Ahimsa (अहिंसा, Ahiṃsā), loosely translated, means abstinence from violence either by thought, word, or deed. Non-injury requires a harmless mind, mouth, and hand. In a positive sense, it implies compassion and cosmic love. It is the development of a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. The scriptures define ahimsa as the true sacrifice, forgiveness, power, and strength. At its core, ahimsa is based on the intentions of a person whose focus is to not harm anyone. (Krishna Maheshwari as quoted in www.hindupedia.com ).
Ahimsa is most often defined as “to do no harm.” When I attended certification training through Integrative Yoga Therapy with Joseph LePage, he sat with us quietly one evening under a tree and strummed his guitar. He sang to us in English, Spanish and Portuguese, soothing our minds, bodies and souls. We were exhausted from long days and nights of practice and study. As everyone settled and began to relax, he quietly told us that we would have the next day off and that he had arranged transportation to take us all to an arts festival near a lake. Of course we were delighted. Then he sang to us again and quietly added, “To push further would be an act of violence or himsa, which is contrary to everything that I believe and am teaching you.”
We were shocked. We spent the next three hours exploring this idea of himsa/ahimsa with him. He would ask a question and not allow us to answer until we sat in silence for ten minutes. Joseph lovingly and compassionately guided us into our beliefs and behaviors to help us see the violence we do to ourselves as well as the violence we do to others and our world. He insisted we use the word violence rather than harm, which sounds and feels softer, not so “bad.” He helped us understand that, even words spoken softly ,but with ill intent, are violent to the hearer.
It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I am still learning to live in the truth of what I opened to that night.
Understanding and practicing ahimsa requires wisdom and balance.
Ahimsa is the acme of bravery. Ahimsa is not possible without fearlessness…Violence is generally considered to be ignorance, but when used to protect the lives of the weak and defenseless, it is considered to be Ahimsa. (www.hindupedia.com )
One of the basic practices of ahimsa is to mindfully notice the thoughts you hold toward yourself. What do you say to yourself when you drop an egg on the kitchen floor? Is your first thought “The easiest way to pick this up is with a spatula” or “That was stupid. I’m as clumsy as ever!”? One expresses ahimsa and the other himsa.
Ahimsa must begin with one’s self. How am I committing violence, doing harm to myself? The purpose of this practice is to forgive and heal in order to shift each pattern as it is revealed. The balance is in learning to discover without judgement. Judgement does further violence to one’s self. To bravely face our own behavior and still forgive is no small thing. To develop new behaviors in the face of life-long patterns, deeply ingrained, takes strength and endurance.
Once begun within, ahimsa demands expression outside the self. Now mindful practice examines how I respond to others. Again the balance is in learning to discover without judgement, avoiding further violence to one’s self. The bravery and fearlessness manifests in making amends to those harmed or wounded and changing future behavior. Looking into the face of a loved one and admitting wrong, asking to be forgiven is an act of bravery and strength. Doing the same while looking into the eyes of an enemy is a monumental accomplishment.
Yes, I said “looking into the eyes of…” Living in different places may require a phone call. Yes, a phone call! Texting and emailing are distant and impersonal. I have witnessed a number of relationships killed by the lack of personal interaction. Hearing each other’s voices and looking into each other’s eyes moves us more quickly into love and compassion for ourselves and the other person. The eyes are truly the windows of the soul. Looking softly into the eyes of another allows me to see another being learning to be human. I see parts of myself and find it impossible to be defensive or mean. Allowing another person to look into my eyes requires that I be open and vulnerable to their gaze, to their seeing into my soul. Now the process of healing can begin.
As you sit with these thoughts, practice gentle compassion toward yourself. Take small steps to change patterns of violence and harm. Be brave and strong in the process. Facing your truth can only lead you into the arms of Love, into your True Self, your Soul. Divine Love dwells in you and desires to manifest through you as naturally as a river flows toward the sea. I’ll meet you at the ocean’s edge and we will ride its waves together.