Have you ever bullied someone, in person or online, as a child or in the recent past, over their appearance, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religion, their ethics, their politics, etc?
Life is not easy for any of us. We have all been hurt and we have all hurt others. Every single person has their share of pain and suffering. Every single person has their struggle. Every single person has some burden they carry. Not only that, there are systems and structures that make some of this unfairness normalized, like hierarchies in society. In all cultures, there are second, third, and fourth class citizens. They are bullied by the mere system in which they exist.
When I was in college, we played this game where everyone is handed an envelope with pieces of paper. Each piece of paper has an object listed down with a corresponding numerical value. Each person tallies their number, and there’s a ranking from top to bottom. The top 5 then gathers around to reassign values of the objects, and they do so as they wish, with no restrictions. After each round, the new ranking is listed. When the game started, the differences in numbers were small and incremental, but by the end of the game, the top 5 held numbers that are exponentially higher than the ones at the bottom. The top stayed on top and bottom stayed at the bottom. It was then revealed that this game shows us power structures at play. When the powerful few make decisions based only on their self-interest, others tend to be oppressed. When the powerful few is interested only in winning, others are left behind. When the powerful few are not connected to the rest of the others, it is as though the others are invisible. We didn’t know this while we were playing the game. We each just thought we wanted to win.
What is interesting in yoga philosophy is that there is no such thing as good or bad, or even right or wrong. There is only the true Self and the illusions that prevent us from seeing it. Our true Self knows that we are all in this together, that we are all connected to each other, that my interest is your interest, and that none of us are really separate. The true Self understands that we are already perfect, and we do not need to put others down to lift ourselves up. When we hurt others, it’s not because we are bad people, it is only because we do not know our true Self. We have mistakenly identified with our egos and our fears and our insecurities. We have confused self-love with external indulgences like buying expensive things, accumulating wealth, etc. When in reality, authentic self-love has little to do with external validation and everything to do with complete unconditional acceptance.
In your practice, observe not only how the physical body moves but also the tendencies of the mind— the self-talk, the internal dialogue, the deep-seated reactions. Use the practice to bring the unconscious to the level of the conscious. Are you holding on to the illusion of “I’m not good enough”, or at the other end of the spectrum, “I’m too good for this”? Observe these tendencies, not to judge, but merely to understand the layers of defenses you are working with. You invite them up so you can gently lay them down.
Now think of one person who bullied you, hurt you, made you feel small. Reframe your perspective by no longer seeing this person as bad. Simply see this person as someone who was hurt, someone who didn’t know what to do with the pain they were passed on, and so they passed it on to you. Perhaps they mistakenly thought that by hurting you, they would benefit in some way, but that is short-lived and does not resolve the hurt they still carry. Forgive them. See them as someone who struggled, that is all. When you free them, you also stop seeing yourself as a victim, and you free yourself. Pause and think of them. May they be free. May they be happy.
And then think of someone you have bullied, you have hurt, you have made to feel small. See that at this given time, you also just thought you would get some kind of benefit from hurting them. You were passed on hurt, and you didn’t know what to do with it, and you passed it on. You did so because in some way, you thought you were protecting yourself, because your idea of your self is the illusion, the ego that you were attached to. Forgive yourself, and ask forgiveness from this person too, even if it’s just in your mind. Pause and think of the person you hurt. May they be free. May they be happy.
Every single person we know, our parents, our guardians, our caretakers, our siblings, our relatives, our past partners, our current partner, our children, our friends, our acquaintances, our critics, our adversaries, everyone we love, everyone we resist, everyone who challenged us— all of us were hurt and all of of have hurt others. We are all in some way stuck in this matrix of illusion. But we are all also capable of unraveling these layers to reveal our true Self. May we all be free. May we all be happy. May we all be liberated. May none of us suffer. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.
Life is not easy for any of us. And the work is cut out for us to peel away our layers of illusions, to put down our armors, one by one by one, and it may take an entire lifetime or more to do so, but we can start right here. External changes in the world we live in are important, but without our internal evolution, we will be back to where we started. Look within and search within. Do the work of letting go of those layers of defenses. We can be free. We deserve to be free.