Ah, the Vegetarian one…. Generally one of the first and most common responses to taking on this practice, to abstain from doing harm, is to become vegetarian. And sadly, all too often that is where the practice of Ahimsa begins and ends. Well if only it were as simple as striking meat off the shopping list. Well guess what, it IS possible to abstain from meat and be the proud possessor of a chronic personality disorder. There sometimes seems to be a feeling that vegetarianism absolves you in some way. Now I am not for one moment saying that a healthy and socially responsible diet is not a good thing. But I am saying that non harming goes an awful lot deeper than that.
Ahimsa means avoiding harm on every level. This includes gossiping about people. It includes judging people whose mindsets do not fit in with yours or who don’t make you feel good about yourself. It includes avoiding emotional blackmail as a tool of getting what you want, of playing the ‘poor me’ game. And perhaps to quit partaking of those really dreadful passive aggressive Facebook ‘debates’.. In short, it means not compromising anyone else if you can possibly avoid it. It is so much more subtle than simply avoiding the obvious aspects of physical harm.
Why is this the first Yama? The very starting point of our Yoga practice? Think about it. What makes us want to do harm? What makes us angry? And why? We tend to get angry to protect our boundaries- and perhaps this is well justified at times. However, when we put down our weapons, our hurt feelings which lead to vindictiveness, our feelings of inferiority which make us devise new ways of being in control and so avoid any true learning, when we do this something interesting happens. Dismantling our own defences makes us a conscientious objector in the war of the ego. Ahimsa could also be seen as a way of deliberately making yourself vulnerable, at least for a while.
We have probably all heard of ‘turning the other cheek’ as an expression and we interpret this as passivity. But when we put this into practice, when we really take this on board and stop reacting in our old ways it is as if our landscapes broaden. If you are not habitually using up your energy reserves on bitching, criticizing and judging you actually have more of it. And you have more time too. And people start to treat you differently. Just try it. The proof is in the pudding. And of course you are not going to stop feeling angry from time to time. You are human after all but stopping all anger from day one is not the point of this practice. It is about learning about your own triggers, examining them, accepting them, and ultimately being able to let them go.
Ahimsa is a constant meditative practice. With this you foster an entirely new mindset. And I personally feel that is an awful lot more exciting than a Vegan cookbook could ever be.