Ahimsa Part 1: Self-Kindness Must Always Come First

AHIMSA अहिंसा : Non-Harm, Compassion

A 3-part series by vegan yogi entrepreneur Maz Valcorza.

In part 1, Maz shares how she learned that non-harm and kindness to self can be the greatest challenge, yet, it must always come first.

Here, she describes how she lost compassion for herself, paralysed with doubt, fear and self-judgement while she strived for validation from others.

 From ‘I am not enough’ to ‘I have everything I need’, Maz takes us on her journey so that we can learn how to step back into our power by loving ourselves first and meeting our own needs.

First, We Must Be Kind To Ourselves

The yamas and niyamas are the moral and ethical codes prescribed in the Yoga Sutras, of which ahimsa (non-harm to self and others) is the first principle. 

Whilst the yamas are recommendations for how to relate to others, what I’ve found is that a lot of how we relate to other beings is a reflection of how we relate to ourselves. So in order to truly practice ahimsa, I believe that we must first understand how to be compassionate and kind to ourselves.

In life, this is something I am still navigating and a practice I am constantly cultivating, evolving and nurturing. Frankly, it’s also something I haven’t felt like I’ve been very good at in recent times. Through the myriad of ups and downs, in and outs and round and rounds that we experience, being kind to ourselves can often be much easier said than done.

Losing Self-Kindness

Take the last couple of years for example. From the outside I appeared to be living my dreams, ‘successful’, thriving and happy. And in many ways, I was. However, somewhere deep down were parts of me that I didn’t fully understand, accept or even know. Remnants from past experiences and traumas that I had not learned to fully feel let alone love.

These unfelt and forgotten parts of me have recently been pushed to the surface and through that process I have traversed the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Within a 1 year period, I had expanded my business, published a book, spoken on stages all around Australia, appeared on TV, closed the first of my businesses, completely burnt out, got very sick, and lost all belief in myself.

And though it was the philosophy of ahimsa that had originally sparked me to change my entire lifestyle from what I ate, to what I wore, to what I did for a living, it was something that I very quickly lost practice of once shit started to hit the fan and seemed to be systematically falling apart around me. Not so much in terms of how I related to the world, but more so how I related to myself.

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The ‘I’m Not Enough’ Affliction

Sure, I still cared about the animals and the planet; I was still vegan, was really concerned about being kind and my work was still dedicated to bringing about a more compassionate world. But I had become more judgemental and critical of myself, my inner voice became mean and kept putting me down and telling me I wasn’t enough and what I was doing wasn’t enough.

From that place, even with the best of intentions, my ability to take positive and meaningful action was severely impaired. Behind everything was a seed of doubt, and touch of fear, a dash of judgement and this paralysed me. In that fear and disconnection, I started to behave in ways that weren’t kind or compassionate or loving both to myself and in turn, to others.

I felt helpless and hopeless as I watch everything I had built crumble. I became incredibly confused because so many things I identified myself with didn’t feel true or real. I began to question every thought, every feeling, every intention. So much so that I couldn’t simply be anymore. Rather, I was struggling to be what I thought I needed to be in order to be ‘enough’.

The 6 Core Human Needs

But in whose eyes? How do we measure our value? Our worth? In order to practice non-harm on ourselves, we must first be able to really understand what our needs are, how we meet them and how all of this affects the way we view ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. 

It can be very daunting but also incredibly liberating to be brutally honest with ourselves about what our needs are and how we meet them.

Renowned coach and speaker Tony Robbins proposes that there are 6 core human needs. The first four are needs of the personality or achievement. They are:

  • Certainty – the need for safety and security
  • Uncertainty – the need for variety and excitement
  • Significance – the need of feeling worthy or the need to have meaning
  • Love & Connection – the need for communication, to feel connected with and loved by others

And the last two are needs of the spirit and provide the structure for happiness and fulfilment. They are:

  • Growth – the need for constant emotional spiritual and intellectual development
  • Contribution – the need to give, care and serve beyond ourselves

Neglecting Our Real Needs

We live in a society where things are set up in such a way that the needs of the spirit often only can be met after the needs of the personality. This is because so much of the systems that we work within are fear based. We are mostly taught from a scarcity perspective rather than abundance. Within this framework, most people value certainty and significance. The typical process is go to school, get a secure well paying job, buy a house and start a family. Often this can come at the expense of all the other needs.

“A couple of the most important things I’ve learned to ask myself on this journey of non-harm is, ‘Am I meeting my own needs?’ and ‘Am I doing my best?’ ” 

Seeking Validation – The Slippery Slope

We meet our needs daily through constructive, neutral or destructive ways. For example, I found that without even realising it, I was seeking and needing the approval of other people to validate my own worth. This is partly why I had lost all belief in myself. How could I ever truly feel worthy if I relied on others to meet that need?

So what are the ways that we validate ourselves through others? These days it can be anything from seeking likes on social media, to needing the approval of a loved one, no matter what the cost.

I mentioned earlier that even though I still really cared about the animals and the planet and still really wanted to be kind and still dedicated my work to bringing about a more compassionate world, I was paralysed. This was because I was meeting my need for significance and love and connection through destructive means. In doing so, I had impaired and limited my ability to practice non-harm in relation to others because I was harming myself.

Know You Are Worthy

The truth is, we can meet our needs from within and doing this is one of the most significant steps toward truly practicing non-harm on ourselves. Do you want certainty? Find security and safety within yourself. Want uncertainty? Give yourself variety and excitement. Want significance? Know you are inherently worthy of love. Want love and connection? Connect deeply with yourself. Meeting our own achievement or personality-based needs gives us the freedom to fulfil our spirit through growth and contribution.

The Self-Love Lesson

Fast forward to this moment and I am so grateful for the past 2 years. It has been the best lesson in learning to accept and love all parts of me. Learning to feel all that needs to be felt and showing myself unconditional compassion and kindness. I have come to understand that practicing non-harm through my relationship to myself is a lifelong journey, and there is so much to learn, so many ways to grow, so much to explore.

A couple of the most simple yet important things I’ve learned to ask myself on this journey of non-harm is, ‘Am I meeting my own needs?’ and ‘Am I doing my best?’ in every moment, with all of my cumulative experiences and whatever resources I have available, am I giving myself what I need? Am I doing my very best? In this, I do not seek perfection, but I do hold myself accountable. I do not expect to get it right every time but I am choosing to step up and show up. From this place, I feel like I can truly begin to practice non-harm when relating to others because I’m actively practicing on myself.

So what are the ways that we can practice ahimsa within our modern and western context? That’s something we will explore in the second part. Until then, be kind to yourself, be true, be grateful for you.

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