The other night I helped a man push his broken down car off the road and into the parking lot of a local department store. I thought it was a little odd that he wanted it backed into a specific spot, which required turning the car all the way around, but he was steering so I followed his lead.
I asked him if I could call a tow truck or a family member to help him. He said no thank you. Then I asked if I could drive him home. He hesitated so I asked him again. "Can I give you a ride home?"
His answer broke my heart. "I don't have a home. I live here." he said, pointing to his broken down car.
It was 8:30 at night so I offered to get him dinner. He told me he was fine and had eaten already. He said, "Thank you and God bless you" and got into his car, shutting the door.
My daughter and I felt numb as we walked into the department store in search of new tablecloths for our upcoming Mother's Day celebration. We had been imagining the beautiful day we were about to have sharing food, shelter, and love with forty of our family members.
We lost all interest in the tablecloths as we imagined the man sitting alone in his car while we celebrated.
In a feeble attempt to help the man and alleviate our guilt about being so fortunate, we bought him a pillow and blanket and walked back to his car. I saw genuine appreciation in his eyes as he reached through the half opened window for the bag.
I laid awake in my comfortable bed most of that night listening to the rain pouring down on the roof. I couldn't stop thinking about the man whose address could be called Parking Lot Road. I wondered why I was so fortunate and he was not.
The next morning I called a local shelter to find out the check in procedure. I picked up a breakfast sandwich and drove back to his car-home prepared to rescue him from his parking lot. As I approached his "front door" which was open a crack to let fresh air in, he smiled and waved. When I suggested that he check in to the shelter, his demeanor changed completely.
"I would rather die right here in this car then go to a shelter!" he said with conviction. Waving his hand toward his new blanket and pillow that was neatly folded on the seat, he said, "I am fine here. I have everything I need." Then with a smile of gratitude, he took the bagged breakfast (that I had forgotten I was holding in my outstretched arms) and pulled his door shut. As I walked away I heard him say, "God bless you."
When I was driving home, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I felt like my heart was breaking. I was surprised at my strong reaction after my experience with the homeless stranger.
In my ten years of living in New York City, I had seen many homeless people and was never affected like I was by this man. Back then, to avoid feeling sad and uncomfortable from the sight of another human being living in such a horrible way, I would think to myself, "If I give them money, they'll probably buy booze." or " Why don't they go to one of the shelters that my tax money pays for." Thinking these thoughts was a way to ease my discomfort and protect myself from feeling too much.
As I sat in my car wiping away tears of compassion for a man that I didn't know, I realized that practicing yoga for the past fifteen years has changed me.
Yoga has encouraged me to feel. If you don't want to feel, don't practice yoga. In yoga you will you feel your body in a way that is often unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and you will be asked to stay, experience, and breathe into that discomfort. Through this feeling practice, you will naturally become open to feeling your emotions and you will gain the ability to stay, experience, and breathe into them as well.
When you stay, experience, and breathe, you become conscious of how you feel.
Compassion is defined as "the sympathetic consciousness of another's distress together with the desire to alleviate it." Recognizing your own suffering in a compassionate way helps you to show compassion for others.
Looking back at myself from years ago, I realize that my strategy to avoid pain was to close my heart so that I didn't have to feel it. What I didn't know at the time is that closing my heart to pain was also closing my heart to love.
The Buddhists saying, " In order to truly feel love, each of us must carry a little pain in our hearts" is a reminder that keeping an open heart is the only way to experience life fully.
All Abhyasa Ahimsa Aparigraha Asmita-Ego Attachment Baron Baptiste Beginner's Mind Bramacharya Carl Jung Clear Seeing Colorless Comfortable Discomfort Creating Spaciousness In Mind And Body Cultivate The Opposite Deepak Chopra Dharma Empty Your Cup Enthusiasm Equanimity Family Fight Or Flight Great Vows Inner-awareness Inner Critic John Kabbatzinnb2faff332d Listening Mirrors To Ourselves Monkey Hunting Non Stealing Patanjali Pause Pillar Pleasure And Pain Posseses Us Practice Pratipaksa Bhavana Pratyahara Present Moment Present Moment Awareness Respond Instead Of React Samadhi Samskara Santosha Satya Sauca Sensual Pleasures Shadow Side Spirituality Steadiness And Ease Sthira And Sukha Strength Sustained Attention Svadhyaya There You Are Thich Nat Hahn This Too Shall Pass True Self Uncertainty Universal Truth What We Possess Wherever You Go Wisdom Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutra 1. 14 Yoga Sutra 1.33 Yoga Sutra 2.33 Yoga Sutra 2 37cfe9965fa2 Yoga Sutra 2. 46 Yoga Sutras