In Sharon Gannon's essay for October focus of the month, she spoke about how yogis know the truth that all beings matter, that if we dare to care and reach out to another, we transform ourselves and the lives of others. I think the choice of words is interesting: dare to care. It's true, isn't it, that even if our default reaction is to care, we hold back because caring could mean we inconvenience ourselves, that we have to step out of our familiar black-and-white zones, that we have to perhaps change our lives in the name of caring? And so it takes courage to actually allow ourselves to care for others.
I've been vegan for close to four years now, and things have been pretty black and white. If exploitation is involved, I do not support it. Period. But life throws us surprises, and mine came in the form of an adorable two-pound carnivore. While taking my vegan dog out for a walk, we found an abandoned kitten. Long story short, I took the kitten home and with it the dilemma of what to do with him, namely what food choices I will make for this little one. If I buy him animal products, it will compromise my values. If I make him vegan, it may potentially expose him to health risks. I discussed this with many fellow vegans and did my research and I am still unsatisfied with either option. A good friend, in her effort to comfort me, told me that while I may not have changed the world by adopting this kitten, I have certainly changed his life.
Maybe figuring out all the answers is not a requirement for daring to care. Maybe the courage that is required of us is simply to take one step towards the right direction. There are many situations that will seem imperfect to us. Is it more courageous to take no action so we are not burdened with any dilemma? Or is it more courageous to challenge ourselves in difficult situations, knowing that our desired results may never be available?
Our yoga asana practice is a good opportunity for us to explore these questions. When confronted with a pose I know I struggle in, would I just skip it altogether, or would I dare confront the pose with all that I have got right here right now? Would I at least try? If I try, are my intentions pure in that I am tapping into my courage rather than my selfish egoic desire to compete and look good?
This week I taught several classes where I asked students to spot each other on an L-shaped handstand against the wall. Everyone did the pose. And many were able to come up to a handstand away from the wall when assisted by their partners. We experience this dynamic in yoga asana, the realization that if we have the courage to help someone else out, it makes a world of difference to that person. We see that assisting someone in a pose is not about me, it is about them and their best interests. Authentic courage always looks to compassion.
And while we use our asana to understand the courage that we have, many of us get distracted by the allure of our ego. It is as though in this vehicle that will take us to enlightenment, we become so enamored by the vehicle itself that we forget where we are going. Our yoga practice becomes misguided in becoming attached to which pose I can master now, which poses I can hold for 10 minutes, which poses look advanced and make me look good. That is not a practice of courage. It is the ego taking over.
Ultimately, as we allow ourselves to be open to the teachings of yoga, to the goal and embodiment of yoga as interconnectedness, then we realize that the courage we use in lifting up to handstands is precisely the courage we need to dare to care. The world does not need any more people who can do handstands, but the world needs us to be courageous, to be fearless, to dare to care, even if we do not have nor will ever have all the answers. The world does not need our perfection. The world needs our compassion.