As someone who promotes peace, kindness and self-care it's too easy sometimes to focus on the light side of life. After all, I do want to bring inspiration, joy and hope to your life.
But today, I'm looking at the shadow side.... stick with me though, it's important.
My reality of living as contemporary (white, in case you didn't know) yoga practitioner, is that the real test of my yoga practice happens off the mat, in a world where the most harrowing violence and injustice takes place every single day, largely at the hands of those who share my skin tone... and today I cannot stay silent.
The public rise of the KKK this week in Charlottesville, VA resulting in the death of a black woman when a car was driven in to a crowd, was incredibly traumatic to witness. I was filled with emotion watching images that looked like something from the 1950's, a crowd of hundreds marching in to the night with flaming torches. Hearing the chants "White Lives Matter" and "You Will Not Replace Us" left my whole body tingling with rage and heartbreak. Maybe you felt the same way?
At some-point I had to switch off, especially because my children were around and they are too young to take these burdens on. I chose to stop watching and reading, but the hum of the event still moves through me. I have shed many tears this week; for the violent tendencies in me, you and our culture at large.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Catch up here. (WARNING: it starts with loud screaming, sirens and violence).
I long for us all to feel so full, so whole, and complete the we never have to react in a way that hurts, injures or kills another.
I've been asking myself-- how can we face and take a stand against the injustices of the world, while opening ourselves to experience vicarious (and our own) trauma in the process? How far does our responsibility stretch to stay AWAKE and ACTIVE against the injustices and violence in the world, while choosing the yogi's path of non-violence?
Now, I'm not a social justice worker, anthropologist, psychologist or qualified in any way to speak on how this matter may play out culturally for us at large, but I can share how my own awareness has been raised.
As a white woman, white supremacy feels like my cultural shadow-side. It's all to easy to turn a blind eye and say, "oh but I'm no KKK, and I'm not American so I'll just back up and leave it to them to deal with their issues." But, as a yoga practitioner and student of meditation, I know that at subatomic level of unseen matter and consciousness, where the life force energy of the entire universe flows, we are all connected; and as someone working towards creating a world with more love, awareness and kindness I have a roll to play.
I've contemplated all the ways in which I benefit from white privilege this week; largely the fact that I have never feared for my LIFE because of the colour of my skin. It gives me chills to imagine what life is like as a black woman in Charlottesville, right now.
I've also imagined what it may be like to be one of those men or women who held torches and marched in to the night; the fear they feel at the false premise that equality will take their power away; the ways in which their culture has utterly failed and deceived them to the point where channeling such raw hatred and violence against others feels like an appropriate means to an end; to feel seen, valued and safe.
The challenge I feel called to acknowledge here, is NOT to descend in to "US and THEM", this only further divides us. Duality is a delusion, and it does not serve us if it is PEACE and UNION that we seek.
The love deficit and disconnection in this world is literally is killing us and tearing us apart both inside and in our communities. My husband has a shirt that reads "The War is Within" and from my perspective, this is where it all starts and this is where I focus my work for my own personal healing and in my support of others healing. But this does not mark the limit of my activism. Standing up for love and peace, sometimes requires us to put out necks out, speak up and maybe even cause harm. I know this may seem hugely controversial, but yoga sutras are clear that AHIMSA is the path of LEAST HARM towards a long term vision of NON-VIOLENCE.
Gandhi was fierce on advocating for taking action towards the long term vision of peace; he is famous for saying "Be the change you wish to see in the world" and perhaps less famous for saying "When there is only a choice between cowardice and violence. I would advise violence." Wait, what?! If this is as triggering for you as it was for me when I first read it, please sit with it. Silence and cowardice is an especially toxic form of consent that perpetrates violence.
If silence and numbing out are not an options for you in the face of injustice, what can we do? Michael Stone speaks of tools to stay engaged and awake...
"When I have the tools to work with my capacity for apathy, distraction, laxity of attention or even hyperactivity, I have more clarity in my activities and I am better able to serve others. This is the heart of contemporary yoga practice. We don't need ideology or theology in order to affirm the diversity and inter-relatedness of all life, but we certainly need the tools for learning how to cultivate attentiveness and to balance our internal energy patterns so that we have vitality and clarity which we can bring to the complex issues of a world out of balance." - Michael Stone, Yoga for a World Out of Balance
Some Tools for Staying Awake on the Path to Peace
SELF-COMPASSION: Now before you jump at me for naval gazing, remember hurt people, hurt others... consciously or not. When we can lovingly deal with our own pain, we simply have greater capacity to practice non-violence. We need to Recognize the places inside ourselves (physically, mentally and emotionally) that feel hurt; Allow them to be seen; Inquire in to the nature of these hurts, and offer some self-Nurturing words or touch to soothe our suffering. This is the Buddhist practice RAIN: Recognise, Allow, Inquire, Nuture. It's a path to cultivate Self-Compassion and treat yourself as you would a dear friend. For more on RAIN see legendary Dharma Teacher Tara Brach.
LISTENING: The path to peace starts with listening deeply. We must pay attention to those whose opinions we disagree with. Gandhi was famous for be an extraordinary listener, he made solutions possible through listening, relationship and dialogue. When we listen openly to others without racing to push our own agenda, we can begin to understand the origins of our collective SUFFERING. Then we can respond with empathy, rather than reacting, from our own wounds.
AVOIDING DUALISTIC THINKING: As I've said above, the "us" and "them" mentality creates a culture of blame and righteousness, and is useless if we seek peace and oneness. We need to attack the problem, not the person. With keen listening we will mostly be able to see that the ways in which we suffer, are common to our humanity and stir up a compassion for others even if our values clash. Meditation helps.
UNDERSTANDING MY PRIVILEGE: While there is much that we share as humans of this planet, I also need to own the ways in which I am born in to privilege and use that wisely. And for those who may not fully see or understand their privilege, or feel white shame (please, no white shame, ok white folks, let's just move on from that ok) we must understand our privilege, our worth and power to create change.
KNOWING MY CAPACITY: This is largely a self-awareness/ self-care practice. I sometimes have lots of energy to speak up and out and campaign and fight for injustice. Other times, I feel overwhelmed and too emotional. Knowing when you need to switch off to refill is crucial, so you don't numb out all together, and can soon return to fighting the good fight.
These are some practices that work for me, you might have others. Consider what keeps you awake, aware and prepared to take action to create change in the world, without burning out.
However this article lands for you, I encourage you to sit with the ripple it makes, and ask what feels possible for you, to address injustice and suffering in your own live and the lives of others.
And if you feel called to explore this topic more, especially if you are white, female and 'spiritual', read this blog post from Layla Saad, who inspired me to put my thoughts in to words this week.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu / May All Beings Everywhere Be Happy and Free.
See you on the mat,