Its fundamental, positive expression is being sensitive. It is not the first quality of Yama, (and therefore of yoga), without reason. As the basis of cellular intelligence and integrity it has permitted life to flourish on the basis of discriminating between pain and pleasure. As the basis of our attentiveness it is the fundamental expression of consciousness that is an exquisite sensitivity to whatever enters its orbit.
Sensitivity is the very basis of both life and consciousness.
Internally ahimsa means to be able to feel and know that which is actually happening within. It means to experience beyond the obvious and superficial into the subtle, satisfying depths of being human. This includes physical, energetic and psychological events and that which reveals them. Sensitivity does not mean being extremely fragile or over-reactive. It means being aware of, and responsive to, what is actually happening.
Externally ahimsa is compassion for others. Compassion does not mean treating people in the way that they would most like: but treating them in the way that most nourishes them. The fire of awakening is one that burns away everything to which we have been clinging for confirmation. Genuine compassion is based on the deep and clear realisation that there is no other; that all that appears to be outside of us is recognised as our outer face.
If ahimsa is regarded as an aid for self-improvement or a moral imperative it soon becomes a whipping stick. We judge ourselves according to its presence or absence, and easily become snared in guilt, shame or pride. Becoming sensitive and compassionate is not possible through discipline – even though it may seem so for a while. Sooner or later, however, we will be forced, by our honesty, to recognise that insensitivity, both to others and ourselves is constantly happening. The more honest we are, the more insensitivity we experience, at least to begin with.
When ahimsa is used as a lens it allows us to recognise its absence, aggression, more easily. We begin to notice when we are being aggressive, manipulative or exploitative. In that noticing we are expressing, and reinforcing, sensitivity. In responding to it we nourish its offspring, compassion and love. Within the lens of sensitivity aggression, however subtle, begins to dissolve in the transforming light of awareness.
This results in a flowering of the love that is inherent to awareness and is dependent on neither its object nor its subject. Thus a self-perpetuating cycle of sensitivity and love is generated in expression of the integrating intelligence of life functioning freely and fully in conscious awareness. Therefore, without any effort required, we become more loving naturally and effortlessly. This is fundamentally because life fulfils itself more freely and more fully through sensitivity than through insensitivity.
In yoga posture practice, ahimsa means being sensitive to our actions and their impacts.
This means being able to feel sensations directly, clearly and deeply. Only then can we access the wisdom of the body, which speaks exclusively through sensation. By being sensitive to our actions and their impacts our practice becomes guided from within, and we become free from the false authority of received knowledge. Physical sensitivity does not need to be cultivated. It is inherent in cellular intelligence. Without unerringly accurate sensitivity to physical distinction our cells would die. All we need do is use the sensitivity that we are endowed with and ahimsa, as the basis of life and consciousness will fertilise our practice and reveal the subtle, spiritual dimensions of the body and being human.