Hindu Yamas: Ancient Resolutions for New Years

Working out more, getting organized, losing those last ten pounds ... these are amongst the top ten promises that millions around the world, including me, have made this weekend and likely break before the end of the month. Hoping to arrive on something less short-lived, something not so self-centered, something greater than me, I'm hoping this year to better illumine my path with age-old Hindu wisdom. They were inculcated in me long ago, but those echoes of the past suddenly seem more relevant. May the spiritual guidance of sages, swamis and gurus inspire my interactions with all those whose paths cross mine, not only to the end of this year, but through lifetimes. For all you yogis out there -- my list of resolutions may just be the same as yours -- they are, of course, the five eternal yamas:

Ahimsa -- Non-harming. I'm a peace-loving vegetarian. I eat local, at least in the summers, and I recycle. It's a start, though I could probably lighten my footprint on Mother Earth even more. But what about being non-harming in my thoughts and words? Can I recognize and respect the Divine in the road-raged driver who cuts me off to get to his destination a whopping fifteen seconds early? Or how about the rude cashier who's taking out her angst against her boss on my carefully selected, perfectly ripe tomatoes? And, most challenging, how about the irate community member who thrives on the path of hostility rather than humility, and then insults me and my husband, in one fell swoop, over a difference of opinion? On these occasions a knuckle-sandwich or a certain privileged finger seem almost instinctual, but the concept of ahimsa wants us to tolerate not only that which we dislike, but even those who are mean or hateful. Ahimsa asks us to be non-harmful in all that floats through our minds and that comes out of our mouths (or out of our keyboards). To this end, I welcome the path of all-around non-hurting -- it's going to be hard, but my internal GPS has officially been reset.

Satya -- Truthfulness. As a stand-alone value, the truth can hurt -- really hurt. Case in point: "Do these pants make me look fat?" While "yes" may be the honest answer, Hindu gurus have advised that truth must always be served on a platter of kindness. So how can one communicate truthfully but also with courtesy and compassion? Perhaps being present and open in all of our conversations is one way. As one of my favorite swamis from Chinmaya Mission Trinidad shared during a talk, "God gave you two ears and one mouth, so listen more and speak less." I confess that I've suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome and have given inappropriate advice as a result of simply talking too much. So following Swamiji's advice will hopefully enable me to foster more genuine and loving relationships, be it as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend or advocate.

Asteya -- Asteya literally is non-stealing, but that's rather simplistic and perhaps too easy for most of us who are law-abiding members of civil society. So in my quest to dig deeper, I need to apply more expansively, what it means to not take that which is not given. To this end, the first thing that comes to my mind is letting go of expectations. As much as I remind myself that, all that I do for family, for the community, or for others, should be embarked upon as a selfless offering to the Divine. But the reality is that I still innately find myself having expectations for praise, acceptance or appreciation. These expectations unknowingly, and quickly, transform to a sense of my right to that compliment. And when the acknowledgment doesn't come, I'm upset, angry and hurt over not getting something that wasn't mine to begin with? Here on, my motto has to be, "Do more. Expect less."

Brahmacharya -- Brahmacharya as one of the traditional Hindu stages of life is a phase in which a youth (~ages 14-20) dedicates his or her full efforts to gaining both secular and spiritual knowledge. While traditionally this age is a prescription for study, discipline and strict celibacy, brahmacharya in a broader context, and well beyond youth, means self-control or self-restraint in our dealings with the many distractions of our daily lives, be they physical, emotional or mental. My biggest area for improvement in this regard is control in thoughts, especially when trying to navigate the swinging pendulum of life's highs and lows. In these times of stress, my thoughts, as if laced up with a pair of running shoes, sprint back and forth between woulda-coulda-shoulda and what-if. Learning the art of not letting thoughts control my ability to be present through mindfulness and meditation has to be a top priority.

Aparigraha -- In an age where Jimmy Choo's are just a mouse-click away and even available to those who don't live in New York City, abstention from greed, or in more modern terms, letting go of the need for "stuff" is so relevant. I have to admit that I actually have my credit card number memorized because of online shopping. I also have to sadly admit that I have not been able to memorize, thanks to caller ID and a cell phone, my own sister's phone number -- and that too, despite talking to her almost every day. How many can relate? I feel a sea of hands joining mine out there in cyberspace. I choose to follow the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, a fellow Hindu and Gujarati who said, "I live simply so that others may simply live."

Wishing you an inspired New Year.