12.30.2010

Please Secure Your Own Mask Before Assisting Others.

I was given these familiar flight safety instructions many times during my recent holiday travels.  Even as a very young person snuggled in the middle seat between my parents, this idea of securing one's own position before others' always struck me as a lucid gem in a long, rambling speil of safety precautions that, let's be honest, won't do a damn thing for us if the plane decides to go down.  But this concept of tending to oneself before attempting to reach out is an important attitude to consider; the cultivation of compassion toward the self is what prepares us for true expressions of compassion in the world.  This attitude, however, is not easily understood and not generally well received in our culture.  Perhaps we fear the distinction will be missed between self-care and selfishness, and self-love versus egotism, and as a result we give and give of ourselves in a way that is neither helpful nor sustainable.

Ahimsa, meaning "non-violence," is the first of the five Yamas (behavioral restraints) of the first limb of the eight-limbed path lain out in the Yoga Sutras.  The first yama suggests that we act in a non-harming, non-violent manner toward ourselves and ALL beings; non-violence toward the self is merely the first step.  And it is not an easy one, but if we recognize that, as Maehle writes, "it is the same consciousness that looks out of every eye, we understand that, with every person we harm, we really hurt only ourselves (Ashtanga Yoga:  Practice & Philosophy)."  I believe the reverse is also true.  When we are kind to ourselves, we cultivate an attitude of kindness, and that attitude grows and inevitably extends beyond ourselves.

On the other hand, if we fail to care for ourselves and regard ourselves properly on all levels, we will be of little good to the larger community.  If we do not come from a place of truth and integrity, built from patient, compassionate, and humble practice, the harm we do to ourselves becomes a burden not only for ourselves, but also to the one's who love us, care for us, and wish us to be well.

How can we possibly express kindness and compassion outwardly if we neglect to cultivate this attitude of love, compassion, and respect toward ourselves?  If we aspire to be a force of good in our world, to be of service to those we love and share our lives with, we must first assume an attitude of compassion with the self so that we may offer of ourselves from an honest and stable place.  By regarding ourselves with love, taking time to honor and care for our bodies, minds, and spirits, we can be strong and healthy not just for our own good, but for the good of all.

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