The first Yama: ahimsa, "non-harming"
The first Grave Precept: "Do not kill. Affirm Life."
When I was studying the precepts in more depth my teachers shared with me John Daido Loori's writing on them. For each "do not" there is an positive "do". This enriched my view of ahimsa greatly so that it not only contained the idea of non-harming, but grew to include the goal of sustaining, enriching life as well.
I've come to see kindness as a partner of non-harming in practicing the first precept. One could easily withdraw from the world, limit contact in order to promote non-harming, but to affirm life draws you directly into the world. Simple kindness provides a way to enrich and nourish life.
In 2000 I realized I'd moved away from being a kind person. I can recall about myself as a child that I was kind and genuinely interested in each being around me. My family didn't exactly foster this and our society often disparages kind optimists as "Pollyannas". The feedback I got over the years was to hone my wit and protect my heart. In doing so I grew disconnected from people and from myself.
There was a moment where I suddenly saw my behavior towards a person as being impatient, arrogant and very unkind. That night I reflected upon it and felt ashamed of myself. I hadn't bothered to exert myself to remember I was interacting with another person, that I didn't need to bother.
And I was bothered by it. Greatly. So I started with kindness.
Every time I talked to someone I tried to give them attention. When I was in a check-out line at a market I made eye-contact and honestly responded to the automatic, "How are you today?" greeting. What's more I made sure to ask how the person helping me was doing today. I listened to their response. I made sure I wished them a good rest of their day too.
What amazed me was how little effort it took me. Even on a less than stellar days. Rather than be irritated or lie and say I was fine I would honestly tell someone I was having a lousy day. I tried to smile a lot.
Even more amazing was the response I began to see, how immediate and dramatic it was. People smiled back, all the time. They were gracious funny, sympathetic, caring and wonderful. I've even have learned new things from many people. When I tried this at restaurants and shops I would get awesome service that I then made a point to acknowledge, be truly grateful for.
There are so many ways in which the First Grave Precept has affected my life. Many of the major changes I have made are rooted in my vow to do no harm and to affirm life. Of all of the things this precept has taught me, the need to root ourselves in loving-kindness is one of nourishing.