Ahimsa is the Yogic teaching popularly known as non-violence and, in my humble opinion, overly connected to vegetarianism, or more precisely, to the killing of animals for food. Now, the issue of whether one is an herbivore, carnivore or omnivore isn’t the theme of this article, but rather the hurtful judgements we impose on ourselves and others. Here are some examples:
Example #1, Imposing our choices on others: I was once involved in an unfortunate Facebook discussion over Yoga practitioners not having integrity or not being a “true yogi” all because they eat meat. The philosophy of Ahimsa was thrown around as well as accusations, rationalisations and defences. I left the discussion after I read a comment starting with the words “How dare you…”
Everyone will attest to the truth in this statement: We are all human. And with that comes all the frailty and mistakes that humans make. This also applies to our passions. Even though we, as yoga practitioners, teach non-attachment, there are some things that just trigger our primal instinct to defend our own; which includes issues on any field of interest. This can create a tunnel-vision effect to our thinking and feeling processes.
Take the example above. With all the focus on pushing the ideals of non-violence and vegetarianism and the equally adamant defence, we ended up forgetting to apply Ahimsa towards each other. Judgement replaced non-hurting. Judgement brought pain. While in the process of preaching Ahimsa, pain was inflicted through everyone’s judgment.
Example #2, Judging situations that are out of our control: My boys (hubby & son) and I attended a pop-culture convention a few months ago. It is a lot of fun and I can honestly say that I’m used to the crowds this type of event brings. But this particular convention was a test to my patience and to my Ahimsa. It was hot, too crowded, everyone smelt ripe, the queues were dreadfully long and slow…it was mayhem!
Now, those who know me will believe it when I say my patience can run thin. But before this happened, I took a step back in my mind and observed what was really going on: My hubby and son were still smiling and having fun, people were chatting about how excited they were, experiences and obsessions were traded (reminder, this was at a pop-culture convention), people helped and directed each other to which queue they should go to next, and generally, everyone was having a good time regardless of the conditions we were in.
So I asked myself: Will I let my impatience and discomfort blind me to the wonderful camaraderie that was happening? More importantly, will I inflict pain and hurt on the people I love by letting my judgement of things I cannot control ruin the day?
The answer was simply: No. My Ahimsa freed me from judgement and made the day even more memorable.
Example #3, Being harsh on ourselves: In my three years of teaching yoga, I have never had a student walk out on my class; until a few weeks ago. I was covering for another teacher and while I had covered the class once before, the class and I hadn’t built a rapport yet. They weren’t used to me, my style of teaching and the type of flow I teach. I suppose this frustrated one particular lady and she walked out two-thirds of the way into the class. It was quite a blow to my confidence. My mind dredged up judgements and doubts on whether I chose the right career path, if I was good enough to succeed in teaching yoga or if I should cut my losses and go back to corporate work.
The next time I covered the class, a number of students greeted me with warm smiles and, dare I say, excitement as they said “Oh, you’re covering our class again!” and “I really enjoyed it the last time. It’s so good to have you again” and “Thank you for covering our class!”
The lady who didn’t like my class was there but she didn’t even go in when she saw me. But this time I didn’t listen to the doubts my judgements brought up. I decided to be thankful to the students who were there. The ones who generously showed me kindness and compassion deserved to have it shown back to them. So I gave them my full attention, energy and a class they enjoyed. I also decided to extend kindness and compassion to myself and stop the hurtful self-judgements.
The choice not to hurt. The concept of non-violence can sometimes be too big that we overlook the everyday “ordinary” and subtle mental and emotional pain we inflict on ourselves and others.
But if we distil Ahimsa to a simple “non-hurting” or “non-harming”, we become more aware of the potential effects of our thoughts, actions and words. The outcomes or actions resulting from mindful judgements are informed, intuitive, objective, compassionate and kind.