I’m finding more and more that yoga philosophy is seeping into my consciousness when I’m not looking. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve become less able to deal with violence in television and movies – the images really disturb me and keep replaying themselves in my brain. For example, lately I’ve been watching the second season of Dollhouse, which is incredibly dark and violent. Usually I love any show that Joss Whedon creates (like Buffy and Firefly), but this one is really bothering me. My husband and I are also watching The Walking Dead together, a show so tense and intense and dark that I can no longer watch it at night; we’ve taken to watching last week’s episode on sunny Saturday mornings. I’ve never liked horror movies and gave up watching those a long time ago, but I never had a problem with violence before – in the past I was a fan of Dexter and thought it was great, so clearly something’s changing. I’m finding myself undecided about whether to keep watching these shows. I really want to know what happens at the end, but I don’t know if I want to keep putting myself through watching them and filling my mind with dark things that don’t need to be there.
I mentioned this issue to a friend, who told me that she’d experienced something similar after she started meditating. Now she can’t watch Law & Order: SVU anymore, among other things. I wonder if many people who begin cultivating a spiritual practice (any kind of spiritual practice) experience a change like this?
For me, I think this change is a combination of a few things. First, yoga teaches non-violence in the form of ahimsa. This isn’t just refraining from violent actions: ahimsa means keeping violence from our words, voice, and thoughts as well, and what’s more, striving to bring peace to our actions, words, and thoughts instead. Ahimsa was a major inspiration behind me becoming a vegetarian – I didn’t want to bring another creature’s suffering into my body or make that suffering a part of me. So why would I want to take suffering into my mind, even if it’s only the suffering of fictional characters?
Yoga, Hindu philsophy, and Buddhist philosophy alike all teach that we are all one – that the one truth is that we’re all part of one Self, one higher Consciousness. Our physical appearances may differ, but at root we’re all the same. When you start to absorb this philosophy, the idea of violence becomes repugnant. Any violence done by one person to another hurts not just the person on the receiving end, but the do-er as well. In fact, it hurts everybody. We’re all joined, all parts of one whole. The Upanishads emphasize this again and again. It’s a concept that can be hard to comprehend intellectually, but after a while you start to feel the truth of it.
Jesus said it too: Love thy neighbor as thyself. That simple saying is easy for schoolchildren to parrot back, but it’s hard to put into practice. When you begin to believe that we’re all brothers and sisters, that the spirit in me is the same as the spirit in you and you and you, then the love starts to come more naturally. Loving your neighbor is the same thing as loving yourself! And correspondingly, the acceptance of violence dwindles.
I think this is about where I’m at in my spiritual practice, and I think this is why it’s hard for me to watch violent shows anymore. I have four episodes of The Walking Dead left to watch, and maybe five or six episodes of Dollhouse. Part of me thinks I should stick it out, finish these shows off and then be done with violent shows. But then when I add it up, that’s a good ten more hours of watching people stab and hurt each other. I’m not sure if I’m up for that.