My favorite interpretation of ahimsa is the one given by Richard Freeman:
"As we dive into our yoga practice, we begin to notice that whenever we have placed another being outside of our heart – when we have behaved without kindness – we experience an underlying discontent, a deep sense of suffering that tends to color all of our experience, leaving us feeling guarded, overprotected, empty, and unfulfilled. Therefore the initial practice of yoga is to place back into our heart that which really matters, which turns out to be all sentient beings, whether they are humans or not – animals, creatures, or even imaginary life-forms."
I remember a mentor once telling me: “If someone makes us feel ‘less than,’ our natural instinct is to want to feel ‘more than.’" We as humans go about on a seesaw like this, with hurt people hurting other people. Yoga teaches us how to stop reacting. If a situation or a person arouses deep feelings in us, yoga teaches us how to sit with these feelings without acting out and to breathe through them. Yoga has taught me that the only finger I ever need point is the one pointing squarely back at myself. It is never about the other person.
Yoga is an ego-pummeling practice but one that leaves us deeply grounded in the truth of our own being. People can spin off around us and react and we can simply hold center until they are ready to come back again. There is great freedom in this. Obviously it takes having the courage to face the truth about ourselves head-on - even if that truth may be ugly at times. But the reward is an open heart and an unruffled mind.
I've found that when there are people I wish to keep out of my heart it is often because somewhere deep down I feel hurt by them. If I can be still, and stay present with my feelings – without reacting and without pushing people away - something within me softens and a tenderness sets in. The more I am willing to take ownership of my own fears, insecurities, sadness, or what have you, the more compassion I have for other people.
In looking through my photos to select one to go with this post, this one jumped out at me of my nephew Noah and my brother-in-law Andre. If we could all hold each other with the same tenderness and delicacy as he is holding his newborn son. Life is so short and each breath so precious.