Ahimsa and the Open Heart
I spend a good amount of time in what I call peaceful warrior pose. This posture reminds me of the powerful combination of staying grounded, powerful, and simultaneously open hearted.
In response to the ongoing, daily barrage of news reporting violations and violence, I set my sight on an intention of nonviolence.
I believe that nonviolence starts right here, with me…with my thoughts, my words, my actions. Nonviolence starts with what I say to myself; how I talk to myself in my head. Nonviolence is about finding a capacity to hold myself and others with loving kindness.
Nonviolence is about letting go of my need to be right, for this inevitably makes another wrong. It is about coming to the table interested in listening to another with an open heart.
In yoga, Ahimsa is the first Yama (ethical principle) offered by Patanjali. Ahimsa translates to nonviolence and is considered the most important guideline for ethical living.
However, nonviolence does not equate non-action. Here is an Indian parable that conveys this principle:
There was once a snake who terrorized a village. He would bite the villagers without reason. One day, a wise sage visited the village and observed the snake’s behavior. He took it upon himself to teach the snake the principle of nonviolence. The snake took great interest in the wise man’s words and accepted the teaching. One year later, the wise man returned to the village to see that the snake was badly bruised and beaten. “What happened?” exclaimed the wise sage. The snake said, “you told me not to bite people but now the villagers throw rocks at me and poke me with sticks.” The wise man replied, “I did teach you not to be violent, but I never told you not to hiss!”
There are times we must stand up and protect what is worth protecting especially when our own safety or the safety of another person is at risk. There are times that we must find the clear voice that says “No More!” or “Never Again!”
Nonviolence is strength and power firmly grounded in a capacity to take pause before acting out of anger. It is about owning our own ability to do harm. It is about knowing that no one is perfect.
Nonviolence is about taking full responsibility if, and when, we do create injury, whether or not it was intended.
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Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016) and co-author of EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.