|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - September 2020|
Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…
Sometimes students have written to or asked Swami Veda Bharati, Swami Ritavan Bharati, and other senior teachers in our tradition questions about practice. This is one such “Question and Answer,” or Q&A.
I have felt very little yogic guidance to deal with the deep historical trauma and violence of racial prejudice and racial division that our community is dealing with.
Stephen Parker (Stoma), Lalita Arya (Ammaji), Carolyn Hume, Charles Crenshaw, Carol Crenshaw, Randall Krause (Mokshadeva), Shi Hong, Wolfgang Bischoff, and Michael Smith have responded to this question.
From Stephen Parker (Stoma):
From a psycho-spiritual perspective, we know that trauma not only affects people during a given lifetime, but that it is also encoded in our DNA both genetically, in the code itself, and epigenetically, in terms of how genes are activated and expressed in the structure and function of our nervous system. This is a biological way of looking at the process of emotional purification through which we deal with the original trauma, ignorance, through which we see ourselves as limited beings, vulnerable to trauma.
All of the first five limbs of Patañjali’s rāja-yoga embody different approaches to this emotional cleansing and stabilization: relationships with others and with ourselves (yama and niyama), our bodies, physical and subtle (āsana), our breath and subtle energy (prānāyāma) and our senses (pratyāhāra). Each of these domains contains many practices that help with healing trauma. Research on using yoga to heal trauma, which is becoming voluminous, is demonstrating that yoga is at least as effective as the best that other trauma therapies have to offer. (For more, see Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by Emerson and Hopper and Trauma Sensitive Yoga in Therapy: Bringing the Body Into Treatment by Emerson.)
Here there are several principles in operation. Almost all of these practices are performed in a balanced way, on one side and then the other. This stimulates the integration of the cerebral hemispheres and completes the development of our capacity to process experiences of trauma. The mindful way in which all practices should be performed stimulates the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain with is in charge of integrating and “re-wiring” the nervous system. Mindful awareness allows us to change the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous system: you gradually re-program your brain. It also stimulates the creation of new connections between the limbic systems, which monitor the arousal of our emotional responses and holds in memory holistic “snapshots” of trauma we have experienced (flashbacks), and the cerebral cortex which contains centers for language and sensory function. In this way, we gradually reframe our incomplete memories and weave them into the narrative of our lives so that they can truly become part of the past rather than arising in our minds continuously in the next moment.
Every practice in yoga contributes something. Every practice deepens the mindful awareness of the operation of racism in all of us—and that is the only place you have the power to change. We may be “woke,” but that doesn’t mean we are not racist in our unconscious beliefs and behavior. Trying to change other people often transforms into violence because of our impatience. It has taken more than 20 generations to construct all of the assumptions, beliefs and habits that comprise our racism and it cannot all be undone in a single life. Swāmī Veda used to say, “It takes 1,000 years to change a culture.” Gandhi understood this well. He knew that he needed to engage his satyāgrahis (“apprehenders of truth”) in emotional purification with themselves because it was essential that the British colonizers be confronted firmly and lovingly in order to effectively hold up a mirror to their behavior and shame them into leaving. Otherwise they would simply be dismissed as rioters. (And that is what Churchill believed out of his own sense of racism.) This is also an example of what is called the middle path in Buddhism. The Dalai Lama does not blame the Chinese. But he still holds them accountable at every turn. And the Chinese know they cannot control him, which is what makes him so dangerous to them. He manages to do it with a genuinely sweet smile and a loving giggle that never gets hooked by rage and violence.
People often did outrageous things that one would think would have made Swāmī Veda angry. In the last 20 years of his life I never saw him give in to impatience with people’s limitations. It is part of why he was so beloved and why people always felt heard and understood by him. He listened to them no matter what. He never criticized them if even constructive criticism was unlikely to be heard. If the difference seemed intractable, he would simply ask to sit in meditation with the person and eventually their anger (and pain) would melt. This toughest of all loves (compassion) is ultimately the only healing for the trauma of racism and every other smallness of heart.
