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Unplug to Connect

by Jill Sockman

As I’m writing this, I’m in the process of getting ready to leave for Pinehurst for a weekend of teaching some of my favorite material. I love Pinehurst, our host, the deep-diving nature of the work I’ll share there, getting away, great food, intimate community… But one of the things I am looking forward to the most is getting unplugged.

We live in a world where we can “stay connected” not only in bustling urban centers, but in tiny villages, beaches and jungles in most distant places. Our “staying connected” to news, to home, to work and to all the many distractions of a smartphone or computer often gets very much in the way of being connected to what is in the here and now, of every moment, wherever we are.

We know this, we’ve experienced it, we’ve heard it before. My teacher tells the story of sitting on the patio of a guest house in India with two of his kids, overlooking the sacred Ganges at sunrise. I’ve been to the place — it’s MAGICAL in the MOST MAGICAL kind of way. His boys saw a family on a patio below where everyone at the table was looking not out upon life on the river or the rising Indian sun, but at their iPads. WTF, people?!

That’s an extreme example, but there is beauty, perfection, magic in every moment. But we have to be paying attention to see it. Every time I come back from a time unplugged, I vow to do so more often. I’m usually pretty good about it at first, but then regular life and work charge in and I’m back to it. But it’s a reminder, each time, of where and how I want to be.

What would happen if you turned off your phone for your Saturday? Leave it at home for a dinner out with friends? How much more connected could you be, to nature, to life, to the people around you, by simply unplugging for a few waking hours each and every day?

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Ahimsa on the Inside

by Jill Sockman

If you’ve hung around a yoga studio with any regularity, you’ve probably heard the word ahimsa before — usually translated as non-violence or non-harming. Seems pretty simple, as the “thou shalt not kill” of the yoga world. And that’s not incorrect, of course. Killing is pretty much off the menu for any spiritual tradition that I know of, and the notion of doing the least amount of harm seems to fall right in line with a kindly “love thy neighbor” approach to life.

Unlike the Niyamas (observances), which are more personal and address how you treat yourself and till the inner soil, ahimsa is one of the Yamas (social restraints) in the Yoga Sutras. It is meant to be an instruction about how you deal with the world around you, as part of a universal code of ethics. Now, I’m not trying to challenge Patanjali or stir the Yogic Pot, but if you’re anything like me, ahimsa on the outside is pretty easy most of the time. Well, except for when I’m in traffic, but you’ve heard all about that before.

The real challenge for me, and I think Patanjali could get on board with this if we could have a chat, is ahimsa on the inside. If we could make an expanded Yama and Niyama list, I’d like ahimsa in both categories, please. Yes, it’s absolutely necessary in terms of how we operate in the world on the obvious level (not maiming/killing others) and on the subtle level (showing kindness and compassion to all). But how about some non-harming and non-violence toward self? From what we eat, read and watch, to the way we overwork, overpractice, overtrain, and overstimulate, to the disempowering, unkindly, ungenerous ways that we talk to ourselves, I’d say ahimsa as a Niyama would be a welcome addition to the practices.

You with me on this? Can we make a collective move toward a total non-harming attitude — not just to others, but to ourselves? As you move through your day, be watchful for the little insidious unkindnesses you put upon yourself. Choose something else, whether a healthier snack, an uplifting book, a couple of hours off to just relax and unwind, or a kind and compassionate word to yourself when you stumble, struggle or fail. After all, I think the full line was “love thy neighbor as thyself” and that last bit makes all the difference.