Ahimsa: ‘Do no harm’.

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It is cool to be kind….not cruel to be kind!

This Sanskrit word opens a mélange of ideas, beliefs, and opinions about what ‘do no harm’ actually means.   ‘Ahimsa’ is so easily expressed but not so easy to adhere to at times.

And….the antithesis to ‘do no harm’ is really very, very  simple –

As expressed by the great author Henry James:    “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Nothing is more unattractive than someone being unkind about another and nothing is more futile than one being unkind about oneself.

Recently I held a ‘Soul Soothing Sunday’ whereupon students came to a gentle Hatha yoga class and we sat around discussing ‘Ahimsa’.  Off to dinner afterwards, and the conversation was still continuing – and today is still continuing – weeks later in fact!

Many have come forward with responses to what ‘Do no harm’ means to them.  Here are some of the precepts in leading a life of ‘Ahimsa’, some of which you may never have considered before this.

  • Think before you speak
  • Keep your word
  • Know that betrayal in any form can be devastating to the one who has trusted you
  • Do not believe you have the right to change the direction of another’s life
  • Proffer compassion not retaliation.
  • Use your rational intellect in seeking truth rather than jumping to conclusions and being ruled by the ‘emotional mind’.  In other words, seek facts not here say – assumptions don’t cut it.
  • No judgment
  • No gossip
  • Charm is one thing, honesty is another.  Nothing can be more harmful than those who are passively aggressive.  (Those who are sweet-faced but are really silent assassins).
  • Avoid aggressive people whenever possible, ‘for they are vexations to the spirit’ (as quoted in The Desiderata).
  • Understand that everything one says will have a ripple effect.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Be kind to yourself.  Be kind to yourself.
  • Understand that everything one does affects this world.
  • Stand alone if necessary and be strong rather than join the crowd and be carried away by the majority.
  • Understand the human condition.
  • Offer a hand and not an opinion unless requested.
  • Offer a smile and not a scald.
  • Let go of social conditioning.
  • Live in beauty.
  • Be mindful in all that you do.
  • Let people in the queue.
  • Follow your heart.
  • Stay out of harm’s way. If you are in the presence of someone causing you harm, remove yourself from his/her  path.
  • Diffuse rather than ignite.
  • Lead the way – don’t acquiesce.
  • If you are in the company of those whom you know feel harm in your presence (e.g. jealousy) stay away for their sake and for you own!
  • Know what kindness looks and feels like.
  • Do not separate yourself by beliefs, values, nationality, religion, disposition, tradition and status – we are all doing our best.  We are all in this together.
  • Be sensitive to the fact, that it is very easy to harm.

I have learned from my teachers that ‘Ahimsa’ is the golden rule of yoga and if one can fully achieve the practice of ‘Do no harm’, one need learn no other form of yoga, for all the other practices are included in it.

And so, there are many, many paths to peace.

Hold hands with humanity and one can then be free from judgments, criticism, assumption, hatred and enmity.

Understanding is the key.

Kindness is the way…

Idealistic?     Well, why not!

Annemaree x

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Just Breathe

Three years ago I received a telephone call from my youngest brother, Paul.  I shall never forget the anguish in his voice as he explained that his first newborn, 6-week-old baby Thomas Rowley, had just been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.

I felt the pain well up inside me as he spoke and I tried with all my might to stay calm for his sake, but alas the tears started to flood as I realized how significant and challenging this little boy’s life could become.  Not to mention, the pain and strain on his lovely parents, Paul and Tania.

My yoga training flew straight out the window….or so it seemed.

I cried and cried and cried.  I simply couldn’t stop.  I hibernated and tried to be calm, making copious cups of tea and laying my hands on anything that might be soothing  chocolate and licorice mainly).

Yes, it sounds as though it was all about me, and it was at the time!

I was of no value to anyone who came within a tear drop’s distance of my whimpering self.  In all, I cried for 24 hours non-stop.  I awoke throughout the night sobbing.  I sobbed doing the dishes, in the shower and walking along the street.

A headstand was out of the question because I simply would have drowned.

With red-rimmed eyes, a throbbing head and a heavy heart I attended a class being held by my yoga teacher, Shanti Gowans.   Ironically she arrived into Melbourne that weekend. I attended her class and tried to remain inconspicuous amongst my yoga teacher friends.  Yes, there were inquisitive looks.  Puffed cheeks and swollen eyes were not characteristic of my persona and when one asked me if I was OK, I immediately broke down like a wailing banshee and grabbed at anyone who would hug me.  Yes, ‘I’m fine’ I said.  Well, that was authentic – not!

Shanti didn’t breathe a word and not a word passed between us on that day.  I laid down on the floor to take part in her 2-hour yoga class.  The tears came and came until my yoga mat was flooding.  I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t smile.  Wavelets of water slid across my chest and every time I tried to do an inversion the tears would back-track and slide straight up my nose.  But…deep down I knew that something would eventually turn the ‘tap of tears’ off and prepare me to be of support to wee Thomas in a calm and peaceful manner.  But what?

Have you ever attended a crowded yoga class and believed the teacher was specifically and exclusively talking to you?

All I could hear her say was “if you think your life is falling apart, just breathe”.  Over and over. “Just breathe”.  “Just breathe”.  “Just breathe”.  In and out, softly, gently, deeply.  “If you think your life is falling apart, just breathe”.  The breath will heal you, hold you, and comfort you.  “Just breathe”.

I tried.  I really tried.

That afternoon I was committed to take my own yoga class. I didn’t want to disappoint my students by cancelling.  The room was dark so I assumed they wouldn’t notice my face’s disfigurement.  And….. most of the class was done with the ‘eyes’ closed.  I bottled up the tears and when the students had all departed from the room, I sat alone in what seemed like the very trough of misery, and howled.  And then…. ‘just breathed’.  Again.  And again.

The more I focused on the breath the more the pain in my heart started to subside.  The tears began to diminish and within a few more hours, I calmed right down.  I had grieved. It was no longer about me. Anyway, I greatly dislike being absorbed ‘in me’. It was now to be about Thomas. I had stepped out of my own way and was ready to be of service.

…to be continued

(with love from ‘Auntie’).

(and thank you Fiona Handbury for taking this beautiful photograph of our Thomas).