As I thought about the translation of upeksha in the process of writing Clearing the Path, I decided that I preferred to call it non-reactivity, because what happens is that one doesn’t just put their emotion (samskara becoming vrtti) into action, but rather can observe and mindfully decide what action to take. Indifference implies non-action and that is not what upeksha is about. I think of Oskar Schindler, who responded to the Nazis skillfully in ways that in other contexts would be considered exploitative. As a result, tens of thousands of lives were saved. To just be angry and demonstrate or directly oppose in whatever way would simply have gotten a lot of people killed. So these answers are not simple. And in our current situation, we seem to have yet to come to the most skillful interventions.
From Lalita Arya (Ammaji):
One of the basic tenets of our Tradition is to observe the saying: "Vasudaiva kutum bakam" - Sanskrit meaning -" The World is one Family".
When we believe this, we, as initiates in the Himalayan Tradition of our Elders, automatically see everyone as ONE in the Great Consciousness - there are NO differences between any sentient beings...humans, animals, trees, any living being is part of who we are. Unfortunately, this takes a long time, sometimes lifetimes to realize. But our learned teachers, guides and those who show us the Path have more experience in the practice of what this actually means.
With the training given in all the classes attended, the lectures of all the leaders in the Sangha, the teachers who are busy trying to guide - we try to practice within that scope which covers an attitude towards the divides that humans create due to misguided information, childhood nourishment and education.
Let us not expect our Teachers to say "Hey students, this is a bad thing, or this is a good thing"...this is not the WAY...these realizations have to come from within oneself for them to REALLY mean something to be put into actual practice.
Baba, our treasured Guide, gave such excellent discourses, lectures, wrote so many books, BUT always admonished in the end - "Do not believe every word I say or write, go and find out for yourself."
With many blessings that we keep to the path which we find for ourselves based on the ancient Teachings of - The World is One Family.
From Carolyn Hume:
We are blessed to have teachings, practices, philosophy. These are an invitation to explore and to practice until one has firsthand knowledge of their veracity or non-veracity. Whether one accepts this invitation or to what extent one accepts the invitation is one's choice. Also, if one accepts the invitation, generally speaking, personal growth and transformation may manifest over a lengthy period of time.
If the teachings have given you little yogic guidance, then that is what you have experienced. Why this is the case I cannot say. Perhaps you would be interested in re-acquainting yourself with the teachings of Swami Rama and Swami Veda.
Circumstances exist and sometimes can seem negative to us. However, they also provide grounds for spiritual growth.
When we speak of suffering, we can think of Swami Veda talking about "The cause of suffering, in the Yoga-sutras, is ignorance." And further:
This is the four-fold definition of ignorance, and the first three arise out of the last one. To mistake the Self for the non-Self and the non-Self for the Self is the greatest ignorance."
As we can see/feel ignorance and resulting suffering in our own lives, we can also see/feel suffering in fellow beings. And in the process, this can help open our hearts and minds to embrace all, or as Swami Rama has said many times "love all, exclude none."
From Charles Crenshaw:
One of the first things that I remember my master saying to me, I was in a group at HI [ed: Himalayan Institute], was you suffer because you identify with the things of the world. I thought, I'm a black man in America, this is nonsense. How can I not identify with this body? If I don't it will be killed for lack of proper protection from a system that devalues my existence.
You suffer because you identify with the things of the world, my master said. The first thing of the world that I identified with was a mind. The next identity was with a body. When I stop identifying with these things there is peace. There would be peace for everyone if we stopped identifying as male/female, this or that. As Ammaji reminded us: the whole world is a family.
In the course of my experience on the path, I have despaired more than once. Once when SVB, before he was SVB, helped me past a difficult spot in life when I felt like abandoning the path of meditation for a more militant take on situations like we are experiencing today. Long past that time, I personally have used the tool of EFT to help me thorough some difficult spots with respect to 'institutional racism' in addition to my daily meditation practice. I have pages of things that I had been conditioned by, things that I have tapped on that were in my less than conscious mind. Things that were, in hindsight, preventing me from having the fearlessness required to achieve the goal that my master said was attainable in this lifetime, by even me. A black man from America. My daily practice of seeking the silence that is the core of us all is my only solace in these times. This is just the two cents of an ole sadhu wannabe whose only words of comfort hearken back to those of Ramakrishna and the Isa Upanishad: Oh divine mother, have mercy, please lift the veil of this your world bewitching Maya so that we might see beyond the golden disk that hides the face of reality. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
A further thought, following on Stomaji's input:
SVB focused us on chitta prasadanam, the pleasantness of mind needed to have success in meditation addressed in the Yoga Sutras I.33. He informed us that Buddhist Vipassana teachers called it brahma vihari, the divine abidings in text like Visuddhi Magga (The path of purification).
