Ahimsa: The Roots of Compassion
This month I have delved deeply into the yogic concept of ahimsa. The classical definition from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is “non-violence.” However, one of my beloved teachers, Nischala Joy Devi, coins the definition of ahimsa as “reverence, love, and compassion for all.”
Even since toddlerhood, I can remember having a deep and abiding sense of compassion for all beings…I’ve always been very sensitive to the suffering of others. Weren’t we all at that age? But as we get older, myself included, that sense of compassion for others (and even ourselves) begins to wither.
As we are exposed to a “get ahead no matter what it takes” society, we become increasingly susceptible to losing our inherent sense of compassion, of “one-ness,” for those around us. The needs of the individual surpass the needs of the collective. Our sense of unity within our self, our society, and all other living organisms begins to fade. Is it any wonder that the fabric of our global community has worn thin in so many places? What perhaps we don’t realize is that the suffering of others is our suffering too. That someone else’s sickness is our own. That when we heal ourselves and help others to heal, that that is a grand contribution to the well-being of the collective. Practicing unconditional compassion is a powerful way to contribute to the greater good.
Instead of yammering away about how cruel we can be toward ourselves and others (anyone else guilty of self deprecation? Or trash talking behind someone’s back?), I simply invite you to take one day to live with utter compassion for yourself and all beings around you. Be mindful to be truly kind to yourself, your family, your pets, the clerk at the grocery store. See how that goes. If you think you can stand it, why not extend that compassion to the lady down the hall of your office building who drives you crazy, or your neighbor who has been throwing dog poop on your lawn since you moved in.
I’m reminded of Plato’s famous quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Everyone has their challenges. Everyone has their tough days, their bills to pay, the things that scare them or make them angry. By offering ourselves and those around us a bit of compassion, we can begin to smooth those rough edges…To reweave that fine tapestry of our communities.
Being rude, angry, and negative requires a lot of energy. And whatever type of energy we emanate is reflected back towards us. So next time you feel like flipping off the guy who stole your parking spot, perhaps you can smile and wave instead. You never know what type of internal battle he might be struggling with. You (and he!) might just be surprised at the outcome.
Stay tuned for further postings on ahimsa, and please do share any of your stories or thoughts on the matter. In the mean time, may you find kindness toward yourself and those around you.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”