The realness of our experience

by Maria Sousa Macedo |
October, 2024

Once upon a time there was a small country located in southwestern Europe ruled by a 48-year dictatorship. A poor, sad and oppressed country involved in a colonial war, monitored by a political police who would suppress, arrest and torture all of those who would oppose the regime. This was Portugal from 1926 until 1974, a country dominated by fear, violence and the absence of freedom.

Nevertheless, on the 25th of April 1974, something extraordinary happened. The young military forces started a coup against the regime and led the country back into freedom by shedding no blood. The civilians came out to the streets to support them and started offering the soldiers carnations which were placed in the muzzles of the guns, as well as in their uniforms, as a symbol of peace. Can you imagine a revolution without shots, but instead flowers? Can you picture children safely playing in the streets whilst the regime was falling? In the light of the world’s recent events, it seems almost impossible.

The Carnation Revolution – as it is formally known – fascinated and inspired the world, and it is considered by many the most beautiful revolution of the 20th century. Why is it so? Why is it a source of endless inspiration? I believe the answer is in its compassionate quality that spontaneously awakens our inherent goodness. Mahatma Gandhi once said “those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not understand what spirituality really means” and by this he was actually stating how it is not possible to separate how we behave as a collective from the principles we hold in our hearts. Looking now at the current atmosphere of the world, one may experience just the opposite – distress – as hostility, aggression and violence are against our true nature.

In chapter two of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (Sādhana-pāda) the spiritual practitioner is given the same advice through the first yama or restraint: “ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tad-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ”, PYS II:35 / “When you stop harming others, others will cease to harm you.” Ahiṁsā is a Sanskrit term meaning “non-violence” which could be positively translated into compassion. Being a yama, it refers to our behavior towards others, not towards ourselves – the second limb of the ashtanga system, the niyamas, addresses the self-observances – and it seems to be no coincidence that this is the first thing of the first things that should be done by those who aspire to find their true nature, union.

There’s a story of a a man who is talking to a priest about a profoundly enlightened experience. He had a vision of God and a sense of experiencing merging with light and love. Enchanted by his vision, the man visits a priest in order to ask whether his vision was real. So the priest replied back, inquiring the man: Do you have animals? And the man replied “yes”; do you have a wife? the man nodded; children? yes, said the man; siblings? yes; family, friends, neighbors? The man nodded at all. So the priest said: “the realness of your experience shows itself through the kindness you express with each of the beings in your life.”

The outer expression of an awakened heart is kindness, compassion. When we are open hearted we are living from our best self and the same is true collectively. In the words of Tara Brach “An evolved society is rooted in compassion”. When there is compassion, when we are able to see ourselves in the other and do something for the other, we get closer to becoming real; we have an experience of the higher Self; we get intimate with our innate goodness and purity.

So the question to the yogi should be: how can our practices guide us during such turbulent times? how can we free ourselves from sinking in agony? No matter the current forces of aggression and ignorance, by staying connected to the source of who we truly are. By practicing a presence that is not defined by frustration, anger or fear, but instead a presence that is opened enough to see wider and act from the heart. This is not simple. It is, definitely, easier to meet what’s going on in the world with our own anger and hatred, but we must remember that’s not how our spirit expresses itself. And the sutra II.35 is clear about it. Violence (hiṁsā) is in whichever form – mental, oral, physical – only perpetuates more violence.Therefore, to cease it the opposite must be firmly cultivated, compassion.

Compassion was the flower in the gun, back in April 1974 in Portugal. It is this flower that bridges differences and can transform the world. Remember the words of the Buddha and carry them within you: “Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.”

Teaching Tips

  • Chant PYS II.35 and explore the meaning of each Sanskrit word
  • Save more time for meditation practice, slowly increasing its time throughout the month
  • Explore the practice of “Yes Meditation”, by guiding students to recognize and allow the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts they might be holding within. This is a practice of honesty. Pausing, noticing what’s inside the self, identifying it, and gently saying “yes” to whatever arises. Feeling the space that is created through the word “yes” (instead of “no”) and, maybe, a taste of freedom, so you’re not reacting from feeling oppressed; you’re not carrying the weight of the world. Instead, you may rest in a tender opened presence.
  • Teach Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing), as a means to balance both hemispheres of the brain. Explain its relevance to your students by emphasizing how the left brain (related to right nostril) is more cognitive and linear, whilst the right brain (left nostril) is more sensory, creative and expanded. It is from the right side of the brain that a sense of presence and compassion arise.
  • Present the Five Kleshas (obstacles to the state of Yoga) and explore their impact in the separate self.
  • Emphasize sequences targeting Maṇipūra Chakra (solar plexus chakra) and Anāhata Chakra (heart chakra), as they karmically address and have a power healing effect on the following relationships: the ones we have hurt and the ones who’ve hurt us.
  • Share the teachings of beings who have contributed for a more compassionate world. Eg: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, etc.
  • Do not forget that compassion should include all beings, including animal beings. Make sure you save some time to explain the connection of diet and yoga as a practice. For that, read “Yoga and Veganism” from Sharon Gannon.