Challenge Day 9- Yoga is Kindness
We are friends. We are kind and forgiving to one another. We support one another. We love, honor, cherish and respect one another. I’m grateful for that and I appreciate your friendship.
The decision about who your friends are and who your enemies are has the power to determine the entire course of your life. Friendship may sound like a children’s game, one played on the playground, with young heartbreak ripened by exclusion from a popular group. But that playground becomes a battlefield as children eventually become the adults in positions of power.
Yoga is about learning that you have the capacity to truly be friends with every living being. The Dalai Lama is famously quoted as saying, “My friend, the enemy”. It is easy to be friendly and kind to people with whom you identify. Those individuals who look like you, speak like you, think like you—those beings whom you easily see as similar, as one of your own—are the ones you naturally take on as your friends. But the ones whose values seem to be different, who follow the beat of a foreign drum, who look different, speak strangely, do things in a way that don’t naturally make sense to you—those beings are the ones that are most easily assigned to the category of enemy. And yet, we are all living beings, with an innate capacity for love, loss, kindness and cruelty. We all have the potential to be friends.
The disparate halves of good and bad that you see in the world reflect the division within our own hearts. Admitting the humanity of those deemed as enemies inserts an untenable crack in the foundation of every conflict. If every being is equally worthy of love, kindness and forgiveness, then there is no moral ground for division, hatred, enmity or animosity. This may be hard for people to accept and the reason for that lies within, not without.
Surely there are people whose actions are less than commendable, even highly problematic. But if you refuse to recognize the humanity of that being, you reject the very grounds that peace may be forced upon. It is easier to focus on the problems in the world, to label a certain group as the source of everything that is wrong and direct all our pent-up aggression towards that group. Giving yourself over to a cycle of self-generated negativity leads only to more division. Hatred cannot lead to friendship.
Maitri in Sanskrit is often translated as friendliness. We are kind to our friends. But, the test of a yogi is whether or not you can also be kind to your enemies. Ground zero of the spiritual path is always in the inner world. Once you realize that you are your own worst enemy, that the self-directed hatred you feel towards yourself, consciously or unconsciously, is the single-most limiting factor in your ability to love and be successful, then everything changes. Of course you cannot be kind to your enemies when you are not kind to yourself. Of course you cannot forgive the perpetrators of the world when you cannot forgive yourself. There is no world healing without individual healing. There is no peace in the world without peace in your heart.
Take on the practice today as kindness made manifest. Start with yourself, in your yoga practice. As you step on to the mat today, set one simple goal—be kind to yourself, be your own best friend. Some people hear this and immediately think that kindness means coddling. They mistakenly assume that being kind to yourself means sleeping in, skipping work or school, eating hot cookies in bed and generally doing nothing. While that can sometimes be exactly what you need for a few days over the long term, that’s not kindness, in my opinion. That’s indulgence and excess. In the same way a true friend would tell you if they thought you were making a mistake, being a friend to yourself sometimes means kindly speaking difficult truths.
Step on the mat today and explore the ways in which you can learn to be kind to yourself. What may shock you is all the ways in which are you unkind, whether in thought or action. The realization of the depth of your own shadow is an opportunity for healing. When you see your shadow rising, like a demon-dragon, everything within you will want to run, hide, or fight. All the past programming of enmity will arise. Your chance in that moment is to change the paradigm. Befriend the fire-breathing dragon. Say, “Hello, my shadow, I’m so glad I finally get to meet you. Let’s not fight anymore. We are friends.”
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