SSE Week 07: Pratipaksa Bhavana
Introduction to Pratipaksa Bhavana
This week’s discussion focuses on Pratipaksa Bhavana, cultivating the opposite. As we know, yogic concepts and guidelines have many parts to their definitions, and pratipaksa bhavana is no different. As such, it’s not just about trying to understand the other side of the story; it also asks us to take positive action when we witness wrongdoing (verbal, physical, psychological, and all the in between); and to access our deepest and fullest capacity for empathy and compassion.
Nicolai Bachman, author of our guiding text, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, says that pratipaksa bhavana is most easily applied to practicing the five yamas, the ethical practices we’ve been covering thus far:
“Whenever we experience an unethical act or hurtful interaction, it is important to step back and remind ourselves to take the high road, recognizing the inner light of awareness hidden deep beneath another person’s thoughts, emotions, habits, and beliefs [….] When seeking the truth, it is necessary to hear [all sides of the story….] Drilling down to the truth can be difficult and painful. Yet upholding what is right (dharma) is part of living according to yoga.”
He also offers us advice on what to do when we encounter one of these painful truth situations:
“Before actually doing anything, immediately distance yourself from the resulting emotion that is about to cause a reaction. Then visualize the other side and ask yourself, ‘How will the other person be affected?’ ‘How much is my own perception of the situation causing this emotion?’ At this point, there is opportunity to see what is going on from a more objective vantage point. By acting consciously and compassionately instead of reacting negatively based on our own issues, we build a new, helpful, positive samskara [(habit)].”
Pratipaksa bhavana is essentially a mindfulness practice in action. It is the space we create between an event and the response to that event; it is what happens within that space, the pause, the inquiry, the self-reflection, the truth seeking; and it is the resulting positive action, cultivated in this quiet and powerful space.
Home Exercise: Pratipaksa Bhavana
Real talk: Today’s global social climate is rife with potential to practice pratipaksa bhavana.
Ask yourself, how do these hard and painful truths affect and effect me?
When I read the news or watch a video regarding social justice today, what is my immediate reaction? What’s behind that reaction?
Are there any places where I can expand, create space, and invite another perspective? How can I use my new-found perspective to insight positive change in myself, my family and community, and maybe even the world at large?
Go and do it!
“Always striving for the truth, we have the ability and responsibility to understand a situation as best we can and then act in the best interest of everyone.”
– The Path of the Yoga Sutras
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Bring Pratipaksa Bhavana into Practice
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