"Ahimsa": how do you brush your teeth?

It’s been 24 hours of ahimsa awareness for me at the Grass Oil compound.

In yoga today, we talked about “ahimsa” which means The principle of nonviolence toward all living things.” 

Not so faaaaast… the first lesson of ahimsa, is that it must begin within.

I’m savvy to ahimsa. In a spiritual and practical sense it means doing everything you can with love and kindness — BUT FIRST: with yourself. I love the concept. I’m crappy at it. (see?)

A kicker of ahimsa is that if you can’t practice loving self-acceptance first, then everything you do will be considered violent. That stinks. And it doesn’t seem very ahimsa-y at all.

Before yoga this morning, I continued thinking about ahimsa after the breadwinner chuckled to himself last night as I scrubbed the day’s “oils and pollutants” from my face.

I looked at him with suspicious wonder, “what?” I said. What is “suspicious wonder”? you ask: it’s a facial expression, also known as a sneer and raised eyebrow, which usually accompanies, “What’s that smell?” in most houses.

“It’s just interesting is all. How you wash your face. It’s like you’re trying to wash off your face,” he said.

>labrador retriever head tilt<: “Huh?”

“You scrub so thoroughly. So diligently. So . . . furiously.”

>labrador retriever sneer<: “Grr.”

He was right. As usual, he was right. The breadwinner has the most gentle of souls and mannerisms; he is truly the yin to my yang. He’s like a soft breeze to my hurricane. I considered his comments and thought about ahimsa. Apparently not thoroughly enough because . . .

I snapped open the top to my moisturizer and kneaded it as fast as I could into what was left of my face and thus began, my pre-sleep consideration of ahimsa. I plopped myself into bed, grabbed the covers and stuffed myself into my beaten and propped goose-down pillow. “It must begin from within…” I kept repeating in my mind.

“It must begin from within…” relax the eyebrows. Flatten my “eleven” line between my eyes.

“It must begin from within…” release the lower jaw; move it side to side. 

“It must begin from within…” suspend the tongue. Let go.

Holy crap. This ahimsa is serious stuff. Self-love is serious stuff. I drifted off to sleep, probably with my face loosened (and nearly hanging off my skull if the breadwinner is right about how I washed it) but my mind was racing and I’ll bet my fists were tight.

Aaahh.. himmm…. saaaahhh….


I woke up today perky and rested. I was sorta thinking about ahimsa. My lower back was tight (in yoga, this is the sacral / second chakra: cravings, pleasures, addictions, body image: ching! after my facial scrubfest, I concluded it was body image). I decide to do a couple floor stretches and side twists to release my hamstrings.

“It must begin from within…” don’t go so deep; don’t worry about touching the toes just yet; and bend the knees.  Breathe.

After about two more minutes of consciously releasing, breathing and letting go (which I did, but which is insanely and ridiculously hard to do) it was time to wake the boys.

I think I wake the boys gently for 99.8% of the time. Sometimes we’re in more of a rush than others, so I’m less ashimsa-esque than I’d like. Today was a gentle day. But upon further examination, I realized it wasn’t: I jumped quickly out of my stretches and stepped harshly on to the floor, I moved brusquely into the bedroom and I firmly plopped myself down on my Thing 3 (8)’s bed and didn’t whisper to him. 

Now, if I were a levitating buddhist monk on a mountaintop in Tibet, I’m sure I would do all of this more mindfully, but I’m not. I’m a tight-backed American mother in a house. So I do give myself some slack there. However, once I realized I wasn’t being gentler, I dialed back and re-engaged more softly and consciously. I have really horrid memories of being hideously woken up as a child, so the fact that I  am aware of that and that I enjoy operating differently is pretty awesome. Ahimsa.

What occurred to me as the day has progressed, is that we are really shitty at practicing ahimsa. That means you too. Sorry. Go, leave the page. Unlike. Deny the truth, be sure to mindfully not judge and gently click that “X” button on your way out just to confirm your mastery of ahimsa.

Still with me? OK: How do you brush your teeth?

Do you do so gently with a patient circular motion, taking care to massage the gums and tenderly clean the enamel or do you spaz out like Tasmanian devil and scrub the crap out of them up and down and back and forth and circle this way and circle that way and don’t forget to beat the daylights out of your tongue… to the point where you have lather?

Me too. Don’t forget to spit like a sailor. (I love sailors, I love all members of the military. I support our troops.) Bang your toothbrush on the sink three times to get the water out of it and energetically wipe your mouth.

How about when you use the steps? Do you step gently and mindfully, placing your foot before you take on the next step (which, by the way, does a great job for your core and back) or do you thud your feet down, as though every step is a frigging nightmare and just getting to the top means you’ve defeated the beast? I’ve been trying to be more mindful lately, and usually when I’m 2/3 of the way, I remember to step more softly which automatically pulls in my core.

What’s the rush? Where’s the fire?

In our yoga place, when you arrive on time, you get to set up where you like. I like to grab the back corner because I’m so ahimsa-esque to myself. Not. I like to grab the back corner so no one else follows my lead as my practice can be intense.

Today in yoga, I set up where I could, still in the back row. We have a wonderful group in that class. One person “C,” arrived later and didn’t set up where she normally does. A lively and funny banter ensued between C and person “B” who ended up taking C’s traditional spot. Person “A” noticed and the conversation went thus:

A: “C! You’re over here today! Hello!”

C: “Yes, Hello! Everyone’s moved around today. B (pointing at B) told me I was in the wrong spot over here.”

B: “No, I said ‘different spot,’ not ‘wrong spot.’ “

Me and D, E & F: “No, B said ‘different’ spot.”

Me again: “C, you might’ve heard ‘wrong spot.'”

And that was that. Normally, I would have let it go between B and C, but because this became a pentagonal discussion, it was important to end it.
Sidebar: That “C” heard “wrong spot” was an inner dialogue she had with herself and it flew completely in the face of ahimsa. That she had judged her repositioning as “wrong” and then falsely projected that judgment on to “B,” when everyone else witnessed the contrary, was representative of a VERY OLD emotional wound of C’s and I gotta give props to “B” for not taking the bait. 
I like C enough, but I keep my distance because C is what I consider a bully sheep: someone who has and projects self-hate issues and unconsciously manipulates situations to make herself the victim of people who happen to be breathing around her. Compliments from bully sheep are usually dipped in a healthy dose of self-deprecation so you’ll be lulled into complimenting them back. Here’s an example: 
“I could never wear an outfit like that; she looks so good in it, with her cute little body… I’m an albatross.” (With her 5′ 10″ frame, wavy auburn hair, alabaster skin and lovely weight.) A victim/sucker would say, “Oh! Of course you would!” and the bully sheep would hope the sucker would say she couldn’t wear an outfit like that either. Don’t fall for it. Just say, “Oh” and move on. (Staying neutral leaves them with their stuff that they tried to put on you.) 

The Good News Is: No One’s Thinking About
As Much as You Fear They Are. 

The Bad News Is: No One Is Thinking About
You As Much As You Wish They Were.

Another non-ahimsa practice I’m noticing is that we tend to wallow in sadness or we subject ourselves to experiences that we know will disturb us. Facebook is like that for some people (me). I have read and personally experienced jealousies erupting because of Facebook: I view other peoples’ fabulous lives, vacations, and private jokes; I become offended that I wasn’t invited to an event (that I probably couldn’t have gone to or might’ve not enjoyed anyway). I realize that many people put only their best picture of themselves up or post the better information of their lives online. I read recently where this phenomenon was referred to as “best-face facebook” statuses. (The fact that the post I linked to just above bums me out because it’s less than a year old; clearly there is something familiar  about feeling rejected.)

As for the better-than-thou portrayals, I can feel sorry for myself or “hide” their content, but that doesn’t take away the feeling of inadequacy or the fact that they’re having fun. That I feel less-than because I haven’t bought a new BMW galactic star cruiser or gone to Jupiter again or can boast that my 8-year-old daughter aced her medical boards IS TOTALLY UP TO ME. The fact is, there will always be someone richer, more popular, taller, smarter, prettier, funnier, smarter, healthier, fancier, Zen-ier, nicer, softer, more graceful and eloquent if We Make Them That Way. COUNT ON IT.

What we do with that information determines our success with ahimsa. Do we beat ourselves up because of the fact that someone’s always gonna seem cooler than we are? Or do we move on, be grateful for what we have and practice ahimsa and let it go? How much of this is ego and vanity? We are giving away our value when we do this because trust me: no one else thinks about you as critically as you think about you

Facebook, texting and e-mail presents another quandary for me: sometimes I say things that are interpreted a different (I could have said “wrong” but chose neutral “different”) way as e-communication is quirky. Or sometimes I interpret things differently than they are intended. I also need to remember that I’m not responsible for someone else’s filter. Nonetheless, I hate the feeling I have in my stomach, wondering if I’ve screwed up and chewing my nails. Is this what we want from social media? Waiting for the “like”, hoping for the friend request acceptance, constantly checking the phone, the e-mail, the wall?


Is this what social media wants from us? 


Such self-doubt keeps us checking in, staying online and wrapped up in our false selves (see below) and totally dependent on approval from many people we don’t even know (especially if you have a Facebook fan page). This dependence started to get pretty hairy for me about 2 months ago.

As such, I’ve purposefully elected to interact more  face-to-face or on my landline phone with my actual voice. I’ve also removed my Facebook app from my phone’s pages and I have made it so that I have to login and logout each time I go on Facebook on my computer.

