I’ve got to admit, it’s been a rough week. We were warned that re-entry into the world might be hard after spending an entire weekend wrapped within the safe warm cocoon that is Teacher Training at It’s All Yoga … yet, I still wasn’t prepared for what lay ahead.
Life hit me on all fronts: I wasn’t feeling well physically. I was extra swamped at work. Then there was the yoga school homework – reading, writing, practicing, thinking, observing … a long list of tasks that I was oh so excited to work though, but oh so hard pressed to find any time or energy to devote to completing. And — the cherry on top — yesterday was moving day.
When I was faced with the reality of what lay ahead for me this week, my knee-jerk reaction was that I was going to do it all. You see, “perfectionist” has been my M.O. for years. For most of my life, my motto was something along the lines of “get it all done perfectly” — and I took that motto seriously.
There was a time when I would have pushed through: sacrificing sleep to stay up until 4 a.m. doing homework, skipping lunch to cram in an extra hour of work, and staying at work until 9 p.m., completely ignoring my personal well-being and self-care needs. But this week we’re studying ahimsa (nonviolence) in teacher training, and somewhere around Wednesday I had to pause from my frantic habitual “doing” and remember/accept — yet again — that my “get it all done perfectly” approach is truly a form of violence in my life.
Let’s take a step back for a moment: what is ahimsa?
Ahimsa is the first of five yamas (restraints) in Patanjali’s eight limbed Raja Yoga path outlined in The Yoga Sutras. According to Judith Lasater, the yamas provide us with basic guidelines for how to live life in a way that will lead to both personal fulfillment and benefit to society, but are “not presented in an attempt to control behavior based on moral imperatives” — rather, as a reminder that “if we choose certain behavior we get certain results.”
To me ahimsa is about so much more than physical violence (wars, fist fights, and the like). For most of us (perhaps all of us), our words, thoughts, and actions provide an extremely rich and nuanced source of ahimsa study (read: they unfortunately contain oh so many instances of violence).
Where does violence show up in my life?
I don’t know about you, but I am confronted by the opportunity to choose violence nearly every moment of every day:
- Choices about what foods I will eat.
- Choices about how I will engage with other people.
- Choices about my priorities.
- Choices about how I will communicate.
- Choices about my internal dialogue.
- Choices about how I will spend money.
I could go on and on …
To me, practicing ahimsa is about having a never ending series of choices. It is something we do over and over and over again, every moment of every single day. It is both:
- The enduring power we have to choose the least violent option, and
- The endless amount of compassion we have for ourselves and others when we predictably do not always choose that least violent option (
And the beauty of practicing ahimsa is that when I remember to choose the nonviolent path — even when I choose to perform just a small subtle nonviolent act, such as starting my day by eating a nutritious breakfast — it can have a profound impact on my day, and on the lives of the people I happen to come into contact with that day.
Ahimsa in action (aka “ahimsa ate my homework”).
This week I was confronted with a choice about how to handle my inability to complete all of the homework for teacher training. I desperately wanted there to be more hours in the day and more days in the week, so that I could get it all done perfectly, but that simply wasn’t going to happen. It took me a few days to get there, but ultimately I realized that letting myself off the hook (being okay with the fact that I would not be doing all of my assigned work), was actually truly “doing my homework” (practicing ahimsa). And as soon as I embraced this nonviolent/more peaceful option, I felt as though a heavy weight was lifted from my shoulders and like I could breathe again.