‘Are you safe with yourself? Am I safe with myself?’ These were questions that Donna Farhi put to us on a recent yoga intensive in Manchester. Donna enlarged upon the question by saying ‘Can you look after yourself and speak to yourself as kindly as your very, best friend? Or do you treat yourself and speak to yourself as only the worst kind of bully would?’
In her book ‘Yoga, Mind, Body and Spirit’, Donna describes ahimsa in a similar vein. For those who are unfamiliar with the ‘eight limbs of yoga‘, the yamas are the the first limb and ahimsa is one of the yamas. Ahimsa is usually translated as non-violence, but Donna maintains that this precept goes beyond the limited sense of not killing others, and that first we need to learn non-violence towards ourselves. This involves the difficult task of self-acceptance. It’s a difficult task, because darker emotions such as anger, jealousy, shame, fear and sadness must be included. These are emotions that we might not want to admit to, but if we can welcome the emotions, greater understanding will be the result. Then it may become possible to move beyond the dark emotions and towards contentment.
I put the question ‘Are you safe with yourself?’ to a couple of my classes this week. One student told us of the serious illness that she had suffered. Learning to take good care of herself was something that came out of the physically and mentally painful experience of illness. Previous to being ill, she said she’d wanted someone else to have the responsibility of caring for her.
At one point during the Manchester intensive, Donna asked us to think of a resource. This was to be a recollection of a time when we felt really secure and content. She asked us to recall as much sensory information surrounding the occasion/place as posible – the sights, sounds and scents involved. This is a common approach in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – to have a safe place to go to in imagination when feeling overwhelmed.
In the car coming back from the intensive, the three of us discussed the experience of trying to find a resource. We found that the secure place needed to be devoid of people, because even our nearest and dearest couldn’t be relied upon in every eventuality – they have human frailties too. We talked about being responsible for ourselves, having self-reliance and inner resourcefulness. I believe that when we’ve developed these qualities and are kindly towards ourselves, then others are more inclined to value and care for us. It’s important to be able to ask for help sometimes. If we become so independent that we cannot accept or ask for help, then harshness is the result – violence towards self. Then ahimsa will be eluding us again!