This week in the yoga classes I teach, I have been talking
about the ethical practice of non-violence, or Ahimsa as it’s called in Sanskrit. Non-violence is at the heart of the
teachings in yoga and provides the foundation for the other guidelines.
Regardless of its historical or religious underpinnings, I think most people
would agree that non-violence is preferable to its opposite. Finding a way of
living in peace with ourselves and one another is one of the highest forms of
When I put the spotlight on a particular practice, like
non-violence, I often begin to see all of the ways in which I don’t practice it. In particular, I had
some of the following insights.
How you talk to yourself is a significant area to be
examined. When you talk to yourself harshly or judgmentally you are enacting
violence against yourself. Self-critical talk is so common, its epidemic. We
constantly find ways that we don’t measure up to someone else or ways that we
could be better. Particularly unfortunate is how women tend to have a very bad
habit of criticizing their bodies and are never satisfied with how they look.
We are conditioned to be this way and it can be quite a challenge to change
this way of thinking. Instead of realizing and acknowledging the miracle of the
body that they live in, they look for the flaw. This is violence against ourselves.
Then there is the way we talk to others –both directly and indirectly. My hardest time being peaceful is with someone on the phone who is providing a service like selling airline tickets and it’s usually because I’ve been on hold for a significant amount of time before reaching them. I watch my need to get things done and not let time pressure override my desire to bring peace to my conversations. I have been trying very hard to be as nice as I can to these “anonymous” people. I bet they get a lot of slack every day.
Then there is the indirect way we “talk” to others. All of that chatter in your head judging what others do, what they say, and how they look. When we begin to examine this type of violence, we can hear it a lot. Just examine your thoughts one day at work or even on the road to work. It’s actually natural for our minds to be a little judgy, but we can pay attention and direct ourselves to more kind heartedness. We also need to be aware of the culture around us which seems to encourage us to see difference and to judge each other–for our race, gender identity, political persuasion, body size, etc.
Interestingly, I believe my use of sarcasm can be violent. Upon examining my reasons for using sarcasm, it seems to represents my desire to skirt around an issue instead of directly confronting it. It feels easier, or I’m just in a habit of making a “funny and witty” remark. I even have a refrigerator magnet that ways “Sarcasm Is Just Another Free Service We Offer.” While a little sarcasm or wittiness can be fine sometimes, when it becomes a pattern of relating it would be better to examine alternative ways of communicating that would bring greater peace to a situation. This is true for using humor, always agreeing, always disagreeing, using anger, not communicating at all and other patterns that we use instead of learning how to express ourselves directly with kindness.
So, what are the antidotes to these various acts of
violence? Here are some suggestions.
1. In dialogue with others, work on saying things directly and with kindness instead of using humor, sarcasm, or other less than skillful habits. The model of non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg is particularly skillful at helping you navigate communication with others. Check it out!
2. Give people the benefit of the doubt. In my experience, I believe that everyone is doing the best they can. Training in patience and curiosity about the other person can be very helpful. Remember deep breaths!
3. Practice saying positive things to your body every day.
For instance, you can acknowledge your heart, kidneys, liver, eyes, ears, nose,
taste buds, hands, arms, legs and any other part of your body that is
accomplishing major miracles for you every second! I like to say a big “Thank
You” to my body for just waking up in the morning.
4. When you catch yourself engaging in other or
self-criticism, STOP. Take a breath and ask yourself “what is another way of
looking at the other person or yourself?” Train yourself to look at
alternatives to violence. There is ALWAYS a more peaceful view.
5. Practice being grateful. Make a list of three things
you’re grateful for everyday and share them with someone else. Gratitude is
regularly suggested as the prescription for happiness.
6. Engage in activities that bring you greater peace—e.g., take a yoga class, sit in meditation, walk in nature, pull weeds (I have some extra if you need a little more weed therapy), prepare yourself a nice meal and share it with a loved one, play music, dance.
7. When you’re on your yoga mat, practice non-striving and non-judging. Find a place of ease in your body by letting go of any thoughts that suggest you should be doing it differently. Do your version of the pose and sink into it deeply. Feel the deliciousness of that! If you don’t have a regular yoga class, try my yoga videos. Yoga can bring peace to your soul.
8. Lastly, accept things “as they are.” It is often in our hurried lives, that we begin to think that life should somehow meet our expectations. And, when it doesn’t, we get angry, hurt, or sad. When we give up our expectations, we can be open to life as it unfolds, without taking it personally. Life isn’t personal. It just is.
I wish for you many moments of peace and contentment every day. You can build on these moments of peace by just paying attention. Feel the sting of violence and let that be your wake-up call to a new kind of response—one that opens up the possibility of bringing peace to you and to our world.