FIRST DO NO HARM
By Sydney Solis
When I worked as a newspaper reporter in California I could never read my story in the newspaper the next day. Even though it arrived on my front door step each morning and I read everything else, I didn’t read my articles because I was terrified of finding the slightest error and being imperfect. I couldn’t bear to witness any flaw in final publication.
Instead of focusing on the fact that I wrote a story to the best of my abilities that was of service to the public, I chose the negative route of focusing on any flaws. Practicing yoga has made me realize that I was doing great harm to myself back then, and that this pattern of negative thinking hindered my life through the types of people and circumstances it attracted. Now I’ve become aware of my thinking patterns and have been able to change them for the better. As a result, I have achieved a certain level of peace inside.
Every day we bomb ourselves with negative thinking. I got it from my parents and we also get it from our teachers, spouses, friends and especially the media. This negative thinking gets hammered deep into our unconscious, which in turn is projected out into the world. Our world is full of people attacking others for the very same flaw that they cannot bear to see in themselves. The Bible, however, guides us to “Pluck the mote out of your own eye before that of another.” We can end the violence and heal ourselves through the practice of yoga.
There is a weapon we can use to protect ourselves from the violence of negative thinking. In the eight limbs of yoga the very first limb is the yamas -- a code for moral discipline toward others and ourselves. The very first yama is ahimsa, a practice of non-harming or non-violence. Thou shalt not kill is the first of the Ten Commandments. B.K. S. Iyengar in his book, The Tree of Yoga, says the yamas are like the roots of a tree. It is the foundation in which everything will grow from and must be practiced if we want to make progress in yoga and improve our lives and environment. Starting with ahimsa we can easily think of the violence that is our in the world today. But we must also face the violence inside of us and the violence we wage against ourselves and apply ahimsa there.
In a story from India there was once a man who sold mirrors. He dreamed of all the things he would do with the money from selling the mirrors, including marrying a princess. He decides, however, that if any domestic trouble appears, he will take care of it with his fists. And with that he gave an angry and terrific smash to all his mirrors, shattering them and his plans.
This story illustrates that the violence that we do to ourselves with negative thinking ultimately affects us as it ripples from our foundation and extends to the violence in the world. Attacks on ourselves for our faults, shames, guilt, regrets, imperfections and other feelings create a war inside us. We also harm ourselves through bad habits, such as greed, stealing, abuse of the senses, etc., which in turn affect the world and then return to us.
In another story from India, a couple is jealous of the holy neighbors next door. The husband hires a thug to burn the neighbor’s house down and will identify it for the thug by placing a lotus on the neighbor’s roof. When the husband comes home, the wife asks what the beautiful lotus is for. He tells her its nothing and to forget about it. But in the middle of the night she sees the lotus on the neighbor’s roof and out of greed places it on her roof. Of course the thug burns down their house instead.
In the Hindu Story of Ganesha’s Lesson, Ganesha discovers that his mother, the Goddess Parvati, was also the little cat he treated so poorly when he was playing with it in the forest earlier. She teaches him that the whole material world - the body of the Goddess - is interconnected. She instructs him to become conscious of his actions and do as little harm as possible, because that harm will come back to him through that interconnectedness.
This story is also illustrated in Tolstoy’s telling of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria. The King, at war, finds himself in the body of the enemy, suffering the same torture he afflicted before he realizes that they are actually one. By practicing ahimsa with the world and ourselves and realizing that our actions matter and affect us, we can end the war and make peace in our hearts and environment.
Iyengar says to balance non-violence if the foundation of ahimsa. By balancing the left and right, violence and non-violence and integrating them, that is true non-violence. We can achieve this balancing act by practicing yoga, by strengthening our foundation through ahimsa and by facing and exploring the unpleasant side of ourselves. Unless we examine our life and shine light on any hidden obstructions we will continue to suffer.
Practice yoga and contemplate these stories and non-violence throughout the day and week. Keep track of your thoughts. Catch every negative thought and examine it, find the roots of the negativity and change that thought to peace, love and joy, Ask, what is violent about me? What am I angry, hateful, resentful, untruthful or greedy about? See what images and follow the images to find stories where the negativity arises. Journal, do dream work and write and share stories with others about any violence and negativity you have experienced in your childhood, adult life or with others. Practice the deep relaxation technique of yoga nidra, or sleep yoga, and give yourself an intention to replace every negative thought with love. Find out what things have brought peace to your life. What nice things have you done for yourself and others? How can you be kind to yourself and others right now? Tomorrow?
The Hindu Goddess Durga is a powerful symbol to evoke to clear away interior negativity. Her sword of fierce powers -- cheerfulness, discipline, mantra, self-study, service and prayer -- cut down demons of harmful attitudes and negative thinking that cloud the vision of the true self. Another aspect of Durga, Kali, in her battle with the demon Rakta Bija, licks up the demon’s blood before it hits the earth. When we replace negative thoughts with love we become like her, licking up negativity before it sinks into our subconscious and creates samskaras, habitual negative patterns we become enslaved to.
Love is the greatest tool we can use in practicing ahimsa.
By practicing yoga I have become increasingly aware of how hard I am on myself. Now I work on not judging, but loving, forgiving and treating myself gently. I tell myself that I do the best I can and everything is OK. A friend told me that things that aren’t perfect have “character.” So that’s who I am and I can love and accept myself. With self-acceptance and self-love all needs are fulfilled through the heart.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. condoned self-love. That self-love is in turn expressed outward toward the world and others. The Buddha taught in the Dammapada that hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. Christ taught to love they enemies. There is a Sufi story in which people ask Jesus why he treats with love and kindness the people who jeer and curse him. His response was, “Because that’s all I have in my purse.”
St. John of the Cross said, “Where there is no love, I will send love, and then there will be love.” Replace every negative thought with love. You may find yourself even loving George W. Bush! Instead of sending him hateful thoughts, as I admit I wrestle with, think of him as Ravana, the demon who stole Sita in the Hindu epic the Ramayana. The back story, I heard from yoga teacher Aadil Palkivala, is that Ravana was God’s most beloved servant, who willingly took on the role of demon in the cosmic story with Rama out of love for and in service of the Lord.
We are like the jewels in Indra’s net, each reflecting others and others reflecting us. When we realize that we are all interconnected and everything is of the universal consciousness we stop harming ourselves and stop harming others because through our own suffering, grief and healing we become compassionate. By telling stories to each other we can sit down, open our hearts up together and find what’s there. We can discover that none of us can cast the first stone because we realize we are all the same person with the same stories, experiences and feelings. Then we can have peace inside us and peace on earth. That is my wish.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
Doorways to the Soul, 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World , by Elisa Davy Pearmain,
Why? By Nikolai Popov
Peace Tales, World Folktales to Talk About , by Margaret Read MacDonald.
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