Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rippling with Ahimsa

At the end of the great epic Mahabharata, Krishna is pretty much the last man standing – the Pandava brothers have ascended to their enlightenment in the forest, the Kauravas have perished in the war, his brother Balarama has passed, and he is wandering about, missing his friend Arjuna.  He is so disheartened he decides to lie down in the grass and take a nap.  While he is sleeping, a hunter passes by and mistakes his foot for an animal.  The hunter shoots an “arrow of grass” into Krishna’s foot and then hurries over to claim his prey.  He is shocked to find Krishna, dead in the grass.  He wonders how the arrow, which only “slightly pierced his heel” could have possibly killed him?  Realizing there is nothing he can do about it the hunter leaves, feeling disheartened by what transpired.

Although the hunter takes responsibility and feels terrible for ultimately causing Krishna’s death, it is pretty clear that it wasn’t exactly his fault.  Krishna comes into this story as an avatar of Vishnu, the Sustainer of the Universe, who incarnates when chaos reigns as it did for much of the story of the Mahabharata.  But the war is done, life has settled down, everyone ends up where they are meant to be, and so it is just time for him to pass.  The hunter was simply the catalyst for this inevitable shift. 

I was remembering today a time when a friend was planning a visit.  She was conflicted about when to come, arranging her children’s activities schedules and her work schedule, and over the course of several conversations intimated her concerns.  So finally, even though I really wanted her to come and felt disappointed that she might not, I set aside my own feelings and gently suggested that maybe it wasn’t the right time for a visit.  Over the next couple of days she was a little short with me and I got the feeling that she was angry with me, so I finally asked if she was.  Much to my surprise, she replied that she was so hurt that I wanted her to postpone her visit -  she felt like I didn’t even want her to come. My effort at benevolence had totally backfired!

Like the hunter, we often take responsibility for events that aren’t necessarily within our control.  That is not to say we have no part in the story, but life is rarely that black and white. Sometimes it’s just how things have lined up.  All our thoughts and actions have a ripple affect as they flow from us out into the universe, and we can’t always know what that affect will be.  Yoga philosophy teaches us to practice ahimsa, which is often translated as non-violence, but more accurately means non-harming.  And here’s the thing, it simply means to have the intention to not do harm or cause pain…because, as we know, even when we live with that intention our actions can inadvertently cause suffering.  

None of us gets through life without causing harm, whether by ignoring someone's feelings, using more of the earth's resources than we need, or buying products made by underage or underpaid workers. What do we do when there is a spider in our children’s bedroom? Mice in the attic?  How often do we do things that are hurtful or harmful to ourselves?  Every time we put ourselves down, reaffirm our hopelessness, dislike our appearance or see ourselves as incompetent or unworthy we cause harm.  We hold onto feelings of shame, guilt and fear, sometimes not even consciously, and these patterns diminish us and bring negativity to ourselves and the world around us. The goal of ahimsa is to become so steeped in the love and respect that you have for yourself that it emanates from you to everyone around you, and in doing so actually causes hostilities surrounding you to dissipate.

When we cultivate an intention of non-harming, we create an environment of loving-kindness.  We awaken to the sacredness of all of life and treat our universe and everyone in it with kindness and respect.  Simply through the intent to cause less pain, each of us can bring greater dignity to our world.  It might seem like a futile effort in the larger scope of the world, but think about it this way – you are either a part of the solution, or you are a part of the problem.  As always, the choice is yours to make.

Off the Mat: 
Commit to practicing ahimsa in your daily life.  This is relatively easy to do with those we love. Widen that circle to those people in your life you don’t know so well, to every being you come in contact with, even those who challenge you.   Yes, that guy on route 17 who is tailgating you and honking while he’s texting with the other hand, your child’s “friend” who was his BFF last week and this week leaves him last picked for the kickball team, your boss who takes responsibility for the project you completed – them too! 
I read somewhere that the smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.  So don’t let this practice just be an intention: this week, do at least 4 random acts of kindness – towards someone you love, towards an acquaintance, towards a stranger, and finally towards someone who really challenges you.  (Of course more is fine too, but I find that setting small, realistic, achievable goals sets you up for success without taking so much time from daily tasks that you become overwhelmed or resentful).
Here’s the Dalai Lama’s advice on the subject: "Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."

On the Mat:
This week in class we worked on Eka Pada Galavasana, a challenging hip-opening, arm balance pose (we worked on the prep poses in the beginning level and therapeutics classes).  Arm balances require a strong hugging to the center, so we did some good core cultivation.  When we work our abdominals we connect deeply to the core of our beings, our core values (like ahimsa) and it gives us the strength to become airborne.  It also requires a big expanding of the back of the torso which connects us to our universal self, the part of us that is connected to all beings and our Source, making us more sensitive to the world around us. 

Open to Grace: Breathe in and expand your awareness of the sacredness of all things.
Honor yourself in each pose, with each breath, recognizing that you are listening to the deepest needs and desires of your body.

Muscular Energy: Tone your muscles and create a framework for ahimsa to expand into.
Hug to the midline to remember your connection to all beings everywhere.
Hug to the midline and your capacity to ripple out into the world in whatever way you choose to.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sit bones and make space for all beings to live joyful, peaceful lives.

Outer Spiral: Sweep your tailbone down and anchor yourself in ahimsa.

Kidney Loop: Move your waistline back to remember your connection to all of existence, how your actions ripple out into the world.
Expand your kidney area to open up a conduit for loving kindness towards all beings to flow.
Lift the back ribs away from the top of the pelvis to make space in the back body for ahimsa to grow.

Shoulder Loop: Draw your shoulder blades towards your spine to open your heart to embrace all beings, even those who are not open to you.
Soften your heart and soften towards all of humanity.

Organic Energy: Send loving-kindness to all beings everywhere.
Let your intention to do good in the world radiate through your whole pose.
Radiate love and acceptance for yourself and all beings equally.