Logical vs. Experiential: The Experience
I decided to use my experiment with the Yama Ahimsa in a self-focused way, rather than establishing my practice in a way that expended effort on the conscious non-harm to others. It felt right to do so for a number of reasons:
• Engaging with the “I” is something I can do at any time so it set wide boundaries for my experiment.
• I tend to self -abuse as a rule rather than an exception. I felt that documenting when I do it and the emotions surrounding it would allow me a greater vision of where my unconscious tendencies eek through my ego self and affect my life and create a place where observation at a minimum and the development of action would happen organically.
• I can assess where I am in a process far easier than I can where assess others/the universe is in relationship to me so finding the best way to engage my life seemed…well…easiest.
• I wanted to do something meaningful, and inwardly focused exploration of ahimsa felt as if it could illuminate powerful pathways to a sense of wholeness of the self.
I found that engaging with the Yama Ahimsa at the self-level was, vexing for me. I love philosophy and tend to get lost in the different avenues that one can take when defining what “I” or “consciousness” means and what that definition means when juxtaposed against an ethical tenet. I spent about a week lost in a rabbit hole trying to define exactly what I was trying to experience. My thought processes went something like this:
I am human. Because I am human I hold all potentialities of “humanness” within me: Good/Evil, Violent/Non-violent etc. I don’t engage these aspects of myself but does simply knowing that they exist in me make practicing Ahimsa moot? I’m already violent because I exist, I just don’t manifest violence., Is Ahimsa simply this? Not manifesting my humanity? But what about wholeness? How can I be whole if I deny part of the self?
Logical vs. Experiential: Outside Input
This kind of circular self discussion continued for days until I engaged in my first “discussion group” which was really myself and a few others drinking red wine and dissecting how/why I was philosophically sabotaging my experiment by thinking too much.
After we all wandered around the warrens of definition and logic of Ahimsa and the Self it was determined that when I am afraid of digging deeper into who “I” am I go to what I know: logic.
My logical self is firm, disallows an idea to flower without understanding how and why and when and where …it is a protective mechanism and after many hours of conversation, we determined it to be a form of self-abuse at the most and self-serving/ego-selfishness at the least. My best friend, a sage and old soul gave me a message that really resonated: “ Dude, you take things too seriously. There is no failure here, just experience it and stop trying to DO it right”. It was really powerful to hear that I can allow myself the experience of my inner world without trying to do it “right”.
Logical vs. Experiential: Self-observations
I kept a journal and a blog throughout this process and doing so helped me look at where my fears manifested the most (Will I like who I am when I begin comparing that person to what Ahimsa means via the Sutras) and how to begin working without having to assuage the “logical self” first (Simply let go). In addition to my journal/blog, I also kept a day planner where I jotted down when negative thoughts arose, what events preceded them and what emotions they brought with them. This bore fruit but I let it go after a while because it felt like it played into my need to collect data in order to move forward. A week of noting my negative thought cycle did provide me with insight into where I channel negative emotions and made my waking self more aware of how to way lay this function…but again…it was a really head based process, not heart based.
I feel as if I made the most forward movement (okay…okay I experienced the most at the heart level instead of the head space) with my meditation practice, engaging the 4 purifications paired with asana practice as something to open rather than as a physical practice in itself. Richard Freeman in The Mirror of Yoga (2010) notes, “ The nature of all practice-asana, pranayama, meditation, or the study of philosophy-is that of framing and reframing” (p.29). I found via my meditation, pranayama and asana practice I was able (am able) to reframe how I experience the meaning of Ahimsa. Rather than allowing it to settle in my logical mind, I stopped trying to explore what the concept meant and began to work with how it felt in my body or as point of singular focus during meditation practice. Ahimsa became a felt experience instead of a term that required definition. The more I practice with a boundless concept of love/non-harm as the intention for my action, the more I find peace and a growing ability to move “into” the experience of it. In essence I stopped taking it so seriously per my friends instruction.
Logical vs. Experiential: Conclusion
So at this juncture, what does the experience of Ahimsa in my life mean to me? Honestly, it means forward movement. Nurturing the physical/non logical aspect of my practice created an opening. Through this space, one grain of sand tumbled, end over end into my life, bringing with it awareness of different aspects of myself. A new way to experience the world that does not ask for definition or knowledge of self or really anything save for space to experience the vastness of the self and all the layers held therein. So. As I continue I assume that there will be another click, another grain of awareness, then another and another ad infinitum. Did I learn how self-love/ non-violence applies to me? Sure…but it feels as if the Yama is the vehicle for a series of deeper lessons pertaining to the engagement an acceptance of the true self. Loving in an all-encompassing way seems…simple when compared to developing a relationship with myself that allows for feeling with intention but without boundaries… Feeling without the fear of failure.
Typing this up, I found myself caught up in this “ Am I doing it right?” cycle. It freaked me out because I created this pressure to “make the grade” or however that translates to a paper about the experiential world of ethical yogic principals. After sitting with it awhile I decided that I could have written nothing if it suited me, or copied pages from Crime and Punishment, or drawn a picture of a bunny riding a unicorn across a rainbow… or baked cookies. It is the experience of looking at my life in a different light that matters. Not the words describing the experience. I’ m relatively sure if I walked in with cookies and stated that I found Ahimsa via said cookie…it would have been met with appreciation and support. Because who’s to say that a cookie can’t be my experience of self-love and non-violence or my objective experience of it. These objects serve only as a way to mark growth and self understanding and I appreciate and honour the fact that I am able to do both, despite my logical fight against myself to do it freely.