Happiness is within our grasp. All we need to begin the path to experiencing happiness is to begin yoga, in particular, the five yamas (restraints), as I mentioned in my last writing.
I have learned a lot from my work with the five restraints; namely, with my practice of ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderation of the senses) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Each of these is challenging, especially because our United States culture reinforces the opposite practices. This external reinforcement supports the samskaras (our unconscious patterns of thinking and acting) in ways that eventually lead to deep unhappiness. Just look at the world today and how unhappy people seem to be. Practicing the yamas is very challenging.
Let’s start with ahimsa, which means “non-harming, non-hurting.” It is often translated as “non-violence.” When I was a boy on the farm, I was a hot-head, a fireball of energy. I had red hair and freckles all over—a true sign of a Pitta personality in the Ayurvedic world. I always wanted things to be right and to do the right thing. I was the oldest of four boys. We were three and a half years apart in age and I was in charge. So, I expected my brothers to follow my orders. When they didn’t, I would beat them up or get on their case verbally. I even used “weapons” like a pitch forks or BB gun to reinforce my decisions.
I learned from my training as a Catholic young boy that expressing my anger in violent ways was not good, especially after hurting one of my brothers badly. However, I would still boil inside when things did not go my way.
It took me many years to not just control my expression of my anger but to change the foundation of that anger.
As a person made with lots of fire in my body, I realized that all the outbursts of the anger were coming from the way I was thinking. I began to change when I realized that my integrity was challenged when others did not agree with me. I began to understand that I need not fear when things did not go as I wished. I was safe and loved for no other reason than I was created in God’s image.
I know that may sound a bit pious, but my new belief that I was a good person who sometimes made mistakes like every other human being really began to crystalize during my meditation experiences. During meditation I was touching the Divine within myself. Some call that Divine God, Christ, Buddha, Y-H-W-H, the Tao. To me it was the Divine Mother. That divine, nurturing Presence at the core of my being was letting me know, as Theresa of Avila says, “All is well.”
I also learned that I needed to stay away from anything that might trigger the release of my unconscious anger and irritation. I stopped drinking alcohol, stopped smoking, stopped eating “hot and spicy” Buffalo wings, stopped using a gun to kill animals, stopped listening to angry news commentators. I even moved away from competition with others in sports, for a while. I needed to become stronger in my awareness that “All is well.” Every time that I would do or be involved with those former actions, my unconscious fear and violence would emerge.
Now I smile at myself, because when I tell others about how violent I was as a child and how violent I can still be, they are very surprised. That is not because I have hidden the anger like I used to, but through my meditation and eating and thinking differently, I have developed a new pattern, a new samskara. I smile when things don’t go my way and wonder why.
This new samskara of ahimsa has begun to overtake my old samskara, and I am much happier. Of course, practicing the other yamas in conjunction with ahimsa made it easier to deal with my old pattern of fear and anger.
I am convinced that the experience of happiness can be attained by the practice of all the yamas because the yamas help us uncover our core “Happy Self.” In yoga, that True Self is called “atman.”
I will explore the other yamas as the weeks pass.