Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Practicing Satya and Ahimsa at Work January 16, 2014

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Lately I’ve been thinking about my own behavior and wanting to get better at practicing kindness, and going along with it, the intersections of satya and ahimsa. Back when I first began my yoga teacher training journey, I thought a lot about satya and ahimsa, but then the topic sort of fell off my mind’s back burner and I hadn’t considered it in a while. Lately, though, I’ve been noticing myself engaging in some inappropriate behavior and comments, especially at work.

For example, one of my colleagues in my office – we’ll call him Larry – has a droning, lengthy way of talking that makes him difficult to listen to, and he’s in a position where he periodically conducts trainings, all of which seem to do in an hour what could have been accomplished in 20 minutes with time for questions. This would be bad enough, but Larry is also not a very friendly or nice man, and my friends who have worked with him more closely report that he’s also not very good at his job. However, not even all of this taken together is justification for making fun of him behind his back. I’ve caught myself saying some rather cruel things about Larry when he comes up in conversation, just for the purpose of getting a laugh. No one deserves to be the butt of a joke – who knows what’s going on in Larry’s life that makes him act the way he does? And all of the things I’ve said about Larry may be technically true, but did they need to be said? Or did they need to be said that way? Practicing satya demands that I be truthful, but it doesn’t demand that I say every truth out loud; practicing ahimsa means not letting violence into my speech. This is one of those instances where, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.

One of my colleagues at another company, Bob, sent an email asking about a project. I had told Bob about the project back in May and we’d even paid Bob’s first invoice for work on this project, so I got annoyed. Instead of just giving Bob the information he needed, I dug up the earlier correspondence and forwarded that along too, and then sent an email to another involved editor at my company, basically saying “That Bob! He needs to get his act together!” Now, maybe Bob did need to get his act together – it seems that there was something incorrect in his records, which was why it didn’t come up when he looked for the project – but there was no need for me to act the way I did. Everybody makes mistakes, and Bob is no exception. I should have just given him the information he needed in a non-judgmental way. And the extra email to my coworker was completely out of line. Again, practicing that balance of satya and ahimsa would have helped me here – delivering the truth and no more, in a kind and compassionate way.

I think part of this issue stems from my own uncertainty in my job. I was moved to another group last summer, and we’re still shaking out some of our roles. Sometimes I have a lot of very important time sensitive work to do; other times I am processing invoices or doing other basic work because our group doesn’t have an editorial assistant; still other times, I am waiting for work to be given to me. I am supposed to have my own projects, but because of my boss’s deeper involvement in the overall product, much of the workflow is still tied up around her and has to go through her first; often I feel like I am waiting for her to give me tasks to do, which is frustrating because I’m used to working independently. I think I’ve been taking this frustration out on others – putting down people like Larry and Bob to make myself feel more secure and more important.

But the office isn’t a playground, and this behavior is childish. What I need to do instead is to open myself to learning new things – if I can learn more about what my boss does on our overarching product, I’ll be able to work more autonomously and will be able to help her more with her heavy workload, balancing out the work between us. Opening my heart and practicing humility on the larger scale, practicing satya and ahimsa in the short-term – these will help me to navigate these challenges and respond to my colleagues with the compassion they deserve.

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Yoga philosophy in practice: dealing with shadows of the past July 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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The other day I was confronted by a photo of an old boyfriend/crush. One of my Facebook friends still keeps in touch with this guy, and had posted a group picture from a recent event. I have to tell you, he looked good. He got taller since high school, for one thing, and he’s obviously been working out (it’s summer, so no shirt in the photo). He grew into a nice-looking man. I found myself feeling a little regretful and wanting to post a comment on the picture where he would see it.

This sort of thing happens to us all the time, whether it’s somebody popping up online or whether you run into him at the grocery store (of course while wearing your grungiest sweatpants and with spinach in your teeth). Or maybe it’s not an old flame but a former friend who did you wrong, or that girl who always beat you at everything from classroom grades to homecoming court. When people we had strong feelings about in the past resurface in our lives, it can bring up a lot of those old feelings. How do we respond when these situations arise?

First, I try to practice satya, or truthfulness. When I saw that photo, why did I feel regretful? Where did the impulse to contact him come from? Well, thinking back, he was the one who broke things off with me. Part of me wants him to see how well I’m doing, see how great I look, maybe feel a little regretful himself. See what you missed, Mr. Blast-from-the-Past! But that’s kind of vengeful, isn’t it? And when I examine that impulse to get in touch with him, I have to question what the motivation is. Hello, happily married now! I obviously don’t want to date him again. From what I’ve seen, it looks like he grew up into a genuinely interesting person, someone I would have liked to have had as a friend, but if I try to think about it realistically, that would be pretty weird. There are plenty of other genuinely interesting people out there whom I’m also not friends with, and it would probably be better all the way around if I tried to meet some of them if I want a new friend. Plus, I mean, I really like my life. My life isn’t missing anything by the lack of this person’s presence.

