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The Biology of Animosity

“In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity vanishes.”

-Yoga Sutra 2:35

When we are with a person who is totally free of any animosity, we are often very surprised. Nothing different or out of the ordinary seems to bother that person. Why is that?

Most of us feel aversion (“dvesha”) to anything that is different from the way we do things. Those differences tend to irritate us because they threaten our way of thinking and our self-identity. Husbands don’t like the way wives ask for help around the house. Wives don’t like the way their husband “half-listens” or dresses. We don’t like politicians or we don’t like certain types of politicians; they’re too liberal or too conservative. We don’t like people of different sexual orientations because they make us feel uncomfortable. We don’t like people who have lots of money, or people who, in our own mind, are not doing enough to take care of their children or their houses.

Our attraction to our way of doing things or our own thinking and perspective tends to be threatened by people who act and think differently. I experience this when I tell people that I teach yoga, or that I’m a vegetarian. The person with whom I’m talking automatically becomes defensive and starts to justify the fact that they don’t do yoga, or that they really enjoy hamburgers.

This aversion that we all have toward certain actions, beliefs, lifestyles, yoga says, flows from our fear of not being valued enough, of not being cherished by another. We are afraid to lose something of ourselves—like our identity, our security, our beliefs. It ultimately reminds us of our greatest fear—death. This fear of loss then translates into animosity. Deep inside (often on an unconscious level) we desire to eliminate or get back at something that is threatening us. This is our animal instinct.

The yogi who has no animosity really has no fear of losing himself or herself. That person is not attached to his or her way of thinking, living, acting because that person knows that he or she is really a spiritual person. That person has true self-knowledge.

Without that true knowledge, we choose the negative first. Why? Because we are not choosing the spiritual path. We are instead choosing to follow the biological path. We are constantly reinforcing the brain connection with our reptilian brain (the amygdala) instead of short-circuiting those animal urges and building our pre-frontal cortex through meditation.

Meditation is the spiritual path that makes a definite physical (biological) difference in our life. University of Wisconsin researcher, Richard Davidson, has learned that we shrink the size of the amygdala (the animal brain) and increase the size of the pre-frontal lobes (the human brain) when we spend just 7 days meditating.

We can reduce the anger, violence, and hatred in today’s politically-, socially-, culturally-, economically-charged world, both nationally and internationally, if we just begin to meditate regularly.

Then we all will be able to say to ourselves:

I feel no animosity towards anyone or towards anything that happens to me. We will then truly know non-violence, just like the yogis, who meditate daily.


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