Four years ago, I was out for a Friday afternoon jog in Santa Monica.
With my ear buds in, I took in the beauty of the neighborhood while bouncing to the beats from my iPod. I came to the street corner and paused to patiently wait for the walk signal to illuminate. I glanced to my right and saw a woman walking slowly in my direction. I unconsciously observed her and then turned my back to watch the signal change.
I suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head.
I felt electrocuted; my entire body froze and adrenaline rushed. It was so strong, I instantaneously began to hypothesize about the object that had struck my skull; was it a rock, a piece of wood, or a force from God? I looked back and saw a disheveled woman. She was enraged, raising her fist and yelling gibberish at me as she stumbled along down the sidewalk.
She had punched the back of my head with her fist.
I’ve never felt so much negative energy in a single human being. I placed my hand on the back of my head searching for blood. Drivers honked their horns, frantically punched buttons on their cell phones to call for help, and yelled out their windows to me to ask if I was ok…I couldn’t speak – I just began to run. I felt my heart in my head, the back of my skull throbbing, the blood in my legs pumping so hard that I thought I might explode.
Only one thought surfaced: I feel so sorry for her.
I began to cry. With tears streaming down my face, I ran home and called the police to file a report.
Over the next three days I learned that the police had picked her up, I had suffered a minor concussion, and I wasn’t the first to experience such an assault in Santa Monica. I no longer felt sorry for her, I felt sorry for myself and anger raged in me.
I was mad at the City of Santa Monica for allowing this to happen in this lovely beachside community.
I was furious that I would never feel safe again in this City that boasts walkability and community.
I still have anxiety walking down the street, I jump when I hear something behind me, and I have occasional neck pain.
My life has changed dramatically since this incident occurred. I left my corporate job to become a yoga instructor and grant writer over a year ago. In my classes, I regularly teach letting go of old emotions to make room for growth.
Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of compassion. I was in a yoga training and the teacher had us observe each other’s bodies in poses. We weren’t looking for anatomic corrections, rather, she had us look at their bodies with compassion.
This struck me.
I felt something open up in the back of my heart. I realized that difficult incidences in my life, such as the assault, have made me cautious in observing strangers with compassion. I had held on tight to compassion, waiting for a sign of weakness to know it was safe to open my heart and give it. This time, I stared at physically strong and beautiful yogi bodies and I felt my perception shift to a place of observation from my heart.
Observing them with compassion brought me to a place where I saw the feelings they were holding onto. I followed the lines in their forehead and scanned the furrowed brow holding on to pain, worry and sadness. I saw the toes begin to pinch the mat, attempting to feel grounded, stable and supported. I watched the shoulders hunch forward to keep their hearts protected and slightly closed off. I saw the abdomen begin to puff, releasing the uddiyana bandha and filling with fear.
Knowing that everything one sees is a reflection of oneself, I realized that I started to see myself in them. I learned that in order to be a great yoga teacher, I need to not only have compassion for my students who I’ve come to know and love, but I must practice compassion with everyone, even the woman who struck me, and even myself.
It is compassion that allows us to accept life’s experiences and then let go of them to continue to grow.
Joey Soto has been writing for change over the last decade through her work as a water resources consultant and grant writer, crafting compelling stories to win funding for environmental projects. Breaking free from her corporate career, she became a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor in Santa Monica, CA. Her experience practicing yoga throughout the world and teaching yoga in Rome, Italy, instilled a firm dedication to foster a global yogic community as well as enhance the local community, one yoga class at a time. Ms. Soto shares her experiences on her website, www.sotoyoga.com.