Until every single being in the world is free from suffering,
I will not give up my practice."
This saying comes from a pack of Buddhist cards that one of our retreat guests gifted us. A favorite theme of mine in yoga classes is the heart, connecting from and healing it. In the evening class at Sewall House a few days past Valentine’s Day I had yet to come up with what to write about the heart (with a February 24th deadline). I was feeling tired in this class. My mind was drawn back to another class in 2002 at the retreat where I had also been feeling tired. I had decided to relax on my back after covering the students with blankets and eye pillows. Without making a sound someone placed an eye pillow over my eyes and covered me with a blanket. It was like an angel had descended. Later I figured out it had been our cook, an Australian woman who had the true heart of service. She made fabulous food to nurture out guests. Like many people she had things weighing heavily on her heart, which is likely why she was eager to come to the retreat environment, yet she barely made us aware of them, instead serving, never complaining, going the extra mile, also finding the time to go off-site and sort through these problems in her heart. As my mind wandered back to that class six years ago, I then picked out the card with the quote that started this article. We all suffer and are not put here to make more suffering for each other.
The very next morning I received an email from a recent retreat guest about the inhumane treatment of animals, once again meat was being recalled. This meat was a result of these horrific treatments to these innocent animals. Not only are the animals treated with cruelty, their lives are then sacrificed and their meat cannot even be used. As a vegetarian I have problems with the ideas of violence toward animals. Certainly causing animals suffering would come under the Buddhist belief that we continue mindfulness practice until all beings, not just human beings, are free from suffering.
Yoga practice is not a Buddhist practice though things do overlap. Ahimsa is the principal of nonviolence in yoga. I have seen yoga practitioners who claim to be Buddhist yet are mean spirited. A pure heart is a loving heart. To develop this many yogis and Buddhists must continue their practice until they can truly live it.
This same week in February at Sewall House more heart stories revealed themselves unsuspectingly. One of the guests, a nurse practitioner from California, was speaking a few words in African at the dinner table! When I asked what language it was and where she had learned it she explained that she had lived in Africa in 1985 working in her field there. When I remarked that it must have had its challenges she responded by saying simply that she had received much more than she had given. At the same meal another guest told how twenty years ago she had started answering letters from children at Christmas by gifting them what they asked for. At that time she delivered them in person but the drive had ballooned so much in twenty years that they still found all the presents but were not able to deliver them in person anymore.
The next story that I will share was that same week. We all thought this took the prize. A student had left a medallion in the studio and called to ask about it. I said I had vacuumed and it might have been sucked up. At that very moment the massage therapist walked out from the room and said she had found a medallion on the floor behind the massage table. The student was relieved and said she would explain why when she came to class. That night she shared her story and said I could share it too. Four years ago she had been stalked. It was a frightening situation as you can imagine. Her husband, who had served in Vietnam in Intelligence but had told her little else of this experience, took out a medallion at this time. He told her an old man in a village in Vietnam had given it to him when he felt his life was in danger. Though he did not share the details, she knew this had been a very personal and precious piece that he felt had worked for him. The old man told him never to wash it and to wear one side close to his heart. On that day four years ago when she feared for her life, her husband took it out and gave it to her at this time of need. She was still wearing it to this day. The stalker still existed, but had been ordered to stay away from her. This, she said, was the depth of her husband’s love for her.
The last story I will share in this article is about a woman who came to our yoga retreat but not to do yoga. She had lived in Island Falls almost 75 years ago and when she left as a young girl had promised some people she would return to their graves. She was now 87. She was a little disappointed the town had changed, though what that means I am not sure except that times have changed as Island Falls is still no metropolis! One of the many wonderful stories she shared was most poignant. The railroad went through town when she was a little girl so she would go to the station and with wonder watch the machine arrive. Soon enough the lead engineer, I guess you would call him the conductor, caught on to her daily presence there and greeted her. This grew into a ritual where he would bring her candy and she would bring him fresh donuts. Their friendly ritual was established, until one day he was not there to step down and share with her. Nor the next. Nor the next. So one day when the other engineer had a moment the small girl asked where the original man was. Perhaps she was given one of her first heart’s lessons, about the frailty of life, when the man explained that the other man had unexpectedly dropped dead, no explanation. One day he was working, smiling, loving and the next day he did not appear. These are those heart lessons that most impact us in life, we can be sure, as we hear this story above others in a life lived 87 years.
If we listen in our everyday lives heart stories abound. May we continue to be inspired by them and create them in our own lives in whatever way or cause we can, big or small. May we learn from the challenges and trials how to reveal our own hearts “until all sentient beings are free from suffering."
Donna Amrita Davidge runs Sewall House Yoga retreat in her great grandfather William Sewall’s historic homestead from June trough October and other specially arranged times of the year. She has been teaching yoga full time since 1985. www.sewallhouse.com for more information or 888-235-2395.