When I was a child my father frequently told me stories of when he was interned as a child in Japanese and Indonesian concentration camps for four years on Java during World War II. He told me stories of terrible cruelty and suffering, including the death of his father, who as a prisoner of war, starved to death in a forced labor Mitzubishi tin mine outside of Tokyo in 1942.
My mother would always say angrily, “Thank God we dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. If we didn’t drop the bomb, the war would have dragged on. Your Uncle Charlie would have died, your father would have died and you would have never been born.”
I pondered that in earnest as a child, regularly witnessing my father suffering from migraine headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder. I didn’t get a grandfather. He was only a charcoal drawing above my father’s bed. I was conflicted, should I be angry and want revenge for our suffering? But wouldn’t I be wrong if I sought that revenge?
“For your mother, the war still rages on,” my father told me. “For me, it is over, because I have been able to forgive.”
For those who have lost a loved one in the attacks of September 11 or in war, I can understand the desire to celebrate Osama Bin Ladin’s death. I too, was a child who was touched deeply by the scars of war. These scars run deep and lasts for generations. Yet from experience in other instances where I have been harmed, I realize that I was the victim of my feelings of retaliation. The burning anger that consumed me ultimately was like eating my own poison. Forgiveness is the only road that leads to true healing.
I cannot change history, but I also cannot condone any action of war or celebrate the death of any human being. This week I have been moved to nausea watching my country’s chest thumping and its dangerous nationalistic frenzy of barbaric proportions. Our momentary revelry disguises the fact that in destroying the enemy we have burned down our own house in the process. Our country is now trillions of dollars in debt, society is disintegrating and the dollar is collapsing. Our public celebration of murder rots the soul and destroys the heart, ensuring a continual cycle of violence. For the peaceful do not celebrate the victories of a military state. The peaceful love and forgive their enemies. Because revenge is human and forgiveness is divine. That is how we will create peace and heaven on earth.
For the sake of civilization, I urge you to teach peace to children. Teach them, using story and yoga, the virtues of mercy and the folly of revenge. Consider using these two Aesop stories to tell, practice yoga with and discuss.
THE LION AND THE MOUSE - Aesop retold by Sydney Solis
Once upon a time there was a great lion. Roaming in the jungle, he spotted a tiny mouse and pounced on it.
“Ah ha! I have caught you!” The lion roared. “Now I will have a tasty snack!”
The little mouse shook in fear, but found the courage to say, “Lion, please, I beg you. Do not eat me. If you spare my life, I promise to return the favor and help you one day.”
“Ha! How can such a little mouse do anything important for such a great creature as I? I’m hungry!” And he lifted the mouse up by its tail and opened his great jaws wide.
“Please! I am sure I can help you one day! Give me a chance. Such a great creature as you surely has the power to spare some one his life!”
“All right. I will let you free,” the lion said, and went to sleep under a tree.
The next day, the mouse met the lion again, but this time the lion was caught in a net from a trap that hunters had set for him.
The Lion looked at the mouse with sad eyes and said, “Dear friend, can you help me?
And the little mouse looked at this great beast trapped and helpless. Then the mouse said, “Of course!” And went to work gnawing the ropes with his teeth and setting the lion free.
Who is this story about?
Lion – Lion pose, simhasana, – roar like a lion, the great courageous and powerful creature that you are.
Mouse – Child pose, balasana, – then squat, bring hands to chest like a mouse and walk around squeaking. No matter how small you are, you are capable of big things!
What happens in this story?
Net – Upward facing bow pose, urdva dhanurasana, or upward boat, urdva navasana, The trap of pride, fear, anger, hatred and revenge.
Gnawing – Opening and closing mouth wide, exaggerating chewing motions, puckering mouth to exercise the muscles of the face.
What is the benefit of showing mercy?
An Open and Free Heart , Peace and Freedom- Camel pose, - ustrasana
Shavasana and Meditation:
Visualize a lion in side your heart. See its radiant, golden mane. Feel its strength, courage and power. The lion’s power comes from his peaceful abiding. He knows that his strength and power comes from divine goodness, forgiveness and love. He does not harm others but grants them mercy and freedom instead.
See a little mouse inside your heart. Know that that little mouse is capable of great things – kindness, intelligence, quick-thinking. Nothing is ever too small to be of no importance. Know that you are important. Practice acts of kindness small and large.
How are you like the lion? Have you ever had the opportunity to have power over another? What did you do?
How are you like the mouse? Have you ever been bullied or threatened by someone bigger and more powerful than yourself? What did you do?
What do you think would have happened if the lion ate the mouse instead of freeing it? How would that have affected the lion’s ability to be freed from the net?
Make a list of creatures in your life that are small and helpless. How do you treat your pet, baby sister or the spider in the bathtub? How does remembering the way you treated them make you feel? Happy? Proud? Ashamed?
How can we treat others who are different from us in looks, clothing, language, religion and nationality with respect and dignity?
Look at your body. Every human being has the same fingers, toes, bones, ligaments, organs and muscles.
I use my power for love and mercy toward all creatures in the world.
I treat others as I wish to be treated.
THE FARMER AND THE FOX - Aesop retold by Sydney Solis
There was once a farmer who had a large wheat farm. One day he discovered that a fox had been eating some of his chickens. Furious, he vowed revenge. “I’ll get that fox!”
The farmer finally caught the fox. ”Now you will pay for what you did to me!’ He soaked a rope in oil, tied it to the fox’s tail and set it on fire. The fox was aflame, but it squirmed and broke lose. It ran from the farmer and dashed into the wheat fields that were ready for harvest. All of the farmer’s wheat fields caught fire, destroying his farm and all of his crops.
Who is this story about?
Farmer: – Warrior I, virabrhadrasana I, II and III
Fox :- Downward dog - adho mukha svanasana
What happens in this story?
Fire: Bound angle pose, baddha konasana
How does the story end?
Running through the fields on fire – Upward facing bow pose, urdva dhanurasana – then rolling side to side, spreading fire as you roll. Then run around the room!
Shavasana and Meditation:
See the farmer in your mind’s eye. See the fox.
Think of someone that has harmed you and who bothers you. Smile at that person. Send love and forgiveness.
How are you like the farmer? Have you ever been angry about something someone did? What happened? What did you do? What was the outcome? How would you change what you did? How are you like the fox? Was there a time when you harmed another? What happened? What did you do to make amends for what you did? Is it ever too late to apologize or forgive? Does two wrongs make a right?
Think of a time when you were angry. Where do you feel the anger in your body? In your belly? Heart? Touch that spot. What is the emotion behind the anger? Were you shamed, afraid, betrayed?
How can we deal with the anger we may feel when we are wronged?
Take a time out
Talk about it with someone
For older children and teens: Contemplate and discuss the following:
“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” – Ghandi
“Mercy is setting the prisoner free only to discover the prisoner was me.”
“In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over he is his superior.” – Sir Francis Bacon.
“If you are slapped on one check, turn the other too.” The Bible Matthew 5:43
I mount the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am peace in every step. I am peace in every breath. I am peace.
May there be peace in your heart and peace on earth.