Kathleen, you are a lone reed.

Last night we watched You’ve Got Mail and the moment where Kathleen and Frank are talking about her fight against the big box book store struck me as one of the best representations of the yama I was going to talk more about this week. He says to her, “Kathleen, you are a lone reed. You are a lone reed, standing tall, waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce.”

Brahmacarya, or temperance, is the perfect yama to be reflecting on in this holiday season. As Gates notes in the Day 38 reading, many times in our society we equate moderation with repression. We relish in having so much that we have somewhat of a blind spot to how excess can destroy our dreams and that the chaos of immoderation brings our hearts pain and anguish. You may be saying, WHAT? right now because so many of us are accustomed to the luxuries of our life that we cannot fathom living without or that there might be things that we could moderate better. However, I want you to consider the easiest example I can come up with before we go deeper. Have you ever enjoyed a food so much or a whole meal so much that you ate and ate and ate until it hurt and then still made room for pie? Ta-Da! Then you have been to Thanksgiving dinner. For a lot of people, and I’m going to pick on the ladies here for a moment, we make rules before the holidays regarding what we will and won’t eat and how much and when and all these other nonsensical restrictions. We think we are being moderate, but we are going far past that point. Then, when the day/time comes, we throw it all out the window (or maybe that was the plan in the first place) and then later feel great regret. I mean, that’s what the whole holiday is about….right?

Not so much. We feel negative out restricting ourselves and then we feel bad after we gorge. Think about if we really celebrated Thanksgiving in a thankful and moderate way. What would that feel like? What would that even look like? Imagine cooking a dinner for your family and friends that contained the same amount of food as any other dinner during the year. How much food could we save? Imagine taking normal portion sizes, eating slowly, and stopping when you’re full. Pretend that it is any other meal and that we don’t have to starve ourselves all week so that we can make up for that piece of pie (or three) that we plan to eat that day. What about savoring the food as you eat it, enjoying it, and not thinking about it as something you have to work off later? Imagine no meal at all? What if we spent the day doing something different all together and just enjoyed in the time spent with family? What if it meant being thankful that we all made it there that day and we’re all in good health and able to feel the love and enjoyment of being included? How different would life look if lived in moderation instead of restriction or gluttony?

This is a painful cycle that many people go through for the whole holiday season. The truth is that if you practice moderation year round you are better prepared for dealing with these immoderate celebrations and can find greater peace and calm in the experience. This is brahmacarya. Most often this yama is rejected by our society because it is misunderstood and directed at sexual energy (see last week’s post). Gates highlights in the Day 37 reading some questions to ask yourself when trying to live in brahmacarya. Ask these questions regarding your sex life, food, relationships, money, time management, hobbies, exercise, and whatever else preoccupies your day and let me know if you have moderation in your life or what that might look like to you.

Where in my life am I being intemperate?
Does this (fill in the area of your life listed above) fill me with valor, vigor, knowledge and energy?
Or, is it a cause for concern, anxiety, confusion, and stress?
Am I energized or obsessed by my choices?
Can I stand firmly and with ease of heart in the postures of my life?
The last part really spoke to me and was reiterated in the movie last night. Gates says, “…this yama is about truly following one’s heart.”  (p.51) In my heart I am thankful for so many things and I know that I need to let that love guide my decisions more and more each day.