Recently, I had an incident on my BART (San Francisco’s “‘metro”) ride home from teaching class.
Aman was yelling loudly and appeared disoriented; he was being very disrespectful to a young woman right in front of me. In those first, fast moments of watching the scene in front of me, I was torn about how I should react
. At that moment, I had a choice. I could ignore what was going on and remain silent, or I could step in.
I chose to step in. I asked the man to stop, and when he did not, I helped the woman move to another car with me.
There are moments in life when we have to make a choice for peace even when adding into fear would be the easier route to take. I had to ignore the part of my brain that told me to physically restrain the man to stop the harassment, and satisfy my own self-righteousness. I realized in that moment that I had actually made a second choice: to use peace
, instead of force, to protect someone else, and to focus only on serving the greater good.
It can be heart wrenching to open up our computers every day, or turn on the television, and be greeted with scenes of real horror being inflicted on our fellow human beings. A sense of hopelessness can creep into our psyche. We can fall into a trap of feeling depressed and defeated, and we begin to believe that there is nothing that we can do as individuals.
We have to continue to believe in our ability to enact change.
Part of our work for peace is breaking out of the paralysis that hate and anger
try to keep us in. This practice happens in the small acts of kindness and compassion that we offer the world each day. It is a smile at a stranger, taking a deep breath before responding to someone that is triggering us.
Howard Zinn recognized the sum of all of these pebbles collectively building the road to peace:
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Part of doing the work is coming to our mats or meditation cushions to actively practice peace in our own lives. The work we do on our yoga mat can be our map for the path of peace that we choose to walk. We are most effective at enacting change when we are able to find our own numb areas, and work on healing the hurt parts of ourselves. Each time we bring ourselves to class or roll out our mat on the living room floor is a step to using our own healing as a catalyst for change.
It is important not to put blinders on to the actual work that needs to be done. We must show up, both as individuals and as a community, for our neighborhoods and our world. This means having compassion even when the choices aren’t easy and putting ourselves out there to stand up for what we know to be right and just.
My situation reminded me that we are constantly negotiating how we react, and it makes me even more grateful for the practice that keeps me focused on breathing deeply, staying present,
and making space. These are the real gifts of peace that we are on the path to share.