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Kids These Days July 15, 2013

Hoodies of all sizes at the 2012 Rally for Trayvon in DC.

Hoodies of all sizes at the 2012 Rally for Trayvon in DC.

It seems that Trayvon Martin is on everyone’s mind today.  Who is on my mind?  Children much closer to me.  And Trayvon.  But mostly, the kids directly around me.

*  *  *

The 1st session of summer music/yoga camp wrapped up last week.

As you may have guessed, when teaching, I tend to gravitate toward the “troubled” kids.  Not the hyper, overly physical, excitable ones – although tough to manage, they tend to socialize well and quickly become accepted through lighthearted eye-rolling and general silliness.  I relate to the ones who have a really hard time socializing comfortably…who isolate, or cling, or hide, or run away, or harm themselves or others…who show signs of some sort of emotional hardship.

Over the past three weeks of camp, one little gal in particular struck a deep chord with me.  For the sake of privacy, I’ll call her “Carol.”  Carol was about 7-years-old; and it was her first time at a summer camp.  She was an enigma to most of the teachers and staff; but to me, Carol was completely familiar.  When she arrived, her favorite (and pretty much only) word was, “NO.”  I took my time with her.  First, I met with her group’s apprentices (aka camp counselors) and recommended boundary setting exercises that would liberate and empower both Carol and them.  Then with Carol, I had one-on-one conversations about her actions, suggested alternate behaviors for navigating challenges and encouraged her to apologize when she made mistakes with fellow campers.  Although a tough cookie, she was willing and earnest.  We worked together, and she tried her best.  Each day was up and down.  Still, Carol made subtle – yet profound – shifts in socialization by the end of three weeks.  For example, some days she stopped clinging to the legs of the apprentices and started interacting with other kids; she decreased her tendency to curl up into a ball and hide her face from the world; she more readily responded to my invitations to talk rather than running away; and she participated more and more in our percussion and yoga classes.

When Carol told me nobody was coming to watch her final performances, I asked if I could be her family.  I cheered her on and we smiled at each other through every song and dance.  At yoga class on the last day of camp, she gleefully joined in with the group’s playfulness and stories, as if she’d been integrated the whole time.  Before leaving for carpool, she hugged me multiple times, looked up at my face and said, “I love you.”  I answered, “I love you, too, Carol.”  And I do.

During this camp session, teachers shared theories and opinions about Carol.  Some were surprised I’d had a positive experience, exhaled with relief when she left and hoped she wouldn’t return.  One peer related to my experience and efforts, and said, “These children who need love are the reason we teach.”  Yes, indeed.  And, for me there are other reasons.

I don’t need to know what’s behind parents’ neglect to show up for a child’s needs.  They could be low-income and busily juggling many jobs; or, wealthy and struggling with emotional trauma.  They could be any race and from any background.  All parents give what they know how to give.  In some cases, what they give is insufficient.  So my approach is to recognize symptoms of neglect and, without assumption, judgment or blame – and more importantly, with compassion for the family as a whole – try to offer the child some tools for thriving despite hardship.  Throughout that process, I show the child that she is loved, no matter what she does, says and is.  I reinforce that her fallible humanness is loveable.  And more importantly, I show the child that they can reach out to community for dependable and healthy support.

Carol is the kind of kid most people give up on.  She is the kind of kid I want to spend more time with. I wish the best for this precious soul.

*  *  *

Kids these days
Grow into adults these days.
Kids these days
Become parents one day.

Kids these days
Are in pain.
Transmuting unaddressed emotions into addictions,
Transferring unaddressed emotions through violent actions –
Toward themselves and others.

Kids these days
Are alone.
Who will guide them through their emotions
Toward tools to thrive beyond hardship?
Are they destined to grow into
Suffering adults and struggling parents?

Kids these days
Break my heart wide open
In the most motivating of ways.
They make me look squarely at myself
And continue my sacred inner work.

I am lucky to work with
Kids these days.

*  *  *

Kids these days – just like Trayvon Martin before he died – are being suspended from school.  They are being sent home from summer camp and asked not to return; they are being publicly scolded by visibly disdainful parents; they are being hit for crying, slapped for saying something out loud, ignored for being troublesome, abandoned for being a burden.

And I’m talking all kids.  From all backgrounds.  Kids very, very close to me.

