Back in April, I launched a 100-day exploration of “Ahimsa” – the Sanskrit word for “avoidance of violence” or “avoidance of harm.” Each morning, I light a stick of incense and say, “Ahimsa Now” – the name of my envisioned non-profit organization. Ahimsa Now’s mission is to use yoga and related practices to address emotional pain and increase inner peace within at-risk youth and those that serve them, consequently decreasing violence within at-risk communities.
During this deliberate, one-day-at-a-time journey toward July 13th, my intention is to deepen my understanding of the human impulse toward harm, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.
So far, I have unearthed the depth of my own fear of being harmed – and how that fear can drive me to harm myself and others. Not in hugely violent ways. In ways like: pushing away or running away from situations and people when a small-ish instance of harm makes me feel greatly threatened – and then feeling the painful consequences of those self-generated losses.
I’m wondering if this sounds familiar to anyone…
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Over the past 50+ days, I have curiously and patiently observed my impulse to Get The F*** Out.
I have been hurt – seriously hurt – too many times in life. So it takes great effort to remain in a situation where I sense potential harm. I must be acutely aware of my own fear’s ability to make something look worse than it is. I must investigate. I must root myself in trust, gain counsel and stay the course. Life itself turns into a practice in times like these.
Maybe one day, all this practice will pay off and I’ll be able to just peacefully hang out in life. Until then, “practice makes perfect.” Or perhaps – practice makes acceptably imperfect.
Over the past 50+ days:
– I navigated a lot of loss (mine and others’) without getting too hypersensitive in or reactive to non-related situations. I was mindful that painful situations can bring out the worst in me – but don’t have to. I remembered to take good care of myself during the stress, in order to focus on my friends’ struggles, take my own pain out of the middle and be of service to others. Among other things, I attended lots of yoga classes, workshops and Kirtan.
– I left a part-time job where someone verbally attacked me during the above-mentioned time of loss. I was coached by others to separate the attacker’s action from the attacker herself (just like in Sutra 1.33), to have compassion and to return. In the end, I just didn’t have the strength to potentially endure more hostility. I’ll admit that I wish I’d taken a break instead of leaving altogether; because today I could walk in as strong as ever. And now I am without that income, which causes stress. Live and learn.
– I resolutely stayed with a rather rewarding part-time job despite challenges. There are just some situations where the pros far outweigh the cons. And in this case, my own fears created imaginary “cons.” Thankfully they were elbowed out by very real pros: the faith I have in my talents, the support I receive from leadership and co-workers, and the security of working with a very caring and committed team. Chanting the “Asato Ma” definitely helped clear my mind, so I could see that I would not be harmed there!
– I walked away from a difficult conversation with a friend and have not touched base since. I definitely felt the threat of being emotionally harmed; but I am not yet certain what in the world actually happened to build to that point. I just knew I felt triggered and had to get out. So I did. As in all conflicts with tried-and-true friends, I hope for reconciliation. But for now, I need some time.
– I ended a dating relationship. I stayed present long enough to discern whether my fears were telling me stories; I gained counsel because my dating experience is thin; and I was able to recognize simple incompatibility. No fooling myself until the discomfort became conflict or blame or harm. No disappearing act. Just an honest explanation and a respectful good-bye.
– I minded my own business when witnessing violence in my ‘hood, instead of being triggered into interference, which could lead to being harmed – among other things. This is a huge area of growth for this paradoxically street-tough yogini.
In all of these situations, something existed that made me feel potentially threatened. In my habit patterns, my options would be to get out, push away or close in – and therefore cause harm to others and myself. Instead (when I could) I paused, took a breath, grounded myself – then used the tools of gaining counsel, trusting self-knowledge, exercising discernment and surrendering to the care of a higher being. If I made a mistake along the way, I examined my motives, explained my actions, took responsibility for any harm I caused and offered amends. And I felt love, compassion and forgiveness toward myself despite these mistakes.
I continued to grow toward Ahimsa.
So yes, I come from a challenging background which at times triggers a huge fear of being harmed. But as luck would have it, I have been placed on a path that has been chock-full of opportunities for, tools for and teachers of transformation, healing and growth. I have no option but to bounce along.
If I always get the f*** out, I don’t have a chance for growth. But if I reprogram this default reaction and stick around, I can change my next response.
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50 days of observation has reinforced my belief that people cause harm when they are in pain.
Pain is inevitable. And because painful situations will always occur – IF we want to decrease the cycle of harm and violence by increasing our own inner peace – we need tools for working through and addressing our own pain before we inflict it upon others. We also need tools for deep acceptance, compassion and forgiveness when we do lash out, in our naturally imperfect humanness.
Yoga gives us positive alternatives to living in emotional pain. Yoga is a safe venue for releasing pain. Yoga cultivates inner peace despite pain. Yoga reinforces non-violence as a resolution against causing more pain.
In the coming 40-something days, I will be sharing “Peace Tools” – a series of blogs sharing the yogic and related practices that help me stick around when I want to run, open my mind when I want to judge and take a breath when I want to control. Basically, “Peace Tools” are my favorite practices for cultivating an accountable and serene life – despite painful situations, painful inflictions and painful emotions – so I can hopefully feed into a cycle of peace and non-violence.
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.
Let the exploration begin.