Continue Reading... Compassion and Ahimsa for Your Hurting Heart
Having self-compassion in the best of times can be difficult. Having compassion for ourselves when we are in pain, when we are in grief, when we are suffering, strangely, can be even more challenging. The first of the Yamas, part of the teachings Patanjali’s of Limbs of Yoga and the yogic philosophical suggestions for right behavior is Ahimsa. This is possibly the most important guide for self-compassion and self-care of all kinds. Ahimsa is often taught to mean compassion for all. More often, we see it translated as “non-harming, non-violence.” Sadly, the human capacity for violence of all kinds is our worst quality and greatest failing. We see this in the world right this moment and throughout history. Acknowledging our own capacity for violence—toward ourselves and others—is the beginning of change. You may think that violence has nothing to do with grief, but it is actually quite often a part of the experience.
Underlying violence is almost always fear. We are regularly filled with fears, of the unknown, of others, of change. To avoid feeling our own pain, or being in pain, we sometimes cause pain to others as a form of protection. When our security is threatened on any level, our inner capacity for violence is stirred. This may take place internally or an outward expression, but it is always a form of violence. Any time we experience any amount of hostility or antagonism, inwardly or outwardly, there is violence—even if but a seed.
Losses of all kinds can bring feelings and experiences of violence and a sense of violation. Often when people feel powerless or filled with despair, anger can result. We may want to lash out, to harm, to destroy. We may also direct violence toward ourselves by neglect, or through harmful behaviors that can damage body, mind, and spirit.
We live in a world where anger is often more acceptable than sadness. Anger itself is not the problem, violence is the problem. Anger is a signal that there is something wrong, and when you experience profound loss, there is something very wrong. Recognize that your feelings are important and valid. Being aware of how you direct the energy of your feelings—especially anger and fear—makes all the difference. Learning to cultivate loving and constructive energies and feelings in the place of violent, destructive ones can be difficult, but it is possible. The practice of ahimsa supports us in this.
Directing compassion toward yourself is essential in grief, and in managing feelings of anger and fear. Yet, many of us have extreme difficulty with self-care. Sometimes this is because we are so overwhelmed by pain that we simply do not have the energy to act in a caretaking way for ourselves. Other times we may feel emotionally unable to engage in acts of love or care toward ourselves. We may feel undeserving of care or love. We may feel we do not deserve anything other than pain or there can never be anything other than pain in the future. We often do not care about pain we may cause ourselves—no pain can be greater than the pain of being without who or what we have lost.
Awareness is the beginning of change—and of ahimsa. Can you observe, with as little judgment as possible, any violence that has occurred or may be occurring inside you? Can you peel back the layers of that to see what lies beneath? Is there fear, is there anger? Do you regularly perpetuate thoughts or engage in behaviors that cause harm to your body, mind, psyche, or spirit? The first step to dissolving the root of violence is recognizing that it has taken root. Is there a seed that may grow? Observe with love and compassion and without judgment any violence inside you and how it manifests.
Spend some time thinking, with as much compassion and as little judgment as possible, about ways both large and small that you do harm to yourself. This in itself is a form of self-care. You do not have to force yourself to change your thoughts or actions, but rather attempt to become lovingly aware. Slowly and gently, you can add small ways of caring for yourself. Those small things may turn into greater acts of self-care. Self-care is physical—taking care of your body with good food, sleep, exercise, massage, movement, sunshine, and nutrition. It is mental—self-help books, music, art, creativity, seeking and finding a well-trained counselor who understands grief and bereavement. It is spiritual—in meditation, nature, study of spiritual books, chant, ritual, prayer, contemplation, speaking to a trusted spiritual leader. Self-care is also found in reaching out to your community—to friends and family, neighbors, co-workers, it is finding and going to a support group, engaging with on-line communities, taking a course or workshop. Each of these can be done with small steps forward.
Here is a simple, yet profound ahimsa practice you can do right now: Place your hands over your heart, close your eyes if you wish. Breathe slowly and fully, directing your focus toward your heart. Ask yourself, “What is the most compassionate thing I can do for myself right now.” Sit and breath and connect with your heart energy and allow the answer to come. When you are ready, open your eyes. Is it possible to do that thing? If so, please do it. If not, make time and space to practice the compassionate thing as soon as possible.
Join me November 19th at Guiding Tree Yoga for a few hours of self-care as we explore how yoga can help you in your heartbreak. Learn ways of practicing ahimsa as you take steps toward tending to your heart with compassion and nonjudgment. Learn more and register below.