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Hardships make us grow in compassion

Hardships make us grow in compassion.

When we experience difficult times, we come out of them with greater compassion for others.

I was raised in a home where we didn’t take our life for granted.

Family in Lebanon were living underground due to war. We would exchange videos via VHS and I would watch in awe at how happy everyone was despite such challenging living conditions.

I would talk to cousins, uncles and aunties whom I had never met before.

But there was a sense of knowing who they were. My parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of showing love for our family even though all we knew of them were their names.

I never understood it then; why my parents enforced this kinship.

But now as the years pass me, I realise how profound this was.

Building strong connection with family is our lifeline.

Protecting each other was all they had and all they knew.

Living a daily life based on survival instincts made them stronger as a family and relationships were more important than material possessions.

In modern times, we have more than we need or can accommodate for.

We build bigger houses to put more things in.

We hire storage spaces just to store more stuff that we don’t use or need.

We shop, shop and shop to try and satiate the craving within us for connection.

Connection to love.

If all we have is within us, then why do we seek it outside ourselves?

When we look around our home, do we think “wow look at all that I have. I have far too much!”

Or do we have a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are?

We desire more because we don’t feel satisfied with the present reality. So we think we need something else to fill us up.

We continue to try and fill a void that no material object will ever fulfill.

My parents grew up in Lebanon before migrating to Australia.

They lived each day with unspoken gratitude. Gratitude to be alive.

They were grateful for every meal on their plate, no matter how simple.

My mum shared one bed between her other 4 siblings and the bedroom was the living room and the kitchen. It was one room. That was their life as children. They had few possessions.

But damn did they love each other.

My dad lost his mother at a young age and so early in life he and his older brother assumed responsibility for their younger siblings to help provide food and shelter to them.

Siblings were closer than they ever – seeking to protect, love and look out for the other.

No material possessions can buy this.

Perhaps that’s why my parents are so compassionate. My parents were always the first to give and still are.

If they saw a random person on the street who appeared in need of help, they would help them.

This is the kind of generosity I grew up seeing in my household.

The generosity and compassion my parents have, comes from a heart that has seen and lived difficult times.

They know what it’s like to live on very little. What it’s like to have almost nothing except cling to life itself.

Knowing what my parents went through makes me appreciate my life and all the things that I can so easily take for granted.

Compassion means to “feel with” and it’s so easy to feel with someone else’s hardship when you have experienced hardship yourself.

It is a gift growing older, as we have the privilege and opportunity to grow in compassionate wisdom.

 

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We All Share the Same Nature

Last month I talked about the essence of the nature of who we are.  Who are we? We are: Sat Chit Ananda (‘Absolute Bliss Consciousness’).  This is the Self.  We share this nature with all living beings: whether we are human, a cow, a dog or a fish.

We all share this common nature of the Self.  As we start to recognise our shared nature with all sentient beings, we start to realise the importance of Ahimsa (non harming).  As living beings we have two main goals in life: to be happy and to avoid suffering.  We share this goal with the horse, the pig and all living creatures.  Once we realise this, we start to change the way we think, the way we speak and this influences our actions.

The greatest everlasting happiness is achieved by putting the welfare of others before your own.  Patanjali says that we should avoid harmful thoughts, not just actions.  Our thoughts are deeply entwined with the way we act!

As a yogi, we are encouraged to live a life that causes the least amount of suffering to others.  All beings.  This is ahimsa in practice.

An important ingredient of ahimsa is compassion.  The word compassion means to “feel with”: ‘passion’ means to ‘feel’ and com’ means ‘with’.  So when we have compassion towards another being, it means we literally “feel with” them.

If we recognise that we share the same nature as other living beings, we begin to see ourselves through other beings.  Compassion trains the mind to see past our outer differences of form.  Just because a dog has four legs and we have two, it doesn’t change the fact that we share the same inner essence.  Once we see this, we begin not only to desire happiness for ourselves, but we realise that every single creature also desires happiness.

To develop compassion, it is a good practice to examine or reflect on your motives for your actions.  What are your intentions for your actions? Are they honourable? Are they honest?