Which is why today, I’m less concerned with the outcome of a situation that I did not witness, in which I did not know the people involved, and more importantly, over which I have little control.  I am more concerned with taking action right here, right now.  In whatever way I am called to serve.

*  *  *

In June 2012, I was assaulted by a kid in my neighborhood.  I’d met him a few months earlier, in April, after attending DC’s Rally for Trayvon Martin.

The rally was my first “activist” action in many, many years.  I am not comfortable around atmospheres of hostility and/or conflict – either I get triggered and begin to feel hostile, or, I get scared of losing someone/something and shut down.  So when I feel passionately about a cause, I pray, I meditate, I have conversations with trusted friends and I write.  But last April, I was moved to witness the group conscience of those demanding justice.

The energy at the Rally was angry, heavy and serious.  At times hostile and conflicting.  At times peaceful.  And at times inspired by purpose.  I stood for hours in the rain, in the midst of a passionate crowd, right up at the front, near the stream of guest speakers.  I did Pranayama, choosing the cooling Sitali breathing to stay balanced and soothed.  To stay spiritually, intellectually and politically neutral, I prayed for the well-being of all beings.  To stay informed, I listened.  Mostly, I heard messages of anger and blame.

Yet, toward the end of it all, I heard Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory say, “Meditate.  Meditate that the truth will come out.  The whole truth.”

*  *  *

I’ve been practicing meditation since 1990.  Here is the truth that has emerged from that practice:

If I am feeling anything but peaceful, then I am infusing the world with that unrest.  If I want peace in the world, I must address my own unrest, deeply understand its source, bravely face its story, constructively express its pain and resolutely commit to its healing.  When I understand that my unrest with external situations springs from my internal pain – and when I devote myself to the process of growth – I can contribute to a solution.  I can access the strength of my inner peace, share that peace in service, and consequently, increase the peace in our world.

I try not to personalize politics and current events.  If I am emotionally stirred by something I hear on the news, I take responsibility for my emotions by processing as described above.  I am NOT Trayvon Martin; and I am NOT George Zimmerman.  But I feel deeply for both beings.  And it’s my job to know why, so my responses to their situation are not impulsive, harmful or destructive, but informed, healthy and constructive.

When I meditate, I am reminded that I am just a tiny part of this universe…that beyond the horizon there are infinite mysteries that I know nothing about…that there are far too many unknowns for me to think I know better.  When I meditate, I am reminded to let go, let go, let go.  Or as some might say: Let Go and Let God.

*  *  *

After the Rally, I was waiting for the bus home.  As it pulled closer, I noticed the tight crowd toward the front, and spaciousness toward the back.  I heard why when I boarded.  In the back was a group of eight loud, rowdy kids who I recognized from my neighborhood – the well-known 17th and Euclid households, which have been historically plagued by poverty, crime and general unrest.  But y’know what?  These guys sounded like they were having fun; and after an adult-sized morning of seriousness, I wanted to cut loose.  I joined the kids, who told me that they’d just seen “The Hunger Games,” and proceeded to describe the movie with great detail and excitement (and volume!).

I was delighted to be surrounded by their enthusiasm.  One boy in particular told his parts of the story and answered my questions with such earnestness and engagement.  We all said goodbye after getting off the bus in our neighborhood.  From then forward, whenever I saw the group on the streets (they have a daily ritual of heading to McDonald’s at around 6pm), I’d say hi, ask if they’d seen any movies and generally check in.  This is how I became congenial with “Joseph” – the kid who, later that spring, would assault me.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday eve.  On the way back from the grocery store, I came across the 17th and Euclid crew.  As I veered toward them to say hello, Joseph jumped in front of me, shoved me, and then ran behind the bus stop.  I demanded an apology.  After some back and forth, Joseph apologized and told me he didn’t realize it was me.  He was in a blind rage about something that had happened that morning.  I was sure to validate his anger; and then we talked about alternatives to violence.

Since then, Joseph and I have run into each other multiple times; we high-five when we pass; and I’ve had the opportunity to intervene when he was striking out toward others, simply by talking about the situation.

This is all it takes with kids these days.  Spending time and sharing solutions.  Ah – and caring to do so.

