The news in the last couple of weeks and months has really been disturbing, particularly related to unnecessary violence in our country and to our countrymen. Violence met with violence is an indication that we are mentally ill as a global community. There is a sickness happening to us, and I want to have a conversation to help us heal.
Let me digress for a moment: I’ve been motivated for some time to look at each of the yamas more closely and write about them. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, have a look at this complete list of the yamas. This will summarize the concept of yamas in yoga so I can focus on telling you about my experience of exploring them, which is a deep part of my yoga practice.) This week, I took a closer look at ahimsa, the practice of non-violence.
I don’t believe that it is possible for humans to change their violent ways overnight, or even in a single week. This kind of change takes time and dedication. I can only imagine that this is a life-long practice which may not ever be perfected. I aim to share my thoughts and revelations about ahimsa after creating intention and reflecting on how that shows up for me after seven days of concentrated awareness. As I explore the practice of ahimsa, I wonder how we humans might all be affected, and healed, by this simple practice. When I say practice, really the very first thing I mean to discover through the practice of ahimsa is simply awareness. I must be aware of when I am causing harm, in order to change that behavior.
Commonly, when referring to ahimsa, I immediately think of how to not hurt other beings. Many people practice ahimsa by becoming vegetarian or saving spiders and other bugs from their squishy deaths. I did encounter choices about what I ate this week that had me really ponder how I could live my life, every single day, without harming anyone or anything. It’s a tall order. As my mind considered ahimsa, every meal choice became a question of my practice and gave me room to think about where my food comes from and if I was perpetuating harm by my choice of food. I didn’t have any big a-ha moments in this context, and though I started out thinking about not harming animals, I ended up looking at how my food choices are harming me.
A-ha Ahimsa! Yeah, so we, as a culture, spend a lot of time looking at how we ought to be more peaceful towards others (or even more prevalent, how other people besides ourselves “should be” practicing non-violence, and spend time looking for an external source to be “fixed”, i.e. the police, the government, etc. Suffice it to say, it is always easier to see what someone else is doing wrong than how we, ourselves, may be at fault). I ask you, how often do we realize how violent we are to ourselves?
I had an idea that I was pretty hard on myself, not just with bad food choices, but any number of other things. Cigarettes, alcohol, other substances that supposedly take the pain away…are these really helping ease some darkness inside me or am I just inflicting pain and sickness on myself? I realize that I was making choices about what I put in my body that not only deliberately made me sick, but also so I would be forced to slow down and be more gentle with myself. In essence, I was hurting myself so that I would have the opportunity to heal myself. Huh? Why would I do that to myself? I wouldn’t do that to a bug and that is the truth! As soon as this hit me I realized, ahimsa isn’t just about NOT DOING HARM, it is also about TAKING CARE and BRINGING JOY to myself and others.
It is so easy to beat ourselves up about making not-so-great choices or even deliberately harmful choices. Then the harming begets more harming as we tell ourselves how “bad” we are. It is literally a vicious cycle. I don’t know about you, but when I am down on myself about something, I go all the way down. I don’t care…and when I don’t care, I do harm.
Instead my practice of ahimsa could simply be that I forgive myself and have compassion for myself. I honor myself. I nurture myself. I treat myself to good food and plenty of rest and choose healthy, vibrant activities to encourage joy in my life. Instead of the mental beating on myself about my relapses, I could simply choose to go for a brisk walk or take a long, hot shower or go to bed early. I can drink extra water and move my body. Ahimsa is making room for all things joyful and allowing LOVE to FLOW unhindered, not just eliminating the harmful action. I don’t have to inflict harm on myself to deserve the compassionate treatment. I could easily just skip the beating and go straight to the pampering, ya dig?
I wonder if we all took a little time to really examine how we treat ourselves, and had some simple awareness that could spark a change when needed. And as we cultivate more love and compassion for ourselves, especially when we have dark and treacherous moments, then wouldn’t it be easier and just more natural to have love and compassion for our fellow humans? It seems we are so caught up in the duality of right and wrong, us vs. them, justice and injustice, blah, blah, blah that perhaps we can’t see that this constant chain of violence starts right in our very own minds. The minute I tell myself “I am such an idiot” or “I am so fat.” We kill little parts of our own psyche every hour. This slow death makes it easier to be desensitized to all the harm going on outside our comfort zone.
It is obvious that we need a big awakening to change the violent culture of school shootings, police brutality, racial injustice and riots in the streets. I think the small personal awakenings are the path to the BIG awakening that must occur. Ahimsa starts with me. Then the real stuff has room to happen. Changing who I am can change the whole world.
The Yoga Sutras say:
“As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.” (ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)
Peace begins with me.