Whatever you want to call it, I consider it a further elucidation of the golden rule. The guidelines for achieving this pleasantness of mind are: loving kindness, compassion, gladness and equanimity. Seems simple enough, but when we dig deeper we come to understand the profoundness of this teaching, and why we have so much turmoil in the world.
YS [Yoga Sutras] says we are to develop loving kindness towards those who are comfortable in the world; compassion towards those who are suffering, gladness towards the virtuous and equanimity towards those who are non-virtuous. The last abiding causes most people (ME!) the greatest difficulty. Why? It can also be worded as indifference to evil, though this is not the best wording. Equanimity is the better choice because it makes us consider our part in the world we live in. There is an axiom in the world of psychology: you most dislike in others what you most dislike in yourself. This is commonly called projection.
How does this projection fit in with what I am thinking about the divine abidings, our pleasantness of mind? The wise teachers of meditation knew that it wasn’t easy to have equanimity towards the non-virtuous, towards evil. But they also knew that it wasn’t easy for us to have loving kindness, compassion and gladness towards those who were close to us, or even someone who was neutral in our eyes. You may question this, but thousands of years of the psychology of subjectively understanding the mind may clear up any misconceptions that you might have. Just read the texts.
For example, developing compassion or gladness towards those who are close to us often led to attachment, per the ancient spiritual psychologists. This might be a hard pill to chew, but attachment and love are very different per Swami Rama; attachment being a hindrance to developing pleasant mindedness. The solution for beginning the systematic approach to achieving our own pleasant mindedness was one simple thing: Loving kindness towards our individual selves. The ancients said that this was the first thing that needed to be developed before there could be mastery of loving kindness directed at others, AND the remainder of the abidings.
If I developed loving kindness towards my very own self and then worked on mastery of the other abidings. What would be in my mind that I might project onto the world? What kind of world would that be if we all developed chitta prasadanam?This might be highly impractical in light of world conditions, but it surely relates to HOPE.
From Carol Crenshaw:
Our job as teachers is to keep teaching all the yogic practices of all rungs. We are blessed to have these tools, and to have been using them for many years. They help us stay stable during these challenging times. This is not the case for people who don't have such tools. Therefore, we need to keep sharing and teaching so that more and more people change from the inside out. It's the only way of real change, and something that the world is crying out for right now.
From Randall Krause (Mokshadeva):
Over the years, as a meditator, racist thoughts or feelings would arise in my awareness from time to time. When that happened, I'd definitely notice them. I knew that my belief and intentions were quite different from them and realized that these thoughts and feelings came from my cultural programming. Meditation and mindfulness enable me to have the space to observe these thoughts and feelings and to choose my actions rather than robotically acting them out. I can use my volition to choose actions which, over time, might reduce the strength of those racist thoughts, such as being more inclusive, less exclusive in my actions. Also, I can reach out to others, including people different from me, to create relationship with them. It's easier to feel racist against those who are "other," and more difficult to do so when those others are friends.
This practice of noticing thoughts and impulses that arise from the depths of the subconscious mind and choosing whether it is a thought or impulse worth strengthening or weakening, is a good yoga practice. We strengthen that to which we pay more attention, that which we act out, that with which we identify. We weaken that from which we withdraw our attention, that which we toss out of our minds, that with which we dis-identify. This is a practice of emotional purification.
The world is full of suffering. We can do our little part to make things better, but we can’t save the world. What is in our power to do is to work incessantly to purify our emotions and our actions so that we don’t add to the world’s suffering but rather relieve it to some extent. Yoga gives us the tools to do this.
