I arrived in Canada 35 years ago today. I don’t know what the weather was like, but I do know that I had survived a plane crash the day before and I was probably pretty tired for a slightly malnourished 9-month-old orphan. Quite a lot to take in. A new family, a new country, new faces, new food, new culture. You might think it’s not hard to adapt to a new culture at 9 months of age and you might be right but so might I and I think it wasn’t as easy as it might seem. But that is a thought for another time.

For the first 9 months of my life, while I believe I was loved and nurtured as much as I could have been, I was also surrounded by violence and that violence seeped into my very being. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve always believed I was conceived, born and abandoned into a world of violence.

I think these are the natural thoughts of a person whose life began in a country exhausted from years of war, rather than the ‘mommy and daddy loved each other and then you were born fairy tale’.

What else can one – not think – but feel in their gut, when they hear about the military plane they were on, full of orphans escaping a country that didn’t want them went crashing to the ground, for example? Peace? Love? What about the fact that the evacuation took place by order of the US president at the end of a brutal war? An order. Not so natural, not so peaceful. And that is to say nothing of the ongoing, hush-hush mechanical problems the Galaxy C-5A had before being used to evacuate the human cargo (orphans, no less) on that – I think drama is appropriate here – ill-fated day.

Ten years ago, on the 25th anniversary, something miraculous happened. The pain and heartache that I felt, not in my acknowledged daily life with my friends and family, but in that long ago buried past, burst wide open. Words and emotions flew out of me so fast I didn’t dare try to catch them and contain them as I had tried, but usually failed, at doing the previous 25 years of my life. Thoughts and emotions I had no idea existed were suddenly staring me in the face. I was so very good at disguising and numbing them: sadness, fear, relief, guilt, disbelief. Now what?

And so ten years ago, I began a healing process that I will have to admit, is still in progress. It began with me going to a few therapy sessions, ending destructive relationships and building constructive ones, moving to a new province and returning to the country that gave birth to me and then sent me packing, and not coincidentally, beginning my yoga practice . Through all of this process – of replacing anger and hurt with wonder and amazement – I have learned a great lesson that resonates so clearly with me especially at this time of year: the importance of non-violence within your self, your family, community and the world at large.

It is the basis of world religions, has helped bring about countries’ independence, freedom for peoples and not the least of these is freedom for an individual. Learning to love and nurture oneself is not easy but I think it’s the first step in living a non-violent life.

In yoga, ahimsa – or non-violence – is the first of the yamas, a code, if you will, of universal morality, we follow. Many of us in North America think of yoga as only the physical postures we learn in class, but it is a whole lot more. It is an eight-limbed path or discipline to unite the body and the mind with the Divine; and non-violence is the first step in following this universal path of morality. The physical postures come in third, by the way.

Ahimsa is, I think, something we all struggle with every day of our lives because it is not so much that we shouldn’t be violent than it is that we are not to do harm with our thoughts, words or actions. Therefore, it really does seep into every single breathing moment of our lives. It affects how we communicate with ourselves, with others; it affects how we transport ourselves from one place to another, the things we buy and what we eat.

If thoughts of the way I arrived in the world and Canada weren’t enough to make me realize how important ahimsa is, it is also important to note that my arrival in Canada also coincides with the fall of Saigon. After all of the pain and destruction caused by decades of war, the Americans finally withdrew and for better or worse, Viet Nam was once again a united country.

Funnily enough, I woke up yesterday with immediate thoughts of the anniversary. I lay in bed for a while contemplating much of what I’ve just written and two things struck me. The first was that it was very painful to move. The day before I made it back to my yoga classes after two weeks off due to the shingles virus.

The class itself was great. In the previous 2 days I had felt a resurgence of my energy level and much more like myself than I’d felt in a long while. But I was sore. Perhaps I had worked myself a little too hard, despite the fact that I kept telling myself to be gentle it’s easy to get excited and go a little too far thus doing harm. But just because every muscle in my body felt like it gone to war didn’t mean it had. As I lay there I embraced the pain because it was a good pain. A pain that reminded me of all the things I could do and because I am – unlike so many others from that day alone 35 years ago – here and I am able.

But then, I rolled over and turned on the radio. It was Easter Sunday – a day in the Christian calendar when people celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, who, it is believed, was killed by crucifixion. Nothing peaceful or gentle about being nailed to a cross! It was a story about Easter service in Afghanistan for the Canadian troops: they went to a church service and wished every one a happy easter and then, as they walked out of the chapel, “picked up their guns and continued to fight for peace”. I can only hope the reporter chose these words as an illustration of the absurdity of war. Or did the reporter truly believe her statement and as a result took her responsbility as a reporter for granted? Is it possible people actually believe that we can attain peace with guns? This is all, perhaps, a diatribe for another time.

Still, it’s hard not to get discouraged about life when one hears words like these or when you pay attention to the world around you. And it is impossible, for me, anyway, to live in the world without paying some attention to what’s happening around me.

So where does that leave us? Square one? That’s depressing. As I celebrate 35 years of rebirth and 10 years of personal ahimsa, let’s say I’m at square one and a half and carry on from there – one gentle breath, one simple harm-free step at a time.