Violence Ends Here – A Response to Charleston

“There is no more important part to play in life than enabling children to grow up in a peaceful world, young people to grow up with a selfless goal in view, and nations and races and countries to live together in peace and harmony.” –Eknath Easwaran


These words express what we all hunger for. And yet, in the midst of our longing for a peaceful world, we receive yet another report of humanity gone awry. The recent shootings in South Carolina stand not only in their own singular horror, but among a cascade of violent and hateful deeds, both told and untold, that are repeatedly occurring at home and around the world.

What is it in us humans that precipitates such violence? We seem to be such odd creatures capable of insidious, violent deeds; a capacity to be shocked and saddened, yet strangely indifferent; and an ability to believe we are not part of the problem.

Perhaps this ability to separate ourselves into the “good apples” pile is in part why the world seems to continue its bent for violence. Killing in cold blood and blatant hatred are so vile to us that it gives an easy escape route into believing we are “different.”

The first ethical restraint in yoga is non-violence. It seems Patanjali would not have told us to be nonviolent if it wasn’t a problem for all of us! Our task then, is to mentally remove ourselves from the comfortable “good apples” basket and begin to look at the violence that sits within us and how it seeps into the lives of others. We might be surprised at what we see.

One of the things we might notice is that neutrality rarely finds us. We are either, in each moment, passing on some form of kindness or some form of violence. We can pass on our impatience, judgment, criticism, lies, frustration or we can pass on a smile or a kind word. Watching our exchanges will give us clues into the self-centeredness, hatred, and prejudice that form a deep, intimate part of each of us and lead to violence in its most subtle and hideous displays.

Watching our exchanges will also give us clues into what it takes to receive anger from another and pass it on as compassion or what it takes to be wronged by another and pass it on as healing. This is a crucial step in understanding and transforming violence in the world.

Perhaps Patanjali is requiring those of us who are on the yoga journey to recognize the violence within us and make a commitment to not pass it on. It seems a commitment worth making.

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