Saturday, July 10, 2010

Exploring Respect: Right Speech, Right Action

How to have respect, and show respect without judgment is a serious part of my yoga explorations. I can feel my urge to "inform" others of my point of view. It has been difficult at times to live through the effects of what feels to others like "telling them what to do." I have come to accept that my observations are totally tainted by my own experiences and that can put me off the mark in assessing what is happening.

It is especially important in my yoga teaching to truly treat the student as the expert in their own body experience. Though I may have useful insights to give them, it is their own integration of this that makes any sense or has any purpose. As I recently mentioned to a friend, my first experience in a yoga class of being instructed to "relax in child's pose" was such a case in reverse. I know that this pose is not relaxing for many people in a physical sense, but for me it was not physically was the reference to my childhood that brought discomfort. That began a very serious inquiry for me, not necessarily a bad thing, but not the teacher's intentions. So in this, I am learning to ask, to observe, to suggest, to invite the modifications. My role as a teacher is to make the space safe for students to explore, and to offer as judgment free instruction as I can, and THEN offer what I know as a possible option, not a directive.

Respect may, in this way, also require figuring out deep hidden attachments to patterns or judgments. Enjoying a conversation with someone who holds different views is possible in a non competitive, non-proselytizing way if there is an open space in which to speak and listen. Respect can make it possible for people to share deep feelings about things without feeling that there must be agreement. Word choice goes way beyond political correctness, but that concept is similar. If we speak in the language of inclusion, using non-inflammatory words, in other words speaking non-judgmentally, it feels respectful. Really meaning what we say changes the tone as well. Verbal interactions in relationships can cause pain or give joy. Sometimes it is not speaking that will do the most good, making the space for another person to do something their own way without commentary, to feel accepted, make a discovery, or explore in their own way the relevant cause and effect of their words or actions.

Beyond words, respect is embedded in action. Choosing where to meet someone, weeding in the garden, catching a chipmunk trapped in the house, or deciding how to travel or what to eat are all actions where our choices have embedded assumptions, and values are subtly or not so subtly assigned to other lives, to others' feelings, to the conditions we create or within which we live. Staying in someone else's home, or visitng another country can high light these inner threads of behaviors with which we tie ourselves to unintended outcomes. Bringing this to consciousness, observing our own way of acting, making the first step one of seeing the pattern leads to understanding that there are choices to be made that might have very different results. Respecting our own need for freedom can lead to authentic respect for others in our actions towards others as well.

I remember reading a conversation with the Dalai Lama about Ghandi, in which he was asked about acting to stop a violent act or being passive. His response included the concept that first, passivity is not the same as peace, and then went on to say that if one is able to see that another person is about to act against their karmic best interests, it is right action to prevent that act... not simply allowing oneself to be attacked, for example, since that would also bring harm to oneself and the other person. This really struck me as interpreting active resistance in that case as an act of deep respect. Imagine thinking of oneself as part of the other, or the other as part of oneself in that context! Yet that is an underlying concept, that we are not separate from the results of our own choices, nor from the conditions that impact on others.

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