As a mother of two little boys, we are often around nerf guns. After all, I have two small storage bins dedicated to organizing them in our play room. Both of my boys are aware that Friday and Sunday nights are “nerf night” at Cloud 10 (a local indoor trampoline club). And, they are often trading nerf guns with their friends on playdates.
Yesterday my youngest son (age 5) took a nerf gun in the car and wanted to bring it into the stores with us as we ran our afternoon errands. My oldest son (age 9) promptly told him he could not do that. My youngest asked “why not.” And, my oldest said, “because today people are using guns to hurt each other, and we just can’t do that anymore.”
This short exchange stopped me in my tracks. My oldest son, who never watches the news, and who we intentionally do not share with the many many many horrific gun-related violent events in the world still, somehow, knew that there was a new cultural appropriateness, even, with nerf guns.
My oldest asked me why I thought people were hurting each other more today than ever before. I told him I thought it was because they were disconnected from themselves and from what matters most.
To me, when I think through the world we live in today, I find it incredibly ironic that though we are more connected through technology than ever before, we are increasingly less connected to ourselves, our foundation and what actually matters deep in our own hearts. Many of us know that taking time to tune into ourselves is vital. Intellectually we may know that, and yet, people tell me over and over and over again they don’t have time for self-care, meditation, a walk, a hike, a bath, a massage. We tend to spend time on long to-do-lists, social media, TV, and other activities that may or may not lead us closer to a sense of steadiness and deep soul clarity.
The great practice of Yoga offers us many avenues in. A physical yoga practice (asana). Meditation practice (dharana). Breath practice (pranayama). Mantra practice (dhyana). Spiritual refection practice (svadhyaya). One of the best places to start, of course, is at the beginning, which, according to Yoga is with the Yamas and Niyamas. These are guidelines, a moral compass in a sense, for our relationship with ourselves and the world around us. It is said that the entire practice of Yoga begins with the very first Yama: Ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the practice of nonviolence, non harming, compassion. It’s interesting that the whole practice of Yoga has this at its foundation. That violence is presupposed in a way. That by being born there will be a death. A death of our own life, a death of a loved ones life possibly, the death of a career, a relationship or many relationships. That just by being alive we will trample some flowers while we are here. Because to just say “don’t be violent” could cause us to turn inward on ourselves, which could become a kind of self-violence. To me, this is the practice of asking “what is the sweetest effect I can have while I’m here?”
This is largely the practice of paying attention to what causes us to be violent. All human beings experience the full range of emotions including fear, anger, rage, powerlessness, imbalance and self-reproach. When we feel these emotions, what kinds of acts do we tend to do? What kinds of acts are increasing in the world around us?
In the studio, I see people give a dirty glace toward someone if they put their mat a little too close. Or maybe they POP their mat out without any consideration of startling the others in the room. Or maybe they leave class early because they don’t feel like staying until the end anymore. Or maybe they are pushing so hard on their own body to get deeper into a pose they are inflicting violence on their own bodies. Maybe it’s just that we are short with the cashier because he/she took to long. Maybe someone cut us off and took our parking space and we want to ram our car into theirs.
When we feel these strong emotions, how do we practice not getting triggered into a reaction? How do we stand in the face of reactivity and not react? How do we make it a practice of coming out of these habits?
Courage, empowerment, self-acceptance, stability and balance. Courage to not react. Empowering, grounding acts like self-care. Self-acceptance of the full and whole beings that we are – not just the pieces that we prefer. And, often just balancing the basics such as how much rest we are getting and making sure to eat good, nourishing food.
It’s the practice of compassion. That maybe we flew off the handle AGAIN and said some things that inflicted violence on ourselves or on someone else. And, that we can pause and offer ourselves compassion. And, then we can respond from a completely different place, rather than from an increasingly violent place.
And, forgiveness. We often think there’s something to fix about ourselves just by being here. But there’s not. This a journey we all get to take and we are all just doing the best we can. Can we forgive ourselves? Can we forgive others?
The issues of gun violence in our community are complicated. But, what seems very simple to me is that we could spend more time turning inward, practicing compassion and taking care of ourselves. This helps to awaken courage, empowerment, self acceptance, and stability, so that we don’t feel stuck and get so reactive. So that we gain a sense of awakening and vitality.
So, that we can practice nonviolence. Ahimsa.