Comfort in the City
sthira sukham asanam PYS II.46
The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful
Connection implies a relationship; Earth includes all of manifestation-all other beings and things; steady means consistent; and where there is joy there is a feeling of ease and comfort. Most people aren’t comfortable in their bodies, with their feelings, in their jobs, in their relationships or with the other people and situations they encounter daily. The cause of this discomfort lies in how uncomfortable we make the lives of others. Since we all would like to be more comfortable, more at ease with ourselves and others, it might be helpful to look into practical ways that we could bring more comfort into the lives of others and in turn benefit our own lives.
To the yogi comfort does not mean seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Whatever we want for ourselves we can have if we are willing to provide it for others first. No lasting happiness can be had for ourselves by depriving others of happiness. So if we want to be comfortable then we should do our best to provide comfort for others. As we reach out to comfort others we discover the universal shared sources of lasting comfort, and we dispel the illusion that shortsighted self-centered pleasure will result in lasting comfort for ourselves or others.
Often when we experience pleasure it is fleeting, because instead of enjoying the moment we become worried about when it will end. When we find ourselves in a painful situation we try to get out of it. But comfort is available to anyone at anytime-it can be found in the midst of pleasure or pain-if one is willing to look deeply into things. The yogic concept of comfort is that ease comes from an inner condition, untainted by outer circumstances. We could call it portable comfort-because you can take it wherever you go! The familiar example is the yogi lying on a bed of nails-in utmost comfort. How does he do it? What’s the trick? No trick, unless you call magic a trick. But magic is just a shift in perception. Yogic practices are magical practices designed to help you to be able to shift your perception of yourself and others in any given moment under any circumstance and in any situation.
The enlightened yogi doesn’t view the world as coming “at them” and they never see themselves as a victim of circumstance or being victimized by others. An enlightened yogi is comfortable with all beings, in all situations and under all circumstances. In order to begin to acquire these types of skills a necessary first step is to develop compassion, for truly the best way to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others. Yoga practices provide us with practical ways to expand our perception and try to see the world through the eyes of others, touch the Earth with their claws, or hooves or roots, and understand how we could, through simple acts of kindness create a more comfortable city for ourselves and others.
I have lived in New York City’s lower East side near Tompkins Square Park since 1983. I remember when I moved from Seattle, Washington to New York City-New York City was not what I had imagined it to be. I think my ideas had been influenced by movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s-so it was a big surprise to me when walking home one day to see police on horseback galloping down Avenue B, which was a dirt road at the time, in hot pursuit of someone, who would then detour into the park and be lost in the tent and cardboard village which had colonized it-covering most of the green lawn space. I forget exactly when it happened, but sometime during the 1980s riots broke out in the park, which resulted in the city removing all of the makeshift housing and closing it.
One day as I was leaving my building a film crew from some network news show stopped me on the street to interview me. “How do you feel about what the Mayor has done-closing the park? Are you outraged that as a citizen your only access to nature as been denied?” My reply was not what they had expected. I said, “I am glad the park is closed. Look at it: anyone can see that the park is happier-the trees are fuller and look more at ease and the birds and squirrels you can bet are relieved that they don’t have to deal with all of us people day in and day out. I think that there should be places in densely populated urban areas like New York City which are off-limits to human beings and are kept as wild places for our fellow inhabitants of the city-the many birds and small mammals and of course the trees, bushes and flowering plants.” We tie up our dogs, keep birds in cages, poison foxes and shoot bears in New Jersey-why is it that we human beings think that only we have the right to roam free? We make life very uncomfortable and miserable for monkeys, rats and cats in laboratories, and cows, goats, chickens and pigs on farms. We rationalize our exploitation and cruelty toward animals as a necessary evil, the terrible price that must be paid to ensure human health, happiness and comfort. And yet we are still self-centeredly complaining about not being rich, happy or comfortable enough.
Perhaps we could start taking responsibility for the suffering around us and see that we actually do have the power to bring more happiness, joy and comfort into the world for ourselves and others. In whatever circumstance, wherever we live, the secret to our own comfort is to be kind to others and do what we can to make them more comfortable; then our own comfort will be ensured.