Looking at criticism with a balanced mind

We just finished a week of Raja Yoga Study. We had a wonderful group of students who were interested to learn about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Science of Understanding the Mind. This group went deep. They were unafraid to face their minds and ask the most meaningful questions.

Collectively, we all faced loss, grief, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, chronic illness, anxiety, depression. And together we used the tools to yoga to find a possible way through the mess that resides in our minds. We all left our week feeling filled to the brim with love in our hearts and a positive outlook on life.

Congrats to the students who completed the Raja Yoga Foundation Course.

Congrats to the students who completed the Raja Yoga Foundation Course.

This morning, a student sent me a message from her friend, criticising yoga for being satanic. I could tell her bliss vanished slightly because she was hurt by that statement. Why would someone say something like that? Of course, I immediately replied with one of the tools from the Yoga Sutras: Book 1, Sutra 33 — Disregard the wicked and retain your equilibrium of mind.

Curious, I did an online search of the opinions about yoga being demonic to try and understand another person’s perspective. What I learned from this is that the people who preach that Yoga is the Devil are just trying to protect their belief systems and the people in their community who share that belief system. In a way, if you look at what our group faced the past week, then yes, we did come face to face with our inner demons: shame, grief, loss, betrayal, anger, hatred, attachment. I also came to realise that the critics were only talking about what they saw from the outside. They were afraid to get closer to understand it better.

Comments against the practice of yoga are all around us. I recall my teacher, Nalanie saying that when she first brought yoga to Gibraltar, she was called a witch and taunted as she walked down the Main Street of town. One of the biggest bullies used to follow Nalanie and her group of yogis around town shouting at them whenever they would try to raise money for their yoga centre. He was a devout man of the Catholic Church. However one day, his house burned down. No one in his church came to help him out. Who raised money to help build his house? The group of yogis who had been shamed by him for most of their existence. Sure enough, when he got a little closer to understand what these yogis stood for, he found common ground and opened his heart to this kind and loving community. He was grateful for them for helping him rebuild his life after a tragedy.

It’s not just yoga that receives criticism. I remember when my uncle was going through a very difficult time in his life, he first went to the Hindu temple and submerged himself in mantras and rituals to help him through. It didn’t seem to work for his peace of mind. One day he walked into a church and there he found answers that brought him peace of mind. He decided to become a Born Again Christian. Many people judged his decision negatively and thought he was weird. So many people would roll their eyes at the fact he now went to church.

I have had many students leave their religions behind to find peace and solace in yoga. Equally so, I have found other students walk away from yoga to find peace in other spiritual disciplines. I have been told to my face that I am stupid for believing in something. I’ve also been called naive without a grip on reality because I choose to be happy.

Our minds are so hard-wired to compare and contrast different belief systems. My personal belief system gets questioned all the time. What I have experienced is that the more people I interact with from different walks of life, the more I see that all these different belief systems need to exist to help people find the peace of mind they are looking for. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. There really isn’t. Who is to say what is right and wrong? Religion, secular, spiritual and humanitarian belief systems are all designed to open our hearts to compassion and understanding. So when we judge and criticise another, what does that say about our own minds?

My lifelong journey is to catch myself when I think, “I’m right, you’re wrong” to any situation. To inflict a belief system on another is really small-minded. To cast a judgement on another’s belief system is also unfair. We cannot expect to change anyone except ourselves.

When we come down to it all… we are all finding our way towards that which makes us feel peaceful and whole. The world is large and rich in culture and tradition and lineage. Beneath them all, the majority of us all have fundamental values in common. To realise the True Self means we must open our minds to go beyond the names and forms that separate us. To me, this is true union… and the real practice of Yoga.