Ahimsa is the practice of having a nonviolent approach to life.
It is not just refraining from physical harm. It is recognizing that violence is often subtle, and begins in the mind and with the self before it manifests in the world. Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, which are guidelines by which yogis and other spiritual seekers can live.
The two major misunderstandings about Ahimsa is that it is just another word for pacifism and that adopting an attitude of non-resistance ultimately means becoming complacent with what’s unjust. Neither of these is true, nor are they helpful. Ahimsa is a holistic approach to peacefulness that begins with your relationship to yourself. It means acting from a place of power and groundedness, rather than reactiveness and out-of-control emotion.
Here are a few ways to practice real Ahimsa, which is to do no harm to anything (especially yourself) but also not to tolerate nonsense.
1. Try a judgment detox. Start to become aware of how often you make judgments about other people or things, and how often the things you have the strongest opinions about are often just projections from your own insecurities, wounds, and fears. Recognize that you do not see the world as it is, you see it as you are.
2. Recognize that anger comes from a place of feeling powerless. Anger is the emotion that flares up when we feel as though we have no other options, that we are in a place of complete helplessness. To not evoke anger from others, don’t let them feel as though they don’t have options. To not let anger consume you, recall your inherent internal power, and remember that powerlessness is an illusion.
3. Recognize that jealousy comes from a place of self-denial. We don’t covet other people’s things – we only become self-critical when we realize we aren’t allowing ourselves to pursue that which we most deeply want.
4. Become the person you want to be. Doing so will help you overcome your internal conflicts. This is crucial because it is only in finding peace within ourselves that we can relate peacefully to those outside of us.
5. Draw boundaries, and speak up. The less you advocate for yourself, the more your resentments will build and you will become passive-aggressive. Unexpressed frustrations build until they are a toxic force. It is important to respond to things with honesty as they occur. Otherwise, a backlog of suppressed feelings will erode at your emotional navigation system.
6. Stop bullying yourself into performing better. Aside from the fact that willpower isn’t an effective motivator, being cruel to yourself guarantees that you won’t know how to be kind to others. The degree to which you are able to be kind to yourself is equivalent to how kind you are able to be toward others. Start here.
7. Stop stealing other’s reputations. Stop gossiping for the sake of entertainment. Find something to talk about with friends that isn’t other people’s business, and your negative judgments of them.
8. Be mindful of where your food comes from. Not only whether or not you are eating animal products, but consider the work conditions of the processed or packaged foods you consume, too.
9. Try to wish joy and wellness to those who most frustrate, challenge and enrage you. Most people are incapable of doing so.
10. Ask yourself who you would be without your fears, without your doubts, and without your insecurities. Realize that is who you truly are, and everything else is an illusion to be overcome.
11. Recognize how subtle violence can be. It’s not always inflicting physical pain. Often, violence finds its beginnings in unspoken beliefs, harsh judgments, cruel assumptions and “othering” anyone who is unlike you.
12. Start seeing the world as a network of people you are inherently and inextricably connected to. The “me vs. them” narrative is destructive and turns life into a competition, rather than a collaboration.
13. Stop pushing yourself to keep reaching for perfection. It is unattainable and impossible, and will only serve to anger you. Rather, work on being intentional and present, work on being 1% better than you were yesterday, and that is all.
14. Let people learn for themselves. When you try to take on people’s problems as your own, you rob them of an invaluable teacher, which is discomfort. It may seem counterintuitive, but often the most helpful and peaceful thing you can do is allow people to learn on their own terms.
15. Accept people where they are. Stop trying to play their god. You are not in a place to judge whether or not they are good, bad, on their path or off of it. You don’t know, and can’t know, and the assessments you make only serve your own ego.
16. Embrace that which is hurting you. The more you resist, the more it will persist. Recognize that your demons are just disassociated parts of yourself that you have not yet learned to love.