“It effects me.”
This is the most powerful teaching I received from my first yoga teacher, Baba Hari Dass, scribbled on a little chalkboard.
Babaji (a respectful name for elders in India) had practiced mauna, the austerity of silence for over 50 years. He had become a monk at age seven. He was 80 by the time I met him in the Indian Himalayas and had spent 12 years doing traditional yogic practices in a cave, living on one glass of milk a day.
He was writing to me about the 60 children he cares for at his orphanage in North India, primarily girls and the stories that had led them to this home. Then he looked at me and wrote, “it effects me.” I recognized in that moment that one of the most accomplished yogis of this century was not above or beyond the human emotion of heartbreak, when faced with the suffering of babies who are not able to be cared for by their own families.
I had once believed that through practicing yoga and meditation, I would no longer be touched by pain. What I really learned was that my heart would only grow more tender through decades of practice, not less. That when witnessing human suffering, I would not only feel the ache of it, but I would feel driven to help.
Recently, on a retreat with my dharma teacher, Reggie Ray, an accomplished meditator from Colorado, he began to guide the community in a series of practices focused on compassion. After an evening of guiding his students, he shared that he would also spend the next day practicing these teachings focused on opening the heart. He shared that he had experienced a challenging interaction with his wife and would be working with his own emotional difficulties while guiding his students.
Though Reggie is a prolific writer and speaker, I believe that this was a profound teaching moment I was able to witness.
After over 40 years of study and a depth of meditation experience that is rare in western teachers, he continues to work through psychological patterns that emerge in intimate relationship. I was grateful for his modeling that we may say or do things that hurt those close to us at times that we become closed or defensive, but we can learn from these moments, we can return to the practice of meditation, and we can find our way back to an open and vulnerable heart.
I have learned from these great teachers, not just how to be a yogini and meditator but, how to be human,
I have witnessed how to allow myself to be touched by this world, its beauty and its pain, that spiritual practice has as much to do with relating to others as it does with sitting silently alone. I have learned that I will mess up in intimate relationships, say things I wish I hadn’t, but that I will return to the cushion, to the breath, and to opening the heart, and I will remain committed to unfolding my potential as a therapist, teacher friend, partner, daughter, and mother utilizing the insights and openings of meditation to support this expression in my life.
Author: Raia Kogan
Apprentice Editor: Michelle Taylor /Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Christopher Michel at Flickr