*  *  *

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that, as a child, I experienced things that were so emotionally scarring, I spent years and years misguidedly attempting to mask and make up for that pain with alcohol, drugs and violence.  Finally, decades later I would be compelled to uncover, face and address that wound – or die.  The fact is: addiction is a killer.  And in my 30s, I was on my way down the hole – until a moment of clarity led me to seek help for my habits, and therefore, discover the support and strength to heal and grow.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a moment of clarity and steer themselves toward solutions.  And I truly consider it simple luck – not Karma, grace, privilege, intelligence nor entitlement – that I found my way to solutions for healing and growth.  I have seen people from all backgrounds recover from addiction, transform away from violence and heal emotional trauma; and, I have seen people from all backgrounds gradually kill themselves while harming others.

My hope is to share my experience, strength and hope with youth – whether through yoga camp or street encounters – long before their childhood scars lead them down an unfortunate path toward violence, addiction or the subtle smothering of their spirits and souls.

*  *  *

This week we return for our 2nd session of summer camp!  And together, the “difficult” campers and I will work on our humanness.  I don’t care how much time and energy it takes to give a child the attention and tools she needs to thrive.  Because that is the reason I teach our kids these days

Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

OTHER URBAN YOGA DEN BLOGS ABOUT YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
& ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE:

– Compassion for Killers, Revisited (Dec. 2012)

– A Warm & Fuzzy Feeling (Nov. 2012)

– Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention (Series: April – July 2012)

– Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion (June 2012)

– Haiku for George Zimmerman (April 2012)

– Peaceful Warrior (April 2012)

– Haiku for Trayvon Martin (March 2012)

– Healing Kids’ Scars With Yoga (July 2011)

– The Yoga of Being Mugged (June 2011)

 

Compassion for Killers, Revisited December 14, 2012

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”

– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

ResponsibilityEnergy(June12)*  *  *

I cannot dwell in resentment.  Because if I do, I am only adding to the pain of the world.

In light of today’s tragedy in Connecticut, I have compiled some segments from a few of my past pieces about Ahimsa (avoidance of violence) and about aphorism 1.33 from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Wishing you a mind, heart and soul free of resentment.  Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Final Word,” July 10, 2012

Ahimsa Now.  I just spent 100 days exploring violence, its patterns, its causes and the tools for avoiding it.  (For background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this post.)

What rings true in all of my observations and experiences – when someone is in pain, that person is likely to inflict pain on others.  This is on my mind today, as I consider the news from Aurora, Colorado.  What pains a man so deeply that he must kill?  I am always saddened not only for the victims of violence, but also for those who commit such harm.

I grieve over the profound presence of pain and the cycle of hurting others in our world.

How can I – one breath, one thought, one action, one day at a time – observe, address, process and decrease my own pain in order to decrease the cycle of violence?  How can I modify my actions and interactions to aim high, and to cultivate kindness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love?  This is tough, deep and challenging work.  Ask any of my very kind, accepting, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, loving friends who have been the recipients of my overreactions when I am triggered into great fear or pain.

MorningSadhanaList(July12)I am not trying to be “perfect,” but I do feel responsible for my behavior.  And although often weary from the work, I am committed to discovering and using the tools and practices to cultivate a less reactive, more peaceful Holly.

Once I have those tools and practices in place – and try to use them with the humanness of fallibility, honesty, humility and forgiveness – how can I help decrease, process and decrease the pain of those around me?  Can I influence family, friends, neighbors or strangers?

I can only start by using yoga and other tools that nourish my own inner peace.  By committing to these practices.  Never skipping them.  It’s just too essential.  When I feel peaceful, I share that peace with those around me.  As I maintain accountability for feeding a cycle of peace, that energy inevitably vibrates outward.

I believe that one breath, one thought, one action, one day and one person at a time, this violent world will be touched.  Pain will diminish.  And acts of violence will no longer occupy our hearts, minds, lives.

Ahimsa Now.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  And after July 13th, I will continue to share my series of “Peace Tools” – practices for cultivating dependable inner peace and living with accountability.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

*  *  *

From “Infinite Compassion,” June 28, 2012

THWL1(18June2011,HandsCrop)The world is full of violence.  And in my experience and observations, people commit violence when they themselves are hurting.

One of my friends says, “Violence is not natural for the atma, the spiritual being who is having a human experience.”  But I believe that we are spiritual and human at once – there is no separation.  To me, it seems that if the ancients created a word for “avoidance of violence” (“Ahimsa”), then they knew and accepted that violence was a natural part of being alive.  And therefore yoga – whose goal is to remove disturbances of the mind and whose result is inner peace – presented a system of practices for avoiding causing harm.

