The Fiery, Alchemical Force of Love
"Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, 'Go away, anger, I don’t want you.' When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, 'I don’t want you stomach, go away.' No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger."
—Thich Nhat Hanh
When I was in yoga teacher training, I let all my hair grow. For half a year, I didn't shave or cut any of it off. It was in part a respectful nod to the Sikh tradition of not cutting any hairs on the body, and part an experiment in self-love. Having been raised in a culture which shamed the presence of hair on certain parts of my body, could I let that hair be there and still feel happy and comfortable in my skin?
Since then, I have vacillated between shaving regularly and going long periods of time without. With the ebb and flow of my body hair has grown a sense of almost militant pride in who I am and this logical conclusion: I was born in a female body and this hair grows out of my female body, so how is it unfeminine? How can that which occurs naturally be unnatural?
Diving beneath skin deep, we can apply this same logic to the whole of our beings. We must lovingly care for every part of who we are, for what we recoil from in ourselves we will not be able to embrace in others. What we reject in ourselves will not leave. Repression forces our anger, pain, shame and brutality into the darkness, where it will remain until we muster the courage to face it. It will not be silent and inert; it seeps out and controls our behavior from the underground. These repressions are a festering danger.
Recently, I had a challenging relationship with a coworker. They were often harsh and demanding, rigid and determined to be right, no matter the cost. Experience has taught that most times we can either be happy or right, but not both. I would rather be happy than right, but sometimes had to strongly stand for myself in the face of attacks to my character. After a few exchanged blows and displays of my might, my coworker began to respect me more and it became easier to work with them.
It also became apparent overtime that they were operating from a place of fear, exhaustion and scarcity. They badly needed help but didn't feel comfortable surrendering any control to anyone else- they had been burned before, they cannot rely on anyone but themselves. With an equal mix of firmness and thoughtful care, I began to take control of what I could to ease their burden. I encouraged them to take time off to play, to take care of themselves. I consistently, excellently showed up and held the weight down, and they were able to soften and relax a bit. Through the alchemical force of my fierce love, I was able to transform the lead of our relating to gold.
Love is an alchemical force that turns lead to gold.
Love is the only force on this planet that can coax our anger, pain, shame and brutality out into the light. If we are to heal ourselves and others, we have to step into a place of softness and allowing. We must make friends with every part of ourselves, especially the parts that are hard to face. It is the difficult to love feelings and the difficult to love people that need a strong, steady embrace most of all. We can never be truly free until we are able to welcome anything that arises with gentleness and curiosity. "Hello! Welcome! What have you come to teach me?"
The first yama (code of right living) in the Yoga Sutras is ahimsa, to do no harm. While it's my sincere desire that all living things would feel totally loved in my presence, there should be limits to what one is willing to accept. As some yogis cheekily state, "Do no harm but take no shit." Love is often mistaken as a weak thing, but if you've ever witnessed a parent defend their child, you know how ferocious love can be.
Love can be very soft and sweet, but it can also manifest as a fiery roar. It was a ferocious self-love that defended me against my coworker, that empowered me to stand strongly for myself and be unwilling to let another do harm to me. It was a fierce love that thoughtfully supported that coworker in their well being, while also holding them accountable for their maladaptive behavior. It is my desire that I will do no harm, but best believe that I will also take no shit. It's a fine line worth testing and a balance worth perfecting.
May we cultivate an inner spaciousness that allows for both:
Embracing, allowing, softening, gentleness AND
Healthy boundaries, firmness, accountability
May our love be both sweet and fierce.
May we do no harm,
May all beings feel loved in our presences,
But may we also take no shit.