Have you ever heard of the story about several blind people and the elephant?
There are many versions (click here for Wikipedia and here for another version) but the overall theme of the tale (not the tail, but we will get there eventually) is that several sightless people are all holding various parts of an elephant (obviously a very patient, friendly, and understanding pachyderm). The group of humans can articulate what they are touching such as a long furry ropelike object (tail), or a tree-like stump (leg), or a smooth curved surface (tusk) and even though you, the reader, gets the picture rather quickly, these men just can’t seem to figure out how each individual’s tactile experience is connected to the others in the group. Eventually, the humans begin to talk about their experiences and just as important, they actively listen to one another until they come to the realization that they are indeed interconnected through this shared (albeit unusual) experience.
What lessons might we learn from this Indian parable?
- Communication, including active listening, can help us connect with one another.
- In a shared experience, each person has his or her own unique and sacred perspective.
-Denying something that one cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for one’s own limitations.
Our world has become increasingly more complex and fast-paced.
If you are interested in reading some of the research that shows just how harmful our zip-zip zoom-zoom culture is for our health, check out these stories.
If only we could all slow down and go to the local elephant petting zoo with several others who hold different political, spiritual, or personal views and work things out, how happy the elephant would be and how much more peaceful might the human community be? When I worked for a high school in Oakland, I learned about an organization that teaches youth how to acknowledge differences and celebrate them through an activity at lunch time where people are encouraged to sit with someone outside of their usual circle of friends. It took courage and patience but year after year, the experiential mixer became an annual event celebrated by teachers and students AND the best part was, I and the other staff noticed subtle positive ripple effects throughout the school with fewer fights and enhanced group cohesion.
So, how might a yoga practice help improve societal strife such as intolerance, discrimination and hate crimes? Well, I am going to ask you to join me in saying loud and clear the greeting or the blessing that we say at the end of most yoga classes.
Come on, I didn’t hear you…
Ok, that’s better! Yes, it’s NAMASTE!
These 3 syllables say A LOT!
One of the most common interpretations of NAMASTE is the following:
“I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells,
I honor the place in you which is of
Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace.
When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me,
we are One.”
So, the first step in resolving larger issues of indifference and intolerance is for each of us to deepen our own personal relationship to ourselves,offering ourselves doses of lovingkindness and patience to counteract any of the power that our inner critic may have over us. Nobody can do that for you. I can’t. Your acupuncturist can’t. The Dalai Lama, the Pope, Tim Robbins or Oprah Winfrey, your parents, your partner….nope! It’s our own individual work to be done, and while it might be a daunting task at the start, YOU are definitely worth the effort.
And the icing on the yoga cake is this: each person we come in contact with can then help mirror back certain things about who we are and what we like and don’t like about being who we are. Further, each person that comes into our lives can also help us improve upon areas of our lives that do not serve us any longer. The Universe has it perfectly set up so that even with all of these interactions, all these inspiring folks amongst us, we still get to do all the inner Journey work on our own. No short cuts, but oodles of learning opportunities every step of the way. And while we are on our own unique path, we also get to cross paths with others who can inspire us along the way.
As Lily Tomlin says:
“We are all in this together, by ourselves.”
So let’s return back to the people and the elephant allegory. Typically in a yoga class I would ask you to close your eyes, but for this one, I am asking you to open your eyes. Open all of your senses. This includes your inner senses, too. Your intuition, your compassion, your empathy are all needed here. Take a close and mindful look around at how you are connected to those around you. Especially take a close and compassionate look at how you are connected to some one or some group that you consider to be ‘other’ than your usual safe set of connections.
How am I related to you? How am I related to that homeless person I just walked past?
How am I related to the coworker or that neighbor that I nod to everyday?
How am I connected to that random person that smiled at me in the supermarket?
What do I have in common with the person that just abruptly cut in front of me on the freeway?
One thing is for sure, we surely aren’t all groping an elephant with our eyes closed, but I have a hunch that if we first open ourselves up to the question “How is my experience connected to the experience of others?”, then the answer will find its way into our hearts.
As I close this MINDFUL CHATTER, I thank YOU for teaching me about your life experiences via our online interactions or our brief chats before and after a yoga session. If ever you and I did have a chance to hold an elephant (with our eyes and other senses wide open), I am sure that elephant would feel lots and lots of human love and compassion from our touch!
In peace and harmony,