The first Yama in the 8 Limbs of Yoga by Patanjali is Ahimsa. It is thousands of years old but resonates with profound relevance in our fast-paced, modern lives it’s often translated as 'non-harming,’ but looking beyond this traditional translation, Ahimsa challenges us to extend compassion and understanding into our thoughts, words, and actions. Here's how.
Let's plant a few seeds today. Ahimsa prompts us to consider the far-reaching impact of our choices on the Earth and its inhabitants: it suggests, it urges, a shift towards compassion. It reflects the interconnectedness of all beings, encouraging us to navigate the complexities of modern life with mindfulness and a kind heart. Do we want to know about this or is it honestly sometimes easier to close our eyes? Sometimes it's easy to say and actually quite hard to do. The Buddhist mantra "Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu," wishes happiness and freedom for all living beings and reinforces the idea that true compassion starts with self-love and self-care. Cultivating empathy and kindness towards ourselves is at the heart of Ahimsa. I honestly believe that this self-love then becomes the foundation for extending respect and compassion to others so, yes, be kind!
As the world faces conflicts globally, locally, and online, this tentative philosophy of Ahimsa offers a blueprint for navigating what might seem to be far too turbulent waters. Rumi's simple wisdom encapsulates its essence: "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself." Watch the news and you’ll mainly see a society marked by divisions. Whilst these still exist, practising Ahimsa invites us to bridge gaps and cultivate a culture of empathy, reminding us that non-violence starts from within, changing what we have power over. 'I am changing' is a process and we can't do it all in one go. These changes may be small, but they can be far-reaching, as we become more conscious of our choices and their impact on our world and therefore on each other and ourselves.
Here are some ways I've been thinking about:
1. Mindful and Diplomatic Communication: When might it be possible to pause and reflect a little more before speaking-? Maybe this is an obvious one you already do!
Is it possible to also listen better without jumping in with an opinion? I'm trying to learn this lesson right now! By actively listening and seeking to understand where opposing views are coming from, we may be able to promote dialogue over discord. Angry voices are mostly likely to come out when people feel they are not being heard and sometimes it is hard to listen when we profoundly disagree with what is being said. In the past I've mostly switched off! What happens if instead we listen kindly? We could say, "What I'm hearing is this ...... ' and show we are listening. 'Could you tell me why you think this and how it makes you feel? How would you like to feel instead?" Do we have time for that? Maybe by trying to understand and talk we can plant the seeds of change towards less violent communication, both face to face and online. This is just an experiment; you may not have time but see what happens if you do!
2. Compassionate Consumerism: Could we make steps towards more conscious choices in consumption, considering the impact on the environment, animals, and communities? Do we plant flowers to encourage more bees? Do we reject the quick fix of weed killers in our gardens? Do we try to use and repurpose? Do we think about air miles and harm to the planet? Do we see when companies are merely greenwashing? Do we really want to? Sometimes it's hard. But maybe we could shine a light on ethical choices, promoting awareness and responsible consumer practices if we are in a position to do so. We might feel that these small things make no difference but when we do them and tell our friends, the world begins to change. It feels better.
3. Mindful Movement: Would it be possible to pay even more attention to our body's signals and integrate Ahimsa more into our yoga practice, avoiding forceful movements that may lead to harm? Honesty, do we sometimes push ourselves a bit too much because we are comparing outwardly to what we think a pose should be like? Maybe everyone else ein our class is doing it so we do too. Do we forget sometimes that what matters is how we feel and not what we look like doing yoga?
4. Community Engagement:
Could we get more involved in our community? This is a lesson that maybe we all learnt during lockdown. We are all connected and where we live matters. By spending money locally and being involved, we become more aware of the people around us, strengthen connections and may be able to support local initiatives which address social issues through peaceful means.We can help our local businesses be successful and where we live can begin to thrive. Don't rush to order, get free delivery, a cheaper price and a month's free trial and free films (sorry) but see what you might find locally, even if it may take a little longer. Being kind in our our community and caring about it is part of self-care, and together we can lift each other up.
Embracing Ahimsa isn't about drastic changes but about small, intentional choices. By integrating these timeless teachings into our lives, we contribute to a ripple effect of positive change, fostering a global community grounded in understanding, kindness, and respect. Maybe this is what you are already doing, step by step with kindness and where you can? I believe this is the yogic path.