Ahimsa: Chapter 1 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People
Ahimsa embodies the concept of non-harming, both with respect to yourself and others. I say “others” deliberately, because many people have taken this concept as the basis for being vegetarian or vegan (e.g., not harming animals). On the one hand, Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, which means that it falls within the category of practices that we are supposed to direct towards other people. On the other hand, I find that all of the Yamas and Niyamas work both ways, and so we’ll also look at what it means to practices Ahimsa towards ourselves.
So what does all of this mean for us? If this were a different setting, my explanation would start with, “It’s about looking inside yourself and….” But this is yamas for normal people, so here’s where it starts. When you’re driving, stop speeding up so that person with his signal on can’t change lanes. Stop yelling at your secretary. Stop criticizing your spouse. Stop ignoring your in-laws’ phone calls. Or maybe, do ignore your in-laws’ phone calls if you need time to yourself. And don’t let anyone cut you off when you’re driving, because it’s unsafe (and annoying). Be direct in expressing your needs. Stand up for yourself.
Wait a minute, those things sound inconsistent! But at the core of all of this is letting everything you do be something that fertilizes what is good in you, or in someone else; but all in balance.
Ok, that was fluffy, let me try again.
If you have ever traveled in an airplane before, you have been instructed that in the event of an emergency, you should put your own oxygen mask first, then help your child. For many of us, that sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. You’d be a pretty sh*tty rescuer if you passed out, right? You have to be ok, and then you can help other people be ok. You can’t share your jellybeans if you don’t have any jellybeans.
So non-harming for normal people is about making choices that keep you safe without hurting anyone else in the process. (And conversely, being kind to other people without hurting yourself in the process.) Did your in-laws show up to your house unexpectedly and announce that they were staying for the week? You have a right to say how you feel about that. But do it after you’ve taken a few breaths, and without telling them that you never really liked them anyway (even if that’s true).
Now, I’ll leave you with three homework assignments: (1) Stop doing one purely sh*tty thing that you do to someone else. You know, that terrible thing you do that brings you absolutely nothing in return. (2) Find at least 2 minutes (I mean it! Just 120 seconds!) to do for yourself today. Maybe you take a Cosmopolitan magazine to the bathroom while your kids are taking a nap and read that steamy sex position article you’ve been trying to sneak in. If you don’t have an hour to go get a pedicure, be daring and just file ONE toenail. Who knows, be creative and start small! And then (3) Thoughtfully and creatively explore that one challenge in your life where you find that you are sacrificing your health and sanity for someone else’s sake, or vice versa. And see whether there’s anything you can do to even that balance.
And if you don’t have time for any of this, then just….start by not pissing in anyone’s cornflakes.