“For as long as space endures and the world exists,
may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”
– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)
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For the final quarter of my 100-day exploration of Ahimsa (for a brief background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this page), I am compiling my favorite Peace Tools – fail-safe practices for cultivating a reliable inner peace, which leads to a serene life and accountability to others.
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For three days, I have been trying to write a blog about being assaulted by a little kid (about 7 years old) from my neighborhood last Saturday – just days before the 1-year anniversary of being robbed by a bigger kid (about 13 years old) from my neighborhood.
Totally different situations.
For instance, last year, although I ran after my mugger, he got away. Although I envisioned the police catching him and the court sentencing him to 90-days of yoga with me, that lofty dream never happened. (Yet.)
In contrast, last weekend, there was a conversation following the assault. The little kid’s friends told me that he was angry because he just learned about slavery. They angrily pointed out, “You’re white, and we’re black.” I stood my ground, reminded them that we all have red blood, pointed out that I didn’t do anything to hurt them, and demanded an apology. After the apology I reminded the group of kids that we’d met numerous times, and they were even more apologetic. I said that we can’t just go around hitting people because we’re angry. And then the kid that hit me told me that earlier the same day, a man smashed his toy gun – he was shooting his cap gun and a man took it, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. So how is this little guy going to learn how to constructively process his anger?
When I was a little kid, I struck out plenty. I was full of pain and anger and rage. Not because I learned about slavery (although I guess I could have acted out about the Holocaust, coming from a Jewish family) or because someone on my street broke my treasured toy. I was full of pain and anger and rage because of the pain and anger and rage surrounding me in my own home. Now, I could guess that my little 7-year-old friend has pain and anger and rage in his household, as well. But I can’t be certain. What I can relate to, however, is his feeling of being hurt, and the lack of tools, guidance or experience for processing related emotions. In my case – I harmed others, I harmed myself. It took me until adulthood, when yoga came into my life in 1993, to start (start) to learn how to healthily process my own pain so I would stop causing more. I am still learning.
This is why I want to start a nonprofit called “Ahimsa Now,” where the mission is to share yoga and related practices in order to increase inner peace within at-risk youth and therefore decrease violence in at-risk communities. Haha – so, really, it’s a selfish mission. I just don’t want to be attacked in my neighborhood again!
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Now seriously – how do I maintain my peace when I am violated? In my neighborhood, near my home, by kids I see, smile at and even chat with day after day?
It is hard work. And I am devoted to it.
Yoga promises peace of mind, IF I take certain actions. I have written numerous times about aphorism I.33 in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness for the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
So without fail, when someone hurts me, I aim to separate the harmful act from the person, to view the person as unhappy, and to have compassion for that person.
This does not mean that I condone harmful actions. It does not mean that I skip making police reports and holding people accountable. It does not mean that I bypass feeling anger and other emotions when harmed (although I have – only to have those emotions come out sideways in unrelated situations).
It means that I allow myself the humanness to process the trauma…to recount, to vent, to rage, to cry, to grieve – in safe spaces and constructive ways. Then as soon as possible, I shift my mind into compassion.
A very adult way of approaching harmful situations. Will it work for kids?
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I love this group of kids, the ones from the street last Saturday.
Back in April, we had a super-fun bus ride home from downtown. I had just come from the Trayvon Martin rally, and was weary from seriousness and activism. The kids were sitting at the back of the bus, loud and boisterous and avoided by all. Except me. I bee-lined straight back there and sat in the middle of the group.
One of the girls was pretending to stealthily shoot riders with her umbrella. I took out my umbrella and started to do the same. They got a kick out of that and we started talking.
Holly: “What were you guys up to today?”
Kids: “We saw The Hunger Games!”
Holly: “Oh, cool, was it good?”
The excited remarks flowed. They described all of the violence with such detail, right down to the part where a dog eats some humans. (Yes?)
Holly (after some time): “So, was it just a bunch of killing, or was there a story?” (I seriously know nothing about The Hunger Games.)
Kids: “Yeah, all the teenagers have to kill each other. There’s one girl who saves her little sister by volunteering. And the last one alive wins.”
Holly: “What do they win?”
Kids: “They get to be rich! They get to live in a big house and have whatever they want!”
Wow. A movie about kids who have to kill each other – unless they are saved by their sibling, apparently – in order to live a comfortable life. Wow.
Holly: “Ahhhh, so if they win, they get to be safe?!?!”
Kids (a little more quietly): “Yeah.”
I’ve run into these kids regularly in our ‘hood since then. Every time, I reintroduce myself as “the lady from the bus, after The Hunger Games” and we chat for a bit. They range from about 6 to 12. Their boldness, their excitement, their mischievousness strikes a chord with me. They boss each other around like siblings or even parents. At least a few of them always hang together at any given time. Always.
One in particular seems to be out on the street a lot. With wide eyes and a certain urgency he likes to tell me something important – like his favorite part of the Hunger Games movie (where the dog eats the people), or what movies he’s seen lately, and which movie I should go see next. He’s a little guy, probably around 7 years old, with neck-length braids and a wild yet earnest disposition.
And this past Saturday, in a fit of blind rage, he stepped into my path and hit me in the front of my body with a newspaper.
When I stopped in my tracks, totally shocked, and exclaimed, “No-you-did-not just hit me with that newspaper!”, the kids scattered everywhere, hiding behind the bus stop and each other, shouting remarks about this and that. And that’s when, sandwiched between my chasing them around the bus stop and them bullying-up on me, I got the whole story, and we came to understanding.
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The world is full of violence. And in my experience and observations, people commit violence when they themselves are hurting.
One of my friends says, “Violence is not natural for the atma, the spiritual being who is having a human experience.” But I believe that we are spiritual and human at once – there is no separation. To me, it seems that if the ancients created a word for “avoidance of violence” (“Ahimsa”), then they knew and accepted that violence was a natural part of being alive. And therefore yoga – whose goal is to remove disturbances of the mind and whose result is inner peace – presented a system of practices for avoiding causing harm.
One of those practices is compassion.
Now that the harmful situations are behind me (now that I have processed them and they are simply memories), if I find myself stewing in resentment, it is imperative that I used every tool possible – a little Pratipaksha Bhavana (described in my last entry), for example – to replace that resentment with the opposite. I must replace anger with compassion – if I want to cultivate a calm mind, and feed the cycle of good will and peace in this world.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
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The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”
“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.” It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago. In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence. The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Avoidance of something takes great effort. And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it. So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.
So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa. Thanks for coming along. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.