Tag Archives: Shantaram

Such A Pity

I’ve been thinking recently about the moments in my life when empathy appears for those living through some sort of challenge or adversity. This internal analysis really started up recently when I saw a 3-legged dog hopping down the street on its leash, and my heart immediately jumped into my throat. The owner of the dog saw me looking at them as they walked by, and as they stopped at the traffic light before crossing the street, she said to me, “Don’t pity him – he is so unaware of the absence of the fourth leg.” We both smiled and they continued on with their walk.

Having been a dog owner for years, I know that they have this instinctual ability to motor on with whatever hindrance they may be afflicted with, as long as it doesn’t cause them ongoing pain. I found it so interesting that the owner of the hobbling Jack Russell saw pity in my facial expression, because in my limited frame of reference, pity is an emotion that includes a sense of condescension, of superiority, and there was absolutely no patronizing element to what I was feeling. I simply had a moment where I imagined what it would be like to be that specific dog with that specific physical difference, and I felt a surge of warmth, love, and empathy for him. So I started thinking about how I defined pity…and whether I needed to re-think that definition.

My favourite novel, Shantaram, is full of timeless truisms written by the brilliant author Gregory David Roberts, and one of them is the most succinct summations of the essence of pity (and one that I would now like to think that dog owner would identify with) : “Pity is the one part of love that asks for nothing in return and, because of that, every act of pity is a kind of prayer.” Having remembered that quote after the incident with the dog, I realized that from this moment on, I will define pity differently – forget the condescension, forget the feeling of being able to judge someone or something else from a place of superiority and inflated sense of self – pity IS empathy. It’s the ability to tap into the essence of other beings and proverbially walk in their shoes (or paws). My personal yoga practice is constantly infused with the intention of embodying all the beings that the asanas are named after, and I occasionally mention this in the classes I teach. By allowing ourselves to feel what others are feeling, to catch a glimpse of their joys and sufferings, we allow the differences we tend to focus on to dissolve. In the place of those differences, we are left with a clear, unobstructed, and visceral view of how we all are pursuing the same things in life: happiness, contentment, comfort, stability…in word, love. To tap into the essence of others is to let go of the selfishness of one’s ego and really approach our collective experience with an open heart. To do so tells us more about universal law and this life we’re living than any textbook possibly could. So give it a go. If you practice yoga, infuse your practice with the intention of really feeling what a tree feels like in the wind as you take Vrksasana. Tap into the strength and certainty that the mythology behind Virabhadrasana I, II & III recounts to us. More importantly, though, try this exercise without being on a yoga mat. Look around you at the events unfolding as you make your way through each day, and see who and what you share your space with. As massive and relevant as we think our own individual lives are, we are but specks in the universe, along with the trillions of other specks, ever one of which is existing in as relevant a condition as we are. Take a moment to see what those specks contain. You’ll learn more about yourself than you think.

If Not Now, When?

The Luna Yoga summer retreat last August at Spa Eastman was illuminating for many reasons, one of which had to do with a tidbit of information communicated to us by guest lecturer Eugénie Francoeur, a Radio-Canada reporter and meditation lecturer. She spoke to our group about the patterns of the mind, and to be more specific, the thoughts that jumble around in our minds. 85% of our thoughts are actually useless, which is to say that they do not provide insight, illumination or any help in planning on the path to accomplishing something. Instead of guiding us somewhere productive, these thoughts are spent worrying about what cannot be changed, mainly to do with what is in the past.

This statistic creeped back into the forefront of my thoughts yesterday when I was on my way home from my 2nd-to-last teacher training weekend. We were treated to another lecturer last night, Antoine Tinawi, a specialist in Ayurveda from The Art of Living, a volunteer-based foundation created by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Antoine had many things to tell us, all delivered in an incredibly sweet and pure manner, à la Prabakar (one of the most memorable characters from my favorite book of all time, Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts). He talked to us about the Doshas, about food, about body characteristics and the Gunas, but the thing that stayed with me the most out of everything I heard was, “We live as if we have all the time in the world to obsess over the past and the future.” I’m still recovering from that one. Occasionally I read or overhear a phrase or idea that is the manifestation of my being, something that I consider to be so ingrained in my outlook and life philosophy that to have it exist outside of my being leaves me reeling. That occurred last night, and I’m still thinking about it.

I’ve spoken and written about how I feel our society is moving away from awareness into ignorance through sense of entitlement. About how teenage boys and girls today absolutely need to know where the rights that are afforded to them in today’s world came from, and what it took to get them. Girls need to know who Gloria Steinem is. Gay, lesbian, and transgendered community need to know who Matthew Shepard was. I could go on and on…any sub-culture that has any visibility has had to shed blood, sweat and tears to get it, and the way of the Western world today seems like fewer people are asking questions about the journeys that have led to today. The danger that exists in this complacency is potentially frightening, because, as we all know, the proverbial pendulum doesn’t only swing to one side. What swings to the right will inevitably swing back to the left, and vice versa. What dictates how far it swings is the momentum of ignorance that has built up before it starts moving again.

We are so insanely lucky to live where we live in today’s society. To be afforded the freedoms we have to pursue happiness, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender or age. To be able to grow up assuming that those freedoms constitute our rights…that we’re somehow entitled to opportunities, to be able to choose how, where and with whom we spend our lives. On a global scale, we are in the minority, and it’s imperative that we remember this. We need to take every opportunity available to us to be thankful for the lives we lead, for the bodies we have that allow us to follow our paths and for the people around us who provide our safety nets, our extended families. We need to start living in the now, to stop obsessing over what exists in our pasts, and to not put an overt amount of significance in the future. Don’t get me wrong, now…it’s obviously wise and practical to plan financially and otherwise for where we see ourselves in the future, but we must always keep in mind that the future is as uncontrollable as the past. Nothing ever ends up being what we thought it would be, and is we really pay attention to how many of our thoughts consist of harping on what cannot be changed or affected, we’d probably be a lot more focused and productive, a lot less physically and mentally exhausted, and probably more accepting and compassionate of each other.

All I’m trying to say is that we can’t go wrong by living each moment to the fullest instead of looking back at what could have been or focusing on how we’d like to manipulate the future into being what we think it should be. It’s about appreciating and being present, about loving and sharing that appreciation with everyone around us. People will not only gravitate towards that kind of energy, but will want to embody it as well to pass it on, because at the core of that energy is the Truth. About ourselves and the world we live in. Where we came from and where we’re going. If we absolutely have to think about the past, then let’s agree to credit ourselves with having been as conscious and aware as we could have been, as productive, loving and compassionate as we could have been. And let’s agree that that energy is what lies ahead of us. More of the same. We may not necessarily be entitled to it, but we deserve it.