I was up early this morning, well before the rest of the family bailed out from the warmth of their beds. It was slightly foggy and cool. I treated myself to a nice, peaceful, extended practice. It’s one my class has been working on for the past two weeks – 180 postural breaths and a 36 breath pranayama sequence. I did the same practice yesterday but this morning, I really had difficulties in keeping my mind on the mat.
In addition to the usual clutter from my brain that likes to pop up during practices, this morning my mind kept returning to the teachings of one of the top yogis of all time, Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not much for preaching at the best of times, and I wouldn’t label myself as a “Christian” but Jesus’ teachings were rock on. I’ve certainly gleaned some good out of them. Granted, he talked about a lot of things, some of which were recorded and others that got lost in the editing process, etc. but no matter how badly his followers have managed to muck things up over the past two millennium, you have to admit, He had some humdinger ideas.
Like forgiveness. I file this one under the yogic yama of aparigraha – non-grasping or non-hoarding. After all, what is forgiveness other than the letting go of our grievances and our slights? A lot of us feel the need to keep our little baubles of hurt and resentment in action because it fertilizes and renews our sense of anger. And furthermore, we LIKE it.
Oh…you’re one of these people who never get angry or perturbed and above all, never get off on it, this column isn’t for you. This column is for the people like me who find the state of anger to be a familiar country. It’s exhilarating. There’s something comforting about that surge of adrenaline and all the rest of the body’s “wake up — let’s rumble” chemicals coursing through body and mind. I like that high. It probably has something to do with the fact I spent most of my life to date being a pretty angry person. Naww, let’s cut the crap. I LOVE that high. It makes colours just a little bit brighter, and sounds just a little bit sharper. And my brain works just a little bit faster. And I feel powerful and strong and alive. I like that feeling. I love the rush.
I came by it honestly. My mother was addicted to anger. She spent the first 50 years or so of her life as an extremely angry, raging woman who was cutting, emotionally brutal by times, physically violent at other times. I grew up in that cauldron of rage, which is probably why it took me so long to figure out that it isn’t normal.
I wasn’t as straight-forward as my mother. I didn’t get angry at people so much as I got angry at systems, institutions and things – like poverty, injustice, corruption, and, and, and..and did I mention, and. I was the adopter of causes and you have to admit, so many progressive social causes are just custom fit for people like me – the perpetually angry. We don’t have anger management problems; we’re simply passionate about a cause and if you aren’t willing to pour your energy into the cause, well, that just proves what a lousy human being you are because any right thinking human being with half a brain would KNOW that I am RIGHT and you, sniveling little worm, are wrong. Really, I try not to be smug when I say that but crap, it’s a struggle.
And by the way, it really doesn’t matter what the cause is. There are more causes than people to rally around them. In fact, you can pretty much make the rounds – violence against women, animal rights, nuclear disarmament, human rights, global warming, environmentalism, war, poverty, inequality, racism. The list is endless and frankly, they’re all good ones. Every single one of them is worth our time, our energy and our commitment. I’m not ‘dissing’ the cause. What I am taking a long hard look at is my approach to it.
Every single one of these, and a few more besides, has provided me with an opportunity to be a self-righteous, ego-driven twit. I can find fuel in every single one of these causes to embellish my rage and oh boy, there it was, that sweet, familiar elixir of anger, as tantalizing to the senses as wine and equally intoxicating. It’s ME against THEM. And by the way, THEM is stupid, short-sighted, greedy, rude, corrupt, blind, unconscious and uncaring. It’s ME against THEM and there’s only room for one of us to prevail in this world. Victory at all costs is the battle cry. There can be no peace, no rest, until THEM are vanquished.
Of course, being a nice, oh-so civilized Canadian with my rather comfortable middle-class lifestyle meant that most of my fighting was with words. I could retreat into a cave of faux-superiority, and with the smug satisfaction that I really was a cut above the common herd. Just look at ME — I wrote cheques and occasionally, took the time to try to educate a few of the less-thickheaded THEMs that live out there. I didn’t actually feel compelled to strap on a vest of explosives and go blow myself and a few dozen THEMs to hell and back in a subway. But the mechanics, the thought processes, the mindset – it’s all familiar territory.
And frankly, it was going quite well. I’d worked through several of the major causes and a few of the minor (but still important!!) issues, when I stumbled into a yoga class and screwed the whole thing up. Somewhere, somehow, something managed to penetrate through the fog of delusion. Without realizing, I twisted enough to open a little invisible crack in my armour and in slipped Miss Aparigraha.
“What do you need to let go of?” asked the ever charming Miss Aparigraha.
“Nothing” I snorted and waved my hand derisively, gesturing her on to someone else, who really could use her help, you know…one of THEM.
So, she pulled up a chair, and sat there, underneath my ego and struck up a friendship with The Little One With No Name who lives comfortably and quietly under the umbrella of my ego machinations. And together, they came up with a list … my anger, my quickness to take offense, every slight and wound that I have bound to me and nurtured and polished over the years. All my beautiful little cultivated and carefully honed grievances – precious little gems of anger – piled six deep and six wide and six high in my heart.
“Ahhhhh”, cooed Miss Aparigraha, as she hefted the first one. “This one is well over-due” and with that, she tossed it out. It turns out my little gems were nothing more than cheap paste, worthless and crumbling from the weight of time. And with some time and a little effort, one by one, each of the little anger baubles was set on its way – released from the hoard that defined me. Finally, enough of the clutter was cleared to safely light that candle marked “Forgiveness”.
As a sense of peace grew in me, it really bothered me. Who the hell am I without all my passion and causes, and self-righteous sense of…what was it again? There’s one for you. Who am I when I’m not angry? What kind of person am I when I’m not incensed at injustice and inequity? Have I become one of THEM? I don’t know because I can’t find THEM anymore. They used to be on every street corner, in every newspaper headline and now they seem to have disappeared. All I can see when I look around is people who are confused, doing the best that they can as they struggle under the burden of ignorance and fear, trying to find their way around over and through the obstacles of attachment and revulsion and clinging to their definition of Self. And they don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing but they’re doing it the best that they can… you know, sort of like me these days.
So back to the guru from Nazareth … He was all over this forgiveness stuff. He did a lot of teaching on the subject. Letting go of your anger, healing the breaches between you and others, cleaning up your own crap before you take on the crap of others. And just how much of this forgiving stuff do we have to do? I’ll let an expert on the subject speak…
After listening to Jesus’ teaching on reconciliation, unity, restoration and forgiveness, Peter asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21) Peter thought seven times would be very generous. It was the rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive three times. One rabbi said that if a man committed an offense once, twice or even three times, you must forgive him, but by the fourth time you did not have to forgive him. Peter understood this idea, and being very generous, he doubled it and added one more time for good measure. So he asked Jesus what he thought: “Up to seven times?” I am sure he expected to be commended for his gracious attitude.
Jesus’ answer surprised Peter. Peter’s problem was that he was still thinking in terms of justice and legality. Jesus’ reply was not based on law and justice, but based on the gospel of grace. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,'” (Matt. 18:22) meaning without limit!
And here’s a little secret that no one tells us about the baubles of anger and resentment. They’re not worth anything. They have no value but they sure weigh a lot. They can drag us into the deepest pit of our own self-made Hell and there’s no way to climb out of it without ditching that burden. Jesus got it. All the great spiritual teachers get it. They keep teaching in hope that eventually the rest of us will get it.
For the Christians in the crowd, I wish you a Happy Easter. Enjoy your celebration of the hope inspired by Christ. For the rest of us, enjoy the weekend. Find something that makes you smile and cherish it instead.
Thanks for reading and Namaste,