As humans, we do this thing where we have to classify things as either good or bad, right or wrong. As if there’s nothing in between, or nothing else to identify with. As Wendy Byrd says in Ozark (yes I got inspired by the TV show!), we are taught that Adam and Eve were clearly told that they can eat from any tree except for the fruit of one, and they ate it anyway. But what if they were actually just starving, and that was their only available option? Now Wendy is using this to prove that wrong-doing is not so simple. My point is not so dark, but similar in nature.
See, right and wrong, good and bad - it’s a spectrum. What’s more is that, just because something is right for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s wrong (or that YOU are wrong) if it’s not right for you. And visa versa.
Something that I really like about the yoga sutras (sort of like the yoga bible, the principles on which yoga stands), is that it is written from the view that, rules are not the end-all be-all. For instance, instead of saying, ‘do not kill,’ it writes, ‘non-harming,’ as an intention of living. Meaning, live in a way that harms the least amount of beings possible, including yourself, given your circumstances and personal limitations. ‘Do not kill,’ as an all applicable rule, can be taken so extreme that you can’t walk down the street, because you might accidentally kill an insect. So that rule is not actually accessible, or logical in our life today. But does that mean that all who do not live by it fully are wrong? (I know there are exceptions in these types of rules, but exceptions to the rule is simply adding rules to the already existing rule, without truly looking at the intention behind it.)
In the book, The Code of The Extraordinary Mind, Vishen Lakhiani talks a lot about what he calls “brules”. Brules is a made up word, that is essentially a combination of the two words: bullshit and rules. I think he’s onto something. There are so many rules that we live by that aren’t applicable to our lives currently. For instance, going to college is a kind of rule that many families/social circles/school systems live by. It is certainly useful and important, but with the expansion of the internet and readily available information, plus new strange “jobs” on the market, a college degree is getting more and more meaningless. Is it really essential anymore? In addition, women were encouraged in the past to go right from their parents’ house to their husbands’ house because women were not expected to work (nor allowed to work in many cases). So the “brule” of needing to find a husband at a young age, was created. Now, we are not only allowed to work, but we are expected to have matching careers to our husband, so that brule is no longer essential.
So perhaps, we can instead look at the intention behind the rules. As non-harming is to do not kill, safety and success is to going to college. Meaning, if “go to college” was the rule, we get to break it down and look at the heart of it. What is it really about? Let’s say going to college as a rule was developed to ensure safety and success. But now, if going to college not only doesn’t ensure safety and success, but it perhaps even prolongs your ability to develop your career and find success, instead of hanging on to the rule, let’s hang on to the intention: to ensure safety and success. So perhaps, during high school we devote more time to trying new things, exploring job options, and finding your interests, and less time on good grades and high SAT scores. And perhaps, after college there is some more time to self-explore, maybe even other programs, other than college. Not to say that college is not still a GREAT tool and option, but just that the RULE of “you must go to college after high school in order to be successful,” is not actually based on transferable truth.
All of that being said, let’s go back to the right and wrong thing. Next to what, exactly, are we measuring that distinction?
A friend of mine is reading a book, The Untethered Soul. He mentioned to me that he felt like the book was saying that what he was doing was wrong, so he was getting defensive. We talked about it, and I asked, “does the book actually say that you are WRONG?”. He said no, and giggled. Of course it didn’t. The book is not saying DO THIS or you’re bad and wrong. The book is saying, consider this way of doing things for this purpose. What would that do for you? Would it enable you to be less emotionally stuck? Would it allow you to have deeper connections with others? Would it make it easier to let go of fear and pain, and help you step up in your life? Yes? Ok so. The opposite of that is not WRONG, it is simply a CHOICE. A choice to do the thing that is less likely to yield the outcomes you desire.
I was listening to a podcast today and she said something like, life is hard for two reasons. To stay in your comfort zone, and to step outside of it. Meaning, life’s going to be hard no matter what. You can make the choice for it to be hard just to stay in your comfort zone, or you can choose for it to be hard so that you can get the reward!
So why then, do we jump to right and wrong? Good and bad? I think there’s a lot that goes into this, but much of it is because we feel the need to prove to ourselves (and others) that WE are right, or good. It’s so scary to accept the fact that we might be wrong (and I believe a lot of that is because of how we are taught about right and wrong), that we would rather have this black and white system so then at least we KNOW that we are GOOD and RIGHT. But the problem is, we are actually human. Not only do we make mistakes, but we also have our own internal metric of what is right and wrong and good and bad; and if we depend on some external rules to govern that within ourselves, we inevitably are going to go against our own intuition of what’s really right. So, when we do something that isn’t “good”, according to some brules, instead of owning up to it, we hide it. We can’t accept that we might be “bad” (because those are the only options, good and bad), so we lie to ourselves and to others. We cover it up. I’m not even talking big stuff like murder, cheating, stealing, etc. I’m talking even the little things like, we do something for our own personal gain, even though we know it might hurt someone else, and instead of acknowledging our responsibility, we hide that from ourselves. We use the rules and circumstance to justify our actions.
What if we just loosened up this right and wrong thing? I’m not saying that everything goes. I’m just saying that, it’s not really about right and wrong, good and bad. It’s about getting SO real with yourself, that the only option is to do the “right” thing, or the thing that is the MOST right for you in that moment. When you are in that place, you make the choice that is the closest to right/good you can possibly make, AND you get to learn more easily when it doesn’t work out perfectly, or you accidentally hurt someone anyway.
So, just as the sutras say, rather than confining yourself to a rule like do not kill, (because who knows how many ants you squashed today, not to mention that gross cockroach that invaded your house last week), open yourself up to taking the step of the least harming action possible. The thing that enables you to flourish, while not squashing too many others, with full acknowledgement and responsibility, that you might squash some, without trying. That’s ok. You are human. You get to ebb and flow with right and wrong.
Notice when you feel like you, or someone else, is wrong. Unless it is very black and white science, I encourage you to question it. Why do you think their way is wrong? Or why are you judging yourself? Is it possibly based on a rule (or a brule), that you are subconsciously living by? Are you able to shift what right and wrong means to you, in order to be more compassionate towards yourself and others, and allow yourself to embody the things that truly call to you, rather than things that are based on someone else’s imposed values of right and wrong?