Like I promised last week, I will be going over the yamas and niyamas. This week's topic is the very first of the yamas, ahimsa.
Ahimsa is commonly defined as non-violence. But in Ravi Ravindra's The Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras he talks about how ahimsa is closer to "non-violation" "non-manipulation" and "non-interference." (p. 85)
He says "It is necessary to distinguish between the use of violence and the use of force. It is not possible to be violent without using force, but it is possible to use force without being violent." (p. 85)
I love this distinction because I think it's very easy to forget that there is an option beyond violence, that there's another force to fight with.
In all honesty, I find it hard to embrace ahimsa as more than an abstract idea as of late. We live in a world that desperately needs ahimsa, but it escapes us and our world leaders. A lot of harm is being done to ourselves, our neighbors, and our environment. It feels quite disheartening on some days.
But for any practice to be embodied, action must be taken. Although it may seem dismal on a collective level, I know that there are ways I can act and come closer to embodying ahimsa.
Personally, one way I could practice ahimsa is by being kinder to myself. My self-talk hasn’t been the nicest when it comes to my body image. Instead of telling my body it’s ugly or not good, I could appreciate it for all the days it’s gotten me through. The main thing I want is to be healthier, but being cruel to myself is not healthy at all.
Another way I've been trying to practice ahimsa is through my diet. I'm not here to tell you how you should or shouldn't nourish yourself, but I know it's less harmful for the environment if you eat less meat. So I do what I can to eat less meat with my imperfect pescatarian diet. Maybe in a perfect world we would all be vegans, but that doesn't necessarily mean we've mastered ahimsa.
We could all harm less by cultivating a deep sense of regard for ourselves and others. Lovingkindness meditation is a simple way to do this. In a world where harming happens so easily, it is important that we practice the exact opposite -- acknowledging the humanity in each other.
I think this is especially relevant when it comes to finding empathy for people different from ourselves. Research suggests lovingkindness meditation could help people be less racist.
Next time someone’s annoying you and you start telling them off in your head, stop and wish them well. Give them a load of lovingkindness:
May you happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.
I believe underneath it all, we have what it takes to embody ahimsa, even if we forget we do. I leave you with this quote.
“Ahima is the state that exists when all violence in the heart and mind have subsided. It is not something we have to acquire; it is always present and only needs to be uncovered. When one practices ahimsa, or non-violence, one refrains from causing distress -- in thought, word, or deed -- to any living creature, including oneself.” --Babuji
Questions for your reflection: Where are you adding harm? How can you harm less? Comment below.