One of those practices is compassion.

*  *  *

From “Boy, 9, Dies from Gunshot Wound,” November 16, 2009

A grim headline for a yoga blog.

I was preparing to write a piece about cultivating compassion toward the cat callers who hassle me as I walk to the studio.  Instead I’m writing a piece about cultivating compassion toward killers.

Last night, as I returned home after dinner, I heard sirens, saw a SWAT helicopter circling and sensed that something beyond the typical robbery had happened in our ‘hood.  The DC police officer who guards our lobby told me that just minutes before, a child had been shot in his own home.  I went to sleep wondering whether he was alive.

Then, today’s news confirmed: 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes died after being struck by a stray bullet (* see Correction, below) from the hallway outside of his family’s apartment.

Thankfully, I … remembered to use my yogic tools in order to cultivate compassion.

Here’s my POV.  When I dwell in anger or hatred, resentment consumes me.  I lose my ability to smile through the day, to relate to my loved ones, to be of service where needed.  In this self-centered, negative state, I perpetuate pain.  And when I dwell in pain, I inevitably hurt others.  I believe it is this pattern of being in pain and hurting others that sparks any cycle of violence – from domestic violence to neighborhood killings to world war.

GentleShakeTheWorldGhandi(Dec12)So, when facing the horrific trauma of violence, how can we be true to our emotions, but not live in resentment?  In his commentary on Patanjali’s ancient yogic scriptures, Swami Satchidananda says, “Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.”  Whether interested in yoga or not, he says, one tool will help anyone maintain peacefulness through anything.

Sutra 1:33: “By cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight toward the virtuous and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.”  This tool is known as the four locks and keys.

To use this approach regarding Oscar Fuentes’ death, consider “compassion for the unhappy.”  I would guess that something created a pain-driven unhappiness in the killer long before this crime.  And I certainly have compassion for people who are in pain.  So, I categorize all gun-wielding criminals as painfully unhappy and therefore try to cultivate compassion for them.

And what about the fourth lock and key?  “Indifference toward the non-virtuous.”  Killing is certainly not a virtuous act.  To address this, I’ll adapt from a book called “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by scholar and philosopher Pandit Tigunait.

To label a person as “bad” or non-virtuous, the judgmental part of our personality comes forward.  In judgment, we distance or withdraw from that person.  Alienation sets the stage for violence.  To change this pattern is to change our own attitude – and cultivate indifference toward the deed, not the doer.  Cultivating indifference toward a human being damages our sensitivity and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness and love.

I choose to say, “That person’s actions are harmful, but I will regard the human behind them as unhappy and therefore have compassion.”

Practicing yogic tools does not spare me of my own humanness.  I’m still crying and will probably cry for a while.  A larger grief includes tears for people who have experienced so much pain in life, their only tool is to harm others.  I think I cry the hardest for them.

May all beings be filled with peace, joy, love and light.  AHIMSA NOW.

(* Correction: Monday, 16 November.  Oscar Fuentes was killed by a bullet that was intentionally fired through his family’s front door from the hallway.)

*  *  *

From “Compassion for Killers,” November 17, 2009

“Compassion for the unhappy.”  “Indifference toward non-virtous acts.” – Sutra 1:33

So here I am, again practicing the locks and keys of Sutra 1:33 (see “Boy, 9, Dies…” post for details).  This morning, 26-year-old Josue Peña was arrested for killing 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes a few nights ago.  (* see Update below)  Immediately, I thought, “Josue Peña must be in some kind of pain in order to shoot-to-kill.”  That’s simply where my heart and mind go when I hear about violent crimes.  I know too much about pain’s ability to turn intentions horribly sour.

But I wasn’t always able to access compassion regarding violence.  It’s taken years for my anger about such crimes to soften – and partially from necessity.  As I’ve mentioned before, resentment is a killer for me.  It sucks away my joy and can turn me dangerously destructive – self and otherwise.  So I had to find tools to express my anger, and then promptly transition to more empathic and forgiving feelings toward criminals.

If Sutra 1:33 just isn’t cutting it for you when it comes to killers, check out the “Charter for Compassion” (re-printed below).

