This is Dr. Sethia, founder of the Ahimsa Center and Institute for teachers. I am eternally thankful to her for planting the seed of nonviolence in my heart; for the grace I have received because of the opportunity she gave me. My whole life had been about violence, and that is the only way I knew to stand up for myself, to protect myself. She inspired me to sing the song of silence, and in its rhythms find peace, truth and a profound connectedness to all that is. When I attended the Ahimsa Institute, I was a deeply wounded bird, searching for a reason bigger than myself, To Be. A nine year journey of forgiveness, healing and awakening lead me to discovering the greatest love within myself. A love that allows me to see I am everything, and everything is in me.
Nine years ago when I was teaching at Hoover High School, I received an e-mail from my principle around 4:00 pm, just as I was going to head home for the day. You know one of those all staff e-mails forwarded by your principle, so she/he can delete it from his/her inbox and quickly move on to more important matters.
The e-mail read something about an institute where I’d be learning about Gandhi and nonviolence. The words that most caught my attention were, “Nonviolence in thought and action.” There was immediately a call to action from deep within the seat of my soul. That night I sat at my computer to type a statement of purpose that was to be submitted with my application the next day when the application was due. I wrote all night. I found my pain taking over, and each time I attempted to write my statement, I’d end up writing about some of the most painful memories in my life.
Like the time I got in a fist fight with my mother. I was so angry at her. I wanted to show her that I was stronger than her; hat even though I wasn’t good enough to be loved, I could still stand up for myself. So in that moment, I raged against all the times she left for months at a time, against all the screams and accusations, against the men that had been in and out of her life, because like me, she was also searching for love. We tossed and tumbled across the living room floor. She was my enemy. I pulled her hair as if I wanted to rip it off of her head and hit her as if to destroy every part of her that had ever hurt me.
Or the time I almost hit my daughter with a broomstick. She was about 12 and her room, more and more often, looked like it had been shaken, upside down. It was definitely a point of contention. Later I’d come to realize that it triggered memories of instability and neglect, reminding me of dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, loads and loads of dirty clothes scattered everywhere, an empty refrigerator, and cockroaches scattered amongst it all. I remember quarreling with my daughter about why she couldn’t just keep her room clean. Why she couldn’t just take the time to care for and be thankful for what she had. Subconsciously, I was reproaching my mother , “If you love me, you’d take care of me, you’d take care of our home.” I grabbed the broom that had been propped behind the door all morning as she procrastinated to clean her room. I saw myself holding the broom over her and she laying on the bed with her arm shielding her face. I hit her once with the bristles, before putting the broom down and going to my room to cry. I had always been so careful to not hit her or scream at her, and there I was becoming the very violence I had hoped to never perpetrate on her.
I turned in my application and was given a fellowship to the institute and a chance to transform my life in ways I could have never imagined.
When I came to the Ahimsa Institute in 2007, my wounds and pain were stripped raw. Often, during breaks or lunch, I’d slip away and come down to the Japanese garden to cry. I had so much anger, it hurt. The Koi fish were calming. Their slow movements soothed my angry thoughts, their patient proximity to one another comforted my anxiety, and their coloring warmed the parts of me that were void of nurture.
Many of the attributes of the Koi symbolize several lessons and even trials individuals often encounter in life. The Koi fish has a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by its ability to swim against currents and even travel upstream. That’s what the journey of forgiveness, nonviolence and healing I was embarking on felt like. Some of the characteristics associated with the koi include courage, perseverance, and ambition; all characteristics I would need to practice on this arduous path.
Many of the above described symbolic meanings of Koi fish stem from the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate in which a Koi fish swam upstream, through waterfalls and other obstacles to reach the top of the mountain. At the top of the mountain was the “Dragon Gate”. The legend says that when the Koi finally reached the top, it became a dragon, one of the most auspicious creatures in Chinese culture.”
This past weekend after a nine-year journey of healing and after a powerful three-day Ahimsa conference on Giving and Forgiving, I visited the Japanese garden once again to cry. I didn’t cry from pain, but from extreme gratitude for the Grace I have received through my experiences with the Ahimsa center. For the grace I received that day in my classroom when I received the application. I came to thank the Koi fish for their support and unconditional love. To thank spirit for its guidance and lessons. I came here to remember, to renew my commitment to healing and non-violence and to set new intentions for the next beautiful stage of my life.
One last stop before leaving…
When I participated in the Ahimsa Institute, I stayed on the Cal Poly campus. Every morning I’d get up early enough to walk to the horse stables and commune with the horses. I’d often pick up leaves and the horses would eat them from my hand. At some point, the caretaker there started to expect me, and would give me alfalfa to hand feed the horses.
I visited them once again this past weekend, and I stood in silence while one of the horses ate. At some point, it cam closer to the fence and stood their with me. And that was enough.
My longing to be with the horses every morning came from the deep unconditional love I saw in their eyes. The first time I saw that kind of love in a being’s eyes was in my grandmother, and later I’d come to see it in my daughter. In those horses, I saw the love I’d ultimately come to discover in myself. A love I’d come to understand connects us all. At some point in my journey, I realized that no matter what I had experienced, the wounds and trauma I carried, or the love I was still searching for, I was whole.
One day I became conscious enough to ask:
“Who Am I?”
To which a powerful, but at the time,
inside of me responded:
F O R G I V E N E S S
Every autumn season, the eucalyptus tree sheds its bark, and the process is highlighted by a wonderful display of color and / or amazing patterns of strips and flakes.
I imagine this is what our bodies look like as we open our hearts in vulnerability and and allow the wounds and bruises to air out.
When the bark is shed, lichens and parasites that are toxic to the tree are also shed. And a smooth, bark appears, until the next autumn season when the tree sheds once again.
We have seasons of growth and we have seasons of letting go. Both forgiving others and forgiving ourselves is part of the process of learning to let go of things that no longer serve us.
Cleansing and grieving are important processes, so our pain does not metastasize as hate. Hate will ultimately destroy us.
“A sufi holy man was asked what forgiveness is. He said – it is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.” – Rumi
The Gratitude I have for Dr. Sethia, her work and commitment to nonviolence, and the opportunity she gave me to transform my life, I can only honor by dedicating to her my life of service and commitment to nonviolence. There are people whom I recognize as having saved my life – Dr. Sethia is one of them.