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.

Advertisements

This Moment Gives Birth to the Next

This moment gives birth to the next.

I often make this statement to my yoga students as an invitation to mindfulness, being present in the moment. I love when one of them asks me what I mean by that because it is an invitation for me to take them deeper.

If I am in a truly unhappy, difficult experience and I am advised to count my blessings I will feel a small smile forming on my face as I quietly nod my head. Years ago, a woman older and wiser than myself told me that gratitude opens the heart for further blessings. In order for my heart to open and receive what I need right now, I must be mindful of current blessings. The Circle of Life is evident here. If I desire blessings, I must see blessings right now in this moment. The gratitude I feel in this moment gives birth to the blessings and gratitude I will feel in the next moment. It is a circle within the Circle of Life.

How? Good question. Nature has always brought me deep peace and sincere gratitude for this world, this planet. I remember being so deeply sorrowful that letting myself see the beauty around me was actually painful; it seemed to hurt my eyes and my broken heart was frightened of taking it in. If I let it in, I might feel grateful and start to live again and then be hurt again. When I read that this morning, it doesn’t make sense to me but that was the level of my awareness at the time. Fortunately, life and love won out. The beauty around me that day assaulted me time and time again until I relented and let it in. Then I wept and wept, releasing the sorrow and pain that had consumed me for a time, being grateful for the beauty and love surrounding and filling me.

Life can be overwhelming. Staying centered in True Self through practices like yoga and meditation keeps me in the moment, present with the truth of who I Am. I Am a spiritual being currently having a human experience. If I Am present and mindful in this moment, I can be grateful for what it contains while knowing it will give birth to further experience – which will be determined by my level of awareness of Self and Source and by my desire/intention to be divinely human.

Laughter begets laughter. Standing in the parking lot after a yoga class with students and laughing reminds me of what is real and important. As I drive away, I laugh instead of cursing when another driver cuts me off or sits talking on the phone while the light turns green. We humans are a goofy bunch. Why not accept that and have a good laugh?!

This moment gives birth to the next. I live alone and must remind myself of the importance of human touch and affection. When I feel that need, I enter my yoga classes hugging students and receiving their hugs in return. I touch an arm while listening and often find myself holding hands with the person. Love and affection flow through the room.

Receiving the blessings of gratitude begets more blessings of gratitude. Yes, life may bring sorrow but I now know that within that sorrow there are moments of deep love and understanding, the growth of compassion. Blessings that elicit gratitude as deep as the sorrow.

This moment gives birth to the next. The Circle of Life is a moment-by-moment journey, an experience in being human and letting the Divine shine through. Light shines through a pinhole and expands as it moves beyond that tiny opening. Love demands expression and only needs the smallest opening to shine its light into my heart, my mind, my life. When it moves beyond any opening I give it, Love expands exponentially in every direction bathing my world in its Light.

Divinely Human

The Inner Stillness that I Am dwells in the very depths of my being. It is that sweet place that remains peaceful even when my mind, emotions, body – or perhaps all three – are in chaos.

During a particularly challenging time in my life, I let myself collapse in primal tears in the middle of my dining room. My mind and emotions were filled with fear, frustration, anger and disappointment. My body shook with the intensity of it all and my tears erupted into screams. In the midst of this I became aware of this oasis of peace in the core of my body, behind my naval. It felt so weird to be in both experiences at once but it told me that I was okay; I wasn’t losing my sanity. Chaos was clearly under-girded by deep abiding peace.

I now understand that the Inner Stillness is the essence of my being; it is True Self. My practice now is establishing me in this Inner Stillness so that I may live from this place: consciously, peacefully, powerfully live from the Essence of my Being, from the Stillness that I Am.

Practicing is the process of doing something over and over again until it becomes a part of you. In the beginning we gather information through teachers, books, family, friends, etc. We begin to embrace belief systems or programs that enhance the quality of our life. As we mature, we continue to learn about ourselves and life; we evaluate what we believe so that we can evolve and grow into our truth. Each of us must find our way, our truth, our True Self. Then we begin to live from that True Self, the Inner Wisdom, the Still Quiet Voice that comes from within. Whatever it is named or called, it is the Divine Presence within. It is Divine Love manifesting in and through me, the Source of my existence.

Life is the spiritual practice of becoming a divine human being, i.e. a human being that shines with the love, compassion and presence of the Divine.

I am eternally, unconditionally and Divinely loved. I Am Love in form. I Am Love manifested. It is my nature to abide in the Inner Stillness that I Am. The more often I go there, the more truly it will be my home.

Gratitude

Most of us have heard of and/or made gratitude lists. The speaker at a weekend retreat I attended said, “Gratitude opens the heart for further blessings.” When we are overwhelmed by life, the body pulls into its center. It is a survival mechanism that shunts blood to the most vital internal organs. The body often literally curls in toward the base of the rib cage and navel. The circumstances that overwhelm can be physical, mental, emotional, or all three. The physical is most obvious, of course. Mental and emotional demands can create the same body responses but it is a bit more difficult to recognize the source. Picture where your physical heart is. Now, curl slightly forward and roll your shoulders down as you tip your head toward your waist. You are creating a physical haven for the heart.

This can be helpful in the face of immediate trauma; shut down, turn inward, protect yourself. Staying there longer that necessary for survival is counter-productive and can be harmful for body, mind and heart.

In yoga therapy, we seek to safely and gently open the physical body to free the heart to beat more fully. This starts the process of restoring chemical balance, allowing adrenalin and other hormones to level out and return to normal levels. We comfort the body so it will emerge from survival mode. Until we relax and breathe deeply and easily, all levels of our being will remain tight and shut down.

Postures like child pose, which opens the back of the heart chakra, and triangle, which opens all the major joints as well as the torso, prepare us to open up to life once again. What affects the body, affects the mind and emotions. Compassionate consistency is the key to returning to a place of embracing the flow of life. Gratitude can begin with that first full breath that expands the ribs and softens the belly. My mental response is often “Oh my gosh that felt good. I can breathe again!” I am already moving into gratitude. Ten breaths later I see the clear blue sky, really see it, for the first time in a while. I smile and notice flowers blooming or squirrels playing. When was the last time I noticed?  Doesn’t matter. I am on my way back to mySelf. Wahoo!! Before I know it, a list takes shape and I remember the gift of gratitude.

My practice includes meditation as well. My intention every day is to meditate for 30 minutes twice a day, before breakfast and again before dinner. On the practical side, digestive fire can make it difficult to settle in and experience the silence that I seek. More on this in other blog entries.

My evening practice includes writing down some of the blessings I have experienced during the day. I’m upright and breathing. A dove sits on my bird bath. Little things. Nothing new or dramatic. A beginning. An opportunity to nourish my heart and mind. My heart begins to open and the blessings that have been waiting begin coming my way – often in the little things.

Gratitude opens the heart. Namaste