“I don’t know what suffering and sorrow and injustice and brutality and loss are FOR…And once we have said that, ‘I don’t know’—then we have reached the end of ourselves. Then, maybe all we can do is sit in silence with the person who is suffering, or with the people who are suffering, and just say, ‘I will stay here with you…’ The great compassionate souls always take their overflow of sorrow and turn it into love. Turn your overflow of sorrow into love. That’s the only thing I know how to do sometimes.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
I Don’t Know and the Yoga of Compassion
I am fairly certain there is no other phrase in the English language as liberating as “I don’t know.” It is completely OK not to know something. What isn’t OK is not doing something.
The past couple of months have been filled with tragedy in the United States, Europe, and beyond. There have been displaced and lost people, natural disasters, and pure hatred. Many people feel small and helpless in the face of such global grief. So what can one person do? What can a small community of yogis actually do about it? Be there for each other.
I have a new yoga student who asked me this morning about the meaning of yoga. I have found that, since there are myriad answers to this question, you can translate the word directly from Sanskrit to English, or you can explain what yoga means to you. To me, yoga is about connection: the connection between your body and your breath, your mind and your heart, your heart and the hearts of those around you, and the often inexplicable knowledge that you are connected to something greater than yourself. I have also found that people in our culture are desperate for this connection. In a society that still recognizes difference and otherness, in which we are increasingly divided over politics, religion, economics, technology, and education, how do we find community? How do we find someone who will just listen? Because we all suffer, and we all want to be understood.
The practice of yoga has the boundless capacity to teach compassion, first for yourself, and then for others. Are you being kind to your body in your asana practice, or do you continually push the limits of your physical self? Are you able to cultivate gratitude for the blessings of your life through a meditation practice, or is your mind usually wandering to where the grass is always greener? Compassion is not easy. But it is possible. Through simple gestures and kind words, we can spread love through our yoga community, throughout our city, our state, our country, and then the world. Do you see your neighbor in class struggling to get up into a handstand? Mention to them after class that you think inversions are scary, and that it takes some serious guts to try and go upside down! That woman who was in child’s pose through most of class? Casually say to her how tough you thought today’s class was.
Can a community of yogis change the world? I don’t know. But we can sure try.