Pandoraspace

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YOGA IS MY BUS (continued)

27
March
2009

On learning compassion

Pandoras in Phnom Penh

After the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum experience, I was greatly disturbed by the idea that people are capable of committing such atrocious acts that bring untold suffering to others.  To this day, I cannot accept that people could be innately evil. To somehow understand why it is that the torture at Toul Sleng took place, I told my friend Simon that  those who cause suffering probably did not understand what it felt like to experience pain.  Consequently, the child torturers did not realize the extent of the hurt they caused others.

I am relieved to know that, in one of my Yoga classes, my theory was somehow validated.

At that class, Rina asked us to take a partner, bind that partner’s outstretched leg and step on the other leg that was bent. When Rina was demonstrating what to do, she repeatedly told us to be merciful to our partner.  Of course, I was too distracted by the instructions about what to do to really understand what it is that Rina meant by being merciful.

I asked my Thai classmate, Ubon, to be my partner. Ubon was one of those naturally lithe and flexible girls who could get into most of the poses easily. Ubon got into the pose quickly, I bound her leg and stepped on the other leg that was bent. Until she frantically signaled for me to get off her leg, I paid no attention to how Ubon was doing.  After all, the pose seemed like a piece of cake to her.

When it was my turn, Rina came over to help me get into the pose. Guess what?  I could not even get into the pose.  Just bending my leg was extremely painful.  Rina did not even get to bind it. It was then that I realized that poor Ubon was probably in pain the whole time she was in the pose and I did not even know it.

Mercy or compassion literally means “to suffer with”.  This presupposes that one understands the other’s suffering.  In that Yoga class, I realized that it is impossible to be compassionate without knowing how the other is feeling.  My experience with Ubon taught me the importance of placing myself in other’s shoes in order to be compassionate.

As the child torturers in Toul Sleng had no idea of the pain they had inflicted on the victims, they probably had no qualms about executing the acts of torture.  I do not see how it is that they could have done those acts if they had know what suffering was like.

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