My Values

I’ve never really taken the time to sit down and really think about what my values are in life. I have always been a very passionate, outspoken person when it comes to my opinions and beliefs though. Today I wanted to get more clear about what exactly it is that matters to me, so that I can better embody and serve those things every day. I’d like to come up with five values to always keep close to my heart as I move through this world.

1. Justice

When I think about values, justice is the first thing that comes to mind. I have always been unable to tolerate injustice. I guess I never really grew out of that phase of childhood where you constantly scream, “It’s not fair!” I’ve learned that life isn’t fair, but that never stopped me from wondering indignantly, why not? I used to be a very patriotic child as well. I was so proud to live in a country which I had been taught valued justice and freedom above all else. When I came to find that actually wasn’t quite an accurate portrayal of America, my patriotism faded, but I held fast to those ideals. Justice is even one of the reasons that I am a vegan. Not only is it horrendously cruel and idiotic to treat animals and the planet the way we do, it is also extremely unjust for us to place our species above all other beings.

1. Non-violence

My next value is one that comes from the Yamas in Yoga philosophy. Non-violence goes farther than simply not physically fighting people. Violence can exist even in small actions. Our words can be violent, the way we treat our bodies, buying animal products, etc. I’m still learning every day how I can better embody the essence of peace and compassion in everything I do.

3. Nature

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a “value,” but for my purposes, I’d also like to include nature among mine. The natural world is the most beautiful, precious thing that has ever or will ever exist. I was lucky enough to grow up with dense woods and a stream practically in my backyard. The happiest moments in my life have all been enjoyed outside among the lush green abundance of this living, breathing world. I believe this is also a dying world due to human interference, but nonetheless I hope to honor and protect it as much as I can while I’m here. I’d at least like to do as little harm as possible. I know I still have a long way to go in this regard. Perhaps one day I will proudly include myself as part of the zero waste community.

4. Creativity

Creativity has always been one of my greatest joys. I have loved to draw, write, and make things from the moment I learned how. There is something so miraculous in the act of making something from nothing. Our ability to imagine and create such a myriad of different things is maybe the only thing I do marvel at about humanity. It is possibly our one redeeming factor. Not only do I love to create, I love to watch others create as well. Few things get me more excited and interested than seeing what other people are able to come up with. It is like being able to see a glimpse of that person’s inner world. I love to be surprised at the fascinating things others make that I would never have thought of. It is such a shame to me to know that some people go their whole lives believing they “aren’t creative.” I believe that everyone is creative by default. Society has unfortunately led us to believe that we must be exceptional at things like drawing, painting, or writing in order to do those things at all. I love to encourage the kids I work with to keep creating even if they feel they aren’t “good at it.” Creativity is about self-expression and enjoyment, not talent.

5. Knowledge

The fifth and final value I want to talk about today is knowledge. Learning and intelligence are two of the most important things in my life. I am always eager to gather more knowledge for myself. I truly believe that the more we know the better, as individuals and as a society. One of my favorite things to do is read. It’s amazing how much I am able to learn and discover from books whether they be fiction or nonfiction. It is also a delight to share any new information I happen to gain with others. It’s unbelievable that no matter how much knowledge I accumulate, there is still an unlimited supply of new things to learn.

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For now, these are the five values that I want to focus on. I am hopeful that know that I’ve written them down, I may be able to be more mindful of them as I go about my day. What are your values and why? Do you think you are living by those values? Why or why not? How might you better adhere to your own values in your every day life? Let me know! I would love to hear what kinds of things are most important to you.

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Moral Ambiguity

I have been reading Les Miserables for the last few days. I am incredibly shocked that I never knew it was a book as well as a play until now. I was really missing out. Anyway, I have just finished the chapters detailing Jean Valjean’s (Monsieur Madeleine’s) inner turmoil regarding the right thing to do in the case of his mistaken identity. It is truly a very interesting philosophical question. On the one hand, it seems clearly “right” to clear up the misunderstanding and spare this stranger a fate he does not deserve on your account. However, should Monsieur Madeleine give himself up as Jean Valjean, would not even more people be made to suffer as a result? After all he has practically created his own society. All within that society benefit from his presence and guidance. Not least of which, Fantine, who should surely die without ever seeing her child again if he goes to Arras and interfere with the trial.

This section of Les Miserables really highlights the complexities of morality. The “right” thing to do in life is quite often unclear. I can see why Monsieur Madeleine wrestled with this problem as he did. I still don’t really know what I believe the truly moral decision would be. If it were me (myself being nowhere as upright and honorable as Monsieur Madeleine) I would have allowed the trail to go on. I would have felt terribly guilty, but I would have also felt guilty if I would have decided to leave my community and poor Fantine in order to save a stranger whom by a terrible twist of fate was mistaken for me. In some ways, both decisions are moral. And in other ways both are selfish and unfair.

I am very interested to see how Monsieur’s decision to go to Arras works out in the end. Will his conscious be pacified? Or will he suffer with the consequences wrought on M- sur M- and Fantine? This painful reflection of life’s more difficult moral questions is undoubtably one of the reasons Les Miserables has earned it’s place among the great works of history.

