3 Steps to Peace: How a Politician Used Yoga Wisdom to Heal Conflict

I volunteered to serve my community by accepting an appointment to the town Selectboard, the New England version of a small town city council. Everyone thought I was crazy. They all warned me. I just wanted to give back to my community and do something "good." I knew so few people that I figured I couldn't get too caught up in small town politics and it would be an interesting way to meet people. I thanked them for their concern knowing that the experience would be whatever I made it. I intended to make it better than they could imagine possible.

Until I saw, first hand, what they'd warned me about. An obstinate, feisty, unpredictable, disrespectful counterpart. While self-proclaimed "passionate", he also would say, laughing, after spending an hour arguing that he "didn't actually care one way or another." A complete contradiction. We never knew from one moment to the next if he would be docile or defensive.

He triggered in me painful memories of my childhood with a bi-polar mom. I knew growing up I always had to be on my toes, quick to dissolve any mounting tension. Otherwise, I might have to suffer the consequences. Even the meetings that went smoothly were draining because I'd spend the whole day leading up to the meeting psyching myself up in preparation, not knowing what to expect.

Though I practiced every ounce of yogic wisdom I'd acquired over 15 years of teaching yoga, I became averse to my counterpart and our bi-monthly meetings. Because he spent so much time at the local bar discussing his take on our meetings and town business, I noticed I went out less in the town and I kept my head low when I went to check mail. Even conversations became guarded because in a small town, everyone knows each others business. My trust worn thin, I started to put up my protective guard to stay safe. I I just wanted to go back to being mostly anonymous.

The way out is also the way in.

Dvesha, in yoga, is all the things we avoid in order to be okay. It is one of the five kleshas, or shadows, that humans play in. I use the word play because contacting into the limitations is Divine Play. Consider it hide and seek between our soul and ego.

Though I know that we are all equal, my counterpart frustrated, angered, even disappointed and embarrassed me. I did not agree with or even understand his point of view or intention, despite how hard I tried. Honestly, I felt superior to him, even though on a soul level, I knew I had no reason. My soul longed for balance and peace, my ego just wanted out and didn't want to deal with his antics anymore.

What you resist persists.
We all try to avoid criticism, paralyzing fear, doubt, judgment, losing our place in the tribe, losing love. Dvesha is seen when we avoid people and situations. We can see it in the things that make us shake our heads in disbelief or cringe just before judging someone for their words or actions that are not aligned with our wisdom and beliefs.

Dvesha is exactly what this situation had become for me. Yet, I knew that though all the emotions arising in me felt limiting, there was an opportunity for healing. We attract people and situations to re-balance that which is not congruent with our soul's truth. The part of me that had built resentment to my mom's mental illness was triggered by my counterpart. There was still old hurt and fear alive in me that was unrequited. It was time to shift.

Two words, big results.
Just like yoga asanas build physical strength, we can strengthen our inner weakness to aversions. I had a Tibetan classmate in graduate school who said, "They (the government) can tell us all day what we can do. They can try to even tell us what to think. But they cannot know what is in our heart. We are responsible for keeping that alive in spite of their attempts to control our minds."

Regardless of what the mind believes, there is an essence within each of us that is untouchable. No words can harm it. Weather cannot reach it. Nothing can kill it. It cannot be drowned, burned, or beaten. It is changeless. We can separate from it, hiding it in a ludicrous, yet honest, attempt to keep it safe. I needed to touch that place in me and try to see that within my counterpart.

There is a beautiful yoga mantra, So Hum that means "I Am That." The mantra serve as a pathway back to our truest essence. As I felt my anxiety mounting on the days prior to and of our select board meetings, I would take a few deep breaths to pull myself back into the present and begin to repeat So Hum. I would imagine his actions and would say to myself several times, "So Hum". I would see my own poor actions and reaction reflected back with each repetition of "So Hum." I would find myself thinking, "He is not his actions. So Hum." I would remember I am not my actions. So Hum. Slowly, I would find myself calm, remembering that we were both playing within our limitations, but we didn't have to keep playing there. I wanted to play differently and I did. So Hum.

Like getting cold cocked in a bar fight, every once in awhile, I'd find myself disoriented and off balance, but I would take a deep breath and return to my mantra, So Hum, repeating it silently until I felt the shift in myself to a state of equilibrium.

Something interesting began to occur. Though I chose not to continue on with the selectboard through an elected term, I stopped resisting the meetings and my counterpart, surrendering the aversion. He took an extended vacation and stopped coming to the meetings. People began to be friendlier to me. It was almost like my aversion aggravated their aversion and we made each other defensive. So Hum.

Three steps to freedom and power.
  1. Mind your breath as you come into the present moment with the intention to explore your being.
  2. Take notice of all the things you avoid. From ice cream to ice queens, situations to people, emotions to responsibilities.
  3. Invite all your aversions to figuratively join you for tea. Talk to them. Get to know them. Find out where they came from, why they're here now. Doesn't everyone just want to be heard? Listen closely, being willing to be surprised by what you hear.
  4. Thank each one of the aversions for the role it has played in your life. Let it know that you're upgrading your operating system and won't be needing it anymore. Then simply surrender any need to hang on.
Pay attention daily to what lingers in the aversions and lovingly soothe it with"So Hum" repeated silently and compassionately. Remain mindful of what shifts around you, what closes and what opens, remembering So Hum.

I would love to hear your experience with the three steps. Please leave a comment below.

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