Karuna is not merely showing pity or compassion and shedding tears of despair for the misery (duhkha) of others. It is compassion coupled with devoted action to relieve the misery of the afflicted. The yogi uses all his resources—physical, economic, mental or moral—to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. He shares his strength with the weak until they become strong. He shares his courage with those that are timid until they become brave by his example. He denies the maxim of the ‘survival of the fittest’, but makes the weak strong enough to survive. He becomes a shelter to one and all.
~B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga
I screw this one up all of the time! I get impatient and caught up in my drama, rather than opening myself up to what is really going on with someone else. So I don’t write this as a master of Karuna. No: I’m working at it.
What I love about this quote though is the emphasis on doing something about feelings. Again:
The yogi uses all his resources—physical, economic, mental or moral—to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.
Mr. Iyengar is not messing around.
It is important to remember, however, that, while he was so widely recognized for his stirring oratory, all of the words (…) were forged in the crucible of action.
~Coretta Scott King, remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.
I remembered these words by Coretta Scott King to a yoga class I was teaching. I had seen an aspect of the pose that we had just done that would benefit from some work and was about to do a demo to show the action that could help. I had said the words describing it before, but didn’t see the difference in the poses, so I needed to communicate better. And so when I referenced Mrs. King’s sentiment using my own words, I followed it up by expressing that it’s not enough just to think the action, we must also do it. And so I showed what the “doing” looked like as I said the words, as well as what the “not-doing” looks like. The next time we did the pose, the class was transformed! The poses looked so much stronger, and some students shared that it felt really good. Yeah!
Teaching in this way gives me an opportunity to make a difference when I see that the bodies could inhabit the poses more vibrantly. I could have just moved on and accepted that this is just how it is. But when I see a way that the students’ poses might be helped and the timing is reasonable to break something down, I think that it is totally worth it to do so. In this way I am devoted to the actions of yoga.
Now if I had just “shown pity or compassion” for the struggle of the students, that just wouldn’t have been enough according to the above excerpt from Light on Yoga. I had to do something about it to be in line with Karuna. It might not be enough to think compassionate thoughts, we might consider how to follow up with compassionate and devoted action.
Especially outside of yoga…
But this is where things can seem really tricky. How can I build my nest egg and care about you, too? How can I preserve my psychological safety, and hear what you are really saying to me? How can I help you be strong if I’m filled with self-doubt? How can I let you know that I am there for you without getting in your face?
Can we look after and help someone perceived as weaker instead of making fun of them to make our selves feel better for a moment? Thinking or saying, “Oh, poor so-and-so…” might make the ego feel better for one moment, but that’s it. So just “feeling bad” for someone, might just be ego-stroking for ones self. In other words, it’s just selfish to pity someone else.
What are we gonna’ do to make the world a better, more vibrant and happy place for each other?
* a loving message and inquiry from Yogic Muse *