I don't think I realised how vast the reach of ahimsa is until I made it the focus of my journaling last week. I recommend exploring the deeper reaches of non-violence in our daily actions and choices, but also do so with a word of warning that it's an enormous subject that can feel suddenly overwhelming! What I discovered that was to some extent everything we do and everything we consume has an impact on something or someone in the world in one way or another.
Earlier this week I was reading an article shared online by my school (I went to a Quaker school. Quaker beliefs are also firmly rooted in the practice of non violence). Quakers had been a large part of the chocolate industry in the UK as a non violent alternative to the alcohol industry. The two main companies (Rowntree's and Cadbury) are no longer owned by Quakers since being purchased by Nestle and Kraft. The article spoke about the potential use of child labour in cocoa plantations and the use of palm oil in their products, and the writer's concern as a Quaker about consumption of the products as a result. He spoke of moving away from the traditionally Quaker brands which are no longer owned by people following the ethics (non violence) of Quakerism, towards fairtrade chocolate instead.
'How is consumption of something like palm oil violent?' you may ask, 'it's sourced from plants and suitable for vegans, what harm could it do?' Palm oil is used in many food and cosmetic products but unfortunately the production/sourcing is often linked to mass deforestation, the killing of endangered animals such as orangutans, and destroying indigenous tribes.
This got me thinking about the many other things we do every day that on the surface do not appear violent or harmful, but in fact may not be as harmless as we think. Everything we do has an impact somewhere from wardrobes full of fast fashion made by underpaid (sometimes child) laborers to the use of plastic straws that contribute to ocean pollution.
There are so many implications to what we do on a daily basis that it may feel impossible to make a difference, but please do not get discouraged, the small actions of ahimsa that we practice do add up.
This is acknowledged by a British primatologist Jane Goodall when she said 'You cannot go through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.'
Remind yourself that the yogic path is not about perfection but about awareness and doing what you can.
Gandhi understood that living in 100% ahimsa is not always possible when he said 'Ahimsa is the highest duty. Even if we cannot practice it in full, we must try to understand its spirit and refrain as far as is humanly possible from violence'.
This week, take a few moments to consider the larger effects of your actions, from the items you purchase and consume, to the people you interact with daily. Make the commitment to practice the spirit of ahimsa as much as possible.