We all have heard about violence and shocking stories depicting acts of violence, where one wonders how one human can be that cruel with another human or other living beings. How often however have you reflected on how violent or non- violent you are in your daily life, including with your self? In this post I will share my thoughts on violence and how non- violence can be manifested in daily life and how it can be incorporated into daily activities, leading to be softer with your self and others, expressing more love in all sorts of areas of life. In this article I focus on non- violence towards the self. What I am writing is a result of different fields and schools of thoughts I have learned from and my own reflection.
In the past years I have reflected and tried working a lot on how I am treating my self. In our Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher Training we are currently covering the topic of non- violence (ahimsa) and it has motivated me to write this article. Self- love and non- violence go together, but I think that looking at how we treat ourselves from a perspective of non- violence gives it another twist.
Non- violence (ahimsa) is a very important part of a yogic lifestyle. Yoga philosophy teaches us an eightfold path for living a better life. In this eightfold path asana, bodily postures, is only number three. Number one are the yamas, which teach us social behavior and are divided into five sub-categories of which the first one is non- violence. This order shows us the importance of non- violence. Before anything else we must learn to practice non- violence, allowing every being including ourselves to be without harm.
To be able to reflect on our own lives and behavior we must understand the topic of non- violence and it’s subtle expression in our daily actions, ways of thinking, and doing better.
First of all it is important to understand that non- violence should not only be practiced physically, but mentally, and emotionally as well. Once we understand that we can see how complex the idea of non- violence is. It really affects all areas of our lives.
Let’s look at these three levels separately:
- Mental Non- Violence
Mental violence towards the self can be expressed in so many different ways. It is probably the most common way many hurt and treat themselves with harshness on a daily basis.
Expecting too much of ourselves, putting too much pressure on ourselves, not allowing ourselves to be who we truly are, constantly thriving towards an external idea of perfection, being judgmental of ourselves, and engaging in negative self- talk are all mental acts of violence. Many of us practice them in all areas of life without even being aware of it. Being peaceful, compassionate, understanding, and loving with and towards ourselves on the other hand would be non- violence. To practice non- violence we must allow ourselves to be human, to make mistakes, to let go and to forgive ourselves for things we have done, thought, and said.
- Emotional Non- Violence
Our emotions go hand in hand with what is happening in our mind. They are shaped by our thoughts and state of mind. When we are violent mentally we will most likely practice emotional violence as well, since that will be a natural result of it. Sometimes we are aware of how our mind shapes our emotions; sometimes it is an unconscious result we cannot trace. Emotional violence can result in for example guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, or anger. If we can’t forgive ourselves and treat ourselves with love we will attach to these negative emotions inflicting violence on ourselves.
We must understand that life is not always positive, that is the way it is. Even if we always strive towards practicing non- violence we might at times experience unpleasant emotions. That is a normal part of life. If however, we focus on practicing non- violence we will be able to learn from these emotions, not attaching to them or acting on these feelings and with a non- violent state of mind towards the self, eventually transfer them into positive emotions.
- Physical Non- Violence
Physical non- violence is manifested in different ways in our lives. Just like our emotions it is also connected to our mind. One way of practicing physical non- violence is by not inflicting harm on our bodies. Extreme acts of physical violence towards the self would be directly hurting our body by for example cutting the self or causing ourselves to vomit after eating. Other acts of physical violence, which many of us practice even on a daily basis are excessively practicing sports (not out of a positive state of mind, but out of pressure), or depriving ourselves of food (in order to keep a certain weight or lose weight).
An important part of non- violence is honesty, reflection and being brave enough to face one’s self. If we are not willing to practice these three things non- violence will be very difficult to practice. Mindfulness can truly help us to practice non- violence, as it teaches us to first of all become aware of how we are treating ourselves. We cannot change anything without first of all truly being aware of it, understanding it, and accepting it. If we skip that step the changes we want to make will not be on a deep level and not long lasting. Non- violence should be practiced on all levels of our being, mind and body. A holistic approach is truly important. We must recognize all parts of our being and treat all parts with respect and compassion. Practice non- violence by being kind to and accepting of yourself. Practice letting go of harshness, judgment, and expectations you cannot live up to. I am purposefully using the word practice here, because like almost everything in life also non- violence is something, which takes time and exercise until we internalize it. There will be moments where non- violence comes easy to you and moments where it seems impossible. Allowing that and not getting annoyed disappointed or mad at yourself is part of practicing non- violence.
I find reflecting on non- violence extremely helpful in working on my self. It really teaches me a lot and helps me to grow, learn and practice self- development. Maybe it can help you as well.
Wishing you a good start of the week and for those of you outside of Israel a relaxing Sunday,