There is a famous story about ahimsa told in the Vedas, the vast collection of ancient philosophical teachings from India. A certain sadhu, or wandering monk, would make a yearly circuit of villages in order to teach. One day as he entered a village he saw a large and menacing snake who was terrorizing the people. The sadhu spoke to the snake and taught him about ahimsa. The following year when the sadhu made his visit to the village, he again saw the snake. How changed he was. This once magnificent creature was skinny and bruised. The sadhu asked the snake what had happened. He replied that he had taken the teaching of ahimsa to heart and had stopped terrorizing the village. But because he was no longer menacing, the children now threw rocks and taunted him, and he was afraid to leave his hiding place to hunt. The sadhu shook his head. “I did advise against violence,” he said to the snake, “but I never told you not to hiss. ¹
A most common misconception of understanding Ahimsa is the physical non-violence alone. While we have no intentions of becoming murderers, non-violence is not limited to mere actions. More commonly, we indulge ourselves in Himsa without us realizing because we have misconstrued how to defend ourselves. A hurrying lady cuts you off in the grocery till and you give her the dagger look. A reckless driver almost hits you and there goes your finger. An innocent, at times ignorant look from a child who hasn’t seen any other colour of the skin stares at you and you wonder what kind of racist parents this kid has.
And so on and so on.
Those little gestures, expressions, thoughts… they are all part of Himsa. And when left unchecked creates this subtle violent trigger that always places you on the borderline. Most often, these are all demons we have buried within us and blows off into a mushroom cloud once triggered. True, you are not physically murdering anyone. But practicing Ahimsa is not directed to others alone. More importantly, practicing Ahimsa begins from within.
We all have the fight-flight response. Self defense, either fight back or hide. What do you think such reactions cause? Never mind the people affecting you… but reflect on your actions and what these reactions causes YoU.
Does it make you feel better? For how long?
What happens when triggered again?
Reflect on the root cause of your reactions. The dagger look, the waylay finger, the judgemental thought… these are only effects of what we have buried inside. Perhaps we were once bullied. Perhaps we were weak and frail at one time. Perhaps we were once discriminated. There are so many experiences we have encountered and finding the closure is not always the easy route. Too often, we cast it aside until little by little, it starts ticking inside us. Without even realizing how and why. But just because. Just because we have been used to it being there. Just because we didn’t try it any other way how to react differently. Just because we rather fight or take flight. Instead of defending your ground and finding peace within.
Are they really attacking you?
Or are you letting your own monsters take control of you?
I remember the movie, Labyrinth. How Sarah struggles to remember her favourite lines from her favourite book, The Labyrinth. Is she really not remembering? Or is she subconsciously shelving it aside because of the profound effect of such words? Allowing herself succumb to illusions, permitting the Goblin King, Jareth, take advantage of her own Himsa.
Practicing Ahimsa begins from our hearts. Make peace with yourself and with whatever demons you have. Scary, yes. Who knows what these demons look like now. Flaming red. Dark, cold eyes. Chilling to the bones. Maybe mossy and bile-looking. Stinky with foul breath… I can go on. Not all monsters look like David Bowie. Yet it is our very own thoughts that brought them to this look, this menacing features. The longer we shy away from them, the more horrific they turn out to be. Forever haunting us. And only when we face our own fears makes cutting the line, almost getting hit, impolite staring, seem quite trivial because you have subdued a bigger manifestation of Himsa… YouRSeLF.
Give yourself love and attention.
Give yourself kindness and compassion.
Give yourself time to heal and grow with your pains.
Give yourself Ahimsa.
And give yourself Peace.
Say it out loud: “You have no power over me”.
¹ Beginning the Journey | Yoga Journal