Peace. Just the thought of this word has a calming affect. It's something most of us deeply desire, and few of us get to experience most of the time. There is little time for peace in the world of today. We spend our days bombarded by televisions, computers, cell phones and tablets calling out to us. There are loud, obnoxious, unnatural noises everywhere from cars honking to lawnmowers grinding and leaf blowers screaming. There are children, spouses and coworkers constantly demanding something. Much of today's music is not peaceful at all. The news and the media are certainly not where you look to find peace. If you are an active person being a parent, a worker, a student or a teacher, peace is hard to find. The majority of the population believes that they need to go away to a deserted island or a cabin in the mountains to find peace.
What most people fail to realize is that peace is not something we do or go somewhere to 'get'. It doesn't require that we go on vacation or absent ourselves from our normal environment to acquire. True peace is something found within. It's a state of being.
To begin to understand what peace is, let's take a look at the dictionary definition of peace.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peace as:
1: a state of tranquillity or quiet: asa: freedom from civil disturbanceb: a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom <a breach of the peace>
2: freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
3: harmony in personal relations
4a: a state or period of mutual concord between governments
b: a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity
5: used interjectionally to ask for silence or calm or as a greeting or farewell
In this particular dictionary definition, #2 is the clincher. Individuals being free from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions is what makes it possible for all types of peace to exist and grow. Harmony in personal relations, in communities, or between governments is not possible if the individuals in the world are living in a state of agitation, unrest, fear or dissatisfaction. It begins with each person as an individual.
Yoga and meditation provides each one of us on an individual level the tools to find peace within. This is one big reason why yoga's popularity has grown exponentially in the past 20 years throughout the western world and is now being recommended by the scientific and medical community as a crucial and effective way to create peace, harmony, health and balance in our lives on a daily basis.
Now, let's now look at some of the teachings of yoga, the Yamas, and how these teachings on yogic ethical principles provide us with a guide of how to find the peace in our lives that we all crave so desperately.
Written in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are the eight limbs of yoga that explain in a methodical way how to bring an individual to a sense of completeness through connection of the mind, body and spirit- these three parts of our being that come together to make up who we are. No one element of Patanjali's eight limbs takes precedence over the other because all contribute to the structural foundation for yoga practice, but today I'll focus on the first “Limb” of Yoga: the Yamas.
The 5 Yamas focus on moral and spiritual observances. More specifically, they're centered on 5 ethical principles. These principles include:
These 5 principles are all associated with specific moral guidelines that govern our interactions with others. It is important to know that these are meant more as suggestions on how to live, not as commandments that, if not obeyed, there exists some kind of punishment or retribution. They should be regarded as a choice that, if you practice them in a dedicated and reverent way, you will reap the results of a peaceful and healthy, balanced life.
The first principle of the Yamas is Ahimsa, or non-violence to ourselves, fellow humans, all living creatures and our environment. Ahimsa not only incorporates the idea of non-violence through our actions, but also through our feelings, thoughts and words that precede our actions. By practicing non-violence in mind and deed, we are able to maintain compassion and respect for our own selves and for others. When we know we've done our best not to hurt anyone including ourselves, we can truly experience and know peace.
The second principle Yama is Satya, or truthfulness. Satya really encompasses the idea of being completely honest with oneself. Since yoga is very centered around creating a unity between mind, body and spirit, it is important to ask yourself if you are living from your real and honest self, or an ego-driven place. It is important to keep in mind that the feeling of truthfulness does not mean saying our truth at all costs that can result in bringing harm to others. (It's important to make this distinction because while it's crucial to always be honest with yourself and others, sometimes it isn’t necessary to speak the truth if it can be destructive. It's sometimes prudent to ask ourselves if, by saying our truth we are simply unloading on another without any real benefit.) If we always think, speak and act from a place of truth, we never have to hide, fake it, or make up more stories to cover a lie. 'This, above all, to thine own self be true,'
The third principle Yama is Asteya, or non-stealing. The act or desire to steal usually arises when we live in a mindset of 'lack' where we believe that we're not capable of creating all that we need or want in life honestly. Sometimes past experience instills in us a mindset of scarcity and we feel as if we need to be greedy or take things to get 'our share'. Sometimes we have an attitude of entitlement to justify when we take something that's not ours. Asteya refers to not only not stealing 'things' but also not stealing ideas and concepts. When we function from a place of peace, there is an acceptance of what is and a 'letting go' of a need to acquire 'things' or have a sense of false recognition to make us feel better. Sleep comes easier when we don't take what is not ours. This is, again, sound advice to help us live in a peaceful state.
The fourth principle Yama is Brahmacharya, or self awareness in our sexuality. In our culture today, the internet and easy access to media has hyper-sexualized everything from advertisements of toothpaste to rampant pornography. There is an attitude of 'anything goes' which, through the understanding of Brahmacharya, is regarded as unhealthy. While this Yama does encompass the idea of abstinence, it is important to note that it does not insinuate complete abstinence or a judgement that sex is bad. Brahmacharya is more about having a disciplined sexual life. As in all behavior, there is a balance to be found. When our sexuality is expressed from a place of thoughtfulness and caring, love and respect, our being is lifted. Acting from a place of caring and integrity brings peace.
The final principle Yama is known as Aparigraha, or non-attachment. This particular principle emphasizes being truly happy within and not searching for that happiness through the superficial attachment to 'things' and/or other living beings. Practicing non-attachment will eventually lead to having no expectations that could hinder your contentment and happiness in every day life. By not expecting lasting happiness from acquiring that snazzy car, big house or acceptance into a social group that's 'in', is true wisdom because all things in the physical realm are temporary and changing and can never last forever. Only by finding happiness within can bring that peace that passeth beyond all understanding.
In practicing these ethical guidelines daily, along with a healthy diet, proper exercise through asana practice and breathing, and meditation, yoga provides us with a lifestyle that will surely lead to more peace in your life. Try it- you'll be amazed!
Om Shanti (peace),