Ahimsa

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.

Namaste.

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Yin/Yang

The concept of the yin and yang principles bring us back to paradox. Yin and Yang are forces that appear to be opposite or contrary but, in actuality, are complementary forces. In my yoga classes I tend to use two primary examples: female/male and dark/light. In the literal translation of the ancient languages, yin means bright and yang means dark.

In hatha yoga, we use yin to describe practices that are receptive in nature and yang to describe practices that are more assertive in nature. My classes are yin in that we move more slowly and thoughtfully through the asanas (postures), mindful of breath, awareness, and movement. There are elements of yang as we hold and fire builds or as we flow in vinyasa more quickly than usual. In yang classes, vinyasa tends to be the norm challenging us to breathe and move more quickly and strongly through the asanas.

We also define yin as the feminine (receptive) aspect of the Divine in all creation and the yang as the masculine (assertive) aspect of the Divine in all creation. As human beings, we carry elements of both in our makeup: physical, mental, emotional. Finding the balance of yin/yang on all levels is key to our health, happiness and well-being. Yoga and meditation are powerful tools to establish this balance and wholeness. When I first became a yoga student, I had little understanding of what I was doing. It didn’t matter because after about four classes I began to experience results. I remember lying on my blanket (yoga mats really didn’t exist yet) in savasana one night, falling into that sweet space within and thinking, “I will do this for the rest of my life.”

The yin/feminine was obvious in my life. However, that receptive, yielding nature was too dominant, out of balance and often led me into situations that were not contributing to my well-being. As my practice and my understanding continued to unfold, I learned to look to the men in my life to grasp more clearly the male aspect of yang. My father was raised on a sheep ranch in Nevada. He could live alone with a flock at a very young age, taking them to higher ground in the summer heat. He was an Air Force pilot in three wars, a warrior. He was also my Daddy who took splinters out of my fingers with the gentleness only love provides. He sat on my bed the night before my wedding and wept with joy for his little girl and the woman she had become. He taught me to be strong. Other men taught me to be more assertive and use the stronger side of my personality and nature. The balance came in finding the wisdom to be assertive without losing compassion for myself and others. Compassionate strength is powerful.

As I travel this circle of life, I acknowledge that I am designed with a nature and personality that is the foundation of how I move through life. On my path I meet others designed differently. Some move more happily and effectively through life and others less happily and effectively. My intention is to learn from both. My mother told me near the end of her life that she was blessed that, in many ways, I had learned what not to do from her. Powerful, right? From others I have learned what works in bringing balance and wholeness into my life.

For me, the answers are fluid, varied and eclectic. No one method remains consistent beyond its general use. Even with yoga and meditation, my practices constantly change and adjust to what my highest good is at the time. When my father and my nephew were in intensive care at the same time, in different cities, my practice became legs up the wall on a bolster at least three times a day and guided yoga nidra throughout the night because sleep was rare. Today my practice is a combination of asana, walking meditation, living mindfulness, and occasional guided meditation.

I am fascinated by the creativity of visualization boards or lists detailing what a person wants to manifest. My discovery is that, as soon as I use these methods in my life, the flow of creative energy stops. Period, end of story. The energy of manifestation stops. Each of us must find what works for us. Definitive methods work powerfully for many people. Awesome. An internal awareness or vision of how the manifestation will feel without too many details works powerfully for many others. Awesome.

I believe the difference lies in what creates a true balance within each of us. Balance sets us free to manifest our dreams from the True Self within. What balances you and nourishes True Self? Go with that. Give yourself permission to reevaluate your behavior and tools in case your needs change. Give yourself permission to try new and different things that may be outside your comfort zone. Then go with what works.

And always and in all ways remember to play, laugh and love.

Perfection – Good Luck With That!

A book could be written about where this idea of being perfect originates but let’s just deal with what is in this moment. I have been involved in countless conversations over the past forty years about how to be a better person, how to meet some standard that has been set, how to please God, gain God’s favor, etc. I began looking into myself at a relatively young age. The Judeo-Christian standard set for me left me sad, frustrated and extremely good at judging myself. All of this self-flagellation brought little lasting change and an ongoing battle with low level depression. Ultimately, I became a bible teacher and was fortunate to receive solid training in how to study and interpret the bible. Seeing the importance of things like historical context and word studies began to set me free.

For example, an Old Testament verse commands that a man must not wear women’s clothing. When that was spoken and recorded, everyone wore the equivalent of a dress! This historical data makes it necessary to look further and interpret context as well as multiple references. There are no other such admonitions, by the way, so the verse is best considered metaphorically.

Word study absolutely began to set me free from this idea of perfection. The meaning of the word “perfection” as used in the New Testament of the Christian bible is quite far from what we mean by perfection today. Jesus said we were to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. OK, I’m done then because that will never happen if I am to meet today’s standard of perfection. When properly translated and understood, the biblical use of this word means to fulfill our purpose, to mature into the fullness of our true nature. For example, an apple tree produces fruit once it has matured. When it produces fruit, it is fulfilling its nature – which is to produce apples – and that is perfect. A healthy tree produces healthy fruit. An unhealthy tree produces unhealthy fruit or none at all.

Now hope arises in me! Being perfect as a human being means to mature, to grow up and live a healthy life! It means to find out who I am, to recognize my True Self and live from my true nature! The Dalai Lama says we are created for happiness so, as I mature, I learn what makes me happy or what brings inner contentment and joy and I do that all the time! This is beginning to sound like fun.

God is Love. God loves me. Divine Love brings me into being. I am Love manifested in human form. Perfection or maturity is recognizing and believing that. Relax, Catherine Ann, be what you are. There is nothing more perfect that that! Everything exists in the wholeness and oneness of the Divine.

In the Oneness of All That Is, I am Whole.

In the Wholeness of All That Is, I am One.