Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shaking in My Roots Again

A family was murdered in their home last weekend. The horror and senselessness of their deaths have dominated the headlines for the last couple of days.

Why is this story so different from similar stories that appear in headlines around the world each day? Because this story affects part of my community and cuts close to the roots of my life.

I didn't know the Lins but sometimes, after my yoga class, I would pop into their newsagency to buy milk or a newspaper. I was not a regular customer; these encounters were impersonal – two nameless faces among the myriad in my life. My only fleeting connection was with a young woman behind the counter who, after seeing me come in with a yoga mat every time, enquired about yoga classes. For many weeks after that I carried around information on the local yoga classes to give to her but I never saw her again and I was too timid to enquire after her.

“Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah” – Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I.2

To paraphrase Swami Satyananda's translation in the Four Chapters on Freedom, yoga is “to block the patterns of consciousness”. Yet I have not been able to stop the fanciful and fearful thoughts that have flooded my mind. Such an attachment, seemingly small and trivial, has made it difficult for me to cultivate the indifference recommended by Patanjali:

“In relation to happiness, misery, virtue and vice, by cultivating the attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively, the mind becomes purified and peaceful.”
– Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I.33

Do I want to be indifferent? I always associated indifference with being ‘emotionless’ and ‘uncaring’, and the dictionary definitions seem to emphasise this negative view. Is ‘indifferent’ the correct term? Did Patanjali mean that we needed to be ‘non-attached’, be able to acknowledge what has happened and witness the thoughts and feelings that have risen but not let these thoughts and feelings rule our actions and our lives? Are not the words and deeds we perform without thought, the ones that are most likely to cause pain to ourselves and others?

In the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna explains the divine (spiritual) and demonaic (materialistic) natures, he says:

“These men of dead souls, of truly little intelligence, undertake their work of evil: they are the enemies of this fair world, working for its destruction.” [XVI.9]

And last weekend, with one thoughtless act, a tiny cog in the clockwork of our community was destroyed.

Update July 22:

There was a community meeting last night, which was reported in the papers. Maybe this is an example of what Patanjali meant by being ‘indifferent’:

“They said that the healing process starts now and the best way to help each other is not by talking about the case, and speculating ... but rather moving forward and talking about our love for the family and how special they were to us ... ”

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