When I was a young boy, my grandfather would not let me play with black children and my sister could not assist the priest at church services, like we boys did. After 9/11, one of our New York Institute staff members was harassed on the streets since he looked Middle Eastern. Prejudice is all around us and inside us as well, whether we see it or not.
For the month of October, the residents of the Institute have chosen to practice recognizing the forms of prejudice in ourselves that prevent us from opening our hearts to all. Many are the ways we divide ourselves from one another in our world: by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, color, class and shape. In Argentina, the fans of one football team are not allowed to attend games in the home stadium of their archrivals because there would be too much fighting.
To recognize the ways that our hearts are partially closed to someone else is not easy. It requires a willingness to encounter our own faulty vision without shame and self-judgement, and a keen awareness to detect something that is embedded in our subconscious mind. Our way of seeing the world around us is so deeply ingrained and so familiar, that it can be nearly impossible to identify it as anything less than the objective truth.
Here are a few ways to practice this intention to open our hearts to everyone.
–Practice inwardly offering Namaskar Mudra, commonly called Namaste, to those you meet on the street, meaning, “The Divine Light in me recognizes the Light in you.”
–See those we disagree with as teachers worthy of our respect and sent to help awaken us.
–Observe the tendency of our ego—oriented minds to assume we are right, we are more yogic than others, or we know what is best….be willing to sincerely question ourselves.
–See if we can catch ourselves meddling in others’ affairs or talking about them behind their backs.
–Maintain a regular Yoga practice that enables us to be more mindful of our thoughts and less identified with them, empowering us to change that which closes the heart.
We can all benefit from acknowledging that the impulse toward prejudice is in us—a part of the human experience. Then, instead of trying to hide it or defend ourselves, we can bring this tendency into the light of awareness and choose to consciously open our hearts a little wider.