With gratitude and respect for our teachers and Tradition
From Shi Hong:
Suffering happens in one’s own buddhi. So it’s all about working on changing one’s own mind, not about changing the others or the world, as we all learned from Swami Veda.
If it is not for racism then it will be for divides based on religion, political belief, wealth, taste for music or neighborhood. You name it. Speaking of neighborhood, as someone who did not grow up watching “Mr. Rogers” on TV, I only recently watched a movie based on the original Mr. Rogers and was immediately captured by the character featured in the film. After watching a few YouTube clips on Mr. Rogers I have come to the conclusion that this man must have attained “citta-prasādana” which per Yoga Sūtras can be derived from Brahmavihāra, or “frolicking-in-brahman,” one of the most important purifying practices in the yoga and Buddhist traditions.
It is worth noting how the Buddhists, at least a leading figure from one of the many schools, interpret the practice. Below is a brief transcript of a lecture given by the late Venerable Bhante Punnaji, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, on the topic of Brahmavihāra (adapted from the YouTube Channel of “Bhante Punnaji”).
The teaching of the Buddha is based on Metta (Pali) or Maitri (Sanskrit). That word means Universal Goodwill, or Universal Benevolence or Universal interest in the welfare of all being, a concern for the welfare of all beings. That means it is a broad mind, not a narrow mind. The Five Precepts (note: roughly equivalent to the yamas of the Yoga Sūtras) are practiced not to avoid punishment or to gain rewards. The Five Precepts are practiced because we are concerned about the welfare of others. The Five Precepts are mainly concerned about how we relate to other people. The first precept is about not harming anyone. Second precept is about not stealing. Third precept is about not committing adultery. Fourth precept is about controlling our speech which hurts other people. Fifth precept is about taking intoxicants or being carried away by our emotions such that we begin to hurt others. So we are trying to avoid that. All that is based on how we relate to other people. It is based on a concern for the welfare of all beings, not only thinking about ourselves. It is based on a broad mind. That breadth of mind is called Metta or Maitri. This is why I call it universal benevolence or universal goodwill. We cannot have metta for one person. This is why it is not just love. Love is something you can have for just one person. But Metta is for all beings. You cannot have metta even for the people of your own country. Patriotism is not metta. Metta cannot be only for human beings with no compassion for animals. That is not metta. Metta is for all beings. It is a concern for the welfare of all beings. That is the broad mind where we think of all beings. It is very important to understand this because the morality or ethics of the teachings of the Buddha is based on a broad mind. And when we cultivate Metta we are cultivating a broad mind.Karuna (karuṇā):
When we cultivate metta, metta turns into Karuna. Karuna is not another kind of thought or a different kind of mental state. Karuna is an expansion of metta. Metta grows into Karuna. What is Karuna? Karuna is where we don't distinguish between ourselves and others. That others are as important as ourselves. Karuna is like the depth dimension. Metta is like the length and breadth, the area dimension. When we talk about volume, we are talking about length, breadth, and height. These are three dimensions. Karuna is the third dimension. Metta is two dimensional, like area dimension. We are spreading out to include all beings in the universe. Karuna is how deep are we interested in the welfare of all beings, just as a mother thinks of her only child, and is even willing to sacrifice her own life for the sake of this child. In the same way we begin to become concerned about the welfare of all beings. And we lose our selfishness In Karuna; the Selfishness disappears Just like a river falling into the ocean and loses its identity. It becomes the water of the ocean. The river is no more. In the same way when Karuna appears, the self disappears and that disappearance of self means all unhappiness disappears because all unhappiness is self-centered
Just like a river falling into the ocean and loses its identity it becomes the water of the ocean. The river is no more. In the same way when Karuna appears, the self disappears and that disappearance of self means all unhappiness disappears because all unhappiness is self-centered. "I don’t have this. I don’t have that. I feel like this. I hate that." That kind of thinking is the unhappiness, the suffering. When that self-centered thinking disappears, there is no unhappiness anymore. You become happy as a result. That happiness of selflessness is called Mudita. Mudita is happiness, but not self-centered happiness. It is the happiness of selflessness. This is why although the Buddha was aware of the sufferings of all beings he was never unhappy. He was happy all the time. Otherwise he should have been crying all the time because he saw the unhappiness of all beings. Although he was aware of the sufferings of all beings he was happy. That happiness is the happiness of selflessness. That is Mudita. That Mudita or happiness is not an emotional excitement. Even Metta is not an emotional excitement. Karuna is not an emotional excitement. It is a very calm, tranquil state of the mind. Metta, Karuna, and Mudita are not different states of the mind. It is the same state seen from different angles
When we speak of metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha we are looking at the same state of mind from different angles. What is upekkha? When the mind is calm and tranquil, the mind is not centered on what is going on outside. Whatever is going on outside does not disturb the mind. Gain and Loss, Fame and Ill-fame Praise and Blame, Pleasure and Pain — these are the eight vicissitudes of life, the changing vicissitudes of life. When these vicissitudes change, the mind is not disturbed because the mind is focused within, not outside. That is the perfect tranquility of mind. That perfect tranquility of mind means the mind is focused within, not looking for pleasure outside, not looking for happiness outside. That is the meaning of Upekkha.
