choices of others, it’s the people around me, who look at me and judge themselves. Too often I hear, “Oh you practice yoga, you must not eat meat”, while they sheepishly hover over their steak.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
*image credit pp.vk.me
The literal translation of Yama is “restraint”. They are the restraints influencing our social conduct. Yet, in the practice of them, they influence us deeply as an individual as well. Living by them as a guideline, the Yamas alter our inner blueprint of perspective. In their simplicity, they cultivate personal insight that can be game changing. I say “simple” because, when unfamiliar with these codes of conduct, many people commonly bluster, “W-well I’m not violent”. And of coarse we’re not. Each Yama is a code of conduct that any logical adult can understand, it’s our emotions that need the updating. We don’t go about physically hurting others, nor do we carry the intent to do so. However, we are very aggressive (violent) internally, through our thoughts (to self or otherwise), most definitely in our speech to one another, and in our careless actions. All of these have a ripple effect which we never consider.
When we hear the word “restraint”, we opt to run for the hills. We’re a species that wants to be able to do what we want as it suits us; and so, we consider “restraint” a deprivation of that. We think we’re losing our freedom, and that we’re being told what we can and cannot do. We think we’re being stripped of our freedom to make one decision which suits one emotion, followed by a completely different decision based on the emotion which arrives a few minutes later. We think we’re being torn from the ensuing confusion that arises from “liking” and “wanting” based on the highs and lows of what we think and feel. Somehow this is considered “freedom” in the modern world. What’s startling is that this is a form of enslavement. Living in this way is being weak to our whims. The Yamas make it very clear to us, how much of our lives we’re living based on our emotions.
The irony is, that we have freedom only when we learn restraint. The Yamas as restraints, help us to define ourselves, they help us understand who we are as deeper than the whims. The ocean has many waves, all manner of size, chopping along the surface; but within the belly of the ocean, lies the buoyant current that flows cohesively. That cohesive part of the ocean is where the species of the ocean live, they only come up to the surface for play.
To be interested in waking up in the morning and defining our day by that list of Yamas, brings us layer through layer into awareness around behaviours which could be cleaned up, so to speak. We grow to become more familiar with those times when we overstep our bounds into another’s experience, we identify when we want to manipulate the truth so we can make something easier for ourselves, we feel it when we let a door close behind us in the face of the next person coming through. This increased awareness is actually increased knowledge of who we are. This knowledge is what gives us our freedom. Because this knowledge is the deeper buoyancy of the ocean that influences stable choices, unlike the choices of our whimsy, which chop around based on what wave we’re riding in the moment.
The freedom we experience in our personal lives, through honouring the Yamas and seeking the personal information they reveal, is worth the moments of skin crawling discomfort that can arise from such revelations. But once we crawl through one personal discomfort and experience the groundedness on the other side, we never want to return to the careless whimsy of our weakness to a thought, which may never have been our own in the first place. We’re free because we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard, we expect more from ourselves than what is media fed, and we learn that life isn’t about arriving at a perfected point. We no longer need to admire others for their “je ne sais quoi”, because we’ve found that “je ne sais quoi” within ourselves. This is freedom.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
*photo credit: southernliving