For quite awhile, I’ve contemplated blogging about yoga’s 1st principle ahimsa—reverence, love, compassion for all. I’ve felt a bit daunted by this task. Truthfully, on more than one occasion, my shortcomings have been an obstacle to living the principle of ahimsa. It’s important however to remember ahimsa is a practice. Reverence, love, and compassion for all can be gently cultivated. By paying attention, I illuminate how violence plays out in my life. I believe no amount of effort made to preserve the value of reverence, love, and compassion for all is ever wasted.
Like each of you, I encounter conflict. When conflict pushes me, sometimes I want to push back. It feels like a natural response.
Though pushing back may have produced a rapid release of the tension I was feeling in the moment, the effect would have been temporary. A “push back” response on my part could only serve to create more suffering and misery. In fact, the wisdom of yoga explains this.
“The greatest failings are harming others and not speaking the truth. These always result in suffering. They are caused by anger and desire. Remember this.” Yoga Sutra II-34 translation by Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D.
“Negative feelings, such as violence, are damaging to life, whether we act upon them ourselves or cause or condone them in others. They are born of greed, anger or delusion, and might be light, moderate or intense. Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.” Yoga Sutra II-34, translation by Alistair Shearer
As a hospice volunteer, I have the honor of making dear friends serving the dying. One friendship developed over the course of several weeks with a patient I’ll call Alan. I spent time providing Alan and his wife, of 49 years, Reiki (compassionate healing touch) and yoga nidra (guided deep relaxation). I observed Alan was a kind and gentle man. He spoke softly and thoughtfully, loved family, nature, and music of all kinds. He lived life and accepted death with an open heart and strong faith. It was during one of my visits with Alan that he shared with me his intention for the final days of his life, “being a gentler person”. Wow! I thought to myself here’s a dying man that could choose any number of possible intentions and he expresses this value (ahimsa) as his heart’s deepest longing. After Alan’s death, I learned in greater detail the scope of his entire life’s work was committed to the service and benefit of others. In fact, as a young man he cultivated a very strong practice towards that which he valued--reverence, love, and compassion for all. Alan’s wife shared with me that in the 49 years of their marriage, she couldn’t recall Alan ever raising his voice in anger. I felt humbled to be invited to serve such gentle man.
Certainly, Alan encountered the same stress of modern day living we all do. The human condition makes us vulnerable to the emotional experiences of loss and gain, praise and blame, pain and pleasure, fame and disgrace. So, how can the essential seed of ahimsa be cultivated? What tools can be utilized in daily life that will effectively preserve the value of reverence, love, and compassion for all?
Here are some strategies I invite you to work with:
- Like Alan, make a short, positive statement in the present moment based on your heart’s longing such as: “I nurture the quality of gentleness within me for the benefit of all beings”. “I am more accepting of myself and others”. In your mind, see your intention as actually happening. Be steady in your intention.
- Practice acceptance. In short, do your best. Forget about the rest. There is freedom in discerning what you can change, what you can’t, and moving forward with that knowledge.
- Get moving physically. But, also give yourself permission to rest. Participation in community yoga classes is a great place to experience this balance. If you haven’t had a physical in more than a year, make time to get one. Information is powerful. Then, let ahimsa inform your healthcare choices. Meet yourself where you’re at. Remember "bring no harm to yourself or others". This is ahimsa.
- Learn and practice breathing techniques for stress reduction. Taking some slow, conscious, deep breaths calmed me down on that hectic day at the grocery store. Breathing practices are a tool to cultivate greater mental control over our emotions and our reactions to them.
- Extend quiet blessings to those you encounter throughout the day.
- Consume mindfully. If you are not a vegetarian, try adopting meatless Mondays. Listen to, watch, and read material that is positive and life-affirming.
- Volunteer. It will connect you with others. It’s good for your body and mind. You’ll learn new skills. Also, studies have demonstrated that volunteering kindles happiness.
- Use appropriate support as needed in your life. Please, if you are experiencing a very difficult situation or have experienced a traumatic life event, seek qualified professional support. Recovery, healing, and resiliency are possible. Support precedes everything.
I’ve discovered the strategies mentioned above serve as a sound foundation for my ahimsa practice. I invite you to try them, and I hope you find them effective as well. The energy of reverence, love, and compassion is within you. The energy exits the same door it enters, through you.