When you look outside the window, the natural world is moving rapidly into Spring, birds are collecting nesting materials, new growth is sprouting from the ground, and the daylight hours are getting longer. But we humans are in crisis. As I watch the robin in my garden flitting about, I wish as I often do that I wasn’t burdened with my human consciousness. But then I remember that whilst almost all of my worries are about the future, and many of them will never actually happen, the robin has more immediate concerns. When you watch wild animals they are constantly vigilant, and to survive must be prepared to flee a potential predator at any given moment, or fight. If I had to live that way I would be a constant nervous wreck! And yet wild animals seem not to suffer any ill effects from this way of living. If the robin is startled by one of the many cats that seem to live in my garden (none of them mine…) it does not spend the rest of the week sitting in the hedge telling all the other birds what a terrible experience it had on Monday and how it is now too afraid to come down to look for food because of what might happen next. It just carries on AS IF NOTHING HAD HAPPENED. Just imagine for a moment that we had that capacity? Imagine that you could have a blistering row with your partner, have an unexpectedly bad appraisal at work, get some worrying results from the doctor, and then come home kick off your shoes put your feet up and relax AS IF NOTHING HAD HAPPENED! We are fed the idea that we are above all other species of animal and yet I wonder if we have more to learn from them than they do from us?
In the last classes that I taught before this term was brought to an abrupt end by the Covid 19 pandemic, I was talking about something called the Yamas. Yoga is described as a discipline containing eight branches, the first of which is the Yamas. The word Yama means “bridle” or “rein” . So the Yamas are restraints on our behaviour that enable us to live the life that a wise person (or robin…) might choose. Each week as the world around us changed so rapidly I felt the resonance of the Yamas in a way I never had before. I was hoping that we would get to cover them all before the end of term, but as it happened we didn’t get the chance. We had looked at:
AHIMSA the instruction to do no harm
SATYA a call to examine our relationship with the truth
ASTEYA a plea not to take what does not belong to us and
BRAHMACHARYA an exploration of our energy and how it can be either recharged or drained depending on what we are doing
But we never got to the last one
One of the languages used in yoga is Sanskrit. I don’t use it much in class as I feel “special” language can be used to mystify and create barriers to understanding. But it is a very beautiful and intriguing language. The word aparigraha can be translated in many ways, but one interpretation means not to grasp or grab. Think about it. When you grab something it is a quick movement that gives you no time to think. If you see out of the corner of your eye that your toddler is about to fall into the pond you GRAB them. This might mean that you handle them more roughly than you usually would, and you might scare them in the process, but you did so to protect them from something worse than a bruise or a fright. It is the same impulse that allows us to fling ourselves into the air to catch a plate just before its contents get splattered across our brand new rug. We move quickly without thought and we GRAB. So we can see that this impulse can be a positive thing, but it has its shadow side. And this impulse to grab mindlessly is very active when we are afraid.
So Aparigraha. To resist the urge to grab mindlessly. I don’t think I need to say much more about this in relation to what happened as soon as we were told that the Covid 19 virus had arrived in the UK.
What occurred to me as I talked to all my students about the Yamas was that they are restraints on our very natural human impulses; a call for us to rein in our behaviour. What this boils down to is that the human animal has the choice to respond rather than to react. A response is measured, it occurs after we have had time to think. A reaction just happens.
There are times when that instinct to grab can protect someone or something, and there are times when we exploit that impulse for selfish reasons. At the moment some of us have more time on our hands, perhaps because we no longer have to commute to work, or have no work, and some of us will have much less, possibly because your children are at home all day or you are a key worker putting in more hours. But we can all afford to take a moment to consider our very human impulses and to ponder the Yamas and how now, more than ever before their application to our own lives could transform humanity. And when we transform ourselves we transform our world
xx Michelle xx