Non-harming (Ahimsa)

I try to have everything in my life come into some sort of meaningful contact or tie-in with each other. I don’t know if it’s because I’m bad at compartmentalizing, or because everything fits into a cohesive identity, aligning with my higher purpose and biggest dream, which is to make a difference in the world by telling the story of our beautiful planet. (It could be expanded to telling the story of the world as I see it through my big ol’ mushball heart, but for the purpose of specifics we’ll stick to the environmental side.) Which is why, today, I’m going to talk a little bit of another part of my life- yoga.

The practice of yoga has brought a river of peace into my life. Writing sets my soul on fire, but yoga is the yin to that yang. Typically, in western society, we think of yoga as a set of what are known as asanas, or poses. The holding of and movement through these physical postures make up most western yoga classes. This is not incorrect- this is indeed a form of yoga. But, yoga is so much more than just that.

Yoga was developed 5,000 years ago in India as a comprehensive system for wellbeing on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is actually a Hindu spiritual tradition, only part of which is asana.  Yoga is a system, not of beliefs, but of techniques and guidance for enriched living.

Often in a yoga class a teacher will mention a yoga principle or idea which they want us to incorporate into our lives and practice off our mats- it’s not really something that is being preached, but an idea to carry with us throughout our day or our week.

One of these is Ahimsa, or non-harming. It’s also translated as non-violence, or compassion. It extends both to oneself or to others. Ahimsa is also a principle in Buddhism and Jainism, although the Jains take it to a greater degree in their daily lives.  In yoga, ahimsa is much more difficult and extensive than just not hurting people or animals. It’s not even having violent thoughts cross your mind, and abstaining from anger and harmful thoughts. It’s complex, and it’s hard. We’re only human, right?

I do try to be a peaceful person, and to avoid angry and negative thoughts which are harmful- thoughts turn into words, words turn into actions, and our actions shape our reality. This is the key to how I try to live my life.

So, what does this have to do with the environment? Well, by practicing yoga and trying to live a nonviolent life, I am also tying in to the intention of not harming our planet. If I harm the planet, I also harm myself, and bring negativity and violence and destruction into my life. Who wants that?

I felt a lot of joy when I first learned about ahimsa¸ because I learned that these parts of my life were both in alignment with my identity and purpose. I think that dissatisfaction, at its root, comes when we engage in actions or thoughts that are contrary to who we are as people, or who we want to be as people. When our actions don’t align with our intentions, it throws us out of balance and out of whack, and there’s a part of us that knows, deep down in our hearts.

So when we hurt the planet, when we actively destroy our home, it actually really does hurt us. You may say that you don’t care, but  think that deep down, you really do. I think that’s why when people who aren’t necessarily “environmentalists”, or aren’t actively engaged in environmental activism or incorporating sustainability into their daily lives, become so defensive. It’s because they don’t want to hurt the environment, because they know it’s wrong and bad. They just don’t know how to avoid harming the planet, because the culture that we live in makes it very, very difficult to do. There’s also not a lot of education out there.

So, take a moment to think about choosing a lifestyle of non-harming. You can take it to whatever degree you want- you don’t have to be perfect. However, avoiding harming our home may be a great way to align your life with the kind of person you want to be. I for one, will continue my attempts (I fail a lot, because I’m human and not perfect), and get as close as I can. And, I will continue striving to fulfill my purpose of telling the story of our planet. Thank you for doing me the honor of listening.

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