a blog by Ellen Davies

Ahimsa and releasing pain from the past

Ahimsa and releasing pain from the past

In the spiritual practices of yoga, called the yamas and niyamas, the first yama is ahimsa. The word ahimsa translates to mean non-violence, compassion for yourself and others, and non-pain. Now, that “non-violence” part is easy, because most of us aren’t violent humans. Most of us don’t go around punching people out or smashing windows.


But those other two… compassion and non-pain. Those are harder. The Yoga Sutras tell us, “Causing pain can be more harmful than killing. Even by your words, even by your thoughts, you can cause pain.” (II,30)


Even our thoughts. Yikes!


It can be hard to control our thoughts sometimes. Sometimes my mind wanders (okay, my mind wanders a lot) and other times thoughts pop into my head uninvited. Then there are the times I play “revenge fantasy” in my head. You know, that game where you replay a scenario and imagine what you would say to someone who wronged you. This is something I find myself doing often, and the more angry I am, the harder it is to stop the thoughts. Are these thoughts causing pain? You bet. Pain for me.


Years ago I stopped by a convenience store to get coffee, and the woman at the register was rude to me. Every time I drive past that store, I think about that time. I re-live it. I remember exactly what happened, when I innocently informed her that there was no cream for my coffee, and how she yelled that We’re out! And how I was feeling especially sad and vulnerable that day, and how much it hurt me to get yelled at. Then I imagine what would have happened if I had yelled back, and how I should have dumped the coffee all over the counter. The scenario changes, but the outcome of the fantasy is always the same: I am vindicated! But really, I’m not. Because this incident happened years ago, and I still think about it.


Our thoughts — they cause pain.


Luckily, ahimsa is a practice. And awareness is a practice. So when I become aware of the bad thoughts, or revenge fantasies, I can do my best to stop them. I can bring myself back to a place of compassion.


As for me and the convenience store clerk, I know that I over-reacted to the situation. I was definitely having a bad day when she yelled at me, and that’s why it upset me so much. But she was having a bad day too. And because I’m an introvert who internalizes things, rather than externalizing things (i.e. yelling back) this incident has grown (in my mind) to something huge.


Today I ask for that to be released.


The Bible talks about thoughts as well, offering an alternative to those revenge fantasies:


Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)


Today I make a conscious effort to release this, to offer compassion for the woman who yelled at me, wherever she may be. I offer compassion to myself, too. When it happened, I was depressed and feeling lost. It was a hard time for me, but now I’m a different person. I have grown and changed, and I release the pain of the past.


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