Meditating On Ahimsa
As A and I were preparing an Ahimsa focused workshop, I found myself meditating on an aspect of teaching that I once struggled with a great deal. In the West, we tend to be fairly set in our ways when it comes to our eating habits. Many of us, often due to media created and manipulated concerns over body image, are also extremely sensitive about diet.
When contemplating Ahimsa or non-violence, we often have a tendency to focus on the lives of Gandhi and King and gloss over the immediate himsa, or violence, surrounding us. We are all connected to human and animal slavery and slaughter. We avoid this frank discussion because the information is so incredibly hard to look at. It can reach deep into core belief systems and many people, with good reason, rigorously defend their core.
I meditated seeking wisdom that would empower the self and shift those core beliefs that no longer work into more open, yet sincere, values. I sought a new path to activate Ahimsa in my students and myself. In this culture external and internal forces scrutinize us daily and the decision to gaze inward isn’t trite. It takes courage to look inside and great fortitude to internalize Ahimsa.
Reducing Ahimsa To Fit On Our Mat
In the past, to be more socially acceptable, I glossed over the rough stuff with my friends, family, students and even myself. Being a fan of liberty and choice, I didn’t want to appear dogmatic in any way. When sharing the concept of Ahimsa with my students or translating it from yogic scripture, I focused upon the importance of non-violence towards the self in physical practice and left it at that.
I also glossed over the importance of Ahimsa to my health. For over 20 years, with a few lapses, I was a poorly nourished vegetarian. I looked at food as a very mundane aside to a focused spiritual path. I was eating processed, microwaved and even fast food meals and, by doing so, I declared war on my body. By reducing Ahimsa so it would nicely fit on my mat, I turned my eyes away from the fact that, no matter the discipline, at its root yoga requests a humane and healthy diet.
Growing Ahimsa Through Diet
Meeting A changed all of this immediately. Food became the center of our life together and this brought a balance unknown before. It reconnected me to the root meaning of Ahimsa and a direct intimate knowledge of the violence our actions can inflict upon our bodies and, in turn, the world around us.
With A’s guidance, I began to change my diet. Letting go of processed foods and switching to 100% organic and/or local produce created an instant shift in my awareness and perception. It added depth to my physical practice as well. I continued to practice Ahimsa on my mat and strived to be firm yet supple in body and mind. But it became clear that a side effect of the shift in my diet was the opening to an essential understanding of non-violence.
Change Your Food, Change Your Mind
Our food intake influences not only our mood but also our perception. As we begin to lessen our intake of chemicals and increase our intake of nutrients, things come into focus and we see the world a bit more clearly. A clean diet cleans up our lenses and lightens our load to the point that we can process Ahimsa as it applies to the self in subtle but life changing ways.
To parse a biological metaphor, at every orifice, where the external meets the internal there is a protective layer of mucous membrane. This mucous is a blessing for it collects toxins and protects us from harm. But, the more out of balance our health, the thicker our mucous becomes. On the physical plane, practicing Ahimsa in our diet reduces the barriers between the external and the internal. We become slightly more sensitive to toxins, but more importantly we become hyper-aware of awe and joy.
This increase in sensitivity blows opens the doors of Ahimsa. Now looking inside finds a heartfelt awe for the processes of life and possibly that divine spark the ancients wrote of. The internalized path of Ahimsa has the potential to lead from non-violence on the mat and in our diet to a deep self-love. Self-love begets physical, mental and spiritual healing that tends to turn the gaze outward.
As we become the needle that threads itself, by pulling Ahimsa through our core and then outward, we become not only awe-filled by our internal systems and divine light, but by the systems and brilliant light around us. When we give ourselves to awe, we become filled with reverence for all life. If we are able to even slightly conceive of the miracles going on inside of us, how can we not be nearly dumbstruck with awe about the miracles going on outside? As we deepen our self-love we can deepen our appreciation for the processes that facilitate our existence. Our love transcends the self and Ahimsa begins to radiate through us into our world.
Ahimsa Finds A Way
Though I glossed over Ahimsa in my attempts to be non-confrontational and non-dogmatic, it found a way to permeate my life nonetheless. By not forcefully removing the blinders that have been set up to protect us from direct knowledge of the violence around us, we actually find a peaceful path to an Ahimsa that first fortifies the self. Though this world is thick with violence, a perspective fueled by self-love offsets its immensity and begins to whittle away at its foundation. Activating Ahimsa through any means is vital in this day and age and it is my intention with this musing to assist it in finding a way to activate for and through you. My Blessings to you and yours..