My Vow of Nonviolence
How an unlikely, spontaneous decision improved my life
Illustration Credit: Blooming by Jennifer Davis
On a bright, crisp Saturday in 2008, about 500 people from all over the world gathered at The Alliance for a New Humanity conference in Barcelona, Spain, where Deepak Chopra opened the plenary session with a radical challenge. He explained that just before stepping onstage he had taken a vow of nonviolence in his thoughts, his speech, and his actions, and he wanted all of us to join him in this pledge. He said that the vow was not an ironclad contract, but a simple reminder to prevent a person from automatically generating hostile reactions.
I watched as people stood up, one by one at first, then in groups of twos and threes, and finally in a tidal wave. I was among the last to stand. The concept sounded great to me, but my mind was full of doubt: Bad things happen to good people and we just, well, respond. I doubted I would really be able to remain peaceful in my words, let alone my thoughts. Nevertheless, I closed my eyes and vowed to do my part in bringing about a world of peace, compassion, and love. Then I spent the flight home contemplating my new commitment and feeling uncomfortable, as if I had a piece of popcorn wedged in a back tooth.
But I didn’t quit. I decided to first work on my speech by trying to go one whole day without stating a negative opinion. Right away, I began to notice little words of judgment peppering my conversations. “I would never wear white to a wedding . . .” “That child is a menace. His parents should . . .” Oops. I began to be very careful with words like should, bad, wrong. I found I could still express my feelings. Instead of saying, “The book was a disaster,” I would say, “I didn’t enjoy the book.” The more aware I became of negativity in my words, the more I noticed my complaints decreasing. Progress! Working on my actions seemed easier because, generally speaking, I am not a violent person. I don’t hit people, I avoid elbowing at shoe sales, I don’t even gesticulate when cut off in traffic. But six months into my vow, I realized I wasn’t so perfect. I was still too lazy to take my own bags to Walmart, and I continued to buy makeup from companies that tested on animals. These were things I could fix. Then I decided to consciously give my business to companies that shared my values of nonviolence. Half an hour on Google showed me how mindful some companies have become, but I also stumbled upon a fact that changed my life. According to a 2010 United Nations report, meat and dairy agriculture account for 70 percent of global freshwater consumption and 19 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, there was no greater contributor to global warming and habitat destruction than eating meat. I realized that my Philly cheesesteak addiction was impacting the world in a harmful way, and this was a violation of my vow. I decided to take the advice of Rajendra Pachauri, PhD, chair of the UN’s panel on climate change, and observe one meat-free day a week. I was surprised at how easy it was. In fact, it felt so good that within one year I had evolved into a complete, devoted, happy vegetarian.
In Year Two of my vow, I realized how violent my judgmental thoughts could be, and I decided to try to go through a whole day without evaluating anything as good or bad. Instead I would say, “It is what it is. I will simply be the witness and not the judge.” I slowly awakened to the understanding that everyone is a work in progress, at different levels in their development. With this simple realization, I could feel my patience expand.
The most exciting aspect of my vow was that I could see definite results. I felt so much better by having higher-quality thoughts, words, and actions. People seemed to be drawn to me and to trust me a bit more. As I cleared away negativity, I felt moments of profound joy and ecstasy. This helped me feel recharged and full of positive energy.
It has been six years since I took my vow of nonviolence, and it continues to be a very active force in my life. I no longer unleash my inner demon when I step on Legos in the middle of the night, and the selfie obsession that used to irritate me profoundly isn’t even on my radar these days. But I still have goals. With enough focus and dedication, I’m convinced I’ll soon have only the most loving thoughts for my bikini-wax specialist.
Take the vow of nonviolence.
Close your eyes.
Take three deep, cleansing breaths.
Put your awareness in your heart.
Ask yourself honestly and seriously if you are willing
to take the vow of nonviolence.
State aloud, “I am committed to bringing about a world of peace, harmony, laughter, and love. I take this vow to be nonviolent in my thoughts, my speech, and my actions.”