Yoga Philosophy – Guidelines for Life

Ahimsa

At the park the other day with my son, I noticed that a group of kids had
formed around a patch of astroturf, with my son in the middle–arms spread
out as wide as two year old arms can reach, feet stubbornly planted.  He
was doing his best to defend a spider that the other kids were trying to
squash.  I laughed at his resolute “No !”, proudly recalling the numerous
times I have explained to him that we practice non-harming and that all
living creatures have a right to exist, just as we do.  Unfortunately, the
other mother at the park subscribed to a more common theory–spiders are
creepy, can bite and if spotted should have a terminal encounter with the
sole of a shoe.  When I protested, she told me there was only one option-
we had to kill it.  As a College English Instructor, I recognized that
this error in logic fell under a category called a “False Dilemma”– when
the author presents an either/or situation (in this case, life or death)
without consideration for alternatives.  So, I provided one–I found a
fast food napkin on the ground, scooped up the spider and moved him to the
grass.  The kids returned to playing and the other mother made sure to
keep her distance from the “crazy, spider loving hippie”.

The practice of Ahimsa, or non-harming, can be confusing at times.  We
live in a dynamic world, where not every decision is a simple as yes/no,
right/wrong.  As explained in the article Yoga Philosophy – Guidelines for
Life,  “The word ahimsa literally means not to injure or show cruelty to
any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more
than just lack of violence.  It means kindness, friendliness, and
thoughtful consideration of other people and things.”  At times, there are
as many considerations for “non-harming” as there are verbal cues for
Downward Facing Dog.  However, with both, we must decide which are the
most appropriate for our individual bodies and lives.  It’s our quiet,
reflective time on our yoga mats, or in meditation, that help us to filter
through the thoughts clouding our minds so that we can see and understand
all angles of the situation, and possibly more creative alternatives.
Importantly, the practice of Ahimsa inspires us to respond to situations,
instead of quickly react. In this way, we avoid clinging to those habitual
“False Dilemmas” and instead act with intentional kindness for every
creature we meet along this journey.

Megan Merchant, RYT 200, M.F.A.

December 27, 2011 - 5:43 pm January - Was totally stuck until I read this, now back up and rnunnig.

November 7, 2011 - 12:32 am Janice - Thank you for that life lesson... It is good to see people with heart and passion

October 12, 2011 - 7:08 pm Megan Merchant - Thank you for you thoughts, Willow. You pose a terrifically challenging question, one that I have meditated upon a lot. The only answer that I’ve been able to come up with is this : If you approach ahimsa from a non-dualistic perspective, then there is no need to consider yourself first or second--because we are all connected, and all the same. It’s our ego that denies this and latches onto self-preservation ( or ego-preservation). When it comes down to it, once attention to the ego is ceased, there is the commonality of the divine shining through all of us, equally. It takes this realization to overcome the idea that we should or should not be putting ourselves first, when in reality--there is no separation that demands it. The right decision is one that honors and serves the divine nature in each of us--even if the other party cannot see it. For me, this is super complex and hard to enact, but embracing a non-dualistic perspective is the only way I’ve been able to solve that riddle.

October 5, 2011 - 3:16 am Willow - I appreciate your understanding of a false dilemma in the practice of Ahimsa. I think societal responses often take priority in the public setting as acceptable behavior and I wish more people had the courage to act as they are instead of act as they have learned. I'm proud of you and your son's strength in defending the spider. I struggle to know how to practice Ahimsa in the bounds of personal relationships (i.e. a break up). Often it is said that Ahimsa starts with the non-harming of yourself. Does the self take priority in Ahimsa before it extends to others?

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