Q: When we practice metta meditation we are only meditating that may this person be happy and peaceful but not actually doing anything for the person. So what is the use of it?
A: When you practice metta you are only broadening your mind. In broadening your mind you are not thinking about yourself. You are simply thinking of all beings. That is the important thing to understand. You don’t think of two persons — yourself and the other person. You are thinking of all beings, like thinking of the ocean full of water, instead of thinking of drops of water. You are not practicing metta toward one person.
Now on the question of this is not taking action to help other people you have to understand that you are not an all-powerful person. You have to start with that. You are not trying to change the world by doing this. You are only trying to change your mind. You are not trying to use your force to make everyone happy. No. Even the Buddha could not make everyone happy. He could only change his mind. So this is only to change your own mind, not trying to change the world. This is the problems that human being are trying to do. Human beings developed the mind to be able to think and reason out properly. That is how this thing called science began. And what did science do? Science created all kinds of machine to change the world. Now we have fans to make us comfortable. We have air conditioning. We have lights. All that is changing the world to suit our desires. What has happened? We are in fear that there will be a war in the world that will destroy the whole earth. Has crime disappeared in the world? Has war disappeared in the world? Has terrorism disappeared in the world? With all these efforts, why? Because the human beings with all that intelligence were trying to change the world and not themselves. The Buddha understood that same principle which is today called determinism. Determinism means understanding that whatever happens in the world happens only due to necessary conditions. That same law is in Buddhism is called “paticca-sammuppada,” translated today as “dependent origination”. Why didn’t the Buddha make machine? Why didn’t the buddha make airplanes, ships, electrical fans, air conditioners since he knew this dependent origination principle? Once Mara came to the Buddha and said, “Oh the Buddha is very powerful with all the psychic powers. If he were only to make the wish to make the Mount Everest into a mountain of gold it will be done. You have such power. Out of compassion for the suffering being, please make that wish.” So the Buddha said, “Yes, Mara, I can do that. You have understood my power. But, do you know, if I did that how many people will be killed as a result? Because everyone will want to own that mountain of gold and there will be wars. So instead of doing that my aim is to change people’s mind. Show them how the mind can be changed and transformed thereby producing arahants, bodhisattvas and buddhas.”
That is what the Buddha wanted to do — to change the people, the characters of the people, the minds of the people. So the metta meditation is not a meditation to change the world. It is a meditation to change your own mind. It’s very important to understand that.
From Wolfgang Bischoff:
Dear Shi Hong, thank you so much for your wonderful contribution.
I am thinking about writing my own contribution. It is not a theoretical one, but it is very personal. I am 73 years old and must confess that I needed my whole life until now to learn about the horrible prejudice against other human beings than “Arians” we were supposed to be. But this horrible inner attitude was also directed towards disabled human beings and women.
