Ahimsa: the joy of gentle

Published October 2020, Mindful Planner

You may have already heard the term Ahimsa, meaning “non-harm”. In other words, how can we be more gentle to ourselves – and others?

Humankind has dabbled in many theories over the ages as to why the mystery of love is so important to our survival. Aristotle had much to say on the subject, saying that love is essential to the pursuit of happiness – in fact, he was among the first to profess that self-love is the prerequisite to loving others. 

Around the same time as Aristotle’s revelations, somewhere between 500 BCE to 200 BCE, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were created – a series of ancient Indian teachings that invite us to connect with ourselves and the world in more meaningful ways. Ahimsa, the first of the ethical vows (or Yamas, in Sanskrit), means “non-violence”. First and foremost, Ahimsa turns the gaze on ourselves, guiding us towards lessons deeply rooted in self-love. When we love ourselves, we are more able to love others; the more we love, the less we bring harm to the world. 

Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas and Niyamas, suggests that ‘our inability to love and accept all the pieces of ourselves creates ripples – tiny acts of violence – that have huge and lasting impacts on others.’ By changing the harmful script we repeat to ourselves, we can begin our practice of Ahimsa. Maybe you tune in too frequently to your inner critic, who rattles off lies to you in front of the mirror each morning. Perhaps this voice alters the way you see yourself, and permeates the way you see those around you. Often, these thoughts are like layers of tattered old clothing that simply need to be shrugged off and replaced with something soft and new.

Mardi Bell, internationally celebrated yoga teacher now based in NSW, relates how Ahimsa shines its light during motherhood. ‘When my daughter was born and first passed to me, I had the feeling that I really had to get my self-esteem together,’ Mardi explains. ‘If we are judging ourselves, children are those mirrors. I am this child’s role model, their lighthouse.’ 

Ahimsa is about orchestrating meaningful, long-term growth and empowerment. It asks us to use critical thinking to assess each situation, going beyond the fear of failure or putting ourselves out there; to ensure that our actions, thoughts and words are creating a life of long-lasting kindness. 

Perhaps Ahimsa’s greatest power is when combined with the second Yama, Satya – honouring truth. Maybe your calling is to be honest with those around you to create more authenticity in your relationships. Maybe Ahimsa means setting strict boundaries for yourself. Or letting go of helping hands, flying on your own, and allowing others to do the same. Deborah Adele says that when we are living our most genuine life, ‘Everyone around us benefits from the aliveness we feel.’ 

Like a powerful chain reaction, the more we honour ourselves, the more we may honour others. We can all be loving lighthouses, illuminating the darkness in the pursuit of collective peace. 

Words by Rose Mascaro 

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Rose Mascaro is a writer, editor and teacher who is passionate about teaching others how to build a life of creative bliss. A published writer, and the 2020 editor of Teen Breathe magazine Australia, she has a Master of Arts in creative writing.