In the 10 years I’ve been teaching yoga, I’ve never seen a fight break out in the middle of class. Until yesterday.
Long story short: student comes in late and squeezes mat into tight spot. Nearby folks don’t seem to make much space. Cue from yours truly means one person’s foot ends up in another person’s face. Tempers flare, voices shout. One person leaves in tears. Class is completely disrupted.
I was—and still am—dumbfounded.
There is so much unspeakable suffering in our world right now. People are hurting deeply—in their bodies, in their minds, in their hearts. Every minute, people are being persecuted, displaced, and killed. Soldiers are risking and, too often, sacrificing their lives. Homes are being destroyed. Children are sleeping on the ground. There’s poverty. Discrimination. Loss. Fear.
So how could we possibly be fighting about a yoga class?
It’s precisely because this suffering is happening everywhere—whether that’s half a planet away, in our communities, or in our very own homes. It’s happening on scales small and large. And this suffering sometimes causes us to act in ways we otherwise may not.
For example, the person who comes late to yoga class might be extra frazzled because she’s just had a(nother) disastrous time dropping off her autistic child at school.
The co-worker who has an overbearing need to control everything might be compensating for having grown up with an alcoholic parent. The driver who cuts you off might be preoccupied by the diagnosis of cancer or MS or early Alzheimer’s he’s just received. The rude clerk may be dealing with the inescapable heartache of just having lost a baby…and perhaps not her first. The person who doesn’t apologize after bumping into you on the street might be in a daze from learning she’s just been downsized, right before the holidays—and now she has no idea how to going to afford presents for the kids, much less be able to pay rent or buy groceries. The person who lashes out at you, seemingly unprovoked, might have been secretly suffering through years of abuse, or discrimination, or intimidation…and he or she just can’t take it anymore.
With this in mind, I beg us all to focus less on the small stuff so we can focus more on the big stuff.
Now is when we need more civility. More kindness. More compassion. More listening. More going out of our way to make other people feel welcome and understood and, ultimately, loved.
Because part of being human is recognizing the humanity in another person.
As I tried to process yesterday’s incident in yoga class, I was reminded of a line in the Prayer of St. Francis. I can recall singing a song about this in church as a kid, but only recently did I have a chance to really ponder the words. As I listened to someone else read the words, my brain got ahead of me and filled in this blank:
“Where there is wrong, may I bring ____________.”
Did your brain automatically say “right” here? Mine did. So you might imagine how foolish I felt when they read on:
“Where there is wrong, may I bring the spirit of forgiveness.”
Let that sink in for a minute. We’re not here to be right; we’re here to accept what is and love anyway.
On this Thanksgiving eve, I leave you with the full prayer. May it speak to your soul the same way it does to mine. And may we all go out of our way to be a little more kind.
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
where there is error, I may bring truth;
where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
where there is despair, I may bring hope;
where there are shadows, I may bring light;
where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek
rather to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
And it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”
Author: Becky Vollmer
Editor: Catherine Monkman