Yoga and the Art of Gentleness

Delicate Hawaiian flower (name unknown) on display at the  New York Botanical Garden  now through October.

Delicate Hawaiian flower (name unknown) on display at the New York Botanical Garden now through October.

Last week, while enjoying the beautiful plants and flowers on display up at the New York Botanical Garden with my partner, we came across this delicate flower above. I don't know its name, but it resembles the ʻōhiʻa lehua or Lehua Blossom, a delicate flower endemic to Hawaii. In Hawaii, where I was born, we have what are called "Ōlelo No‘eau" which means "Proverbs" or "Wise Sayings." Here is one:

I mohala no ka lehua i ke ke’ekehi ‘ia e ka ua


The lehua blossom unfolds when the rains tread on it.

Explanation: People respond better to gentle words than to scoldings.

And so too, when we practice yoga and meditation, we will be more successful if we can be gentle with ourselves. Do you think the flower above could possibly open up and be as beautiful as it is if it were forced to blossom by hard and heavy rains? Likewise, can our bodies, minds, and hearts ever be able to display its delicate beauties if we treated them too harshly, forcing them to open up? The path towards Enlightenment is a delicate one.

Many years ago, I took a workshop with Cindi Lee, a widely regarded yoga teacher who founded Om Yoga in New York City. She was describing the qualities of a Warrior from the Buddhist perspective and I recall she said something like:

The warrior acts with gentleness, precision, and by letting go through surrender.

We don't usually associate being warriors with being gentle. Yet if you stop to think about it, the Art of Gentleness is a very refined way of being, and perhaps one that can be known only by people with a warrior-like mentality. Warriors are willing to explore the limits of their awareness for the benefit of all beings. As we practice yoga and meditate more and more, in a sense we are becoming spiritual warriors. And as we test those outer limits of our possibilities, we can come to know that we can reach more of our desired outcomes through a gentle approach, and fewer of those outcomes though forcibly trying to get ourselves and others to bend towards our ego's will. As we become more in tune with our higher chakras, the Art of Gentleness naturally unfolds within us and gives us more ways of solving intractable challenges.

The Buddha taught this lesson:

With gentleness overcome anger.
With generosity overcome meanness.
With truth overcome deceit.

He knew that gentleness, generosity, and truth are greater powers than anger, meanness, and deceit and that they could overcome them. Of course, we can certainly meet anger with more anger, but if you stop to think about it, really how far will it get you? In the end, both sides will suffer.

The American Spiritual Author, Kent Nerburn, wrote a series of essays which became compiled into the book Letters to My Son. In it, he shares wisdom he had gained though much life experience with his son in order to help guide him more gently into adulthood. One passage, entitled "The Art of Giving" begins with:

Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance, and none can say why some fields will blossom and others lay brown beneath the August sun. ...

Here it is the end of August, and already some fields are starting to turn brown, and some are still lush and green. Who knows why? Some seeds were perhaps lucky to be in a place that received more rain and sunshine, while others happened to land in more barren environs. Most, if not all, Americans are extremely lucky to have been born in the USA -- as Springsteen would say! Anyone who has traveled much to third world countries know that many people are barely surviving due to the circumstances of where they were born. We don't really know what karma is playing out in this lifetime for ourselves and for others. All we can do is to help ourselves -- and thus the world -- by being gentle and treading as lightly as possible on this Earth, as we do our good works in our current lifetimes.

We all know that there is a lot of anger, meanness, and deceit out in the larger at the moment. And yet, we can all help the outer situation by truly being gentle, generous, and truthful with our own selves first. That is, I believe, our individual calling for the collective good.

May you be gentle with yourself, ...
May you be a Spiritual Warrior, ...
... for the benefit of All Beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni