Love Does That
All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back
and sometimes just with worries
about things that bother only
And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.
Once in a while a kind monk comes
a pear, but more
he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,
because love does that.
I think this poem spoke to me because I often feel like the burro – I’ll just come out and say that balancing work, practice, husband time, 3 kids, and all the other little details of life feels exhausting to me much of the time. My back feels hunched and my jaw feels tight. We can get weighed down by working hard, and we can get weighed down by life. And yet I know that when my 6 year old gives me a spontaneous hug, or my 9 year old rests his head on my shoulder in silent recognition of gratitude, or my husband smiles sweetly at me across the noisy dinner table I soften. When we get so weighed down by our worries or our work sometimes we need someone to look into our eyes and just see us. See our burdens and be the witness to our lives. What lightens our burdens is knowing we are not alone, knowing that we are all in this together.
I have a friend who is a bit of a complainer. The first 5 minutes of every conversation is a litany of horrors of her life and it got to the point where I was beginning to distance myself from her because I felt exhausted by trying to solve all of her “problems”. But I really love her and I didn’t want to do that, so I took some time to really reflect on our interactions. It occurred to me that after her outpourings of stress and drama, our conversations progressed easily and smoothly into more uplifting subjects. What I realized was that she just needed me to bear witness to her life and her experience. I didn’t need to fix anything, I just needed to listen and then we could move on. Like the burro in the story, she just needs to be seen through the lens of empathy.
In Chapter 1, verse 33 of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras he suggests: “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened.” The thing is, suffering is sometimes disguised under a thick outer layer of attitude. It’s easy to think of those we love and feel compassion, but when we really want to dedicate ourselves to living a life of meaning we have to start looking at those people who really challenge us – whose ideas and values clash with ours, those who are nasty and argumentative, even those who have hurt us in the past – and realize that their behavior most likely comes from the burdens they are carrying. Our yoga practice connects us to the part of ourselves that is connected to all things, allowing us to feel compassion and empathy for even those who challenge us the most.
The nature of the universe is compassion and love. We abide in an ocean of empathy, and when we let ourselves dissolve into it we can let go a little bit of the daily armor that we wear and become more sensitive to those around us. We realize that everyone we meet is carrying burdens of their own, and if we can offer any small kindness, even just a heartfelt smile, we can ease the suffering of the world. When we live a life of kindness and offer it to those around us unselfishly, we awaken to our true nature of generosity and love.
Off the mat:
Make this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi your mantra this week:
Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest of intentions. What small thing can you do as you go about your day to ease the burdens of another? Maybe something comes to mind now. Set an intention to do it, whatever it might be. If nothing is coming up right now, commit to staying open hearted this week, more sensitive to those around you, and when a situation arises where you can offer kindness don’t hesitate.
On the mat:
We worked this week on “un-burro-ing” our backs. Through breath and alignment we lengthened our spines and offered our love and compassion energetically through forward bends. This week, dedicate your practice to someone you wish to send kindness too, maybe someone's whose back is bent with hard work or burdened by worries, maybe someone who challenges you and you need to cultivate empathy towards.
Open to Grace: Breathe in and open your heart to those around you.
Step into the pose and step into the moment with a silent prayer of kindness and compassion.
Source kindness and empathy for even the darkest thoughts that might arise.
Muscular Energy: Cultivate strength through compassion.
Strengthen your muscles to strengthen your connection to the place inside that is connected to everyone and everything.
Draw in (to the Focal Point of the pose) the compassion being offered by everyone in this room.
Organic Energy: As your spine grows, grow your capacity for tenderness towards yourself and others.
Radiate compassion and empathy from your heart through your whole pose.
Send kindness out, creating space for those around you who’s views might be different than yours.
Lengthen your spine and let go of the burdens you are carrying.