A Personal Journey With Ahimsa (Non-harming)
As a child growing up in Montana I had a dynamic relationship with the natural world; the mountains, the streams and all the creatures. I grew up enamored with it all, spending nearly every day outside in wonder, capturing Copper butterflies, staring upwards at red-tailed hawks and chasing after slithery garter snakes. My parents lovingly nurtured that powerful connection between myself and mother nature’s bountiful expression.
Alas, I was also well-equipped with a slingshot, BB gun and pellet gun – and as a young boy there was some now-incomprehensible thought of dominion over the creatures. I certainly did more harm in those days then I’d like to admit. [Gulp] Fortunately, my father skillfully guided me along in helping me realize my interconnectedness with it all as I moved into adolescence. We grew up hunting, fishing and living off the land to a large degree and he made sure I understood my part in the process we were involved in. As I matured and he shared his wisdom, every bit of it became done with reverence and gratitude for what was being offered to us.
And still, there was always something a bit unsettled inside me. I’ve always felt a connection to all other beings – small, large, slimy, furry, antlered, shy, ferocious, hooved, clawed… you name it. Equal parts respect and reverence. As if I can sense the precious spark of life, and the brevity and suffering, in all life forms. Eventually, in my 20’s, I set down the traditions of hunting and fishing because I no longer felt ok taking the life of another creature. I was waking up to my own interconnection with it all and knew that there was a different path for me.
Not soon after this, I started the practice of yoga. At first, like so many others, I was allured by the physical practice and the satisfying feelings of peace and clarity I would experience after a class – that moment where everything felt like it was actually going to be ok, despite the anxious or emotional state I was likely in as I entered the studio. And something was shifting, down dog by down dog, there was a newfound awareness surfacing that I didn’t expect in the least bit. My heart was surging with kindness and I was starting to see my ripple effect out into the vast pond of Life, in a big way. The practice was leaving me in stunningly reminiscent states – akin to the deep feelings of connection with Nature I had experienced as a child in Montana.
I hadn’t even heard the term ahimsa yet, nor known anything about it’s meaning, and things were starting to shift. After being in the practice for the first couple years my body started to naturally have vegetarian cravings. No one in those early years (to my recollection) encouraged or endorsed this, it was just a natural wisdom that came about. Truthfully, I was shocked at this due to my carnivorous upbringing. I never forced it, but my body was speaking loud and clear and I was able to move into a more healthy diet for my lifestyle that was also more aligned with the environment.
And all around me, I just started seeing a deeper connection with ALL beings; from the animal creatures to my fellow humankind. I started seeing the suffering, the journeys, the human condition in its many facets and felt an overwhelming desire to simply be kind to all. And, most importantly, I started noticing how my actions had an effect. As I started seeing this, many of my old habits and patterns of behavior that would have been less friendly sloughed off naturally. I was continuously finding myself to be kinder and more gentle with all those around me. A strong desire to do less harm was awakening at every level.
When we start seeing our interconnectedness, doing less harm starts moving beyond basic kindness. We become aware of everything. This is certainly not an easy place to be, but ignorance is no longer an option in our global world. We have an impact. In our household, I strive to consider the effects of every purchase we make. How does the packaging, production and delivery process harm the environment? Can we do better? The constant loads of Amazon deliveries and over-consumption of unnecessary purchases contribute to the detrimental impact on our world and resources. Ahimsa for me needs to be taken into account on all levels.
And, the last couple years have brought about a massive reckoning in terms of systemic racism in our nation and beyond. To be honest, I’m still taking in how my actions – and inactions – make me complicit in this harmful, and oppressive, system. It’s gut wrenching and I feel completely inadequate more often than not when I try to figure out how I can truly practice ahimsa in regards to this situation. Harm is being done on so many levels, some of it blatant and some so subtle it’s hard to perceive. And I have zero patience for the yoga world that tries to bypass this oppression and hide behind the ‘love & light’ of superficial spirituality. Harm is being done. Plain and simple. This is a huge growth opportunity for me, and a place of continued inquisition.
The first step in any transformation and healing is awareness. Fortunately, the practice of yoga, when given full attention and energy, reveals this. Through this awareness we become acutely aware of what is really, truly happening. When we get penetrated by the acknowledgement that we are all somehow connected – to this planet and each other, then it’s no longer ok to remain ignorant to the harm we create, or the harm done by others that we continue to tolerate. So, what will you do to open your eyes a bit more and see how you impact this world? What will you do to ripple out kindness in all directions? Leave a comment below and let’s make it a conversation.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti