Ahimsa

Note- I wrote this as part of a discussion in my town on the issue of wearing a mask while walking or running on town trails and sidewalks during the COVID pandemic. I thought I would share with you for your consideration.

I’m a regular runner on the trail. You may have seen me out there. I will typically flash you a peace sign rather than a standard wave or good morning. I’ve been involved in the peace movement for a while and I’ve come to really like the idea of sincerely wishing others peace. We need more of it in my opinion, within ourselves, with others, and between governments.

I wear a gaiter around my neck and move it up over my mouth and nose whenever I’m approaching someone. I understand the folks who say wearing a face covering while running is less than optimal. I did a 14 mile run this past Monday (working toward a marathon in the fall) and it is certainly something I would prefer not to wear in the heat and humidity, but it’s basically only for 20 paces at a time. I feel that it helps give peace of mind to others and to myself which, for me, is worth the slight inconvenience.

I know that risk of exposure is lower outdoors. I know that the chances of getting sick increases with the time of exposure to the virus and therefore is relatively low when we are just passing each other, especially outdoors. I know that people have different risk tolerances. I know that a part of our culture is independent, self sufficient, and questions authority. All of these characteristics have had a role in getting us here. At the same time, we also have a sense of community, of mutual dependence, of compassion and care for one another. These are also important to our society, in particular when we face crisis.

These are stressful and uncertain times. None of us have been through anything like this before. The pandemic has pulled all of us out of our safe and known routines. These are uncharted waters and people are understandably stressed and afraid.

I heard a Sanskrit word some years ago that has stuck with me. It is “Ahimsa”. My understanding of the meaning is to “do no harm”. I think it is an aspirational word, because, in this life we inevitably do some harm, sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently. So these days I try to be conscious of my thoughts, my words, and my actions in an attempt to minimize the harm they may cause others.

So, when I approach a neighbor on the trail, I do two things in these uncertain times. I pull up my gaiter over my nose and mouth and I flash them a peace sign. It is my attempt at minimizing the harm I cause others; both physically and emotionally.

It is my attempt at Ahimsa.

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