Might this strategy affect my lifelong dreams of being a fantastic writer? No. Because I can be a fantastic writer no matter where I am. I can also be a shitty writer no matter where I am. Having to have people know about me / my writing (the obssession with fame, extrinsic acceptance) is what feeds the ego and the ego is what ruins ahimsa. (Because if your ego is involved at all, you’re gonna compete and you’re gonna push yourself harder than you might ordinarily.)

Why do I share this stuff then? Because I think it’s important; people get too wrapped up these days in things that don’t matter and miss the things that do matter. I also think it entertains and people can relate to it. The point is I can write it, as in have the freedom and ability to write it. So I do.  Why do you read it? Because you can. 🙂 And I’m grateful. 

What about wallowing in sadness? That’s not ahimsa. Even if you do it with softness. I know there are legitimate mental disorders that clearly present challenges to shaking off the blues and the people with those disorders are in my prayers. We have depression and anxiety in my own family of origin, so I’m no stranger to it. At times, I get the blues. The thing is, after a while, I realize it’s self-perpetuating for me and it’s hardly ahimsa-esque. If I think sad thoughts, I will stay sad. If I remember and dredge up sad memories, I will become sad and eventually angry: angry at myself for stirring it up or wasting energy on things that can’t be helped or for other reasons. 

If I think happy thoughts, I will become happy. 

Here’s a FASCINATING related opinion on the web about why some of us choose negative states (non-ahimsa) without realizing we choose them that I couldn’t say any better. I found it at the “Life of Learning Foundation“:

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“We value negative states because of the strong sense of self we get from them. This may be very difficult for us to see, but the light of Truth will show us the freeing facts. No one wants to believe that he or she values things like self-pity, anger, and depression. We would insist we don’t, and as evidence we point to the fact that we fight against them, but the struggle gives us a false sense of life and importance. It focuses attention on us and makes us feel like the center of a great deal of activity. The more we struggle, the more valuable these states become, because the more interesting and exciting they make us feel. We never feel ourselves so strongly as when we are furious, or hurt, or depressed. Of course, this self is a created self, a false self. But it feels real, and that’s why we cling to it. The power in the state is that by giving it our life, it feeds back to us a false sense of life and power. And as a result, we miss out on the Real Life we could experience if we were not filling ourselves with the false.”

Sometimes for me, music or thinking of my silly dog or a scene in a movie or simply taking a walk can subdue the blues. A change of scenery does wonders: it gets you moving, makes you look around (so you don’t get hit by cars or attacked by geese) and snaps you out of it.

I am actively avoiding reading sad stuff; I’m a news junkie, so that’s hard to do. I also try to avoid stirring up my own or another person’s sad again and again. Instead of being sad, we can take walks in our minds or around our blocks. But again: I’m not insensitive to the needs of others. People with medical depression or other disorders have a different experience and that matters. But walking always helps. 🙂 

What about how and what we eat? Do we sit or stand? Do we give ourselves a napkin and drink without a straw? Do we chew and taste our food? Is the food nourishing or wasted calories? It’s not easy. I’m not a vegan. I’m a steak-loving American mother. I avoid fast-food like the plague, but there’s clearly a conflict with practicing ahimsa when I eat meat. I remain aware of that and I privately thank the animal for the life it gave. I am human, flawed and selfish. 

One more thing: The irony is not lost on me that we are killing ourselves to live longer. That’s painfully true. I am all for health preservation, but there is a point where we can do damage. We drive ourselves harder athletically than we should; we run longer than our bones can take; we don’t rest; we push push push and then get disappointed (but probably not surprised) that we’ve blown a ligament or torn a tendon. Our desire to live longer must not be fulfilled at the risk of ahimsa; there is no point to living longer if you bust up your body.

If ahimsa is new to you, try it when you brush your teeth. See what happens, watch it reach other parts of your life. 

Thank you.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

2 responses »

  1. I brush the crap out of my teeth. Every time I go to the dentist, they tell me to calm it down a bit.And I agree, walking always helps. I suffered one bout of severe depression and walking saved me. I walked, and walked, and walked more. I walked a lot, multiple times a day. It saved what little bit of sanity I was clinging too. I'm not depressed any more, and now I do triathlons. Perhaps I did lose my sanity along the way.Great post, as usual! Be kind to yourself!Carrie

  2. Hey Carrie! Thanks for your comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece; it was a long one, but I felt I had no choice because ahimsa from within can mean many things to many people and the toothbrushing was just one example, but one that resonated with me too last night as I brushed. I decided to use my "SoniCare" electric instead of my regular brush because it's gentler and it cleans better. Soon I'll write about ironies… i am fascinated by them. I'm so glad that exercise helped with your depression; it helps me a ton as well. I have seen people, runners in particular, abuse their bodies (usually it's because of the body type – an ectomorphic type can run seemingly effortlessly whereas mesomorphs like me have a harder time) in the name of "mental health" – the triathlons are definitely easier on your body than running. You look (from your TLC site) as though you're in great shape, nice facial features and a pretty face too. 🙂 Take care and think gentle thoughts! Molly

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