Learning about it was shocking but learning to overcome this deep-rooted mindset took me my whole life. Through our beloved Guruji, I learned to listen inside to get to know my true nature. I realized that I was so grateful that I started preaching to people about what I have learned. But when Guruji left his body and I saw his most advanced students fighting with each other, I realized that there was something wrong in my behavior. I was full of gratitude and love towards my beloved teachers, but I realized a kind of spiritual arrogance in myself mainly preaching to others but not being able to listen to them. So I started studying the laws of listening and realized that most of us used the old fashion way of experts to download the past and project it on to the future. By listening now to other people mainly to these ones I normally avoided to talk to I started seeing the differences in worldview. But still it was a kind of discussion which means conflicts and fights going on who is right.
Then I discovered the empathic listening by feeling what the other person is feeling and starting not to see a difference between me and the other person. But still life did not really change. All the time I had a diffuse inner impression that something new wants to develop but I did not know how to allow that to happen.
Then I started to get to know through Otto Scharmer from MIT Boston the generative listening process. This was a great realization. Because all my inner work, to become still, to observe without judgement, to sense the unexpected world and to feel the complete helplessness and ignorance together with friends or other people allowed us to pre-sense the shy impulse of the future which wants to come to us. Fear and anxiety developed and was slowly overcome by courage to look into the unexpected of the future. Little experiments tried to bring it down to earth and with the marveling eyes of a child I experienced something new to happen, greater than myself and anything I have talked about, full of love and miracles.
So I learned to listen against all my old habits of a bad education with an open mind, an open heart and an open will to act according to the impulse of the future. And I realized that by learning to listen I slowly learn what it means to develop an open mind, a pure mind with no judgement, a wide mind as wide as the ocean. I realized that even in my own spiritual family I hardly experience the art of asking questions to one another. So I developed the art of asking questions and listening as much as I can without judging.
My conclusion is that we have great chance to overcome racism and negative prejudices by developing a small circle of spiritual friends practicing with them the four levels of listening.
From Michael Smith:
This is a related question that, maybe, needs to be addressed.
The definition of “violence” that he gave was using “excessive force.”
Swamiji said that if a person sat passively by, there would be a lot of negative karma: not only for the assailant but for you yourself, by allowing it to happen.
One translation of “Kurukshetra” is “the battlefield of dharma,” and one of Swami Veda’s favorite passages about dharmic action in the Gita was when Krishna told Arjuna:
This would be acting with upeksha, the fourth of the Brahma-viharas.
About how to bring about a “change of heart” in people who are actively causing or supporting the suffering to others and to the planet, I don’t think that is possible through laws or argument or force — “A man convinced against his will is of the same the opinion still” — but by deep, heartfelt listening – one-on-one – as Wolfgang said.
Swami Rama said, “Attention is love,” and Stoma once said that in dealing with clients, that he did not come in with a psychiatric agenda, but prepared himself beforehand by meditation, and then just listened attentively . . . and “waited for openings.”
“Openings” would be places in a conversation when a sign of a person’s “humanity” is visible – where some warmth, kindness, or humor is shown – where a person lets down his defenses for a minute and becomes vulnerable.
Then, at such a time, there is an opportunity to come in and “throw a blanket of love” over the person. And that “blanket of love” – coming through you from a higher realm – would have the power to be transformative in some way.
This subtle change would not be a change of opinion – like a political preference about whether to vote one way or the other – but would be a gentle softening and smoothing out in the entire fabric of the mind-field. And because of this “sea-change,” all of one’s relationships would become more sattvic and a whole host of collateral things might possibly result. – being a more caring parent, husband, wife, joining in a charitable cause – who knows what would happen sometime down the line – becoming a vegetarian, buying an electric car, putting in solar panels.
I don’t think that a change of heart can happen in any other way but through grace from above – but we can be instruments of that grace by opening to it through our meditative practice and day-to-day compassion. As Stoma said, “This toughest of all loves (compassion) is ultimately the only healing for the trauma of racism and every other smallness of heart.”
Please read Swami Veda’s talk, titled “Compassion” (1980) where he tells about “the ultimate compassion.” [Please see the article “Compassion” in this newsletter.]
Once when Swami Rama was told that people were teaching Power Yoga in the USA, he said, “Do you want to know what Power Yoga is? It’s when a group of people are angry and are fighting, and you come into the room, and everyone becomes peaceful and happy.”
