The New Non-Violence

Well, hi. If you’ve followed me for the past few years, you’re familiar with this old routine. I start the year out strong with a solid plan and intention to post monthly (at the least), usually focused around the yamas and niyamas, or ethical restraints and practices of yoga philosophy. I dive into each behavioral guideline, boring you with some personal anecdote about how I encounter and navigate the (self designated) “Yama/Niyama of the Month,” weave in some pseudo sage-like advice about how we can all do better with these concepts and practices, and cap it all off with a snarky pop culture reference some full-circle quip. Well, sorry to say (albeit just under the wire), this year is no different.

But as well all know… it is. 2021 started off with a shiny sense of optimism as we tried to collectively shake off the residue from the, as we now know it, dumpster fire in which we survived–sometimes barely, sometimes not at all–for months (er, years). As we were quickly reminded though, the fire is very much still burning and the muck of what got us to this point in history will stick around way longer than anyone anticipated. So, it only makes sense that it will require way more effort to get us out the other side. That EFFORT, though, takes many different forms for many different people, as we have witnessed, experienced, and in some cases, suffered.

Non-violence (or ahimsa, the first and most important yama) is sometimes associated with demonstrations, protests, and even riots. Certainly not a new concept, folks have been employing non-violence as a political act for decades by lying down in the streets, staging sit-ins, or mass meditations. But now the rules are bending and lines between what constitutes violence or non-violence increasingly blur. Is simply refraining from directly using a weapon against another person, but rather raucously calling for their death and demise considered non-violent action? Does throwing words of hatred, insult, and thoughtlessness at a stranger, acquaintance, or family member over social media make it okay because “words can never hurt me?” Of course not.

And yet, we see these things all the time (for a long time) and, because of their frequency, become a little more numb with each instance. As the spectrum of violent behavior expands, so does our personal capacity to absorb shocking news and accept human atrocities. Consciously or not, we let so much slide by our periphery and stick our head in the sand, waiting for it all to pass. Or, we give in and engage in reciprocal and equally thoughtless behavior, justifying our own words and actions under the veil of righteousness. OR, somewhere in the middle, we make passive aggressive comments, virtually or IRL, aimed at no one but everyone at the same time, releasing ourselves from responsibility or accountability. As you might empathize, none of these tactics tends to yield desirable, or any, results.

But maybe the other end of the spectrum, non-violent behavior, is also expanding. Just as people practice ahimsa in a multitude of ways — strict veganism, loving-kindness meditations, serving as an essential medical worker — perhaps the list of ways in which we can each practice non-violence in active, daily, and effective forms also is also vast and varied. Like Arjuna, who’s initial instinct is to throw down his bow & arrow and refrain from battle, avoiding conflict with his family and loved ones, we might also choose to abstain, at first. Yet with a shift in perspective and some guidance (whether it be from our highest self, spiritual guide, or trusty chariot driver) we might see the larger picture and greater good of our potential actions and, if we’re really lucky, destined duty.

More likely than not, our actions and duty do not include slaying members of our family who happen to stand on the opposite side of the battlefield (proverbial or not). But, perhaps also like our young warrior, we simply have not opened our mind up to the radical possibilities that exist when every choice we make is grounded in compassion, justice, and equity for all beings — not just those we love or who align with our personal dogmas. Confronting extreme violence, ignorance, and hatred might require a complete re-imagination of what our potential responses look, feel, and sound like and stepping back from our default reactions — sticking our head in the sand or indulging in Facebook feces fights alike.

So what else can we do? What does RADICAL NON-VIOLENCE mean on a practical level for those of us who do not exist in sacred Hindu texts or have a personal Dharma coach? These are not rhetorical questions; I am literally asking for suggestions. Obviously I don’t have all the answers, but for what it’s worth, here are some ways in which I strive to practice ahimsa (some more radical than others):

  • Wear a mask.
  • Engage in calm, thoughtful discussion with those whom I find myself in disagreement.
  • Disengage from conversation with those whom I am in conflict but will not engage in calm, thoughtful discussion with me.
  • Eat a more vegetarian / vegan diet (I’m generally pescatarian).
  • Practice asana, pranayama, and meditation everyday, anywhere between 5 and 90 minutes.
  • Question how my own words and actions on a daily basis are adding to or taking away from the equity, justice, and opportunities for people with less privilege than me.
  • Make necessary changes based on above findings and serve as an example for anyone who cares.
  • Volunteer.
  • Vote.

So, I made it (it is still January after all). I can’t make any promises about the continued consistency of this blog or anything else, but what I can and will do is MY BEST, in everything. We are flawed, distracted, indulgent fuckups who sometimes have good thoughts and do nice things. For me, the yamas and niyamas just help tip the balance of behavior in favor of the latter, and I invite you to follow along here and @littleyogithatcould. Feel free to comment — I’d really love to hear from you, snark and quips included. Stay well and keep moving, friends.

photo: Banksy inspired yard art in my neighborhood. Artist unknown.

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