Now I’ve examined my feelings and I see that, although the feelings themselves are a valid response to the situation, there’s no need to act on them or reach out to this person. The next step is to practice non-attachment. I’ve recognized that I still have some feelings bound up in my past relationship with this person, and maybe it’s time to let that go. I’ll never truly know how he felt about me back in the day or what, if anything, he thinks of me now. That’s okay. I might selfishly wish to know that, but I accept that I never will. I need to try to let go of my attachment to the things that occurred in the past. At the time, I wasn’t happy with the outcome, and I would have liked to change it, but looking back, the things that happened all those years ago led me to becoming who I am today. If things had gone differently in the past, I might not have ended up where I am now, and that would truly be something to regret.

Once we let go of the past, we can try to let go of our attachment to results as well. For me, I don’t ever expect to contact this guy or to hear from him. That’s a part of my life that’s over, and I do wish him well. Instead of feeling regretful when I see a picture of him on Facebook, instead I can decide that I’ll be glad to see him looking happy and enjoying his own life. Namaste, dude. Maybe you’re in a similar situation, but after examining things you decide you will reach out and contact the person. At that point, you can let go of the results too. Maybe he or she will write you back, and maybe they won’t, but you did what you needed to do and now you can move on. Employing some yogic philosophy can help us deal with these situations more maturely and come away feeling more satisfied, not just with the situation itself, but with our own behavior too.

 

yama/niyama redux / I-should-be-better syndrome June 20, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about the yamas and niyamas lately. Remember those? My first big assignment as part of my yoga teacher training was to read and think about the yamas, a set of five practices of self-restraint, and the niyamas, a set of five observances. After spending March and April reflecting on these things, I thought they’d be pretty ingrained in me. I was hoping I’d naturally remind myself to practice them throughout the day, and that I’d start to see my thought patterns changing.

Well, as you all know, I’ve done a lot of stuff during the past month or so, but consciously practicing the yamas and niyamas has not exactly been up there on the list. I think I still work on ahimsa pretty consciously (and I figure, if I’m only doing one of them, that’s the right one), but paying attention to and trying to improve my thoughts and my behavior is important for every single day, not just days when I’m supposed to be studying it. This is kind of the yogic equivalent of the ten commandments here. Don’t harm others, be truthful and generous, be moderate and balanced; be pure and simple, content, and disciplined; study hard and well, practice devotion. Be mindful. If I’m not paying attention, how can I say I’m being mindful?

Thinking back, I can say that even without being fully cognizant of the yamas and niyamas, I think I did a pretty good job of following them. I think I’ve been better about practicing non-violence in my words and in my thoughts. I’ve had the opportunity to be generous with my time and my support, and I think I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve studied hard and worked hard in my yoga practice. I’ve been very accepting and content with where I am in my life right now (although admittedly my life is pretty spectacular at present).

My husband F, with his usual impeccable sense of timing, sent me this great link the other day: Six Ways to Deal With I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome. This fits right in with thinking about the yamas and niyamas.

I’ve actually posted about my own experiences with I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome before, and I already try to do many of the things Amy Johnson recommends in her blog post: striving to be honest and truthful (practicing satya) and breathing (which, I’ve learned this month, is something we could all benefit from being more aware of). I also like her awareness that this is a universal issue – in Buddhism and in yoga, you work to feel compassion for everybody, every living creature, even that nasty parking attendant, even yourself, and if we understand that everyone is striving to be better, that it’s not just us, then that helps us to love everybody a little bit more, including ourselves.

I like Johnson’s practical, no-nonsense approach to this very emotional and personal issue. It’s hard to admit that you think you should be better, because really, you don’t want anyone to notice that you’re not already super-great. We feel shame when we get into I-Should-Be-Better mode, and it’s natural to try to hide shame. But being honest with yourself about these feelings is the first step to moving past them and feeling more content, more satisfied, and more peaceful, and that’s what the yamas and niyamas are all about.

 

Practical Experiments in Ahimsa and Satya March 28, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 12:58 pm
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Nischala Devi writes the following:

We may stubbornly hold the belief that others cause our problems and inconveniences.  In those situations we may appoint ourselves as their teachers to show them the correct way to act. From that attitude our egos enlarge, leaving us with less room for insight.  If you routinely feel it is the other person’s fault, take another look, this time from a different perspective.  (171)

Reading this really hit home for me because I had a difficult situation last week in my job. Because of all the thinking I’ve been doing on ahimsa and satya, this situation really stuck out to me as an example of how I can change my thinking, how consciously practicing satya and ahimsa (truthfulness and non-violence) can help me to be a calmer person (and a better colleague!).

