Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) stated, “Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until man is anchored in the Divine.”
I prefer to believe that man is honest, and abides by the first of the yoga sutras: Ahimsa: Do No Harm. So it is hard for me to understand why people harm themselves, animals, enemies and even “loved” ones.
We may think our society has advanced tremendously since the cave man days, but there is widespread violence in our world, especially against women. Women are the creators, and should be honored and cherished; yet oftentimes, they are degraded and treated as inferior.
Pope John Francis recently spoke against widespread violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse. “The many forms of slavery, the commercialization, and mutilation of the bodies of women, call out to us to be committed to defeat these types of degradation that reduce them to mere objects that are bought and sold…”
International Women’s Day is March 8. Worldwide, we see women and children being harmed. It may be easier for us to condemn other cultures in distant places. Create an “us” versus “them” mentality. We may think our culture is better for not following some of those that are most visible and horrendous.
One male politician stated that “women are a lesser cut of meat.” This was not said in the 1800s. It was not said in Saudi Arabia. It was said last week in the United States of America, where we think women are living equally. Wrong.
Our ego-centric culture routinely disregards the concept of “do no harm.”
Today, one in six women in the “greatest country of all” will have been a victim of rape, or attempted rape. Nearly five million women in the U.S. will experience physical violence by an intimate partner, every year, with one in four women being a victim of severe violence by an intimate partner, at one point in their lives. According to Domestic Violence Statistics, a woman is beaten every nine seconds, in this country.
Our treatment of children is not better than that of our women. More than 3.5 million cases of child abuse are reported every year in the U.S. While so many cases are kept secret, it is estimated that one in five girls, and one in 20 boys, are sexually abused.
Ana (not her real name) is a college educated woman, from an upper middle class family. She married a man from a prominent family, apparently a perfect partner. Ana explains that marriage can be like buying a house. Some things are not apparent on the exterior. Once you move in, all the faults come to the surface.
“Greed was rampant in this family. If I protested I was told very abusively by my husband to shut up, that he loved his parents and his sisters more than he loved me.” Ana felt trapped. She couldn’t return to her parents, and she was pregnant within a few weeks of the wedding.
Her husband may have provided a comfortable roof under which to sleep, but not much else, emotionally or materially. “When the baby was born, when I asked for money for the child’s clothing or school expenses, the answer was ‘Shut your mouth. Ask your parents to give you money.’”
Not surprisingly, Ana’s spouse had a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde persona. To outsiders, he was Mr. Perfect. Ana’s family thought she was weak, and a complainer. They couldn’t comprehend the degradation and trauma she was experiencing.
She stayed with the abusive partner for 17 years, fearful that her husband would kidnap her offspring and leave the country. “That thought scared me to death.”
It was faith that always got Ana through her ordeals. “A month after my daughter’s 16th birthday, I took her, some clothes, sheets, kitchen essentials, and some cash that he always had at home for emergencies. He was away on an overnight business trip. I left a note on the breakfast table, not disclosing where I was going, and drove away to the nearest town,” Ana recalls about her escape.
“Nobody has understood the depths of cruelty, rape, physical, emotional and psychological violence I have suffered,” adds Ana.
It’s been nearly 30 years since she took the risk, took the bull by the horns, and left the man who was supposed to love, honor and protect her. She’s been married to a “good, loving, generous man,” now, for many years, but the past does not escape her. It still affects her, and her marriage. The physical, emotional and verbal abuse that she lived with for almost two decades still pops into her mind, plunging her into depression. “The only remedy is that I increase my devotions, chanting and reading the scriptures.”
Ana still routinely practices her meditation yoga and chanting. She recognizes that these forms of yoga were essential to keep her alive, and to keep her sanity.
“Clients like ‘Ana’ come to see me often because they recognize from my personal story that I too have been there,” says Elizabeth Garland, M.S., CPLC, MNLP, GRS, who is founder of Soul Nourishing. “As a domestic abuse and assault survivor, I understand how the triggers are still there. We discuss how to recognize our triggers and create an awareness or pause, which begins allowing the possibility of choice. Many of these women were surrounded by fear, anger, helplessness, humiliation, anxiety and/or lack of confidence. It’s healing for us to go back and rediscover what beliefs led us there so we can break those chains that held us.”
“How sweet it is, to be free from abuse,” gleams Ana. “Today I celebrate 27 years, and I thank all those who made me believe again in human kindness.”
Garland sees the silver lining, and helps her clients to develop that love and appreciation for life and others. “In every loss there is a lesson. We allow time to heal, we do this slowly, with compassion for ourselves. Sometimes we decide to walk that bridge a few times but eventually we make it. We come to the other end of the bridge as survivors and guides, sharing love with one another and embracing that saying in our hearts, ‘Do No Harm.’ Let there be Love in this world and let it start now.”
Ahimsa: Do No Harm.