Ahimsa: Finding Kindness in a (sometimes) unkind world

You ever listen to the news? Sometimes sadness and grief can fill up my heart. I hear about local stories of violence and hear about the wars worldwide, or smaller, more personal pains. When I head to my yoga mat I am asked to listen to that grief and mourning for sadness. Instead of pretending that this violence does not exist and deny that it is there, I have to process it and sometimes that means shedding a tear or two. (For me that happens in deep held hip openers like Pigeon)

The very first Yama, the guiding principles for a yoga practice is Ahimsa, which translates to non-violence. We often hear about see violent interactions, we know what they look like. Non-violence, what does that look like? Maybe it is peaceful protestors, a la Gandhi or the more recent One Billion Rising, but we have to see non-violence more often than that. I have been keeping my eyes open for peaceful interactions and it turns out that non-violent action is hidden in small acts of kindness. A simple smile or genuine hug. A moment of consideration for someone else, a self-loving thought and kind words.

I’ve also been thinking about violence and vulnerability (read another great post on the topic here). For me some of the most violent encounters I have ever personally experienced have been on the road. Once I was turning left onto my street and a person in the car honked at me, which I found rather irritating and rude. So I flipped the person off. This infuriated the driver who decided to turn left and follow me and then cut me off by turning into a driveway to yell at me. A lot of very, very angry words were shared. And I eventually just walked away. I was totally shaken up. My neighbors and friends near by helped calm me down. It could have gone worse. Thankfully it didn’t.

The really weird thing about biking is you never know what you are going to get. You may be riding down the street and get a friendly honk from a friend in a car or see another bike riding buddy and stop and chat. Or you might all of a sudden be dealing with some really serious road rage.

We traverse these emotional encounters like we traverse the hills. It is part of the journey. If yoga has really taught me one thing: it is that to best deal with a situation you to be present, not reliving the past or planning the future. And if you want to access the present you need to focus on your breath.

One of things I am working on the road is deescalating situations, take it down a notch. Sometimes yelling back, which to be honest can sometimes be a visceral and gut reaction, does not always serve the situation best. Perhaps there is an element of forgiveness we all need to work on. We are human and we make mistakes on the road. I believe we will make fewer mistakes if we are present. We might even make more connections if we smile.

I’ll leave you with a little bell hooks to ponder.

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

2 responses to “Ahimsa: Finding Kindness in a (sometimes) unkind world

  1. Kelli this is such a lovely reminder. Thank-you for posting this. I do believe that cars often sever our connections to each other and our environments.

    Even here in the home of ahimsa, the stresses of pushy crowds, littered roads, belching exhaust pipes, and aggressive honking traffic raise everyone’s blood pressure. But then you can walk into a shanti shanti restaurant or yoga studio, and see a framed picture of Gandhiji or His Holiness. Or, you have a friendly and genuine interaction with someone on the street, someone who shows you kindness and makes you smile. Both instances conjure the same warmth, little reminders of ahimsa, of human compassion and connection. It is the present knowledge of this connection that will keep us and our planet healthy and truly alive.

  2. Pingback: Tapas ~ Heat, Fire and Hills | Pedal, Stretch, Breathe

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