On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, my main job was to ground people, get them breathing again, and give out terrific hugs.
New York was in shock.
Many great political commentators have already done a terrific job dissecting What Happened?!? As a person who has always been interested in the behavior of people, and more recently, as a yogi, I’m very curious about the decisions that lead voters to cast one way or another. Because at its core YOGA is early study of human psychology. For me, to be curious about yoga is to be curious about yourself, and about other people…I’m curious about YOU!
And as a leader in teaching yoga, I’m interested in the way our community responds, and more importantly how we behave, IN REAL LIFE.
Its lead me to think again about this one, core question:
How does a yogi behave?
And, more pointedly: How does a yogi behave in the face of adversarial conditions, full frontal assault, from other humans?
There are surface, signifying, yogic behaviors, that have become commonplace. Wear yoga pants. Attend yoga class. Do asana.
This is the beginning. These signifiers show that you have started to create a new relationship with yourself.
Then, you may hit a different, deeper layer. You start to talk to the people about “going with the flow” and “being in the moment” and “feeling what comes up” and “self love and acceptance” and “compassion and non-violence” and “accepting what is” and “living your truth.” All good things.
It is a behavior of a yogi to live an examined life. These outward verbal signifiers are signs that something transformative is occurring within you.
And, in the face of radical dissonance with the world outside—like we’re seeing now—this inward change may need to accelerate, so that you can BEHAVE outwardly like the change you wish to see in the world. IN REAL LIFE.
There is a story that is central to the texts yoga that tells us something about the behavior of a yogi. The story is called the Bhagavad Gita. In the central narrative—an epic poem of sorts—our main character, Arjuna, is facing his family on a battlefield. Unbeknownst to him, his charioteer is the God, Krishna.
They dialogue about Arjuna’s reluctance to fight his kin. Over the duration of the conversation, Krisha describes the attributes of a yogi, or the “wealth of divinely inclined persons.” (Quote, and the following list are from the Bhagavad Gita XVI:1-3) Note: for interpretations of these attributes, I’m relying heavily (exclusively?) on this website, because it is the only published commentary I was able to find.
Let’s take a look at this list, provided by a God. J
- Fearlessness: It is the quest of a yogi to eradicate “fear-based” behavior and thinking from his or her life. “Fear robs man of the indomitability of his soul.” (Yogananda). Fear is a primal, core emotion, and it hijacks a person’s ability to do…well anything, much less behave well.
- Purity of heart: “Purity of heart means transparency to truth.” (Yogananda)
- Perseverance in acquiring wisdom and the practice of yoga: “Practice, and all is coming,” said Patthabi Jois.
- Charity: Unselfishness and generosity.
- Subjugation of the senses: Self-restraint means that you are master of your senses. They do not run you, yet they give you important information, with which you take right action in response.
- Performance of holy rites: What could this mean? “A devotee, according to his state of development, may perform the symbolic physical rite of pouring clarified butter into fire, or the mental rite of burning wrong desires in the flames of wisdom, or the yogi’s spiritual rite of consuming human restlessness in the fire of soul ecstasy. In the ultimate, the whole of one’s life should be a holy rite, with every thought and act purified by a devout heart. (Yogananda)
- Study of the scriptures: “Redemption does not come from what one knows intellectually, but from what one becomes as a result of that knowledge.” (Yogananda) Beware un-embodied, un-activated knowledge. Study ought to lead you to become a different person, and that is characterized by different choices and different behaviors, and therefore, different outcomes.
- Self-discipline: How do you train yourself? Do you have a practice of discipline? Through these practices you learn to train yourself to behave consciously, to respond instead of to react.
- Straightforwardness: This is a sign of being an honorable person. It ought not lull a person into thinking others are honorable as well. Heed the lessons of Ned Stark…
- Non-injury: Seek actions that hold at their core the good of all and harm to none.
- Truthfulness: Adhering to the truth may be the path to bring you to the Truth. Watch the many lies that we tell ourselves, they are the beginnings of the fog that obstructs our discernment of what is real and true.