I work as an editor and project manager, compiling large complex medical books.  I received the page proofs of a chapter that had been very difficult to assemble: the author constantly changing the artwork, which had an adverse affect on the artist’s time to draw the rest of the book; the book’s editor hiring a photographer to reshoot all the surgical images without telling me, sending me many new photos to process after I thought the chapter was done.  Now all that was over and the chapter was in proofs, but because of this history, I already had a negative feeling when I approached the proof.  It wasn’t the proof’s fault, but I still felt negative.

My colleague on this book project, a production manager I’ll call Ed, had sent a note the day before explaining that the author had cut one of the photos from the chapter, causing the rest of the figures to be renumbered.  I thought, Oh, this chapter, always troublesome! So when I opened up the proof, I was ready to find something wrong, and of course I did.  The renumbered figures didn’t match up.  I pulled out the original chapter text and photos and drawings, and went through one by one, double-checking everything and working myself up.  Doesn’t Ed know how to renumber figures?  What kind of production manager is he? I worked for an hour, discovered the problem, wrote a bunch of notes on how to correct it, and then sent it off to Ed and our page designer.

Only then did I notice that Ed had sent an email 20 minutes earlier.  He explained that he’d forgotten to mention that the author had moved a few other figures around.  Of course that accounted for the problem I’d discovered.  Then I got  angry at Ed – if he hadn’t been so neglectful, I wouldn’t have wasted an hour of my time!  I was so angry!  Then I took a closer look at the email he sent the previous day, where he told us about the first figure being renumbered.  He had attached a document showing the new figure numbers for all the images; like Ed had said, he’d neglected to mark on the cover sheet about these other figures being moved, but he’d  numbered all the images themselves in their new order, showing all the changes from the author including the other figures that were moved.  If I had looked at this document, instead of going back to my originals, I would have seen the change, but it never even occurred to me to look at Ed’s document.  He knows how to do his job – why didn’t I trust him?  I’d been too caught up in my own story about how this chapter was troublesome and I was the only organized person in the world.  I had been too focused on being right, being righteous, being in control.  I wasn’t looking at the truth, just making up a story about what I thought the truth would be.

Then, if I hadn’t gotten so worked up about solving the problem, I would have seen Ed’s email before I sent off my own email.  I acted hastily, and then looked like a dummy in front of both Ed and the page designer, because here I was, acting like a savior, going into detail about a problem that Ed had already noticed and pointed out.  I think this had a lot to do with why I got so very angry: my own behavior made me look silly.  Then too, I didn’t have any real reason to be angry with Ed.  He forgot to mention something.  Who doesn’t do that sometimes?  As soon as he noticed the problem, he let us know.  It wasn’t his fault I’d gotten worked up and spent an hour analyzing things.  There was nothing wrong with Ed’s behavior, only with mine.  Which just made me angrier.

I left work for the day and went to the train station.  I was standing there, feeling tense, feeling angry, when up comes my friend Sue.  She’s taking a painting class, and she told me about the project she assigned herself, to go paint her son’s boat once a month for practice.  At the end of this year she’ll have 12 paintings, all of the same boat, but all different because of the seasons, the light, different angles of viewing the boat, and Sue’s own improving technique.  So we talked about painting, and about boats, and Sue is such a sweet gentle person that I couldn’t stay angry while I was talking to her.  So I let the anger go, and listened to my friend.

 

Ahimsa and Satya, part 2 March 27, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 7:05 pm
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I want to reflect a little bit on how I practice (or fail to practice!) satya and ahimsa in myself.

Sometimes in the past I’ve found it difficult to be honest with myself.  Maybe I know deep down that things aren’t going the way I want them to, but I tell myself that everything’s fine and press on.  If I keep working at it, the results I want will happen eventually, right?  But maybe it would be better to take an honest look at the situation and make another choice.  By telling myself that everything’s fine, I deprive myself of the opportunity to change things, and potentially put myself deeper in a bad situation.

Or maybe I’ve made a mistake, broken something or forgotten something or said something I shouldn’t have.  Then I tell myself what a bad mistake it was, I always do these things and that’s why I’ll never be able to succeed.  Then I start on a downward spiral: clearly this mistake means that I’m a bad person.  Clearly I’m overweight, I’m lazy, I’ll never get things right.  Ten minutes later I’m ready to cry and can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend time with me.  (This whole thing really perplexes my husband: he asks what I want for dinner and I burst into tears, because he’s always so nice and asks what I want, and a terrible person like me doesn’t deserve such a wonderful husband!)

Now, maybe some of the things I’ve told myself are true, but certainly not all of them, and even though I did make a mistake, I don’t deserve to be punished like that by anyone, especially myself.  I find it hardest to be forgiving to myself – I can always forgive a friend, and when I’m the one who’s messed up, my friends and family never fail to forgive me and reassure me.  Yet I’ll worry over this mistake, which my friends already forgave me for, and be unable to let it go.  Why can’t I treat myself like my own friend?