One would hope that merely the resolve to be “good” would be enough. Yet we see that even that does not nullify all of problems laid before us. Sometimes there is no “right” answer. Sometimes no matter what decision you make, someone will be made to suffer because of it. Even the decision not to act can result in grave consequences as in this case.

What a complex, confusing, and often cruel world we live in. There is something truly incredible about seeing that so perfectly reflected in a novel. To be able to hold these heavy problems in your hands. To see the inner struggles of another and know that we are not alone in our own. To have such strong concern and sympathy produced for a fictional character. The written word is an awe-inspiring thing.

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The Difference Between Complacency & Surrender

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (1.33)

During my yoga teacher training, we spent a lot of time discussing yoga philosophy. I have come to believe that the study and practical application of the wisdom within ancient texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are perhaps even more important than the physical practice of asanas. I have no doubt that the adherence to these guiding principles would produce an idyllic life with the least amount of suffering. However, putting these teachings into practice is much easier said than done.

The sutra I quoted above is one that has been particularly challenging for me. I am fully on board right up until the words “disregard toward the wicked.” I feel a strong aversion to this idea in the pit of my stomach when I consider it. I am someone who has a strong sense of justice and can be quite inflexible in that regard.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

Multiple people have said to me, “you have the courage of your convictions.” This is something I’ve always taken pride in. It is hard for me not to speak out and take action against things that I view as wrong, even to my own detriment at times. I used to make myself sick, fighting with people about the moral obligation of veganism and exposing the insidious effects of religion on society. I could see that I wasn’t changing anyone’s mind. I was quite possibly just causing many to dig their heels in deeper. Yet I didn’t see any other option but to keep fighting. I felt each moment of silence was a moment of consent, of complacency.

I feel a well of indignation rise up within me whenever I am confronted with a situation or belief system I am morally opposed to. I have also been told by several people that I have a hard time “biting my tongue.” Something I am often embarrassed by.

Knowing this about me, you may better understand why I have agonized over accepting this particular sutra. What I’ve come to learn over the years is that there is a fine line between complacency and surrender. But there is still a difference. It is possible to accept something without agreeing with it, consenting to it, or supporting it. It is sometimes necessary to just allow, to surrender. Because there you will find peace. There you will find the clarity of mind to move forward in the most productive way. To stop shooting yourself in the foot with your outrage.

“Disregard toward the wicked” for me isn’t about simply ignoring the evils of our world. It’s about not letting that wickedness taint your heart. We mustn’t respond to these things with hardness and hatred. We must cultivate an indifference. An indifference that allows us to acknowledge all aspects of existence without judgement. In this way we can avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering upon ourselves and others. Creating more suffering does no one any good. It only serves to cloud your mind and heart. Ultimately hurting whatever cause you feel the need to fight for.

This doesn’t mean you have to surrender your ideals or your beliefs. It simply means surrendering to the fact that you can’t control this world. Accepting that. And carrying on. Returning your focus within, to the only place where you can make a true difference. In this way I have finally been able to find surrender without shame.

Injustice

Recently I have been contemplating the awful, unjust inconsistencies in our judicial system. Yesterday I got coffee with a friend who spent 15 years of his life in prison. When people hear this there is an emotional recoil, a silent fear and judgment. Even I wondered if it was dangerous for a young girl to be around that type of person. I knew it was a drug related offense, but I had for some reason assumed it was heroin or something along those lines. (Not that that would make 15 years a fair sentence.) Yesterday I discovered, to my shock and outrage, that it was just weed.

This wonderful man who is kind and smart and funny AND a yoga teacher spent his entire youth locked in a cage for possessing a fucking plant that never hurt anyone and does in fact help people. He even spent years of his time there in solitary confinement. Now that he’s out he has a medical marijuana card ironically. And why? For the PTSD he now has from being stabbed eight times in prison.

Every time I think about this, a swelling rage blooms inside my chest. How on earth could this be called justice? As a child I truly believed this was a just world. It’s what we’re taught to believe. It was a long fall from innocence as I slowly lost faith in the courts, the law, the police, this country, and this world. At first I lashed out at these injustices with indignation and fury. I desperately tried to make a difference. But now I am so tired. All I can do is be a witness to these atrocities.

Black men are shot in the streets every single day by police. Non-violent drug offenders are given longer sentences than the men who have sexually abused the children I work with. The most innocent among us, the animals, are systematically abused and killed by the billions behind tall factory walls in the darkness. Never knowing a kind touch in their whole short lives.

I still grieve over that innocence and faith I’ve lost. There is no justice in this world of ours. It’s more amazing to me now that I ever could have believed there was. But even though I know it’s hopeless, I have no choice but to keep fighting. Even though I’m tired and jaded by the futility of it all, there is nothing else for me to do. I’ll keep trying to protect the innocent with everything I’ve got. I’ll lend my voice to the voiceless. Even if I’m doomed to fail, there is nothing else so worthy of my time.