Yamas Part 1: Ahimsa and Satya
Ahimsa is often translated as non-violence or, more simply, kindness. It is the action of behaving with thoughtful consideration of others. To achieve this we must first be kind to ourselves. In her book, The Yamas and Niyamas, Deborah Adele presents a beautiful metaphor for this: imagine a can of red paint. You can’t dip your paint brush into this can and expect to paint your walls blue. The color with which you paint will always match the color that is on the inside of the can. We cannot expect to treat others well if we do not first love ourselves. Self-love can be difficult to cultivate. We are often harder on ourselves than we would ever be on another person. For artists self-love can be especially difficult when we are constantly putting our art out into the world and receiving critical feedback from others. To develop the resiliency necessary in order to continue along the artistic path however, self-love is absolutely essential.
Most of the mistreatment of people that goes on in our world is caused by fear. Fear is the opposite of love. We live in a war-torn, divided world that is full of people behaving in hateful ways. All of this hate can be traced back to fear. Fear of the other, fear of the unknown, fear of the new. Fear causes us to act in ways that are unkind, both to others and to ourselves.
The life of a singer is filled with situations that may invoke fear: singing a high C in public for the first time, presenting a recital of new repertoire, auditioning for a program or opera company, preparing a new, challenging role or piece, competing in a high stakes competition, the list goes on and on. Facing the fears that arise in these situations requires us to call upon the strength and self-confidence that is created by self-love. Doing so allows us to be our best selves in these stressful situations and treat the people around us with love and respect. Being a respectful, kind colleague is the key to building strong relationships with others and getting rehired in an ever-changing industry. It is harder to be a good colleague when we are filled with self-doubt and insecurity. These negative feelings are what cause people to gossip, behave in disrespectful ways, and generally engage in “diva” behavior. We have all heard the horror stories (and perhaps also witnessed the behavior first hand) of performers throwing fits, spreading rumors, and acting horrendously towards those around them. Ahimsa calls us to renounce these behaviors by cultivating love in all our relationships, including the one with ourselves.
Imagine what your life would look like if you approached each new situation and person through the lens of Ahimsa instead of fear. I have been challenging myself to do just that for the last few weeks and it has been a wake-up call to realize how often my instinct is to react with fear. Ahimsa asks us to choose love, not fear!
The second yama implores us to be truthful. Speak the truth, act truthfully, and LIVE truthfully. As with Ahimsa, Satya asks us to be truthful not only with others but also with ourselves. Being truthful frees us up to be our best selves. When what we say aligns with what we believe, we are able to live in harmony. There is a Mark Twain quote about honesty that I came across recently that I absolutely love: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” How great is that? It perfectly sums up the crux of the idea of Satya. When we speak from a place of honesty, everything we say aligns with everything else and there is no story to keep straight. When we speak from a place of truth we build trust and respect in our relationships.
The key to cultivating Satya is to really listen to ourselves. How can you speak your truth to others if you are not sure what that truth is? Only when we are in tune with our deep desires and dreams can we begin to live the life that we really want. The society in which we are raised imposes many expectations upon us. These expectations about how we are supposed to live our lives may have nothing to do with how we want to live. Also, to complicate matters further, the desires we have throughout life may change! This has been a big revelation for me as I recently entered my 30s and began realizing that some of the dreams I once harbored have begun to morph and shift into different goals and desires. Truthfully, letting go of these old dreams has been painful and disappointing at times. My ego wants to hold tightly to these old unfulfilled dreams but I have realized that this attachment is only causing bitterness to grow in me which is the last thing that I want! As I have begin to let go of these old attachments however, I have started to feel the lightness and freedom that Satya can bestow upon us. I have been freed up to pursue the goals and desires that align with who I am today at 32, instead of who I was at 20. We are ever-changing, ever-evolving beings and the self-knowledge that Satya requires of us is something we will be in pursuit of eternally. Luckily, I have discovered a few tools to help me in my quest for self-knowledge. Doing the things I love like hiking (check out my photos from a winter hike this week with my dog Gavi) and yoga always help silence the noise of anxiety and connect me to my inner truth. Meditation is another wonderful tool. Making time for these activities helps me stay connected to my desires as they shift and evolve. Ultimately, we must each discover what it is that helps recharge so we can tune into our inner voice and connect with the truth inside.