When I was very young, I was always very sensitive to the suffering of others; humans and animals alike.  When I was a teenager, I started to really become aware of the fact that I was eating the flesh of other sentient beings.  I started to develop a very fine conscience about this and so when I was 17 years old, I became a vegetarian.  My motive was to avoid contributing to any suffering of another being.  I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that an animal had to suffer in order for me to eat, when there was plenty of other food that I could eat that was nourishing for my body and mind. So for the last 18 years I have been a dedicated vegetarian and although my dairy intake was not big, I only decided to become a Vegan about 3 months ago.

I read up on the dairy industry and it suddenly overwhelmed me to realise the suffering that cows and chickens (hens and roosters) endure so that we can have aisles of dairy in our supermarket.  For me, the decision to stop eating meat or dairy came from within me, with no outside pressure.  It was something that came with an acute sense of wanting to avoid suffering.  I strongly believe that if we live our life fuelled with ahimsa (non harming) and compassion, it will vibrantly change our planet.

So I encourage you to examine your thoughts, words and actions this month: how do you contribute to ahimsa in your world?

  • What are your thoughts on your boss at work?
  • How do you view your colleagues?
  • How do you treat the stranger that bumps into you at the shops?
  • How do you speak to your partner and loved ones after a rough day?
  • How do you speak to your colleagues when you’re under pressure?
  • Are your actions at work honourable?

 “The root of happiness is compassion” ~ Dalai Lama

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The Fifth Yama: Aparigraha (non-coveting)

To refresh, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting). 

We previously looked at the fourth yama – Brahmacharya (continence).  Now, let’s explore the fifth yama – aparigraha in more detail.

 Focus: APARIGRAHA

Aparigraha is often interpreted as non-greed or non-coveting.  It is the abstention from possessiveness, greed, selfishness and acquisitiveness. Aparigraha is about accepting what one has and being mindful when giving and receiving.  In our contemporary consumerist society, this concept of simple living is a difficult one for many to grasp especially when we just have to get the new iPhone 5 or the latest gadgets or fashion items.  Ask yourself how many computer devices you own – a phone (perhaps more than one?), a computer, a laptop, an iPad… anything else? Aparigraha invites us to choose simple living by looking at our lives and asking ourselves the right questions – do we need this extra item? Am I being greedy? Is what I have enough? Will I truly be happy with more possessions?

In essence, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy or having many possessions; however it is the attitude of consumerism and attachment to possessions that can be harmful.  No doubt we have seen how wealth can lead to greed and excessive absorption of earthly cares in famous figures and even people that we know personally.

So instead of focusing on what we do not have or what we need more of…let us draw our attention to gratitude.

I started a gratitude journal about two years ago when I had a miscarriage.  I was absolutely devastated and I found it hard to get out of my sadness.  This journal I found is an App on the iPhone so it was really easy to use and something I wouldn’t forget to do.  Each night I would record what I felt gratitude for that day or in life in general.  This simple practice really helped bring me back to a positive outlook on life.

I read this quote once ‘if you can’t change it, then change the way you think about it’ and I found a daily gratitude journal helped me maintain a positive outlook each and every day, even the tough ones.

So how do you practice aparigraha in your life?
Do you take more than you need?
How do you show gratitude for what you already have?

Gratitude turns what we have into enough
Melodie Beattie

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The Fourth Yama: Brahmacharya (Continence)

To refresh from last month, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Last month, we looked at the third yama – Asteya (non-stealing).  This month, let’s explore the fourth yama – brahmachharya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: BRAHMACHARYA

Brahmacharya is keeping control of one’s desires, particularly sexual ones.  It is chastity of word, thought and deed.  One who practices brahmacharya is said to be one whose mind is always fixed on the divine Being to achieve purity of heart.  Attachment to sensual pleasures, such as sex is seen as an obstacle to spiritual knowledge.  One who pursues the ascetic life interprets brahmacharya as strict celibacy; where traditionally yogis lived in seclusion.  However the contemporary yogi often interprets this yama to mean an appreciation of the sacredness of all acts and faithfulness to one partner or spouse.

The practice of Brahmacharya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. When one’s focus is less on the physical, the mind begins to focus on the spiritual.  Strength and fortitude are obtained which gives purity and calm to the mind.

‘Brahma’ means divine and ‘carya’ means ‘movement’ so we can interpret brahmacharya to mean recognising the divine in all movements or beings.  Brahmacharya calls the yogi to live a sanctified life seeing sacredness or divinity in all actions by living a life of mindfulness in all relationships.

How do you live brahmacharya in your own life?
Do you value mindfulness and sacredness in all your relationships?

