The first of the yamas (from Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga) is ahimsa, most commonly translated as non-violence. As you may know, the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali’s 8 limbs are guidelines for the way we think, behave, and interact with ourselves and the world. For more detail on the 8 limbs, check out my educational video on the topic, and stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I’ll spend a little more time on the topic in general.
Today’s thoughts are on ahimsa, or non-violence, but really thinking about ahimsa as it relates to ourselves, as well as others. Ahimsa is traditionally thought of in terms of avoiding violence or harm to other humans or to animals. I think this interpretation is pretty obvious to most people. But perhaps more important is the idea of avoiding violence toward ourselves. There are many ways that we might unknowingly be expressing violence toward ourselves, from abusing our bodies though excessive diet or over-exercise, to over-working and stressing our bodies and minds to the point of exhaustion, to violent thoughts toward our bodies and ourselves (“I’m so angry that my body developed this cancer”, or “I hate the way my body is since my cancer treatment”, or “Why can’t I just be over this already?”). The Buddha famously said “You, as much as anyone in the universe, deserve your own love and affection” (there is some controversy as to whether he really said it, but I like it one way or the other). And it is true. It is easy to always focus our energy and efforts on those around us or our work, prioritizing the needs of others over our own, in fact maybe never even considering our own needs. But we must learn to really listen to our own bodies and spirits, to hear what they need, and to be kind, patient, and gentle with ourselves.
After all, consider what your body and mind have been through, and how amazing they are to have carried you through your life and all of its challenges to this point. Despite everything, our bodies are resilient and strong, persevering though toxic treatments, healing wounds, and recovering. Our minds are strong and adaptable, able to handle the stresses of regular life and those associated with cancer and cancer treatment on top of that! Just take a moment to recognize how amazing you really are. Direct some gratitude to your body and mind for carrying you through, and then allow yourself to feel kindness and compassion for yourself growing from the inside. As you begin to cultivate this love and understanding for yourself, you will naturally feel those same feelings begin to grow toward those around you. This is the beauty of ahimsa, for ourselves and for those around us. Just as Pema Chodron says, “Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world”.