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Confrontation is a grey zone on the spiritual path. With the yogic teaching of ahimsa or non-violence, you might wonder if you ever have a right to fight back against reality even in the midst of great injustice. Should you fight your way out of a defeatist victimmentality? Or is it better to take a few breathes to ventilate your hostility before taking your inner rage out on your fellow freeway drivers? When is it appropriate to stick up for yourself & when is it time to quietly wait out the storm? These questions and more are necessary for any serious student of yoga and spirituality to ask.

One of the most fiery places inside any person is anger. Whether my own or someone else’s, this troublesome emotion has always been challenging for me. I remember the shock of experiencing the seething kind of backlash that years of unexpressed boundaries can bring about, and then, realizing that my anger was just that: mine. No matter how awful the situation, how many friends agree, how righteous you are, how indignant or cynical you become, no matter how grand and tragic the loss, whatever emotions you feel are always your responsibility. You always have a choice about how you respond to life. A boiling temper is something that can get you into compromising situations very quickly. Whenever you get worked up it’s harder to resist the urge to react in a heated way. It’s in these moments that anger or other strong emotions can call you out of a peaceful relationship with those around you. Perhaps the greatest and most difficult application of the teaching of ahimsa is its application to oneself. Not only do you have to learn to manage your own anger or other strong emotions, but you also need to practice being kind towards yourself.

One of the most basic teachings of spiritual practice is to find yourself in the midst of your greatest challenge and stay. Whether you find yourself in heated emotional exchanges or in the pits of self-judgement, the teaching is most often to learn how to stay instead of running away. In moments where you find anger arising, try closing your eyes, reconnecting with your breathe & staying with the experience of yourself. See how it goes. What does this do? It at least breaks the cycle of adding fuel to the fire in the midst of a full-blown blaze. It at least gives you a little pause in an otherwise very sticky situation. It at least gives you an extra moment to find the strength to choose an enlightened action over the pattern of aggressively acting out, escaping into pleasure, or numbing-out in denial. It at least brings you one more breathe closer to forgiving yourself and others.

There is magic in staying with what Tibetan teacher Pema Chodron calls “the places that scare you”. For in those truly empowering moments you bear witness to the law of impermanence. Whatever aries in your experience, no matter how solid and sticky, will change. All emotions flow if we don’t hold onto them. Sooner or later, the seemingly solid righteousness of anger yields and gives way to the soft, forgiveness of peace and understanding. The greatest storm will pass and the sun will rise again another day. Albert einstein says that you cannot solve a problem from the same level of thinking that created it. And so it is. Anger cannot create peace. Itching the scab that started the whole conflagration won’t end it. A middle way exists for this tempting emotion as well. The powerful choice to stay gives you the opportunity to create the space of transformation in your life today. You create your reality by the thoughts that you think. Your attention is itself responsible for your life experience. No matter how awful the traffic jam is, how loud your neighbors are, how inconsiderate people may seem, how delayed the airplane is, you are the one who is in control of your reality.

Often times a real sense of time eludes us. We think that we have the time in the world to get things done and we postpone some of the most important things of our life. It is sometimes more common to get hooked on the world of sensory pleasure than to live a spiritual life. E-bay, appointments and shopping consume the grasping mind. Television seems calmer than silence. Pain and loss are more addictive than gratitude and joy. One of reasons why it’s easy to zone out is because so many of us are running away from the places that scare us. When you choose to escape over coming to terms with the reality of your life, you choose a passive aggression that violates the principle of ahimsa just the same. Out of nowhere, surfacing from the past like a sleeping giant, it is often past hurt, drama, pain, sadness, or anger that hasn’t found its way out of your system that rocks the boat of an otherwise steady journey. Sometimes these patterns seem larger than life and you spend months, years and even lifetimes running from them. Yet that is never actually true, for you are stronger than you know. The thick patterns of past hurt are enticing temptations and, when you react to them, it is a moment of weakness rather than strength. Daily discipline is a slow, steady and methodical way to retrain the habit pattern of your mind. When you commit yourself to daily practice, your yoga has the opportunity to live through you. It is through your dedication that you will find real and lasting peace. Great stores of strength reside deep within you now; yoga is how you can experience, practice and expand your hidden strength.

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