What Will You Improve in 2022?

I find New Year’s Eve a good time to reflect upon the past year and consider what worked, what didn’t, what I can improve, what I can’t and you know the rest – the wisdom to know the difference.

But there’s a whole other way of looking at this. The yamas and niyamas were drummed into me when I took my yogic training along the way to certified teaching. These are ethical guidelines along the eightfold path as laid out by the Indian sage Patanjali. 

I did not become an expert on these philosophies, but they have stuck with me. The second yama is “ahimsa,” which means doing no harm. If you think this means not to murder or be cruel to animals, you are correct. But it’s far more complex than that. 

Say someone you love makes choices you don’t agree with and you want to help lead them in the right direction. You’ve just violated the code of ahimsa because you’ve demonstrated you don’t trust them to make their own decisions, to learn their own lessons, to find their own path. By foisting your decisions, lessons and paths onto them, you’re basically telling them they don’t have their own. 

Ahimsa also applies to self-improvement. If you want to improve yourself, that means you think you require improvement; that you’re not good enough as you are. That’s self-harm, and a violation of ahimsa. 

You may think these examples are a little over the top. Certainly the latter one is the greatest excuse ever to hit the snooze button instead of the treadmill. But I think the perceived extremity of these examples says something about the rigidity of our thinking. The more extreme we believe these to be, the more closed our minds are to a different awareness or understanding of anything – even something as seemingly simple as the positive concept of “improvement.”

Maybe we can improve ourselves, our families, our communities, our country. But just maybe we don’t need our version of improvement. Certainly there are people who would fight that. They are the ones who know best, who can convince others they know best, who can, through the convincing, seize enough social capital or power to make their version of “the best” happen. However well intentioned, that still doesn’t mean it’s not doing harm.