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Compassion In Times Of Crisis

yaṁ hi na vyathayantyete

puruṣhaṁ puruṣharṣhabha
sama-duḥkha-sukhaṁ dhīraṁ

so ’mṛitatvāya kalpate

यं हि न व्यथयन्त्येते पुरुषं पुरुषर्षभ |
समदु:खसुखं धीरं सोऽमृतत्वाय कल्पते || 15||

The person who is not disturbed by happiness or distress and is steady in both becomes eligible for liberation.

– Bhagavad Gita 2.15

yam—whom; hi—verily; na—not; vyathayanti—distressed; ete—these; puruṣham—person; puruṣha-ṛiṣhabha—the noblest amongst men, Arjun; sama—equipoised; duḥkha—distress; sukham—happiness; dhīram—steady; saḥ—that person; amṛitatvāya—for liberation; kalpate—becomes eligible


Our mind is always wondering. We’re in constant pursuit of happiness, or, vice versa, avoidance of suffering. But happiness is such a fleeting moment in time: one moment you are fine; the next it is gone. Same with suffering; it is an inevitable part of life. So, no matter how much we try to rule the external world, life is going to take its course. This might leave us feeling powerless and maybe even more determined to keep searching for that external sense of satisfaction.

So, how about if instead of trying to control the world we could learn to master the mind?

And here comes the practice of yoga, as yoga is a process of learning how to master the mind’s innate capacity to perceive the world. And the power to then understand, decide and act.

As one of my wonderful teachers, Rod Stryker says: Perception, recognising what you are perceiving, deciding and then acting accordingly; this practice is key to mastering the roaming tendency of the mind.

From the biology point of view, the partial culprit behind our distracted (vikshipta) state of mind is the little part in the brain called amygdala. It is part of the primal brain that dates back to the times when we were living in the wild, having to constantly scan the horizon for danger. Humans evolved so fast in terms of the how we live, the brain however, still needs to catch up. Our mind is still pulling us into thousands of directions, scanning the world for danger, which nowadays is replaced with distraction.

Have you noticed that even during the asana practice, unless you are completely in the zone and present, you have the need to keep looking around, checking the clock, readjusting the mat, reaching for water. Maybe even keeping your eyes closed during Shavasana is a challenge? So before we take the practice of yoga off the mat, let’s see how focused we can be during the time on our mat.

So, how does it all tie back to our July Focus Of The Month: Compassion In Times of Crisis?

I guess, it’s the never-ending question of how do we keep calm and cultivate a steady mind in times of pandemics, inevitably approaching climate change, refugees’ crisis, bush fires, Amazon fires, Arctic fires, racism, homophobia… the list is long… It becomes so overwhelming that one might think, how on Earth is the practice of yoga going to change anything? And yet…

Us yogis, we are activists, whether we realise it or not. We are actively participating in the world. Sometimes it is by simply creating the time, space and effort to look after physical and mental health… so that we then have the strength to look after others.

In yoga we often talk about compassion. But, what does it really mean? As our wonderful teacher and founder of Jivamukti yoga, Sharon Gannon says:

Compassion is not sympathy, it’s not pity, and it’s not even empathy, although it contains it. Sympathy is when you recognise the suffering of another. Empathy is when you recognise the suffering of another but you also feel it, as if it is happening to you. 

But compassion is something much different. Compassion is all the above but you are committed to finding a way to alleviate the pain in others. Because alleviating the pain in another helps to alleviate your own pain since you feel that pain yourself, through empathy. 

And to exercise compassion, we must learn how to come from the place of serenity, humility, and NOT from the place of our ego, or from the angry, unhappy or distracted mind.

The person who is not disturbed by happiness or distress and is steady in both becomes eligible for liberation.

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