“The internal practice of meditation and the external attitudes and habits we adopt in our daily lives are the means of healing the split between the selfless and the selfish, between wisdom and ignorance.” – Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), from “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy”
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Today is Day 88.
On April 5th, motivated by my strong emotions about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman situation, I started a 100-day exploration of “Ahimsa,” which is a Sanskrit term from yoga’s ancient texts, meaning “avoidance of violence.” Back in the Spring, I was witnessing the violence around me – violent thoughts, violent speech, violent actions, violent faces. The Martin/Zimmerman story was strongly triggering for many; and people were conflicted, angry, heartbroken and grieving like I’ve not noticed in recent years around DC (and beyond).
As the days passed and I continued observing others’ and my reactions and responses, I reflected deeply about where our tendencies toward violence come from. Where harmful thoughts, speech, actions and faces originated. I felt people were righteously emotional; yet at the same time, I suspected that our fierce exclamations of blame and our demands for justice were coming from somewhere much older and deeper than the current situation. I felt that perhaps, people were attaching long-stifled feelings from past injustices to a current situation.
Makes sense to me. Feelings bubble up like that sometimes. And sometimes they boil over.
Over time, the same conclusions kept arising for me: Yes, I believe Zimmerman should be arrested and held accountable for killing someone; No, I don’t believe it was a Hate Crime.
I believe it was a Fear Crime.
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The funny thing is, when I started this “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I expected to observe the violence around me, like some kind of sociological experiment, and then identify tools and resources from yoga and related practices that could address and decrease those tendencies (as related to my vision to start a non-profit organization that does this work – see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention'” at the bottom of this post).
Instead, what came up over and over during these early Spring days – as DC boiled with cries of Hate and Injustice – was my own, taunting, terrorizing fear of being harmed.
I have been a victim of violence many, many times. I have been beaten, raped, robbed, verbally assaulted and emotionally abused. Some of the actions were by people I knew, who were supposed to be trustworthy and loving. Some were by strangers. Some were Hate Crimes, where it was very, very clear that I was attacked because I was white. I have felt that hatred. It sucks. Especially knowing that I have never thought, felt or acted violently because of skin color. And the people who know me – including current and life-long friends of all races, religions and backgrounds – know that I could not act out of that motivation. Since I was a child, I could not understand people’s tendency to divide based on skin color. All I saw was what we had in common. So it just made no sense to me.
But that’s a whole other conversation.
Back to the fun stuff…being a victim of violence! Woohoo! So yes, I can be triggered into great fear when my environment is boiling over. In the Spring, Occupy DC’s battle cries were intensifying, Hate Crimes against the LGBT community were escalating, and Martin/Zimmerman fighters were in the ring. Crime waves that typically spike in August were at high tide in April and May.
During those early days of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention,” as the city around me boiled with emotion, I ran with it. I wore my hoodie and went to rallies. And then I started to really listen – to myself, and to others. And something was very, very familiar. I started to recognize – yet again – my own impulses to act harmfully because of my fear. Historically, I had acted out classic fight or flight patterns. I physically struck out, I judged, I blamed. I abandoned relationships, I quit jobs, I left communities. I created sooooo much separation.
And finally, in 1993, yoga and its unifying powers found me.
It has taken decades of dedicated, gut-wrenching, dreadful, beautiful, liberating, healing work to get to the bottom of why and how – due to a variety of circumstances – my unfortunate lack of processing being harmed when it happened lead to my own harmful actions toward myself and others. And it has taken decades of dedication to learn and use the infinite tools from yoga and related practices, in order to avoid causing harm and being violent. This process of digging deep, going through and growing through has been 100% worth it.
I highly recommend it.
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Approaching the 3/4 mark of my “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I noticed a pronounced shift from managing my own fears toward feeling safe observing the violence around me. As was my original intention. And believe me, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the violence up-close and personal! Last Saturday, a young kid in my neighborhood assaulted me on the street (see my last blog entry, “Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion”). I’ve also witnessed how this unusual early-Summer heat (around 100 degrees in DC many times this week) and deadly storms are affecting everyone’s tempers. Plus, I started teaching Summer Camp, which is always a hot bed for discomfort and triggers for all involved!
Interesting how, once I have done my own work, and examined my self, my motivations, my tendencies…once I have really gotten in touch with what triggers me and what tools address those triggers…then, I am tested!
Ideas and quotes like that above, from philosopher and teacher Eknath Easwaran, keep me going. They give me hope that, if I continue the yoga and related practices that reinforce my own well-being, my own peace of mind, my own commitment to Ahimsa – there will be results beyond my own benefit. They give me faith that my own wellness will decrease my separation from others, from life itself, allowing me to be of service. That movement from selfish to selfless can decrease the energy of division around me. And consequently, the negativity between people because of skin color or whatever difference they choose to dwell upon will decrease. And violence will decrease.
Maybe I’m simplifying based on my own self-study and my very un-academic study of the world around me. But this is what I believe.
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I’ll admit, I still have a healthy dose of fear as I walk around my neighborhood. I am still fearful of making terminal mistakes at my jobs. I still fear being hurt by someone I know. I am human, and if I want to engage with life the way that I have been inspired to engage with it since I was a child – I will have to navigate these possibilities until the day I die. Therefore, until that day, I must continue to seek and use the amazingly effective approaches toward managing my fear so it does not spark harmful actions. It’s an ongoing process, this journey between emotion and solution. I’ve been dedicated to it for decades; I certainly don’t expect the work to end on July 13th, when this 100-day “Ahimsa Now” exploration wraps up!
May all beings have the courage to dig deeply into their past pain, to seek teachers with whom to go through it, and to use the tools to grow because of it.
OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. Peace.
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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.