Ahimsa, is the first of the yamas of yoga and Hinduism (rules for ethical conduct) and it means non-violence.
I took my first yoga class with Patricia Walden in Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and she was leading off the class with a discussion of the yamas. The class was on satya, the second yama (truth or honesty), but she mentioned ahimsa and off I went.
Ahimsa is the building block for all ethics, of course, and perhaps because of that the most difficult to practice. Oh, I know, it’s easy to have some basic level of decency and then not question. Or at least, it must be easy for someone, somewhere, as long as that person isn’t me. On one hand, no one will ever accuse me of not examining my life. On the other, on the list of the 5 hindrances to enlightenment in Buddhism is doubt, and questioning too far, too much, too often, questioning everything, all the time, does add up to doubt.
And, on the 7 deadly sin list is pride, which I use to counter doubt, telling myself, and everyone who will listen, how I’m smarter than pretty much anyone.
Religion. Gets you whether you’re coming or going. Or even just standing still.
Anyhow, ahimsa. And, watch me, here I go with the pride thing. I am going to marry yogic principles, Buddhism and couples therapy. Let’s see if I can do it in one sentence.
I’ve been thinking about ahimsa because in couples therapy my partner and I complain about each other’s angry energy, showing (yogic principles) that we are both sitting somewhere between the 3rd (dvesa: aversion to old bad experiences) and 4th (abhinivesa: fear) branches of avidya (bad perception) and that we possess no real equanimity (upekkha–Buddhism).
A long sentence, but there you have it.
In therapy terms, we have intimacy and attachment issues with some boundary problems thrown in.
Or, in Lyralen language, we are just gloriously f%$#ed up like the rest of the human race, scared of each other on a good day, and likely to blame each other because that’s what people do and also because growing up just isn’t on the agenda.
AHIMSA. Really, I should just start this topic with how hard it is to treat myself really well. I run into it on the mat all the time, as I push to do perfect asanas, and then catch myself and slow it down. “Forget all the skinny bendy young things,” I tell myself. “Never been there, never done that. Think acceptance for tight hamstrings and an athletic competitive family and think of the joy of this tense, stretching, living body. Think peace.”
For me, non-violence starts with letting go of ambition, competition, striving, stress. I have this secret joke with myself that I get up to lie down. Many mornings I get up and then do restorative yoga, which is basically lying down in different positions. I often fall asleep again.
I do not think of my German mother or competitive athletic Irish father. Well, maybe I do. Because there is no rebellion like lying down as soon as you get up. I mean, who does that? I’m not even trying to meditate. I’m not trying to do anything.
I could go on…the tiny violent things, like do you tear a brush through your hair or do it gently? The antidote comes down to Buddhist mindfulness, but frankly, trying to be perfectly mindful is another trap for doing violence to yourself and I should know. (Plus, you should watch all the people mindfully eating breakfast in slow motion at the Buddhist 10 day silent meditation retreats. It’s enough to drive you out of your mind. Permanently.)
Anyhow, I figure going around saying that I’m f$%#ed up and so is everyone else is a pretty good practice of acceptance and imperfection. You know, like I’ll be mindful, but in a relaxed way, when it’s not too much trouble.
I would be a bad Buddhist if in fact I had signed on, which, of course, I haven’t, because I am too much of a nonconformist to even sign on for nonconformist Buddhism.
Anyhow, the point of this blog, now 649 words in, is the whole couples therapy ahimsa thing. I have worked hard, all my life, to be contained and dignified. I know, reading this thing, you won’t believe me, but it’s true. I have rules for my behavior off the page (and even on the page…notice, I don’t say my partner’s name or tell any of the personal details of our fights or blame her on the world wide web even though she drives me crazy and everything is her fault) (okay, I don’t blame her by building a case with details). I try very hard not to lose my temper or be disrespectful of other people, and, as you’ve no doubt noticed, since I can be a bit of a hothead when I’m not meditating and doing yoga, this is no small feat.
But in the last theatre production, I was so angry when people didn’t do their jobs, and so stressed with picking up slack everywhere, I know I exuded misery and anger and stress. And here is where ahimsa becomes so difficult to practice. I don’t yell, or swear or name call, but I know from my own relationships that sometimes that almost doesn’t matter. You can’t claim virtue because you don’t speak when your energy speaks for you. People know when someone is unhappy, or judging, or criticizing silently.
This is what both my partner and I find so troublesome in each other. Plus, we’ve known each other for 29 years now (our 25th anniversary is in June), so it’s not like there are any secrets.
When I was going on and on about keeping my mouth shut the first week of yoga teacher training, what I was really, on a serious level, worried about, was ahimsa. I was worried about containing my energy, because, let me belabor the point again, I am grieving, and grief is painful and dark, and it feels isolating, so spending 14 hours with a group of people I didn’t know scared me. I was afraid of not being able to be centered; I was afraid of going somewhere dark in my own energy and being energetically incapable of practicing ahimsa.
Pia Melody (who I often hate and am embarrassed to admit I have read) says that energetic boundaries are a key area of safety in a marriage. If you get really angry, you have to first put physical distance between yourself and your partner, and then you need to contain the energy itself. This isn’t because we might hit each other, it’s because the energy feels very threatening, and you have to indicate you’re in control enough to practice love.
This makes me wonder if getting angry is seen as one of the 7 deadly sins of psychotherapeutic culture. It’s definitely listed as one of the 5 hindrances. But get this–swallowing anger, taking it into your body, repressing it, leads to self-violence, or, as John Sarno would say, lots of back pain.
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know that anger is a force that can be used for good, and I know I don’t want to scare my partner with my critical or angry energy, and I also know that with a German mother (repress everything) and an impulse-driven Irish father (why bother), I can only look at all the craziness and say, well, I definitely do know we’re all crazy.
I love the word, I have to say. I’ve been a pacifist my whole life, but I do hate mosquitoes and kill them with relish.
In other words, as I said in the title, at least I crack myself up. As I try to understand the nature of existence, as I tell the truth about some things if not everything, as I come back, over and over again, to the existence of human insanity, I find that humor is often the only answer.
That or homicide. But, since I am contemplating and trying to practice ahimsa, I guess homicide is pretty much off the table.