According to Oxford dictionary, ahimsa means non-violence; respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others. It is easy to see that as human beings, we should treat others with respect and avoid any form of violence. It means we should not kill, hurt or harm other living things. We should be kind toward others with compassion, not just in actions, but also in verbal expressions and thoughts. That is straightforward and pretty much ethical lesson 101. The next question is, or should I say, the first question is how about ourselves?
Aren’t we also one of the living things too? Don’t we first need to practice what we preach? I believe so. But what does it mean to be non-violent toward ourselves? I want to walk a bit further back to see what being truly non-violent to oneself would look like.
Going back to how we should treat others with kindness, love and respect might make this easier to see. Let’s say your child whose health is not at their ideal stage, constantly wants to eat fast food which you know is going to make their health worse. There are 3 choices you could make here:
- Give in to them and let them eat whatever they like even though it’s damaging their health
- Sternly say “no” but patiently motivate and support them to make better food choices
- Reject their wish, be angry and start scolding them
We might very much know what could be the ideal answer here, but being able to choose the right response every single time is a different story. I could tell you for sure, that there are many times when I wish I’d choose (1) but instead, I went for (2) just to make things a bit more convenient; and sometimes I lose my patience and jump straight to (3).
So, how would this apply to non-violence to oneself? Think of the last time you’ve done something you wish you did not. Maybe, you went to bed late to catch the last episode of a show you really like which lead you to oversleep and arrive late for an important meeting. Maybe, you keep postponing going to the gym even though you’ve been saying for months you’ll start soon.
As human beings, we have desires and wants. And a lot of times, the things we want might not be good for our physical, mental or emotional bodies. Like the person who comes back to the same toxic relationship that they keep saying they hate to be in. But I’m not here to criticise anyone’s choice, not even my own. We all make mistakes. And as long as we live, we’ll continue making mistakes, just hopefully not the same ones.
Looking from this angle, being non-violent to oneself might require these two things:
I’m not talking about the military kind of discipline. It’s more about knowing how to restrain yourself from doing things that might be bad for you in the long run. We are human after all. There can be moments when we would love to spoil ourselves a little, and I think that is perfectly fine. It’s ok to sleep in a little on a Sunday morning when your body is yearning for more rest. But it’s important to see that not everything makes you feel good instantly would make you feel good later.
Knowing how to stop yourself from harming your body, either it’s physical, mental or emotional takes practice. Give your body the stretches and physical exercises that it needs. Remove all that extra tension from your days by limiting your time online. It is hard to follow through sometimes. It is always easier to give in to our temptation. But maybe all we need is just try. Once every day. Break a habit, especially the ones you know that are only serving instant gratification. Try that. Take the first step.
It is hard to continuously do what’s best for you in the long run. And as we live, we’ll continue making mistakes. So, part of not harming oneself is having kindness toward yourself. See the inner child in you. That child also needs love, a lot of it and it has to start with you. Even if you’ve tried and still not able to follow through the discipline you set, remember to be kind and gentle. Don’t beat yourself over it. Things take time. Changes require patience. If we can say kind words to others, why can’t we do it to ourselves? Maybe all you need to hear is “it’s ok, you’ve tried hard, keep going, you’ll get there”.
Next time you feel like you’ve failed yourself, remember the kiddo version of you, show nothing but compassion and love. Be patient with them, step by step, allow yourself to get where you want to be. Be the warm blanket in winter for yourself.