Ahimsa: “Non-harming” is more than the absence of harm

firefighter2Two weeks ago was my first day back at dance since my foot injury. I might not have gone, but Hazel really wanted to see her friend, and the night before she caught me in a particularly benevolent mood and got me to promise to take her. The next morning, I presented some very compelling reasons why we should stay home but Hazel wouldn’t have it and insisted we go. I upheld my end of the bargain, reluctantly.

I still have my boot on, protecting my broken foot-bone, so when I arrived I parked myself in a space at the edge of the dance floor. I was cautious and careful as I stretched and moved, ambivalent about my participation. After a while, I started relax and noticed how good it felt to be there, listening to how I wanted to move and enjoying being in the company of so many dancers. I closed my eyes and rolled onto my back and let my legs float around in the air as if in water. When the music picked up, I sat up and shook my arms around to the beat. This went on for a while until I eventually felt like being still. I opened my eyes and looked around at all the moving, active bodies, which always floods me with feelings of love for these people and this practice. I let my eyes wander until I saw two dancer friends on the other side of the floor. One dear man was carrying another man, firefighter style. Or maybe like a groom would carry his diminutive bride.

.firefighter1bride

It was so tender and so kind and so unusual to witness this kind of intimacy, I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. As I sat there with tears in my eyes, a few other dancers approached and laid hands and walked around these two men, witnessing this sacred moment and giving energy to this beautiful thing that was happening.   laying hands It was really so powerful and so beautiful, and I continued to think about this over the week. Then, in a practice the other morning, I remembered ahimsa, the first of the yamas, guidelines for ethical living. Ahimsa is sometimes translated as non-harming, but it is so much more than the absence of harm. In Mr. T.K.V. Desikachar’s book, The Heart of Yoga, he talks about ahimsa as genuine friendliness. There are lots of people I cross paths with that are non-harming: People in the store, people driving, families at my kids’ school. I don’t feel threatened or unsafe with any of them. But when I think of people that embody this non-harming principle, it’s more than just a neutral feeling… I feel safe, I feel cared for and there’s an acceptance that comes through. Their friendliness puts me at ease. I don’t have to prove myself or be anything but who I am, flaws and all. And to me, this is the attitude of non-harming–This kindness, the tenderness of holding someone safely, the sweet support of laying hands. Putting someone at ease with a genuine, friendly exchange. This is part of what it can be to practice ahimsa and what an impact it can make, even from way across a dance floor.

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8 thoughts on “Ahimsa: “Non-harming” is more than the absence of harm

  1. really touching and beautifully written. sometimes i think these people that exude the type of kindness and acceptance you’re writing about are living the epitomy of self-acceptance, and it’s because of this they can accept and embrace us with all our flaws. but i think the closest i’ve ever seen to what i consider “enlightenment” is this exactly – pure ahimsa.

    1. I think you’re totally right, Ann. I come back to the strategic positioning of ahimsa in the 8 limbs— #1, #1. It’s the first of the yamas, the first limb, and it seems so foundational to All the other stuff we aim to do in yoga. We practice it with others, we practice it in our relationship to ourselves. And to be in the presence of someone who does this really well is such a beautiful gift.

    1. Chase, it was your comment about seeing the sincere and wonderful friendliness of Mr. Desikachar that helped me to reflect on what ahimsa looks like in action. The absence of harm is beautiful, for sure, but the embodiment of non-harming, the attitude, the way it plays out in relationships and life, can be so much more. Love it.

    1. Seeing those two dear friends together was LOVE. So many of us saw and appreciated it on that day and it was beautiful to witness and to share in it. ahimsa = love, indeed.

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