Ahimsa-pratisthayam tat-sannidhau vaira-tyagah PYS II.35
In the presence of one who is established in nonviolence, all hostilities cease.
On the subway the other day there was a group of young teenagers. They were acting boisterously and reveling in each other, as teens are wont to do. Suddenly, some part of their revel caused a great big BANG! of some kind to occur.
One teenager sheepishly says “That was loud…”
To which a compatriot replied “So? We’re in public… we’re not bothering nobody.”
While most of us would smile, as I did, at the idea of the compatriot, it made me realize we tend to share her perspective to a certain extent. We believe only in private do we affect others, are we important, can we disturb, are we connected. In public we tighten, draw in, arm ourselves and step out the door ready for battle.
That may seem a bit extreme, but take a moment to think about the degree to which you allow yourself to be vulnerable, perhaps even the degree to which you think vulnerability is more of a detriment to life, then a positive. Every time we step away from being vulnerable, one layer of armor is put on in order to deal with others – in private or public.
The armor we put on is generally in places where we have been hurt before. When someone “steps” on the places we’ve armored ourselves – we get triggered and react himsically. So ironically, in order to lessen harm, we wind up creating it.
In a recent teacher training with Rodney Yee, a student asked him “What do I do? All of these practices, when I practice them intently, leave me feeling sensitive. What do I do when I leave the practice space with that sensitivity?” To which he replied. “Nothing”
For him, one major benefit of the practice is to create and cultivate this sensitivity, and then share it with others. What’s the point if you’re open, vulnerable, and able to be authentic on your mat, if you close it all off when you walk out the door? Wouldn’t it be a more worthwhile question to ask “What do I do to stay sensitive when with others?” “How can I cultivate a vulnerability I can share with others?”
One way is to decide before you leave your house, every morning, to let go. Decide that nothing will be more important that day – not being on time, not your personal space, not being right – then ahimsa, then the breath. Because your ability to breathe slow and steadily like in asana class, is in direct correlation to how long you can stay vulnerable without drawing on armor, or allowing yourself to get triggered into harmful feelings.
This requires a great deal of self-honesty, to know yourself that well. We actually spend most of our time ignoring the places we’ve been wounded, the places we lash out, the places we’ve armored. If we do look at them, we are usually looking at the story of how it happened, why it happened, etc. – and never just letting it be that it happened.
A second way is in a preceding sutra (PYS II.33). “When one is disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think the opposite.” This is not the idea of putting a silver-lining on an event. It is the idea of antidotes – the idea that it’s not possible to hit someone and shake their hand at the same time. We must make a choice. It is a choice for our own inner state. It does not mean we put a happy face on the situation or wish it were different. It’s acknowledging that the only thing that we can truly change is ourselves, and so we change it. We uncurl the fist, and open our hand to shake. It doesn’t mean the other person is any more likable, any less arrogant or hurtful, any closer to being a better person with better choices. We have decided to shift our own perspective, without trying to shift anything else.
A third way to think about that is inspired by Ram Dass. In his book Paths to God, he relates a conversation he had with his father, a lawyer. Ram Dass had recently put out a recording of his talks, and was selling it for the exact price it took him to produce. His father found this ridiculous, asking him, even, if he was against capitalism! 🙂 Ram Dass asked him how much he had charged his Uncle Henry on a recent case his father had argued for Uncle Henry. His father asked if Ram Dass was crazy?! You don’t charge family. Ram Dass’s reply was that since he saw everyone as his family, he wouldn’t rip them off any more than his father would rip off Uncle Henry.
David Life describes the practice of yoga, in one part, as a practice of widening our circle of compassion. That we have our usual group of people we include in there – and if we can just keep extending it to 3 more people, to a couple more, to all different types of beings, to nonbeings – then we really start living in ahimsa.
The People – By Beaver Chief
A fourth way is the koan level, as Michael Stone calls it. This is when you are so steady in ahimsa, you embody it when you walk, in the way you put away props, the way you get into bed, and out of bed, the way you do laundy, and buy a metrocard – it’s all en expression of ahimsa.
A last way comes to us from Dogen – who advises that we speak to everyone as we would a baby. I don’t believe he’s asking us to make babytalk to everyone we meet. But if you can think about moments when you are talking to a baby – and how open and vulnerable you are in front of a baby – they see right through you, there’s no place to hide, and what would you really try to hide anyway? Think also, of how you think of that baby – as full of potential, possibility, of the concentrated seed of all the world of humanity. Then they get older and we start seeing them quite differently, and consequently, speaking to them quite differently. Could you offer this to others? Could you speak to them from that place in you, to that place in them?
In the end – it’s working towards cultivating a place of ahimsa within you – so it’s not so much something you have to do. You don’t have to do ahimsa, and try to speak ahimsa. You just are ahimsa, then you’re just sharing it with others. You are reshaping the field of people, beings, nonbeings, and energy around you, just the way you are.