To be able to realise God, one must practise brahmacharya
~
 Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa

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The Third Yama: Asteya (Non Stealing)

To refresh from last month, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Last month, we looked at the second yama – Satyam (truthfulness).  This month, let’s explore the third yama – asteya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: ASTEYA

Asteya means non-stealing and it is not simply about abstaining from theft; but in addition it is about not coveting more than your minimum needs.  One must remember that nothing in this world is a personal possession; we merely borrow what we need.  Taking more than what we need and wasting it, is seen as a form of stealing from humankind.

If you are always dwelling on your desire to want and what you would like to possess, these thoughts become more familiar to the mind and in turn can lead to selfish actions.  Consider for example the idea of ‘hoarding’; although it is not stealing as such, but it is a form of non-sharing or an inability to give away possessions to others.  Our desire can be our root cause for asteya.  The regular practice of yoga can settle one’s desire for hoarding where the mind and actions are better unified.

 For an interesting take on asteya, read this short article: click here.

“Desire or want is the root cause for stealing.”
~
 Swami Sivananda

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The Second Yama: Satyam (Truthfulness)

To refresh from last month, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Last month, we looked at the first yama – Ahimsa (non-violence).  This month, let’s explore the second yama – satyam in more detail.

 This month’s focus: SATYAM

Satyam is truthfulness.  It refers to truthfulness in action, word and thought.  By making the heart and the lips the same in conformity with the facts, one creates an atmosphere of truthfulness.  There should be no split in personality – the yogi should be the same on the ‘outside’ as well as the ‘inside’ through living a life of honesty and truthfulness in the present moment.  Yogis are called to live their lives in simplicity of truth and strictly avoid hypocrisy; making a firm commitment to veracity in all aspects of their lives.  We should avoid temptation of presenting false facts or gossip.

Does being truthful mean that you blurt out whatever you feel or think?  If you consider the first yama, ahimsa (non-violence)…yogis are also called to have an attitude of kindness in all they think, say and do.

In Sanskrit, Sat means ‘true or real’ and ya means ‘ness’.  A way to look at the term ‘satyam’ is to ‘be real’.  Being truthful or honest, is to be real.

 “When you blame, you open up a world of excuses, because as long as you’re looking outside, you miss the opportunity to look inside, and you continue to suffer.”
~
 Donna Quesada

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The First limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: YAMA

Last month, we looked generally at Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  The Eight limbs are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Each month, we will take a close look at each ‘limb’ and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

This month’s focus: YAMA

Patanjali stipulates yama as the universal social discipline, the great commandment that transcends all ages, creeds, country and time. The term yama can have different interpretations; rein, curb, bridle, discipline or restraint.  In today’s context, yama would mean self-control or forbearance which would then describe one’s particular attitudes (disciplines) which then influences their behaviour.  The Yamas are the behaviour patterns or relationships between the individual and the outside world.  Patanjali mentions five different yamas:

  1. ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Let us look at Ahimsa, the first yama in more detail.

Ahimsa is non-violence or non-aggression not only in action but also in speech and thought.  One must observe ahimsa in the way they speak to others and even in their body language, cultivating love for all. One must see themselves as a servant to others, and be willing to put themselves at the service of others (when of course the purposes are good, not evil).  A truly helpful person is described as a public bus; it travels along a fixed route to a destination but available to all who care to use it.

Ahimsa requires more than simply an attitude of patience, control and endurance; it is a true open heart of love and forgiveness towards others.

Ahimsa means kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals.  This is one reason why you would often find many dedicated yogis who are committed to a vegetarian diet.  It is deeply connected to this notion of non-violence towards all living things.  Ahimsa calls us to reduce the suffering of others and helps us recognise the preciousness of all life.  Ahimsa is core to the spiritual and ethical practice of yoga.

Some reflection questions to consider on the role of ahimsa in your life:

  • Love can transform us… how has love in your life (through giving and receiving) transformed you in any way?
  • In what ways have you observed ahimsa in your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you have not observed ahimsa in the best way?
  • What is one thing you can give more attention to in your life that contributes to ahimsa?(Remember ahimsa encompasses thoughts, speech and actions … small acts are truly significant!)

Next month, we’ll look at the second Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path…. Satyam (truthfulness).

 Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (Sanskrit mantra)
Translation:
May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.