The phrase “ahimsa” comes from the Sanskrit: a, meaning not/non, and himsa, meaning violence. At first glance, nonviolence could sound a lot like ‘doing nothing.’ Immediate connotations include Ghandi’s legendary defiance against the British imperialists, or perhaps the long-haired hippies, sat in a smoke-filled room, refusing to vacate an establishment to protest the war. But were they really doing nothing – simply avoiding an action? Or was it their conscious discretion – the ability to distinguish an effective course of action over a simple reaction – which made all the difference?
Taken in the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written around 200 BCE (2200 years ago) and the first comprehensive document on the eight limbs of classical yoga, ahimsa is just one part of an entire web of moral values. Both social restraints and individual precepts are laid out for the classical yoga practitioner, to ensure not only a clear body, but a clear mind and a harmonious existence in the sangha (community). Ahimsa is perhaps the most important of the yamas, and certainly one of the most challenging in this day and age. You’d be surprised at how often violence, in all its forms, actually pops up in your day!
Something quite special to this perspective on Hinduism, the yamas and niyamas require adherents to execute specific values in action, speech and thought. In other words, even your internal monologue should be tuned in to this simple – though challenging – moral paradigm. And perhaps it’s not even about morals, but about common sense.
(stay tuned for more on the yamas and niyamas!)
So today, I found myself practicing a rare form of ahimsa. Not by avoiding meat, or refusing involvement in negative gossip – which I try to do on a daily basis anyway. But I practiced ahimsa toward myself – I decided not to work whilst feeling wretchedly sick.
Rather than listen to my achievement-oriented brain, I took stock of what my body was telling me: you’ve been ill for five days, you were bed-ridden for two, a super healing yoga session felt amazing, but a relapse soon followed, your mind’s about as fuzzy as a cotton ball, your body is aching, and with a wheeze like that, you could pass for an 80 year old. It was time to take a break!
When I’m hit with the rare cold, I beat it in a few days. But this beast was of an entirely new breed. It infiltrated every orifice and made a nasty wet nest deep in my lungs where it festered and grew til I could handle it no longer! I took a few days rest and succumbed to the doctor’s order of antibiotics and nebulizer.
In this case, it would have been violent, or at least painfully unhealthy, for me to force myself into a full day of work. I had to be sensitive to my own needs, despite the guilt I felt for taking a day off – especially during this crucial time at my school. And what use would I be to the kids at this point, anyway? All stuffed up and ready for bed?
So ahimsa. Or the more Buddhist perspective: compassion. “The root of compassion is compassion for oneself” ~Pema Chodron
Whatever way you flip it, listen to your body, and know when it’s time for a little bit of TLC. Sweet dreams ya’ll!