- Freedom from wrath: Anger clouds a person’s judgment. Yogananda says that anger is caused by the obstruction of one’s desires. I think that’s true. I think anger also arises when your boundaries are violated. Anger is a very useful emotion, one to learn from, and to consider where it comes from. Then, once the emotion is not running you, you can select correct action and respond, not react. Remember this: angry people do not create peaceful outcomes. Never cook or eat angry—just think what it does to your food! Take this as a tangible model for what happens in your life when something is created from anger.
- Renunciation: This is an incredibly foreign concept in the age of immediate-gratification and entitlement. Consider this “deferred gratification.” Is there something we might forfeit today for a better outcome later?
- Peacefulness: As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” Seek out tranquility, and eradicate the thoughts that disturb it. Life and the events around you will inevitably be upsetting. How you respond: that is your sole domain of control.
- Nonslanderousness: Translated to the absence of fault-finding and calumny “Absence of fault-finding hastens one’s spiritual evolution by freeing the mind from concentration on the weaknesses of others to focus wholly on the full-time job of bettering oneself. A person who, like a detective, is busy observing the shortcomings of others gets a false conviction of superiority— either that he himself is free from those blemishes or is otherwise qualified to appraise others. A critical person rarely perfects his own life.” (Yogananda)
- Compassion for all creatures: Seems pretty clear. Sometimes people get hung up on what “compassion” means. Consider it sympathy for the suffering of others, and the desire to remove that suffering, a ability to do so, and the courage to take the action needed to make it so.
- Absence of greed: When you master your senses, and understand yourself and the origin of greed and envy, they wither away…
- Gentleness: Seems pretty straight-forward. Do you think gentle thoughts? Do you speak gently? Touch gently?
- Modesty: Consider for a moment all the truly GOOD people you know. They are (or were) probably quiet, humble, moderate. And in fact, these things were in part to source of their power, not a result of it.
- Lack of restlessness: “Absence of restlessness enables one to avoid physical and mental roamings and useless activities. Nervousness and restlessness are usually caused by constant indulgence in sense pleasures or by habitual negative thoughts or by emotional problems or by “driving” traits like worldly ambition.” (Yogananda)
- Radiance of character: “Divine radiance in the devotee is further characterized by a natural unfoldment of spiritual magnetism, an unassumed vibratory aura of goodness, and a quiet outer expression of deep inner joy.” (Yoganada)
- Forgiveness: “If you become vengeful or angry, you only make more enemies, for an angry person is the target of all.” (Yogananda)
- Patience: Seems simple enough. But I think there are two kinds of patience. One, is defined as fortitude. It’s the ability to withstand to forces of your life and not allow them to deter you from your goal of…being a better person. Then, there is the kind of patience you exhibit with other people. Children. Strangers. Family. People whom, under certain circumstances you’d really rather act like a jerk to. Patience means that in your speech and actions with others, you restrain yourself and help them either behave differently, or, when you just want to be a jerk just because, you resort to gentleness, humility, and compassion instead.
- Cleanliness: Cleanliness of the body and purity of the mind helps create a clear space for all of these other attributes.
- Freedom from hate: Hatred clouds your ability to see yourself in all beings, and all beings as an extension of the Creator.
- Absence of conceit: Lack of conceit signifies absence of excessive pride. (Yogananda)
This is quite a list to work with, yogis. Now, let’s consider how many of these are applicable, say in interactions with people whose political views anger you in person or on the internet.
You might get upset and say, “fuck your list of behaviors! That person is repulsive! They don’t deserve to be treated well!”
I’m sure that horrible person thinks the same of you.
Always take the high road. Behave with grace, and elegance, and be a beacon. BEHAVE like the change you wish to see in the world.
I’m thinking to take this year to really delve deeply into this list of qualities, and consider them more whole heartedly, with an article dedicated to each. It’s that important, at this very moment in time. Stand by.