Ahimsa- The practice of nonviolence/non-harming; a Yama (moral restraint) from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
“Of course I practice ahimsa!” I declared to myself years ago. I don’t hurt people, I’m a vegetarian, and I don’t have violent thoughts. Done.
But then I read something that added to and deepened the concept of ahimsa: "non-harming also means not hurting yourself."
What!? I don’t hurt myself! …Or do I?
As I considered this more profound interpretation, I slowly began to notice all the ways in which I, especially as a mother, cause myself harm. And the more I observed it in myself, the more I saw it entrenched in the mama community. Here are many of the feelings and thoughts I see in myself and other moms:
This list is just a tiny sampling. Have you ever noticed how much negative self-talk goes through your mind? How subtly critical, undermining, and unrelenting that inner voice can be about you, particularly now that you’re a mom? How hard you can be on yourself? These thoughts are considered acts of violence against you no matter how small, subtle, or jokingly they’re said. If you haven’t really noticed, start paying attention to how you talk to yourself and what you say in your mind. You may be surprised by what’s been beyond your awareness. Or perhaps you’re fully aware because it’s so loud and clear!
As I became aware of how pervasive this negative self-talk and mama guilt was I asked myself, “If this voice was coming from another person outside of me, would I still be friends with her or even want to be around her?” NO!! Never!! Then why is it ok for me to say those things to myself? It isn’t. Spiritually, it isn’t OK to hurt anyone including yourself.
It’s time to begin the practice of ahimsa. Be kind to myself regardless. There are so many ways to do this! Be my own best friend instead of an enemy. Forgive myself. Let go of the guilt. Be a cheerleader for my own life. Pat myself on the back. Acknowledge progress. Set boundaries so I don’t run myself ragged. Express gratitude for what I DO have, what I DO well. Accept that my child is her own person. Celebrate even the little things I accomplish every day.
Have compassion for myself as I make mistakes and bumble through the daily challenges of motherhood. Recognize what I need to do differently and learn from mess-ups without ruminating on them. I make mistakes and so does every other mother and person around me. Because we’re human!
There’s no reason for the mental beating. It doesn’t help me grow and evolve. And even though the mind rationally knows that kinder self-talk is a better option, I still find that being kind to myself can sometimes feel awkward, difficult, or silly. There are some myths we hold on to that can make this a challenge: 1) It’s just self-indulgence and selfish, 2) I won’t motivate myself if I don’t criticize myself, 3) It’s for weak people.
These aren’t true, of course, they’re just limiting beliefs we cling to in order to justify the negative self-talk.
Take the next few days to consider this practice of ahimsa. Do you hear what you’re telling yourself? Can you move past limiting beliefs and start having compassion for yourself as a mother? Will you commit to being kind? I'm choosing kindness and self-love because I truly believe we cannot expect peace in our families, communities, and the world unless we begin with ahimsa in our own hearts and minds.
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