Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed. I feel the burden of an ugly political climate, tension surrounding religion and ethnicity in so much of the world, and of course horrible civil wars and natural disasters and it's beginning to feel like too much. When I began seeing people defending why this thing or that thing may have been a reason why it might be okay for someone to sexually harass or assault a woman, a flood of anger and sadness hit me. I found myself wanting to explain to the entire world why people need to understand that sexual harassment and assault is something that touches every woman's life. Not some, but every single woman. It colors our decisions about what we do and where we go and who we bring along for company and brushing it off or excusing it is a slap in the face to women everywhere.
Sexual assault and harassment has found it's way into my personal life in a work meeting in which a partner found it appropriate to ask me my bra and waist size in front of a group of co-workers. I have been grabbed and touched and pressed into without consent so many times, I cant even recall all of the details because it becomes somewhat commonplace though no less insulting and intimidating. I have been drugged at a Mexican restaurant while having dinner with a friend and on a separate occasion been followed into the restroom by the owner of a restaurant I was dining at, pushed against a wall and kissed with no invitation, no conversation, and actually barely any interaction at all, because apparently I needed no voice in the interaction. And what's most alarming is that these instances do not make me an exception, they make me one tiny little wave of an ocean of experiences that the females of this world endure on a daily basis.
So today, I woke up and decided to stop being angry, because I don't want to live a life filled with anger. I will keep being outspoken and keep learning how to defend myself and the women around me and not allow myself to be filled with shame when these things happen, because of course they will happen again and again to me throughout my life. Instead I will practice finding peace because that is a way to remind yourself that you have power over your own world and mental and emotional state.
I've been teaching my yoga classes this week with the theme of ahimsa, or non-harming, and how if we want peace it has to begin with ourselves. In Meditations on the Mat they say, "One of the fundamental teachings of yoga is that if you encounter a person who is established in nonviolence, you give up violence in that person's presence. We have within us the ability to bring an end to violence. Which is to say that the violence in our midst is our responsibility." So if we truly want peace, want respect, want the ugliness to end, we need to ask ourselves, "what am I contributing to this ugliness or fear or hatred or anger?" Once we can find peace for ourselves, speak to ourselves with compassion, with joy with gratitude and extend that same care to the people in our world, we will create a change. Violence cannot end violence, just as anger cannot end anger, or fear eliminate fear. So let's cultivate peace and freedom for ourselves and offer it to every single person we interact with so that respect, joy, love, and kindness can become our reality.
Practice: Tonglen is an amazing practice for shifting energy. It is a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation that means giving and receiving and it's focus is changing negative energy into positive energy. So find a comfortable seated position, and find a person or a group of people who are angry, in pain, afraid, or suffering in some way. See if you can find something or someone that really speaks to you personally, maybe even someone whose pain you identify with specifically or someone who challenges you in a visceral way. Begin to picture their energy as a black smoke. Take in the black smoke with each inhalation and picture transferring that black smoke inside of you into a white smoke and that white smoke is representative of positivity, light, hope, and joy. So with each inhale you are drawing out their pain and with each exhale you are sending them light, creating more happiness and cultivating peace in the world around you. If you can, begin to practice this regularly for about 10 minutes at a time. If you are in a particularly fragile or difficult space, you could reverse the practice and receive light instead of darkness, but it can still be a wonderful exercise to practice giving and to remind yourself that even amidst the complications of your life, you always have light in abundance. If you'd like some guidance for your meditation, Pema Chodron has many lovely videos on this form of meditation. Here's one of them: