She was proud of me, and she believed in me, even when I failed miserably. She didn’t judge me or scold me when I wasted a lot of money, unable to successfully transition from high school (achiever) to (lost and reckless) college freshman. When I was hopeless and depressed and felt like a big fat failure, she believed I would persevere, and I did, buoyed by her quiet support. She was proud of me a zillion times, including when I became a yoga teacher. She witnessed several of my graduations, even—eventually—a college graduation. And then, later, even though she never stopped calling it “yogurt,” (as in, “how was your yogurt class today?”) she was just as proud of my graduation from Yoga Teacher Training. I corrected this pronunciation error many times, but eventually gave up, realizing that I would actually be disappointed if she got it right. I don’t think she had a really clear idea what yoga was all about, but she saw that it made me whole and happy, and that was enough.
When she was not proud of me, when she was clearly disappointed, I felt deep, soul-darkening shame.
We were at the Victory Market in Chittenango, an institution that’s been gone as long as my childhood. I grabbed a pack of gum from the conveniently located treasure trove in the check-out line, while she was busy putting groceries on the belt. I don’t remember why I chose not to ask if I could have it or if I even knew that I was stealing. When we got home, she discovered the larceny, and she put me right back in the car to make amends. I had to tell the store manager what I had done, and she paid for the gum. I lost the privilege of owning the gum and, more upsetting, the naked babies. I was crushed and ashamed.
I don’t remember a lot of details from childhood. I don’t remember a lot of details in general. I tend to remember things in terms of feelings and perceptions. But I remember feeling ashamed, because my mother was ashamed of me. It certainly wasn’t the last time she taught me right from wrong, but it’s the first time that I can clearly remember.
As practitioners of yoga, we study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We learn of the eight limbs of yoga. We aspire to practice, along with the other six limbs (to be savored in future posts), the Yamas and Niyamas, a list of guidelines for leading a yogic lifestyle of awareness and principle.
The Yamas are five practices of restraint.
- Ahimsa is non-violence, the practice of not harming yourself or anyone else.
- Satya is truthfulness.
- Asteya, the big one in this story, is not stealing.
- Brahmacharya is sexual abstinence or, in a more contemporary sense, balance and moderation.
- Aparigraha is non-hoarding or non-coveting behavior.
The Niyamas describe five self-observances.
- Saucha is purity.
- Santosha is contentment with who you are and what you have.
- Tapas is discipline and austerity.
- Svadhyaya is self-study of life, behavior, patterns, or spiritual texts to promote understanding.
- Isvara-pranidhana is surrender to a higher power.
If you are blessed, you learn about right and wrong from the people in charge of raising you. You may learn some from your religious or civic leaders, teachers and friends and role models of all sorts. No matter what form it comes in, the basic tenets of right and wrong seem to all boil down to the same things.
I am constantly reminded of my mother’s teachings. She never practiced yoga in her life, but she and my father lived a more yogic lifestyle than most people I know. I will revisit each of these ideals in future posts, as I move through them in life or in classes.