The other day I went out to hand garbage to the person who collects waste in the apartment. As she took the packet from my hand, her hand grazed mine and she pulled her hand back in fear and said ‘sorry Ma’am’. I instinctively smiled and said it’s no problem and went back in. But I registered the relief on her face before I closed the door. What could possibly have made her feel that she has done something wrong? I began to imagine all the scenarios where people have treated this woman with less respect than she deserved. I could visualize her being yelled at for mistakenly touching some respectable resident before. It got me to wonder why we do not treat people and animals with the compassion and kindness that we think we deserve? I see people mistreating people, animals, and even plants. There is a sense of entitlement that tricks us into thinking that some lives matter less than ours. Kindness and compassion should take precedence in everybody’s life. These are traits that should be instinctive and inbuilt in one and all. That said, these virtues are lacking in most people.
Why we fail each other as living beings
We see different kinds of people around us. Mostly they are on either extreme of the emotional spectrum. Either there are aggressive go-getters who don’t mind knocking a few down on their way up, or there are the ones that are too gentle to hurt a fly. The former come off as successful and full of achievements but at the cost of peace and harmony. The latter seem content to stay where they are as long as they have earned love, respect and good company along the way. We have all seen it all too often in the corporate world, in our social circles, and even among our family members. (Now, I am not saying that these are the only two kind of people. There are those who are kind, loving, respectful and yet are achievers too, but I believe they are few and far between). Wouldn’t it be fabulous to combine the two kinds and have people who could be kind yet be socially and financially successful?
Yoga and equanimity
You don’t need to be a yogi to practice compassion. But I see yoga as a very holistic way to tune ourselves towards kindness, empathy, and love. In fact, the Ashtavakra Gita names kindness as one of the five elixirs that enable attainment of nirvana. Even the 8 limbs of ashtanga advocates ahimsa towards all as a Yama or social practice. Yoga also advocate equanimity in life and that is something that will probably help all human beings become more humble, kind and accepting of others. In chapter 2, verse 48 of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna the following-
योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनंजय |
सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ||
“Yogasthah kuru karmaani sangam tyaktwaa dhananjaya;
Siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhootwaa samatwam yoga uchyate.”
Perform actions while fixed in Yoga and abandoning attachment, O Arjuna! And be equal in success or failure for an equanimity that is Yoga.
My interpretation of this particular verse is that, no matter what the situation is, we should not allow extreme emotions get the better of us. All our actions should be guided less by expectation towards the end result and more towards the process of doing. Sans expectation, our emotions are not swayed so badly that they affect our outward actions and behaviors. As such, stress in life, is the largest cause for people lacking compassion and grace. When we are so hung up about how things are not happening for us, it is easy to lash out at others, right?
Equanimity, Compassion and Me
As far as I can look back into my past, I have always tried to be kind. I remember my cousin who is 10 years younger than me ask me once- “Akka, why are you thanking the auto driver? He is just doing what he is being paid to do”. I said to her that my thanks was an appreciation for job done, regardless of whether he was getting paid to do it or not. Now, I’m not bragging, but she began doing the same thing, and thanking people around her and she told me that it helped her strengthen many relationships over the years.
The equanimity, I am still striving for. I still fly off the handle when my boy drives me up the wall, I cry when I watch movies or read books, and I disappear when I need to conserve my energy. But I have also learned to let go more gracefully, I try really hard not to judge anyone for any of their choices, I help where I can, I forgive faster, and I most certainly try my best to treat people around me with the respect that they deserve. I extend this common courtesy to all living beings as I am a known earth-hugger and animal lover, but I wish that we would all try to be more pleasant and accepting of each other. The earth would heal faster and we would need less social distancing and only physical distancing if we could all be a little more compassionate, kind and loving to one another.