The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer, yoga teacher certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and dance teacher. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms throughout the NYC metro area, and holds a regular Tuesday morning class at Steps on Broadway. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu…
This glorious mantra originates in Hindu prayer. With an intention of global well-being, the words speak of the interconnectedness that inherently exists between the individual and the community:
May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
There is such power and such room for potential in these words. My heart and head fill with wonder and hope in dreaming of all that we can do, through larger actions and smaller ones, to contribute to this world that we’ve been born into.
I woke up this morning to an email from my mom regarding the tough decision to offer up my grandmother’s driver’s license to the DMV. The last few months have proved challenging for both my grandparents and my parents. While my grandparents still are quite sharp and seek to be independent in the ways they have been for countless years, aspects of their declining physical health and steadiness have countered such hopes for continuing as they have been and have forced them to shift their home life. I can’t imagine what it will be like someday to lose many freedoms because of the simple truths of aging; it has to be heartbreaking. And yet through it all, I’ve witnessed immense selflessness and compassion in the care my parents have put forth to aid my grandparents in these massive life transitions. The time and energy they so generously have offered and continue to present, without a second thought, inspires me beyond words. Talk about unconditional love.
My parents have been talking of all this for months now, but something about this message in particular hit me hard. It ripped me out of my self-centered world, dragging me by my ears to stand in the face of the value my parents have so vividly demonstrated all my life—the value of service.
Huge decisions and transitions in my life—moving, shifting career focus, resetting survival methods in the ever-challenging City of New York, struggling with contrasting dreams and the tug between commitment and freedom—have unfortunately embedded me in a cycle of anxiety, fear, and confusion, particularly in the last few weeks. To struggle is a requisite piece of human life; this I know and acknowledge, and while matters sometimes seem unbearable in the moment, I recognize too the ease of my struggles in comparison to many others, as well as the necessity of such matters in propelling the growth of my character and being. But the stress that I have placed upon these situations and upon myself has caught me in a horrible cycle of anxiety and self-centered thought.
In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, Pema Chödrön writes, “We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones of safety, which are always falling apart. That’s the essence of samsara—the cycle of suffering that comes from continuing to seek happiness in all the wrong places.” I suppose my mom’s email catapulted me out of my own worlds of worry and my desperate attempts to create zones of safety. The message from my mom offered up a critical reminder of our obligation to not only live this life we’ve been gifted with to grow ourselves, but to utilize our skills, talents, and life force to look after our world in whatever ways we can.
Months ago I was speaking with a dear friend about his Baha’í faith, as its one that I’d never heard of and thus was curious about. One of the central tenets of the belief system regards the oneness of humanity. Service of others trumps the individual; exclusivity falls to inclusivity, and divisiveness to unity. What is so incredible to me is the way that this belief so clearly colors his and his wife’s actions. I had always considered them to be compassionate, generous, and patient people, always looking out for those they love, but to make the connection between their spiritual belief and tangible action moved me greatly.
The yoga tradition supports a cultivation of self-awareness, and many of us have been lucky enough to discover such benefits as we’ve built our personal practices over the years. But I wonder today…to what degree do we become swept up in the thrill of that intensified self-awareness? Instead of simply focusing on our personal growth and that perpetual development for our benefit, could we churn that personal advancement out into the world, enabling a spiraling of our musings from internal change to external service?
For whatever reason, this shift in perspective seems staggering to me, as I consider the intense work it would take to transform my selfish tendencies. But I think I may have found my mantra, my fire that could fuel my intention of greater service:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Doesn’t the power of contribution and support boost the human spirit anyway? I’m thinking back to that surge of joy that has filled me when I’ve somehow made someone’s day better and I wonder, why don’t I attempt to look after others just as much, if not more, than me? Personal growth is imperative, no doubt, but to truly make a change in this world, that personal work must not stay as a hermit would, trapped inside our body’s frame. Our spirit, our energy, is inevitably mixed and shared with all those we come in contact with, so to become more purposeful in our ways, more generous in our relationships with the outside world, could extend happiness and freedom to so many. To get caught up in our own heads and hearts is inevitable, as we exist in this world as particular beings. And truthfully, honoring that individuality is what empowers us to move out into the world, to create change and spread love in ways that only we can. I suppose it’s that balance between the two worlds that becomes tricky. So I offer up this intention—that we dive in, and do our best to live with the world, and for it, rather than just in it.
Photo by Chris Ensey