In contemplative traditions there has always been an emphasis on non – harming. In the Buddhist and yogic traditions it is referred to as Ahimsa, which means to refrain from harming, or taking the life of any living being. It is one of the 5 precepts that lay people take as gifts that bring freedom and guidelines to intentionally living an ethical and thoughtful life.
It’s easy to imagine how our world would be changed if only more people considered non – harming as a way of life. It wouldn’t matter from what religious or spiritual tradition it was inspired by, as long as it were taken fully to heart. Although it takes effort to live without causing harm to our selves or to others, it is ultimately freeing for all involved.
It’s useful to consider ways in which we harm ourselves, because this is something that if we are aware of, we can work with beginning right now. There have always been people who cause harm to themselves and others in the world – and it seems as especially right now, we are besieged with harmful, destructive and violent behavior – in action and in speech. We often blame everyone else for their (harmful) behavior, and there’s plenty to point fingers at, but rather than put the problem onto ‘another’ what can we realistically do right now, right where we are? (For suggestions about taking social action, please see the bottom of the column to the left).
To begin, let’s consider what we can do by being aware of and just by listening to, our own inner world. We think that what we say to ourselves inside is private, when in actuality – it shows outwardly – in our behavior, in what we say to others, in our work in the world – we literally walk our inner talk.
Be aware and listen to your inner critic: By hearing our internal critical voice(s) that each of us has we can get to know it’s message quite well, if we haven’t gotten it already. Usually we sequester the voice, ignore it or try to push it away, but the key here is to acknowledge that voice (we all know what happens when you try to silence someone who really needs to be heard, they get even louder) If we can acknowledge and actually recognize the voice it will begin to fade a little. When we turn the inner light of awareness onto anything, it begins to disappear. Next, very consciously we can choose to hear instead, from a voice of kindness. That voice of kindness may be a more shy voice, but it’s in there – see if you can coax it out of hiding by inviting it to speak its mind. Choose to listen to the voice of kindness.
Re-arrange your language: Once you’ve gotten the tone of the critical voice, listen to the words it says. Here’s where some more active participation is required – change the language. You can quite literally re-arrange what the voice is saying, for instance if you hear “you’ll never amount to anything good” say “I am worthy of goodness, all beings are worthy of love and goodness”. Instead of using ‘them’ choose ‘we’, for instance — so you purposefully overlay the negative with something similar, but of positive value. This will take repetition, but consider how many times the unskillful has been repeated and simply begin now to lay down a new neural pathway. It will change, everything does – our minds work on patterning and conditioning. De-condition, change unskillful to more skillful. And, at some point examine the sources of your language and thoughts.
Care about yourself as much as you care about others: There is no separation between our selves and others. If we think there is, we are confused and not understanding interdependence. What affects one affects all. By being kinder to yourself, you are building the muscle to be even kinder to others. By liking yourself, and accepting and forgiving your faults, you organically do the same for others. Inner kindness is authentic outer kindness. And, if you can’t muster that immediately, try thinking of being kind to yourself as a benefit to all living beings – because actually that is the truth. For more on self-compassion go here and here.
Find some time for quiet: the heart loves being quiet; the heart can grow and let go in quiet. Be in nature, turn off the tv, put your phone down for a few minutes, pause, feel a couple of breaths, don’t do anything. Just a few minutes makes a difference. Here are more suggestions for finding some moments of silence in a very loud world.
The time for inner quiet and inner peace and non harming is now, so that whatever situations are facing us today, individually and collectively, we can and need to think and act and respond from as much clarity as possible. Reacting out of confusion never yields positive results. Anger can motivate, sadness can motivate, injustice can motivate and the motivation is needed, but clear seeing that arises from a quiet and spacious heart/mind is what can lead us forward, thoughtfully.
Let’s collectively usher in a paradigm shift – those of us who are walking a spiritual path can step forward in conscious, helpful and non harming ways to take care of all life, including the life of our planet, soon.
Rather than feel overwhelmed, start with yourself, rather than inventing a wheel on your own, take a look at what others are thoughtfully banning together to share and do (see below) Do whatever makes sense to you. Just do what you are able to.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Stay safe and sane and open, and take as good of care of yourself as you possibly can.
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond:
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Amnesty International- Human Rights don’t Discriminate
Pema Chodron responds to current events
White Awake, a talk by Tara Brach
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