Is compassion an instrument of activism?
Isn’t that a relevant question today with so much to March about?
I’ve been thinking a lot about my activism in the world; speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves; acknowledging and protecting equal rights, sharing accurate news and, researching impactful programs.
I was curious to see what my students would say while we practiced this sutra in class this week.
From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.33 Pratipaksha Bhavana
“When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate the opposite, elevated attitude.”
Would people think this sutra creates denial? The sutras are referring to a very subtle level of consciousness.
Author, Niscala Joy Devi, translates this sutra with this exercise: Visualize a difficult person or attitude as a deity. In your mind and heart, put a flower garland over the head of that someone or attitude that is disturbing, bow to their feet and offer a silent pranam/ blessing.
Consider an international figure that you may be struggling with, or an attitude that you find repugnant, be honest, could you actually practice this sutra?
Admittedly, there is a different boundary for each of us depending on our life situation upon whom or what we would practice this sutra on. Sometimes, the correct response to a situation is integrity and a healthy boundary especially, if your human right has been denied. To me, this sutra exercise is the real work of forgiveness and compassion.
Would you consider this practice real action?
I think we have a tendency to de-humanize people who have perpetrated atrocities. I am not advocating for their lack of responsibility, instead, I am referring to the idea that we tend to deny and push away traits and attitudes that we do not want to ascribe to humanity. And perhaps compassion can bring our denial of humanity’s darker side a little closer to reality.
Generally, I’ve noticed that spiritual people avoid action-oriented activism whereas activists on the street avoid spiritual or more subtle forms of activism such as self-care or meditation.
In everyday life, I use my presence of mind and my voice to stand up for those who are weak or vulnerable around me. If someone is being treated unfairly or unkindly, I do my best to speak up. So much of my “activism” requires me to stay connected to my Self, be present, aware and ready to use my voice.
Part of awareness is to be constantly practicing discernment both of my thoughts and also with others’ ideas and public news reports.
I can be informed by using my discernment to question the source of the information. And I can ask myself if what I share is going to serve the greater good by talking about it with everyone I meet. What am I putting out into the world if I speak without intention or worse with a cantankerous intention?
Being aware of the atmosphere I’m creating is a more subtle approach to peace. I practice asking myself: Is what I am about to share necessary? Is it kind?
In the last 20 years, the wisdom to change the world has been to find the source of peace within so that I can serve others by letting that come out in what I do, not do and, say. To me, this is an element of compassionate activism.
I believe that a practice that cultivates peace both within and around you is a worthy and necessary endeavor.
So, yes, balance is key. However, in the West, we value and emphasize action; What one does over what one IS.
Just as the feminine power (in both men and women) has been minimized, I don’t want the connectivity of our hearts to be minimized.
In short, I believe there is more power in Who I am in this world than what I do.
My teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi demonstrates this idea:
“Problems are not solved on the level of problems. Analyzing a problem to find its solution is like trying to restore freshness to a leaf by treating the leaf itself, whereas the solution lies in watering the root.”
My interpretation of “watering the root” is like setting an intention of peace before you go to a peace march or, practicing discernment of my thoughts and considering my words.
Where does your activism show up?
How can we nurture the roots of equality, responsibility, and care-ism on both the inside and the outside?
For me, Compassion for the human condition is paramount to peace. And anything that creates peace is an instrument of activism.