How do you go beyond the idea of ahimsa, or nonviolence, to actually living it? Here are five practices to help deepen your sense of peace.
“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The timeline of history has witnessed a gradual and steady expansion of human awareness. We have progressively grown in our understanding, deepened our knowledge of who we are and our place in the universe, and built thriving communities to support our values and ideals as a species.
Unfortunately, one aspect of our biological heritage that we have yet to transcend is violence. Violence has been and continues to be a plague on our world that causes untold pain and suffering. Whether it takes the form of war, terrorism, personal assault, domestic abuse, or environmental destruction, we have sadly become far too accustomed to the idea of our world being a hostile and violent place. Until violence touches us personally, we often ignore it or hope that we can somehow remain out of its reach.
What Is Violence?
While in the context of human history, violence is a complex and multi-faceted issue, in most basic terms, violence is any behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. However, violence isn’t simply limited to physical action as both your speech and thoughts can be violent and harmful in nature.
As to its origins, violence has its roots in the more primitive fight or flight response of your nervous system. This fear-based state of awareness produces high amounts of stress hormones, elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration levels, and locks you into a perpetual threat mentality by redirecting the blood flow away from your brain’s frontal cortex to the amygdala, a part of the brain’s limbic system responsible for emotions and survival instincts. In this hyper-reactive state, you are in a continual self-protection mode in which you often shoot first and ask questions later.
Making matters worse, the more regularly you activate the fight or flight response, the more you rewire your nervous system to the perception of a threat, even when one does not exist. This response lays the foundations for anger, hate, intolerance, hostility, and violence in all its forms.
However, despite the common notion that your fight or flight response and reactive biological inheritance dooms us to be a violent species, the world’s great wisdom traditions reveal that our true destiny is to transcend violence and evolve into a peaceful and sustainable society. Indeed, failing to do so may put the future of humanity and our planet in peril.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first of the Yamas, or codes for living an ethical life is Ahimsa, or Nonviolence. This practice applies to all aspects of being; thought, speech, and action. This is a foundational point of departure in cultivating peace in our world. When everything you think, say, or do is rooted in nonviolence, the world becomes more peaceful as a result.
But just how do you go beyond the idea of ahimsa to actually living it? In chapter 2, verse 35, Patanjali points out that, When we are firmly established in nonviolence, all beings around us cease to feel hostility. This isn’t a metaphor. If you understand that, at the deepest level, the universe is a field of consciousness, then you, as part of that field, can influence it through your attention and intention. In this way your individual consciousness has the power to influence global consciousness in the direction of peace and healing.
Meditation as the Antidote to Violence
The most powerful tool you have to root out violence within yourself is meditation. By activating the restful awareness response, you down-regulate the fight or flight mechanisms that keep you in an unending state of stress, anger, over reactivity, hostility, and violence. Over time you begin to rewire your nervous system toward a more peaceful state of awareness in which the higher mental states of reason, patience, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness can take hold.
Making meditation a regular part of your life is the first step to unlocking the prison of the fear and hostility-based fight or flight response. A simple and comfortable meditation practice you can try is the So-Hum Meditation.
5 Steps to Deepen Your Sense of Peace
Once you have begun to make meditation a regular part of your life to open the doorway to peace, here are a few steps to take your experience of nonviolence and peace deeper:
1. Create a powerful intention for peace. As the start of your day or prior to going into meditation, form a powerful intention for peace in your life. Commit to thinking peaceful thoughts, speaking peaceful words, and taking actions based in peace. One of the most powerful affirmations of these qualities exists in the form of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life
Let this intention (or any other version you choose to use) lay the groundwork for your thoughts, speech, and actions as you move through your day.
