How can we get along as a city, a nation, as a world, when we can’t get along with the people next to us? Partners, neighbors, family, colleagues? The person in the next lane on the road? We honk and weave and forget that there is a person in the other car. Perhaps even someone we know. It’s lost on us in those heated moments that the very person we are flipping off (literally or in our minds) may be the same person we hang out with at the dog park.
What is is about us that makes us so irritable towards others? No wonder we can’t seem to come together on grander levels such as creating a harmonious world community. Will we ever learn to share resources and work communally? In a me against you society few are happy. Where has the art of forgiveness and compromise gone?
In 1991 Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence (https://gandhiinstitute.org). They offer “training in skills such as Nonviolent Communication, meditation, cultural humility, and experiential interconnectedness, and foster responses to systemic violence… through projects focused on urban agriculture, racial healing work, and restorative approaches to conflict.”
You may have heard that Gandhi is said to have abused his wife. Here is what he has to say about it in his autobiography: “I forgot myself, and the spring of compassion dried up in me. I caught her by the hand, dragged the helpless woman to the gate, which was just opposite the ladder, and proceeded to open it with the intention of pushing her out. The tears were running down her cheeks in torrents, and she cried: 'Have you no sense of shame? Must you so far forget yourself? Where am I to go? I have no parents or relatives here to harbour me. Being your wife, you think I must put up with your cuffs and kicks? For Heaven's sake behave yourself and shut the gate. Let us not be found making scenes like this!’”
“I put on a brave face, but was really ashamed, and shut the gate. If my wife could not leave me, neither could I leave her. We have had numerous bickerings, but the end has always been peace between us. The wife, with her matchless powers of endurance, has always been the victor… The incident in question occurred in 1898, when I had no conception of brahmacharya. It was a time when I thought that the wife was the object of the husband's lust, born to do her husband's behest, rather than a helpmate, a comrade and a partner in the husband's joys and sorrows. It was in the year 1900 that these ideas underwent a radical transformation, and in 1906 they took concrete shape. But of this I propose to speak in its proper place. Suffice it to say that with the gradual disappearance in me of the carnal appetite, my domestic life became and is becoming more and more peaceful, sweet, and happy.”
One of the original feminists, though it took him a while.
Per Wikipedia, “Bramacharya is a concept within Indian religions that literally means to stay in conduct within one's own soul. In Yoga, Hinduism and Jainism it generally refers to a lifestyle characterized by sexual continence or complete abstinence.”
Our desires often trump our goodness, our intentions, our permanent values, our purity. We work to stay balanced, to not go overboard, and to ease into a life that makes sense for us. Where we can have fun and express ourselves, but we also temper ourselves where needed.
Enter the popularity of yoga. There are eight limbs in this ancient practice. The physical practice, asana, is but one limb and the only limb most Westerners study. The others involve our attitudes towards ourselves, others and the environment, and our meditation work. Yoga sutras lay this out for us. The second yoga sutra states that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. What does this mean? To me, it means that we reach a place of equanimity. We can see the good and bad in the world. We can see what we like and don’t like about ourselves, our relations, and the world around us; yet we learn to respond creatively rather than reacting harshly.
Being human is not easy. Facing mortality is not fun. We will all decline and then die, yet we take ourselves so seriously. Our egos rear up and say “me!” “Mine!” “I want!” If we are able to, we can throw money at and manipulate the world to appease our desires. When that happens we get accustomed to having what we want when we want it. The problem with that is that others can leave us. Money sources can dry up. Even if they don’t, if we do not practice kindness, compassion, and restraint, our so-called loved ones may not love us all that much.
I believe the key to happiness is radical self-care and authenticity. If we are rested, pain-free or coping with pain in a healthy way, and using tools of self-soothing rather than checking-out and neglecting ourselves, we have a better chance at leaning into our mortal lives with grace.
I have not mastered this, but I am seeking to get closer to the place where my priorities are in order and I can keep things simple rather than rallying against the world, or resisting the reality of my human existence. From this place, I can see myself clearly and then make plans to live the best life that I can live. If we all lived our best lives I bet we’d get along with each other better.