When I get into patterns like this, I’m not acting with either satya or ahimsa, and I’m hoping that practicing the yamas will help me deal with this bad habit. While it may be true that I did something wrong, satya doesn’t demand that I reprimand myself repeatedly.  Satya demands only that I recognize and acknowledge the error.  If I’m practicing satya, then I should keep the error in perspective: I only forgot to throw in the laundry, for goodness sake, it’s not the end of the world.  Blowing things up out of proportion and taking them out of context is dishonest.  Then, once I practice satya and acknowledge that I was wrong, ahimsa tells me to let it go.  Hanging onto it does violence to my spirit, and I hurt myself over and over.  Making one mistake does not make me a bad person, or an undesirable or unlovable person.  Dwelling on these things, spiraling down until I feel like I am unlovable: that’s harmful to me.

So what can I do to change this habit?  First, I need to recognize what’s happening while it’s happening.  I need to say to myself, hey, I made a mistake.  I admit I shouldn’t have played video games all night, I should have called my mother, I should have cleaned the bathroom, I forgot to stop at the store.  I was wrong.  People make mistakes sometimes, but that’s okay.  Sometimes it helps me to make a new plan to make up for the mistake: it’s late at night now so I can’t fix it today, but I’ll stop at the store during my lunch break tomorrow.  And then – it’s over!  I need to stop thinking about it at this point.  Go for a walk, do some yoga, wash some dishes, bake some cookies, complete another task that needs to get done that I can accomplish today.  Or even just find a funny show to watch on TV.  Take my mind away from the pattern, and move on to something else.  Although it may be hard to act with love toward myself in that moment, I can step away from that moment and try to find a new moment when caring for myself is more possible.

 

The Yamas: Satya March 26, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:22 pm
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Satya, or truthfulness, is the second yama.  We all know that we should be honest; when I am dishonest, I always feel a little sick inside.  So why do we tell lies?  Maybe we want to save a friend from hearing a painful truth, so we tell a gentle lie instead.  Maybe we think the lie will benefit us or protect us in some way, or make us look better to others than the truth would.  No matter what our intentions are when we lie, our dishonesty can cause hurt feelings, or upheaval within ourselves.  The more lies we tell, the stronger our fear that someone will find us out.  All this inner turmoil is created.  It would have been better just to tell the truth to begin with and get everything out in the open. While people can be hurt by our actions or words, I’ve always found that others are hurt more when we lie about what we’ve done.  For ourselves, the untruth is a lot heavier and harder to bear than whatever it was we thought was worth lying about in the first place.

Not long ago, a friend and colleague of mine left our office for a better job at a different company.  The following week, another colleague emailed me to say that he hadn’t known K was leaving and he was sad he hadn’t been able to say goodbye.  Had there been any kind of farewell party for her?  Of course, when I opened this email my first instinct was to lie.  I didn’t want to hurt this man’s feelings or make him feel excluded.  But if I lied, chances are that he would find out.  The party hadn’t been a secret.  What would happen if someone else in the office mentioned the party in front of him?  I couldn’t ask all my coworkers to join me in a lie – how childish, and how purposeless.

So I told him the truth: there’d been a small party with just our immediate workgroup, and then some of us went out for drinks.  I didn’t know how he had been left off the invitation list, and I apologized, but I would tell K that he was thinking of her.  I tried my best to keep it simple.  I hadn’t organized either event; I thought it was just an oversight, but I truly didn’t know why this colleague hadn’t been invited.  Since I wasn’t responsible, there was no reason to lie, and even if I had been the one who inadvertently neglected to invite him, there would still be no reason to lie, because a lie could have caused a lot more hurt than the original omission did.

There may be times when the truth would be far more hurtful than a lie.  Consider a friend who’s just bought a hideous dress that she adores.  Her dress isn’t hurting anyone (and hurting your eyes doesn’t count), so why spoil her joy in it with your interpretation of the truth?  Her truth, that the dress is lovely, is just as valid a perception as yours.  Or consider a group of friends where one person is being gossiped about when she’s not around.  Do we need to join in on the gossip, even if every word being said is technically true?  Do we need to run to our friend and repeat every harsh word that was said about her?  We want to be honest, but we also want to practice ahimsa: non-violence, non-harming, reverence and love for all.  At times when we cannot be honest without causing hurt, the best choice may be to be silent.  Sometimes it’s hard to know the right thing to say.  I want to start asking myself, why do I want to say this, what reaction do I want to cause by saying these words?  If I really believe that telling the truth will help someone else, or will prevent future hurt, that’s one thing; if I’m saying something to try to get others to like me, or to delight in someone else’s pain, then those words might not need to be said.