Sangha – community in Sanskrit. Recently in class, we’ve been exploring themes such as kindness, effort and ease, finding joy in every day, and many more. I felt that this week’s focus would tie them all together quite nicely with the theme of community.
My belief is that in order to be at our best for others, we must first understand, and look after ourselves. We all know the saying; you can’t pour from an empty cup. I feel that a lot of disputes and dramas with others come from those same conflicts residing within ourselves. A lot of the practicality of this theme begins with Svadhyaya – self-study. We’ll explore this theme with three specific areas of focus that utilise the practice of Svadhyaya; acceptance and non-judgement, seeing the best in ourselves and others, and connection.
Acceptance and Non-Judgement
Do you ever find that something you really can’t stand about another person is in fact a flaw that you can see in yourself? That might be a tricky one to dive straight into, but sometimes when we unpick our external disputes, we can see that they stem from internal conflict. Of course, this is likely to not alwaysbe the case, but it can be a helpful way to begin considering this first focal point. When we find more acceptance and non-judgement towards ourselves, it becomes easier to find that same acceptance for others. As we have looked at in previous weeks, it can be really helpful to begin by recognising, and re-writing those judgmental thoughts that we have towards ourselves, and see how other possibilities might be true. For example, perhaps on a day when you didn’t feel like doing much, your inner monologue was saying “I’m so lazy, why can’t I just do something?” when in reality, you felt physically tired, or emotionally fatigued and truly needed some time to rest. When we begin to accept ourselves and all of our flaws, it is easier to let go of judgements towards others too.
What judgements have you made about yourself this week?
How could you have spoken to yourself with more acceptance? What would that sound like?
What judgements have you made about others this week?
How could you have responded with more acceptance? What would that have looked like?
Seeing the best in ourselves and others
As humans, we really like to beat ourselves up sometimes. I recently heard on a podcast that those who believe that everybody is trying their best have a much greater sense of wellbeing and happiness than those who do not believe that everybody is trying their best. Brené Brown put it well; “All I know is that my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” Trust me, I know that this is a difficult pill to swallow. It’s something that I have struggled with personally, and I am still practicing for this to become a more automatic thought process. It is really difficult when we are faced with seemingly thoughtless, or selfish actions of others, to consider the difficulties that they have experienced, or are presently going through. Yet, if we enable that assumption to be that they are doing their best, we are more able to see the light that shines in others.
In the same manner, it is helpful to acknowledge that of course, we ourselves are not perfect, but we are doing the best we can at each moment in time too. I find that this really helps to reduce feelings of guilt and shame, when my critical inner voice might tend take over; accepting that I have done the best I could at that time allows me to release those feelings a little, and embrace myself withall of my flaws.
Whether we are spending our lives seeking spiritual fulfilment, living an “ordinary” life, or somewhere in between, we can’t deny that we are part of humanity, and living a life that is connected to others. Very few of us will follow in the footsteps of Sadhu’s; the holy persons and traditional yogis of India, who fully renounce their worldly life. A Sadhu’s life is devoted entirely to the practice of Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice). Their practice is thought to burn off both their own karma (known as tapas in yoga), and that of their community at large. As this is seen as a dutiful way of living, the community show their gratitude with donations of food and drink. In deciding to devote their lives to spiritual liberation, they are often still connected to others. If these spiritual seekers, who fully abandon their normal lives still have a strong connection to other humans, then our “normal” lives must be fully woven into the lives of others.
Think about an item of clothing that you are wearing right now. Consider how you obtained this piece of clothing; the delivery person, or shop worker that facilitated in your obtaining that item. Think about the people that worked in the factory where it was pieced together, possibly another factory and further transport involved in creating the fabric itself. The farmer who grew the materials for that fabric to be made, and those who harvested the seeds that the farmer planted. Picture of all of those people who were involved in creating this one piece of clothing. In our modern lives, we are more connected to one another globally than ever before.
In many aspects of life we find ourselves connected to people that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to be socialising with, but we can learn to relate to everyone that we are surrounded by, from a place of non-judgement and acceptance, and the belief that everybody is doing their best. At the same time, recognising our own needs, and the boundaries that we individually need in place can enable our relationships to flourish. Our connection to ourselves helps us to connect with others.
Self-awareness is developed through Svadhyaya; understanding our own needs, triggers, and automatic thought processes helps us be at our best, and to be a light within our community.