“The task is not to perfect yourself, it’s to perfect your love.” Jack Kornfield
For the past few weeks, I’ve been contemplating the word ahimsa. Though I am no stranger to self-imposed contemplation (and inadvertent navel-gazing) this go around was part of an assignment in my TCTSY facilitator training.
Me and ahimsa have a history. When I was contemplating taking part in a 200 hr yoga teacher training, the options in my area were either Ashtanga or Karuna. I went with the latter because karuna, loosely translated, means “any action taken to diminish the suffering of oneself and others”. How grueling could a program that emphasized the alleviation of suffering be? It was through this teacher training that I was first introduced to the concept of ahimsa.
The word “ahimsa” is used in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist tradition. It can be translated in a variety of ways but the underlying principle is some version of “non-violence towards oneself and others”. At first, this struck me as taking the path of least resistance. Basking in ease and comfort while at the same time gifting ease and comfort to others. This bumped up against my work as a personal trainer who made a living by imposing grueling workouts on myself and others (and who, while imposing said grueling workouts, made at least 3 people throw up….). Was this no longer cool?
I entered the fitness industry with positive intent. Like the majority of people in service-oriented occupations, I wanted to make lives better. Like everything in life, however, there was a shadow-side. My own insecurities, coupled with an intense desire for self-improvement, lead to actions that often bordered on masochistic. I was pretty good at being non-violent towards others (for the record, the aforementioned 3 people asked me to push them until they blew chunks….) but less skilled at being non-violent towards myself.
I may not know you personally, individual who is currently reading this (although probably I do since my blog isn’t that popular…) but I’d venture to guess you find it easier to be nice to others than to be nice to yourself. I see this daily working with people who berate themselves over things they “should” or “used to” be able to do. And I get it. Personally, I have very little patience for my body not obeying my every command and tell it so often. The difference is, through the lens of ahimsa, I see the fault in my thought process and can (on a good day) pump the breaks and make the u-turn towards self-compassion.
At first pass, all this talk of karuna and ahimsa can seem a bit over-sentimental. Be that as it may, I’ve found it just sentimental enough to work. Having the intention of reducing suffering, coupled with a solid foundation of non-violent action, doesn’t halt progress. It actually speeds it up. It’s like having a sharp machete at our disposal when we get caught in the weeds of overly-critical negative thought patterns.
Contrary to what the 72.7 billion dollar weight loss industry would have you believe, lasting change does not come from a place of self-loathing but rather a place of self-love. Most of us have been conditioned from a very early age to look for flaws in or, on the more extreme end, completely despise our bodies. Challenging this way of thinking is not the path of least resistance. It is, however, ahimsa. And it’s pretty damn hard.
As one of my favorite writers Jack Kornfield puts it “We long for perfection. The perfect partner, house, job, boss, and spiritual teacher. And when we find them, we want them to stay that way forever, never to lose the glow, never to grow old, never to have the roof sag, the paint peeling. We’re also taught to seek perfection in ourselves. We are told that if we do enough therapy, work out at the gym, eat an especially healthy diet, watch documentaries on TV, manage our cholesterol, and meditate enough, we will become more perfect. But when you see with the eyes of love, everything changes. So forget the tyranny of perfection. The point is not to perfect yourself. It is to perfect your love. Let your imperfections be an invitation to care. Remember that imperfections are deliberately woven into Navajo rugs and treasured in the best Japanese pottery. They are part of the art. What a relief to honor your life as it is, in all its beauty and imperfection.”
We can follow ahimsa and still do all the things. Drink lots of water, eat veggies, and maybe even workout until we throw up. It’s not so much in what we do, but more in how we do it. As the tag on my tea bag told me the other day “Act from a place of compassion and you will never be wrong.” Thanks for the reminder tea bag, and thanks for the inspiration ahimsa.