The Language of Life

Healthy introspection can produce a gentler world
Photo by Angelina Bambina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Any attempt at living a non-violent life is not for weak constitutions. History reflects that people who have spoken out the most loudly against violence and oppression — Jesus, the Gnostics, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King,  Jr. — have been met with grim fates. When one commits unwaveringly to living a nonviolent life, he must be willing to fail spectacularly.

As a lifelong yoga practitioner and professional teacher who has trained and certified hundreds of yoga instructors over the past decade, I can feel like a hypocrite when lecturing about nonviolence or what in yoga is called ahimsa. I may be an expert on the topic, but I’m still a novice at implementing some of these yoga philosophies. So it is with great humility that I cast here some of the pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years on how to live a nonviolent, or at least a less angry, and more authentic life.

Violence often begins internally with negative self-talk, saying yes when we really want to say no, or denying our own needs in an effort to “not rock the boat.” We have become accustomed to subtle forms of violence, including passive aggression, sarcasm and cynicism. Even prolonged sadness or depression can be viewed as a form of self-inflicted violence. We may direct anger at ourselves if we are unable to release it in a healthy way.

What others do to make us angry is seldom about them, but it’s always about projection and one’s perceptions of self. Anger results when we feel unfulfilled as to power, status, love or even knowledge. These lacks, real or perceived, are associated with the potential for loss, which gives rise to anger. When understood this way, anger can lead us to the underlying issues involved.

Anger always wants something, so when it is present, we can ask: What do I want?

Anger coexists with fear, so we can also ask: What am I afraid of?

Once we become clear about what is triggering our anger, we can consciously choose how to respond to life instead of unconsciously reacting to it with aggressively angry and even violent behaviors. Anger directed outwardly always imposes, judges and demands.

The late Marshall Rosenberg was the founder of a system, Nonviolent Communication, that he called “the language of life.” Rosenberg believed that people possess of an innate goodness and that we are all compassionate by nature. He proclaimed that “we all share the same, basic human needs, and all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. Violent strategies — whether verbal or physical — are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture.”

Consider the last time you acted out of anger, and ask yourself what you were wanting or needing. Why did you not appropriately pursue that need and instead become angry?

If we want to learn how to speak “the language of life” and cultivate healthier societal norms, we must get in touch with our true feelings and learn how to relate empathically to others. Stay away from contentious language that dehumanizes others through blame, shame and attack.

“Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our own needs and values,” Rosenberg said. “When others hear criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack. The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.”

Reclaiming the rejected and suppressed aspects of our human experience allows for a greater connection with the whole of humanity. Once we evolve spiritually to view others as an extension of ourselves and our god, we realize that we cannot harm others without also harming ourselves.

Then, the practice of ahimsa (nonviolence) reveals itself as our true nature. Then, we are prepared to turn inwardly and do the work necessary to outwardly manifest a nonviolent life.