Friday, February 4, 2011
Deconstructing a Flood of Words: Using the Yamas
Imagine meeting a friend and as you are standing there, the friend begins handing you one thing after another. The first thing you take with one hand and keep making eye contact with your friend. You can hold this thing easily in one hand. The friend immediately hands you something else, a handful of small things. You put the other object in the crook of your elbow and take the handful carefully in one hand. The friend then hands you a large awkward object and places it across your outstretched forearms. Another object follows immediately that is sloshing in a container. You stand still while your friend continues to pack every possible crack and balance point with one after another thing.
How many times have you had a "conversation" that felt like this?
Words are mental objects. They represent ideas, carry the kernel of reactive emotions. Words can literally transform the inner landscape with visual information, and can reconfigure a thought process by eliminating or adding elements.
Speech is a powerful way to communicate, yet words are often used without any idea of their actual impact.
There are moments when each of us suddenly feels the weight of our words. Awareness is intense in those moments when the call for clarity is great, or when the emotional impact of each word is evident. We feel it when each word is painful; we feel it when words reassure. Words can bring fear, excitement, calm, joy, anger, confusion, clarity.
Teaching yoga requires specificity in language when directing other bodies, when inviting the minds of others to focus, when suggesting visual or emotional constructs. It is one sided, directive-suggestive-instructive talk. This is a collectively agreed upon inequality. When this kind of inequality occurs among people in typical conversations, it implies the same tacit agreement, and can be very uncomfortable for the listener, and sometimes leaves an unpleasant feeling afterward for the talker too. For some, this kind of one-sided hand-over-the-stuff talking is a challenge to compete, or sets up a verbal jousting match. The listener might make an effort to break the cycle or show equal fortitude, or feel a need to claim some equal worthiness for attention. The deep need to be "right" or "have the last word" can easily arise.
The person who storms you with object after object probably does not realize that you cannot hold on to all of it. It is likely they cannot see that this transfer doesn't afford you any opportunity to make any use of the objects. It may be that the intent is not to gain your understanding, but simply a desire that you take all this stuff to lighten their load. The odd part is that the objects actually remain in the custody of the person who gave them, even as they weigh you down. It seems those same objects can be handed over again and again. Perhaps they are not the actual load, but simply represent the burden being felt.
Taking stock of the deeper layer of communication can help slow this flood and might actually help shift that burden through awareness. If the friend (or you) are lonely, it may be a desire to feel a shared experience of life that provokes the stream of words in one direction. Perhaps a sense of isolation creates an urgency in having another person confirm the stream of experiences or reactions. Perhaps it is uncertainty that pushes a person (or you) to such an effort to be convincing, taking each point and covering every detail of the subject just to be sure and reinforce this version of them. Sometimes it is a deep need to be appreciated, or acknowledged, that prompts a person to disclose too much of what they know, or how they feel or how they arrived at their conclusion.
Kindness and respect can stem this flood. Allowing the undercurrent to rise to the top can be as simple as saying, "It must be hard to go through all this on your own," or "It is interesting to hear how you think about this, and I can tell you have thought a lot about it;" "There are many who would react the way you reacted." This stops the flow of details and returns to the core of the communication. It is also sometimes useful to simply say,"I am interested in what you are saying, but cannot absorb all these details. Can you tell me the part you really want me to know?" You can even ask, "Do you want me to respond to this, or are you simply telling me so that I will know about this too?"
These kinds of responses come directly from an investigation of the yogic principles of the Yamas (one of the eight limbs of yoga as outlined by Patanjali from centuries ago).
The Yamas are yogic principles of outward and inward behaviors. Each of the outward principles relate to the concepts of how we function, and interact. Taking on any one of these will lead to the others. Ahimsa - non-violence - applies to being kind, refraining from the domination games, being patient with yourself and others, and practicing compassion in speech as well as action. Satya - truth - again relates to the deepest awareness rather than the surface feedback. Being kind in the truth you express will enliven and enrich, rather than dominate and degrade others. Asteya - non-stealing - is a practice of respecting the energy and time of others as well as your own, not simply refraining from taking objects, but also making unnecessary demands of others. Brahmacharya - restraint - the source of celibacy practices and also of relinquishing overindulgence and repression, embracing moderation and respecting the divine in all beings. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness - is the cultivation of non-attachment, honoring of the many strands that weave the fabric of life without dictating or grasping, making space for the self and others to simplify rather than vie for control.
Starting with any one of the Yamas as an investigation is like having a walking stick for uneven terrain. Everywhere you go, whatever you may do or experience, let the Yama you choose help you feel the structure below that supports you on the path.