My whole life I have been a hunter, a fighter, a meat eater and a driven capitalist bent on conquest.
It’s really not my fault. I was raised and programmed to be this way. To say that I have been goal oriented is a massive understatement. In business I have consistently run over people who are in my way, and in life I am unrelenting and hard on myself and those who impede my progress.
At work I have put my fist through the sheetrock, poured coffee on a guy’s head, destroyed dozens of cell phones and other office equipment and cursed many people all in the name of success.
What I have had to learn the hard way is that this killer drive actually kills me.
I carried this unbalanced mentality out so far that anything less than perfection became unacceptable, and unable to live with my failure I tried to medicate with narcotics, from which I easily could have died.
In the depths of my own hell I found the wonderful practice of Ashtanga Yoga, which has helped deliver me from my nasty nature. Today I am extremely happy to be alive and willing to do what needs to be done to continue on this new spiritual path.
It is far from my nature to wake early six days a week to come to my mat, breathe and look inward, but I have applied it for almost two years and it has changed every aspect of my life. Through the process of implementing this practice which is so counter to my natural ways, I realize the truth that practicing that which does not come naturally has given me a path of deliverance to find my true self, which is a spiritual being.
Ashtanga Yoga has been so beneficial to me mentally, physically and spiritually that I constantly strive to know more about it. The word Ashtanga Yoga comes directly from Patanjali’s Yoga sutras (2.29), and are an eight fold path to a higher state of being called Samadhi, and I needed a higher state than the one I was in.
I have given the eight limbs lip service and thought they sounded nice, but when it comes right down to it I have never practiced the first Yama, which is Ahimsa (non-violence) until very recently. A couple years ago the mere thought of implementing a real code of non-violence would have never happened, and what’s more I didn’t even know I was violent. What I know now is that I was violent towards myself and others through my anger-fueled drive, and intolerance for imperfection. Point of fact, almost killing yourself through destructive behavior, and constantly hurting those around you is the essence of violence.
Finally understanding the fact that I was inherently violent, and practicing principles in the opposite direction (sutra 2.32), have been helping me live a successful life. Recently, I decided to practice ahimsa, not fully knowing what that meant when I made that decision. I began by cutting meat out of my diet, which was really all I knew of Ahimsa from my limited svadhyaya. I am a cheeseburger and fried chicken eating kinda dude, so at the time I thought this was a huge sacrifice. Most faiths talk of sacrifice to God, and this seemed in line with that, a sacrifice of something in my nature I thought I had to have, in order to realize a greater state of being.
I’m now a couple months into the practice of physically not eating meat, and am beginning to understand the deeper meaning of Ahimsa, as well as trying to apply it to my life.
This has not been an easy thing, and I question my motives almost daily, as my mind continually throws up the question of why I am doing something that seems so unnatural, and which even seems pointless at times. When my mind throws these curve balls at me I have to come back to the idea that I am practicing Ashtanga Yoga to save me from myself, and that if I am practicing Ashtanga Yoga, Ahimsa must be a part of that.
In Alabama its somewhat difficult to feed yourself without meat. I have found that this physical practice is a constant reminder of something much deeper which I must understand—that non-violence applies in all aspects of my life.
I have to quit being mean, impatient, and angry.
I must be compassionate towards others, especially my family, and I must start by having compassion for myself. None of us are perfect, and my heart has to continue to open to love.
Sutra 2.35 Written by Patanjali some 3000 years ago; “Ahimsa Pratishthayam Tat Vaira-tyagah.”
Translations are various but that essentially means: For one firmly grounded in non-violence, all hostilities cease. Other translations carry that out to mean that for a Yogi practicing Ahimsa, others who come near will also lose feelings of hostility.
To me it’s a lot like the western understanding of the concept of karma, that what you are putting out to the world comes back to you, or Biblically the notion of reaping what you sow.
The prayer of St Francis of Assisi carries this principle as well: “Where there is hatred let me sow love, where injury, pardon, etc…”
Gandhi speaks of being the change you want to see.
I could go on but the point is that the spiritual principle holds that we must go inside ourselves to make change, and in doing so the outer world begins to change around us. This is the opposite of the approach I always took of angrily demanding perfection of myself and others. It’s enlightening to have a deeper understanding of ahimsa, but how to apply my new spiritual knowledge?
I really love the quote by Pattabhi Jois, “Practice and all is coming.” This is such a simple statement with such depth. When my carnal mind is in control bad things happen. I put negativity out there and receive it back. I have to implement a physical practice of breath, discipline and present-mindedness, and when I do my mind becomes subservient to my True Self, which is the spiritual being made in the essence of love.
Through the physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga, I make the daily choice of love for myself which carriers out to others, and therefore to God and the universe as a whole, and the reward is that I receive love. I will continue to practice ahimsa on a basic physical level starting with my diet, as that sacrifice is a daily choice of love which permeates all my activities and interactions.
Success for me hinges on diligent practice one day at a time.
Today at lunch the hamburger steak was calling my name but I went for the vegetable plate instead. I didn’t do that because I was afraid of health consequences, nor can I even say I think it’s morally wrong to ever eat meat, though I may one day draw that ultimate conclusion. I made the decision in the same way I made the decision to practice yoga this morning, which is that one day at a time I will love myself enough to sacrifice carnal desires in order to move closer to that state of Samadhi.
Ashtanga Yoga is my practice, and I know it is not the only spiritual practice out there, but it is the path I am on. I hope to encourage my friends, students, and anyone who may be ready this to find a spiritual practice and apply it on a daily basis, and find victory over their negative mind.
Author: Clay Dunbar
Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Renee Jahnke
Photo: Courtesy of author.