In our group, we noticed that Ahimsa is the first of the yamas to be discussed or written about. I learned that this is no coincidence, of course. Ahimsa is the first and foremost, all-important Yama for an aspiring yogi(ni):
“There is a deliberate order in the five yamas. Ahimsa (non-violence) comes first because one must remove one’s brutal nature first. One must become non-violent and develop cosmic love. Only then does one become fit for the practice of yoga.” ~Yoga Magazine, in an article entitled Yama & Niyama: The Path of Ethical Discipline, January 2009.
As I read this, I repeated in my mind, “Brutal nature;” another article referred to “beastly nature.” Definitely not adjectives I am hoping to personify.
In other areas of my life, I feel I fall in line with Ahimsa pretty well: I like to be a friendly, supportive and a patient listener to people, friends, co-workers, etc. I advocate for children in my work in Montessori Education. We are mostly vegetarian, although we maybe should consider giving up fish (and eggs). I am vehemently against war; my dad was a draft-dodger in the Viet-Nam days, and indoctrinated me with pacifistic, humanistic ideals. I struggle with raising a boy in a violent society and cringe when he wants or plays with a toy gun. Actually, I remember being quite vocal with my husband about keeping these toys out of our house and not in a kind, gentle way. I detest the whole concept of hunting and other forms of animal elimination. I don’t kill spiders, but do feel a sense of victory when I kill flies in my kitchen in the summer and welcome the first frost to kill them for me.
So, clearly, my close personal relationships are where I have fallen short of Ahimsa. I was motivated by talking about it in the group and making a real, measurable goal of it. This felt different than my previous empty promises, which included no timeframe or actual plan.
I began a seated meditation practice, since I’m hearing that this is the cure-all for everything, whereby I walk to the Krishna Temple at my lunch hour daily and sit in the temple room for about 15 minutes. I focus on breathing and sometimes a word or two like kindness, peace, etc. “Ahimsa” makes an okay mental mantra also. I have looked forward to and enjoyed this time. My next goal is to bring the practice home, literally, by finding a place and time to meditate on my own time and in my own space. This may be more challenging at first, for the obvious reasons, but if it is as enlightening as we are learning it is, why wouldn’t I?
I’ve also made mental notes, throughout the days, reminding myself of my desire to be sweet to everyone, especially my family. I didn’t tell anyone about my experiment, but I have noticed a better rapport with them. During the first week sometime, I said something to my husband to which he became very defensive. It wasn’t about him, it was about our new puppy needing formal training, which for some reason he took very personally. He raised his voice at me in defense. (Like I said, I take partial credit for making it “normal” to speak unkindly in our home and there it was, a perfect example.) I stayed calm and told him that he didn’t need to yell. I stayed true to myself, did not react harshly, or take the discussion to the next level of argument. He came to me shortly after to apologize. Hmm, the power of ahimsa at work! I told him that I had made a goal of being more gentle with my words to him and my mom. He said he had noticed. I still didn’t go into the entire Yama explanation, but I’m sure I may at some point. We both have to remind ourselves to say all things in constructive ways and refrain from sarcasm.
Kaiden, lately, has taken more strength to deal with in a kind way than the adults. He is in a phase of testing limits, and is also extremely bright, so when he is pushing buttons that we are asking him not to push, it can feel very challenging to keep it soft and supportive.
My mom and I have done pretty well. In my own defense, she is a difficult person to get along with. All the more reason to shower her with love, I’m sure. She can be very loving, supportive and sensitive on occasion, but often she is very self-centered, constantly shares her misery with us family, even though we prefer not to listen. She could really use to talk about a lot of her personal struggle, but her choice is to dump, repeatedly, on those closest to her. Her personal form of himsa, I suppose. My resentment for her has grown over time, out of my wish for a more helpful, maternal mother. She’s given me countless gifts of the non-material variety, but selfless service is not at the top. However, I know that our time together is limited (in the sense that all our time is) and that I will feel happier overall, and in the end, if I can exude warmth and love toward her as much as possible, even if that means less interaction much of the time. I have really been making it a point just to tell her I love her and to hold off on judging her every word, even when her words are redundantly pessimistic.