2. Adopt the Seven Practices for Peace. In his book, Peace is the Way, Deepak Chopra outlines seven steps to becoming a peacemaker. These are powerful steps that help you to conduct your life in alignment, with peace as the driving philosophy. By following a specific practice for each day of the week, you move closer each day to making peace real in your personal life. The Seven Practices for Peace are:
- Sunday: Being for Peace
- Monday: Thinking for Peace
- Tuesday: Feeling for Peace
- Wednesday: Speaking for Peace
- Thursday: Acting for Peace
- Friday: Creating for Peace
- Saturday: Sharing for Peace
3. Activate your heart chakra. According to Yoga Philosophy, your subtle anatomy consists of seven primary energy centers, or chakras, located along the channel of your spinal column. Each chakra is associated with unique psycho-physiological functions that tie to specific organs and emotions. The heart chakra, or anahata, is located in the center of the chest, directly behind the breastbone. This energy center is the seat of love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, and peace, and when open and active, it radiates these qualities into your life. As a supplement to your meditation practice, try the following:
- Upon completion of either the So-Hum or Primordial Sound Meditation practice, move your attention into the area of your heart chakra, located in the center of your chest.
- In your mind’s eye, visualize a softly glowing ball of emerald green light in the area of your heart.
- Now silently begin to repeat the mantra of the heart chakra, YUM.
- With each repetition of the mantra, feel the chakra pulse and radiate healing green light to every cell in your body.
- Continue this practice for 5 to 7 minutes or for as long as it feels comfortable.
4. Practice the Heart Sutra Meditation. A slightly subtler and advanced practice is known as the Heart Sutra Meditation. The word sutra is related to the word suture, which describes attaching pieces of cloth together by sewing. In the Yoga tradition. a sutra is a powerfully concentrated stitch of intention that has transformational power on your consciousness. The heart sutras in particular can help to create a lasting shift in your awareness toward ahimsa.
The Heart Sutra Meditation is most potent immediately following a period of silent meditation when your awareness is deeply established in stillness.
- As with the previous practice, upon completing either the So-Hum or Primordial Sound Meditation, move your attention into the area of your heart chakra.
- Now, silently repeat the following four words (sutras) four times each, spaced 15 seconds apart: Peace, Harmony, Laughter, Love.
- With the repetition of each sutra, envision dropping a pebble into a still pond, creating ripples that spread throughout your consciousness and out into the world.
Practiced regularly, the Heart Sutra Meditation will increase your experience of peace, forgiveness, compassion, laughter, harmony, and love. In this way, peace becomes your essential state of being rather than a mood you are trying to maintain.
5. Practice the Meta Prayer. The Meta Prayer is a form of Buddhist meditation that you can use to consciously extend compassion to yourself, then others in your life, and then to the world around you. It takes your attention from your localized self in time and space, and gradually extends it to your local community, the global environment, and the entire universe. It is a powerful tool, radiating compassion into the world that can be customized to fit your personal circumstances. Used either as a standalone contemplative practice or at the conclusion of a period of meditation, the Meta Prayer below will help to deepen your sense of compassion and ahimsa with the entire world.
May I live in happiness
May I be safe from inner and outer danger
May I be healthy in mind and body
May I live my life with ease
May (a close friend or family member) live in happiness
May (a close friend or family member) be safe from inner and outer danger
May (a close friend or family member) be healthy in mind and body
May (a close friend or family member) live their life (or lives) with ease
May my perceived enemies live in happiness
May my perceived enemies be safe from inner and outer danger
May my perceived enemies be healthy in mind and body
May my perceived enemies live their life (or lives) with ease
May (a community, city, or location) live in happiness
May (a community, city, or location) be safe from inner and outer danger
May (a community, city, or location) be healthy in mind and body
May (a community, city, or location) live their life (or lives) with ease
May the world live in happiness
May the world be safe from inner and outer danger
May the world be healthy in mind and body
May all creation realize its own Devine nature
May we all live our lives with ease
May we all gain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings
These tools, along with the regular practice of meditation, will help to gently shift your awareness toward peace and living ahimsa in all areas of your life. Use them to embody the peace you wish to see in the world.