Harmony, Compassion and Ahimsa

This is one in a series of articles on living with the Yoga Sutras that will appear on this blog over the next  year. Learn about how and why we explore this philosophical yogic text and how you can participate.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali list the yamas, restraints or “don’ts”. The first Yama is Ahimsa, often translated as non-violence or non-harming. Ahimsa is asking us not to be violent in our thoughts, words, and actions. Many of you have often heard me speak about oneness in my yoga classes. If we are dedicated to the oneness or wholeness of life and the interconnectedness of all living things we are naturally supporting living a life of ahimsa. It is the ideal of living a life in harmony with all living things.

Screech! Stop the record! This sounds beautiful but I have found that living ahimsa is a mindful struggle to overcome negative (violent and harming) thoughts. This struggle can be born of  anger, fear and a myriad of other negative emotions. Violence in any form often causes pain and suffering and this is something we all share. Once we realize we are all in this together it allows us to have empathy and operate more freely from a place of compassion and love!

Over time, compassion gives birth to love and understanding so pure that it lifts the mind to a place of peace beyond any tranquility we had imagined. Then, in a process similar to osmosis, the powerful healing energy of love and understanding flows from an area of greater to lesser concentration. The calming influence of selfless love is a powerful and palpable natural emanation flowing from the hearts of those perfected in nonviolence to the hearts of others. Fear and discord vanish in their presence. -- Rev. J. Carrera

The Buddha, St. Francis, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi all practiced Ahimsa. It is said if ahimsa is practiced consistently, even just a little, it is enough to lift us to a higher state of awareness. If you seek harmonious living, perhaps start by practicing Ahimsa in all you think, say and do. It is easy to quickly assume that you already practice non-violence but do you really? Can we be truthful with ourselves?

Loving Kindness in Thought, Word & Action

$#%$#! I catch myself swearing inside my head. It is the first day of focusing on ahimsa and I start to contemplate the violent nature of my internal swearing and the underlying reason for it. My friends can attest that I don’t verbally swear much, and when I do it doesn’t feel or sound authentic. When I do occasionally let a swear word slip, with my New Zealand accent I sound more like a British comedy! Now this is not a blog on the violent nature of swearing; this is a blog on contemplating the sutras, and this is an example of the type of inquiry that just might come to the surface when you expend a little time watching your own behavior with ahimsa in mind. This type of mindfulness is like peeling away of the layers of an onion to see to the core -- it is taking a look at the “what” is happening and “why”, and hoping that brings greater awareness, compassion and healing to any given situation.

A few days later, “Are you really that much of an idiot!” What? Did I just think this for a split second? Yep, I sure did! Recognizing the negative internal attack, I tell myself to come back to compassion, loving thoughts, thinking of the other person’s situation, breathe… and ahhhhimsa! I say something kind and loving to the person in front of me. Later, observing this interesting process, I ponder how I can continue to bring my thoughts in line with my words and actions. Seriously, thinking someone is an idiot is simply not harmonious. I sit in silence and stillness and contemplate the question in a meditation. The only answer that arrives from the quiet depths of my heart is, you must first have more love and compassion for yourself! Softening into this message and adding a level of self-acceptance for my imperfections this answer leads to more questions:

  • • Where in my life can I be more compassionate and loving?
  • • What does it looks like to be more compassionate and loving towards others and myself?
  • • How does having more self-love and compassion serve my relationships, community, and humanity?
  • • What are the practices that promote Ahimsa and how can I integrate them into my daily practice?
  • • Beside myself, who can I be more compassionate to in my life?

I have daily scenarios where I have to push the reset button back to Ahimsa and continue to make this my practice. I have to admit before consciously bringing my awareness towards Ahimsa I thought I already lived it. I considered myself a fairly positive person in thought, word, and action. Alas, like many things in life, I had to be truthful with myself and realize there was room for improvement and refinement. Moreover, if I can have radical self-acceptance and remain compassionate towards others and myself I may begin to cultivate greater harmony in thought, word, and action.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Gandhi

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