“The meaning of personal power is: those who came in your presence angry came away smiling.” (Swami Veda’s Sayings, p. 34.)
In July of 1988, Wolfgang came to The Meditation Center and talked about his first meeting with Swami Rama and also about the therapy work that he was doing at his Institute in Ahrensburg, Germany, using the Hakomi method of Ron Kurtz (another student of Swami Rama).
Here is a story which Wolfgang told:
“We received a file from the court in which we were told that Mr. Thunderstorm was coming. That was his real name! The note said, ‘Please talk with him only in the company of a policeman. He is a double murderer, just out of prison.’ I had had a lot of experiences with prisoners, but I was very afraid. I said to myself, ‘This is crazy!’ I told the rest of the people at the Institute that he was coming, but he arrived early when I was not there – because he had no relation to time.
And when I finally came later, everyone was shivering. They said, ‘Mr. Thunderstorm is here!’ And everybody was shivering because he had shouted at everybody about me not being there. And no one knew what to do. And, you know, he had tattoos up and down his arms. He was a very threatening person. He had big muscles because the prisoners puff up their muscles to impress the other prisoners. Very serious thing in prison, really threatening to be there with other criminals. They need to do it sometimes, I think. So, he came, and I was shivering too. And he smelled of alcohol, walking through the doorway of my office shouting at me. On the outside I was calm, but on the inside, I was tense, and I was shivering.
He started talking, so I just listened, and I looked at myself. And I saw, that because of my fear, I was not able to see him or hear him or understand him. I could only think of the sentence: ‘If you talk with Mr. Thunderstorm, you have to have a policeman on your side.’ Because in a situation in the courtroom, he had knocked down a door and it was very threatening to the judges, you know. It was a serious situation. So, I looked at myself, and I saw that because of my fear I could not see him, I could not listen to him, I could not recognize him, and I could not understand him. I tried to calm down my fear. I did not say a lot. I just tried to calm down and tried to open my heart – but it was not possible.
And he continued to talk – crazy stuff! And suddenly he gave this word to me: ‘Prison.’ ‘Prisoner!’ ‘Killed two persons!’ He had killed two people when he was eighteen years old. So, when he said the word ‘prison,’ I just looked into his eyes, and I really looked into his heart, and I said, ‘You were in prison. I was in prison, too. I know what prison is like. Awful, isn’t it!’ He looked at me, and when he came in contact with me that way, he became silent. And then I said, ‘Do you know what? You’re a great man with a great heart, but until now, no one has seen it.’
Do you know what happened? He collapsed in his chair. He had never heard something like that before. He really collapsed. He was silent. He looked at me. ‘Yah!’ he said. He came in like an enemy and went out like a friend. So I said, ‘I need to come to your flat and visit you.’
Later I visited him, and he greeted me like a friend when I came, and we talked. And suddenly he said to his wife, ‘Go and get him the poems.’ So, she went and brought back two big pieces of paper. Now, you must know that he killed two people. He had no schooling at all, no education at all – and he had a heart as big as I have ever seen in such a person.
I read though the poems, and they were the most wonderful poems about love and yearning for human warmth and love that I have ever read. I was nearly weeping when I read these poems in that flat with him, you know. I said, ‘You really wrote that?!’ ‘Sure!’ he said. ‘Sure!’ ‘How did you do it when you can’t even write?’ And he said, ‘I sit sometimes in my chair and I say these poems, and my wife writes them down in one sitting.’ He throws these poems out in a single session!
So, do you know what I did? When I wrote my expertise for the court case, I put his poems in the expertise – and it was not normal to write poems for legal people. And we met with the court people again – where before they had felt so threatened with knocked down doors and so forth, but they were very friendly. And he wife said the next time in the court room, “When you published his poems in this paper for the court case, it made us feel like there was someone that was really understanding him.” And that next time in court he was like a baby. It was a serious case, like needing to take a child away because there was no one to take care of him. And he agreed that I should look for a family that could watch over him. You know, and he was not fighting about it. Can you imagine that? So, this is like putting what we have learned in yoga into a normal daily situation.”
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