The End of Violence
Hope you are well, heading towards the holiday season with high spirits and an an inner Mona Lisa smile, smoothly and happily transitioning to a new year full of new things!
The topic I want to discuss this month is violence.
Anyone following current events on the news can clearly tell that violent conflicts around the world are spiking up and perhaps after many decades of relatively peaceful times we could be heading towards some sort of wave trending in the opposite direction. The geopolitics, economics, social, cultural and other aspects of these violent conflicts are less relevant for me as a yoga practitioner/teacher although I am personally interested in them as well. What is really useful to explore from the yoga perspective is that part of the human condition we all share which drives us to harm others and ourselves so that we can minimize these tendencies as individuals and groups.
Early yoga and Buddhist teachings suggested that recognizing and resolving the patterns of thinking that lead to harming others and self should be of utmost importance to anyone who is truly invested in a transformational contemplative practice. These tendencies that are ingrained in most of us are considered to be major hinderances on the path of yoga which is the process of liberation from unnecessary psychological suffering (dukkha). They mostly operate in the dark corners of the unconscious and tend to generate a significant amount of internal distress that can manifest in different ways - it can appear as judgment, resentment or even hatred, impatience, anger or even rage, it can even appear in the form of self-righteousness, and there can also be other somewhat similar manifestations of these harmful thought patterns. When these thoughts, emotions or states of mind stay uninspected they can easily burst and turn into acts of violence in the form of action or speech.
There are three main reasons according to the yoga tradition that cause these mental states to arise in our mind:
This is one of the main causes of dukkha (the above mentioned self-inflicted unnecessary psychological suffering). It is our tendency to hold on to things, to ideas, to people, and often create a sense of possession around them, feeling that certain things, opinions, or even people belong to us, particularly when they seem to bring us significant value or trigger highly pleasant emotions. We also tend to develop a sense of aversion towards things that induce unpleasant emotions or sensations. We often use words such as "my" or "mine" to describe people or things that we feel a strong attachment towards..
This tendency to form an attachment or aversion, often a strong one, brings tremendous amount of tension into our mind and body primarily because it is not a concept that matches the nature of reality very well and often leads to dissonance with it. It could be a good exercise to try and explain to a simulated Alien that knows nothing about human conventions or culture what the word "belong" actually means and how it applies to living or non-living beings.
A common byproduct of clinging to people or things is the fear of losing them or the resistance to the constant change that takes place in everything everywhere. The stronger we hold on to things the more we get tangled with them and are less likely to be able to let go of them when we need to, we become a web of knots and blocks that brings a tremendous amount of frustration and disappointment, not a very pleasant way to live in a world where animate and inanimate objects are all transitory by nature.
This tendency to hold on and feel a sense of possession usually leads to continuous unconscious distress that can easily be triggered and then potentially intensify until it turns into anger, resentment, hatred, pain, etc..
Here's one obvious and current example - religious beliefs!
How common has it been in history for people who hold strong beliefs in one religious dogma or another use violence as part of their devotion to these beliefs? Usually people do not commit the worst acts of violence for some sadistic reason but rather see these acts as justified and righteous. They might justify them as a way to protect their religion from some threat, or as some duty given by a higher power, as a way to execute justice according to the storyline of their particular religious dogma, or any other reason they find that validates enough their ongoing desperate attempts to sustain and nurture deep rooted unresolved attachments.
False sense of Separation ("Asmita")
This is another big one and is very much connected to our tendency to form attachments. Western societies are probably doing us disservice in this regard idealizing the concept of individuality, glorifying our sense of "I" which is fundamentally false according to most Eastern philosophies. This falsehood can easily be recognized through a process of sincere meditation when one is searching within for this so called "Self".
What is this feeling of "I-am-ness"?
It is a feeling that there is an entity, which often seems to be located somewhere inside our head, that is at the center of everything that we experience, it can even feel like it is the center of the universe as a matter of subjective experience. This is nothing but a mental-structure that is based on an assumption that we are separate entities and therefore are very important characters in the story of our life.
This deeply rooted sense of Self, that can partially be described by the term "Ego", has a tendency to view the world as there to serve its needs and desires, it discerns continuously whether someone or something brings it value or not and labels them accordingly, it either feels threatened or praised, secure or in danger, a comradery or opposition. All these labels have one thing in common - at their base they are a fundamental, very often unconscious, feeling of separation from the world around us.
This may sound like a harsh criticism of humans as self-centered ego-driven creatures but the reality is that in many cases we need this sense of "I" for survival, not just in life or death situations but much more relevant to our life in 2023 we need it while facing the challenges, difficulties and vast possibilities of the modern world. It can lead us to meaningful relationships, to embarking in joyful experiences, it can help us express ourselves well as well as keep us safe.
This sense of Self, if applied properly and with introspective supervision, can actually be of great service to us but it can also cause us much suffering, particularly if it operates unexamined in the unconscious mind combined with a strong attachment that we form around it.
It may lead to feeling animosity towards others which tends to create resentful or even hateful compulsive thoughts that can easily turn to actions. It can also create an obscured point of view that prevents us from manifesting our deepest true nature which is that of unity and interconnectedness with others. It is when we experience a strong connection that we feel the most fulfilled, peaceful, safe and happy.
Ignorance or not-knowing ("Avidya")
This is the root cause of all internal difficulties according to the yoga tradition, it is the lack of capacity to notice the inner workings of the mind as they are, to be mindful of whatever is arising in the field of consciousness at any give moment, whenever needed.
The word "ignorance" has many negative connotations but it simply comes from the verb "to ignore" which is the state most of us are in until we start engaging in a contemplative practice such as yoga. We ignore what is taking place under the hood of our psyche and only pay attention in rare occasions when the conditions are acute. As long as most of our tendencies, thought patterns, and changing states of mind remain in the unconscious levels of our mind uninspected and not recognized, they have tremendous power over us and we become easily trapped in them not knowing that we are.
To come out of it all we really need to do is start observing whatever appears in our mind in real-time, see how different patterns of thinking affect us and how we are driven to think and act. This ability to be mindful, without generating self-judgement, self-analysis, or any form of self-evaluation, but rather see things as they are, eventually leads us to breaking free from the grip of any rising thought. Thinking will always be there but it will leave less and less footprints and have much less impact on the quality of our inner experiences, we can then choose which thoughts we want to give more space and engage in and which we don't.
As we develop this capacity that is within all of us, we start to take ownership of our internal landscape and modify it in a way that maximizes our potential to live life well.
How do we do that?
Practice yoga and meditation effectively until mindfulness becomes second nature. This is the yoga way :)
Ending with a Vedic chant from the yoga tradition
Oṃ, sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ
sarve santu nirāmayāḥ
sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu
mā kashchit duḥkha bhāgbhavet
Oṁ śānti śānti śāntiḥ
May all be prosperous and happy
May all be free from illness
May all see what is spiritually uplifting
May no one suffer
Always happy to hear your thoughts on this topic or any other!
Looking forward to sharing yoga with you in December.
With love and gratitude
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