Always integrity. Always self-respect.
One of my most challenging challenges over the past several years has been how to rectify being a spiritually minded yogi in the modern world. The modern world seems to be to be constantly throwing obstacles to practice at me. Traffic is a bitch. People are stressed out so tension is always running high. My smart phone is always around beckoning me to look at cat pictures.
Sometimes it feels like you can't catch a break. It's one asshole after another; honking their horn, cutting in line, saying hurtful things....
But damn if it doesn't supply some serious fodder for practice. Lately I have been especially challenged by personal interactions. It seems as though the universe has something to tell me, or some lesson to teach me. Dealing with people is hard. It is up to us to interpret the actions of others and respond appropriately. When we can approach this interpretation from a place of self-love, self-respect and total integrity, that's when we are practicing yoga off the mat.
Sometimes, we or the other person perceives something about our actions which we either didn't intend or they misinterpreted. This is common. Human interactions are constantly unclear or confusing and as a result, you have developed your own communication style to combat general weirdness.
It's hard not to take things that someone else says or actions that they perform personally. Yet, it's very rare that someone else is acting a certain way because of something that you did or said. Taking these things personally is a quick path to suffering. Most people are doing what they do out of personal experience and their own way that they've developed to deal with the world and other humans.
It would be so easy to go through life reacting instantaneously to everything that happens. Most people do this. Someone wrongs you, you wrong them back. Retribution and eye-for-an-eye are really common ways of approaching conflict.
But, what if instead, you were able to step slightly back from the situation and assess. How would responding in an unkind way aid the situation? Would you be acting yogically if you responded negatively?
The most difficult work of yoga happens off the mat. Getting on your mat and opening up your body is a joy. And even when it's hard it usually feels good. On the contrary, acting with integrity in the face of negativity is almost always hard.
To practice, here's what I propose:
When someone else wrongs you, apologize. When someone says unkind things to you, offer them compassion. Maybe you have to go home and sit on your meditation cushion and force yourself to bring that person into your heart and LOVE them. I mean it, love them! Offer them compassion. And act as the yoga sutras suggest.
Yoga Sutra 1.33 says:
maitrī karuṇā mudito ‘pekṣāṇāṁ sukha duḥkha puṇyā ‘puṇya viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta prasādanaṁ
A clear and tranquil mind results from cultivating friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who suffer, joy towards the virtuous and impartiality towards wrong-doers. (Translated by Ravi Ravindra in The Wisdom of Patanjalis Yoga Sutras)
One of the main reasons that I practice is to cultivate peace of mind. And I truly find that the path of integrity and self-respect is the clearest route to serenity.