I was so excited when Suki contacted me to guest post. As I read her article about ahimsa, I could feel the warmth and genuine love that comes out of her writing and experiences. I’m thrilled to share her insights with you. Enjoy.
Ahimsa: A Practical Guide
The first time I learned what “ahimsa” was, I was hovering in eagle pose, sticky feet trying to find balance on my hot yoga mat. As the yoga instructor spoke, I breathed in and out trying to focus on standing still. “Ahimsa,” she said, “is one of the first yamas of the Yoga Sutras and it means practicing non-violence.” She explained that it doesn’t just have to be physical violence, but also trying to tame violent thoughts or deeds. Immediately I pictured Gandhi, sitting crossed legged in front of me telling me about the power of doing no harm. But as the years have passed, I have realized just how much more “ahimsa” really means.
Growing up in Kenya, I saw all levels of poor and suffering. I have seen starvation and I have seen homelessness. There is always someone worse off than you. Moving to the United States when I was a teenager, I noticed a new form of suffering: those who are wealthy but terribly depressed. Money does not always bring happiness. There is always someone worse off than you. Through all of it, I have learned the importance of showing compassion. Whether you offer someone a hot meal, or brighten their day by paying them a compliment, or help a stranger change a tire, take note of your fellow man around you and reach out to them.
Showing compassion does not just stop with humans. It extends to animals too. One day I was driving back from a nature park when my husband and I saw a snapping turtle in the middle of the road. We knew it would have been crushed if it stayed there. So we got out of the car and stopped traffic to move the turtle out of the way. It was a dangerous task (snapping turtles can really hurt you), but carefully and steadily we were able to move the turtle to the other side of the road.
Another time we found an injured baby crow and saved it by taking it to the bird rescue center. I had the honor of freeing it one month later and watching it fly off all on its own. To this day it remains one of the most beautiful feelings I have ever experienced.
Don’t Participate in Violence
We live in a violent world. Every day there is another shooting, rape, or abduction. The news reports seem to suck you into their web of violence, making you believe that this “news” is the only news to report. But what about all the beautiful deeds that happened today? What about all the good things that happened? The blessings?
Practicing ahimsa means not participating in violence, not fighting, not going to war, not killing, not feeding into angry thoughts. If you feel angry, find another way to release it like exercise, yoga, or tai chi. Do not watch violent movies or play violent video games. It only seeps into your psyche and makes this violence seem justified. Instead take solace on your yoga mat and go within.
Meditate and Educate
In Jainism, the Daśavaikālika Sūtra says, “First knowledge, then compassion. Thus does one remain in full control. How can an ignorant person be compassionate, when he cannot distinguish between the good and the evil?”
When we sit in nature and close our eyes and listen to the sounds and voices that are within ourselves, only then do we acquire true knowledge. The answers lie within ourselves. To find compassion, we must encompass compassion in everything we do. You cannot say you are not an angry person, but then think angry thoughts all day. You cannot say you are not a killer and then think about killing people.
Ahimsa requires we look within by meditation, yoga, journaling, and healing. Once we heal ourselves, then we can heal others.
Giving Up Meat
In college I took a course on Indian Philosophy and Religion. We were reading The Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita when my professor brought up the importance of vegetarianism and karma. He said that when you eat the flesh of another being you are taking in their karma too. It took me a while to figure out what this meant, but years later it seems to all make sense: by taking a life, you are not only causing the animal pain and suffering, you are also taking on their pain and suffering.
Three years ago I began on the journey to give up meat and it has been one of the best things I have ever done. Paul McCartney once said, “Many years ago I was fishing, and as I was reeling in the poor fish, I realized – ‘I am killing him – all for the passing pleasure it brings me.’ And something inside me clicked, I realized as I watched him fight for breath, that his life was as important to him as mine is to me.”
One of the pillars of ahimsa is recognize the importance of every living being. We are all connected and we are all individual important parts of a greater whole. By showing compassion to animals and not participating in their demise, you will feel the earth show you compassion in turn.
Next time you are on your yoga mat, think about ahimsa and what little steps you can take to practicing ahimsa. If we all make little steps we can help each other and help the world.
Suki Eleuterio is a blogger, spiritualist, and poet. Living in South Florida, she has been practicing yoga for 7 years and enjoys spreading happiness and sunshine everywhere she goes. You can read more of her writing on her blog www.sookton.com or follow her on Twitter (@Sooktonsays) or Instagram (@Sookton).