We all wear masks. The one that I wear is that I have to hold myself back from saying how I feel many times. I feel that I have to withhold judgment because that is not very "yogic". Because I teach compassion, I have to somehow embody it, even if many times I do not feel it, so I just fake it. Because I advocate for animals, my anger would make me "militant" and the wrong choice of words would make me "offensive". The burden is on me to be happy and joyful and compassionate even if there are times I really do not feel it. The burden is for me to be "good enough" so you start listening to what I have to say.
I have often considered disabling my accounts in social networking sites because pictures of non-vegan food trigger so much negative emotions in me. A dead fish on a plate with a chicken's period is food? The ground up, dried bits of who used to be alive is objectified and instead of seeing she was once a pig, you just call it pork? Lacto-vegetarians who profess their love for cheese or ice cream or donuts supposedly care for animals even if they know fully well the rape, cruelty, and eventual murder involved in the dairy industry? I look at these pictures and posts and I secretly judge, and my negativity gnaws at me and I lose my appetite and drive for hours. I sink into hopelessness. When I first became vegan, I wondered if the pain of knowing would eventually fade. To this day, it hasn't. Every time I think of the animals suffering, my heart breaks. Every single time.
These negative emotions are keeping me from becoming free. And I teach Jivamukti yoga not because I am more "yogic" than students who attend my class, but perhaps because this is the way I cope with my pain, because perhaps I need to somehow believe I am responding to my pain and negative emotions in a positive and hopefully productive way. Perhaps I need this so I do not sink into depression. Perhaps this is my mantra, my meditation, my kindness, and my compassion in its imperfect practice. Will I ever be free? Will I ever be liberated? I have to believe so. But I am attached. I wish for animals to be free first.
What if the negative emotion that we experience that is more overpowering than others is not to be overcome, at least not in the quasi-instantaneous way we are expected to? What if it is something we learn to live with? What if, as a friend once suggested and wrote about, it is through this pain that we find our life's purpose? What if our negative emotions are not hindrances, but rather building blocks?
I can choose to use this intense pain as a start-off point in my path to liberation. I can use the steps my teacher Sharon Gannon suggested: japa/dhyana, maitri/karuna. Through japa or mantra chanting, I can let the intention Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu seep through me. I can take action to free animals who are victims. I can send my positive thoughts to my fellow human beings who continue to exploit animals, not because they are evil, but because they are victims of their own ignorance. I can surrender my ego attachments and work on my own freedom, because I am myself a victim of my ignorant judgments that make me a prisoner of these negative emotions. I can meditate. Even my teaching can be a reflective process of meditation. This blog post can be a process of observing without judging myself. I can breathe with awareness. I can let go. I can practice kindness. If others are happy that they are eating meat, perhaps I can find solace in the fact that at least in the equation of a happy human being eating an animal who suffered, one of them is happy rather than not one of them happy. I can practice compassion, relating to my fellow human beings through what we have in common: the desire to be happy, avoidance of pain, our human imperfections.
The truth is, I do not know whether I myself can overcome negative emotions. What I know is that I trust my teachers, and the teachers of my teachers, all of the lineage tracing back to the first yogi, that when we live by the principles and tenets of yoga, freedom is possible. My yoga practice starts where I am uncomfortable, when I begin to doubt myself, when I ask myself questions like these but have no answers.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.