When Inter-Faith leader Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize in February, 2008, she made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people contributed to the process so that last week the Charter could be unveiled to the world.

My favorite line in the Charter, regarding responding to violence with compassion, is: “To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.”  Visit the awe-inspiring and interactive website at http://charterforcompassion.org/ Or, check out the Charter’s text, below.

If you still feel negative feelings toward Josue Peña and other killers…know that you are human.  And that’s A-OK with me.  Still, I urge you to consider finding room in your heart for empathy, understanding and compassion.

Wishing you truth-to-self…and liberation from resentment.  OM Shanti.

(* Update: A few days after being incarcerated, Josue Peña hung himself in his prison cell.  No further comment.)

CHARTER FOR COMPASSION

A call to bring the world together…

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

Me June09We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

(reprinted from charterforcompassion.org)

 

I Didn’t Expect To Cry Today September 11, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,mental health,News,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 8:40 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I figured, “Eleven years…I probably won’t cry this time around.”

But here I am, an hour away from teaching a noon corporate class, weeping as if it were 2003.  Wait – weeping as if it were 2003?  But 9/11 happened in 2001.

*  *  *

I am not going to recount every moment of my 9/11 morning.  To summarize – it hit hard.  I did cry.  A lot.  Here in DC, we were in utter chaos.  For me, fear was not a great factor.  I would say I was too shocked to feel much at all.  And my worry for others was through the roof.

Especially for Michael.

Michael Rodriquez was special to me.  He was a New York musician, gifted in the folkloric music of Cuba and the sacred music of Santeria.  When he visited DC, my life would fire up with an energy beyond my own.  After 9/11, he started calling me every afternoon.  He felt sick, he needed to drink more wine, he was paranoid, he was afraid to seek help.  Michael had worked at one of the Wall Street banks; and on that horrible day, instead of running away from Ground Zero, he stood paralyzed, watching people jump to their deaths from the Towers.

On October 1st, 2001, his mother called to say that he was dead.  After a trip to the hospital for a myriad of ailments, Michael had died from heart failure while sleeping.  He was 23 years old.

When I got off the phone, I howled with pain.  When I called my gal friends to tell them what happened, I screamed my tears.  Yes, indeed – I cried.  And then I stopped.

At the viewing that day, I was perfectly composed.  I drove from DC to NY; I showed up for everyone else; I recommended breathing techniques, meditations and Bach Flower Remedies.  I ritualized Michael’s death, gracefully honoring him with chants and prayers.

And then I shut my feelings off.

*  *  *

Today I know this as “spiritual bypass.”  Meaning, instead of healthily processing the loss, I skipped forward to a seemingly spiritual solution.

Over the next seven months after 9/11, 2001:

  • another musician friend would die in a freak accident, days before Christmas;
  • the woman who trained me to take over her job at Discovery en Español would commit suicide in March;
  • my father would encounter his 1st major illness, also in March;
  • and on April 13th, 2002, my mother would die.

And each time, I cried at first, turned the situation into a big “spiritual” ceremony – and then turned off my emotions.

I was well-practiced at this habit!  About a decade (or so) before, in Spring of 1990, I’d hit a very serious physical, emotional and spiritual bottom.  At that time, I was drinking morning, noon and night.  Simply – the conditions and challenges of my life had led me to that pattern.  I should have died.  I wanted to die.  I tried to die.  But I did not die.

In a frustrated fit of resignation (NOT surrender, folks – sheer resignation), I decided that if I had to stick around on this earth, I needed to feel better.  So I would control my drinking.  And my emotions.  And my spirituality.

Over the next 12 years, I: drank less; ate a fairly natural/clean diet; practiced yoga; saw a therapist; tried pretty a variety of spiritual or religious ways of life; associated with people who seemed to feel and act how I wanted to feel and act.  I also: moved around the country, from DC to New Orleans to Austin to Florida to DC to Arizona to DC; moved from group house to apartment to group house to apartment in each city; changed jobs numerous times; broke hearts; got my heart broken; almost go my jaw broken; and so on.

You get the picture.

I remained lost – these efforts were desperate and immature, and my insides were not changing.  By September of 2001, life had become more and more about me being in control.  I had taken the reigns.  Spirituality became me “praying for” (aka demanding) what I wanted.  Difficult or uncomfortable feelings were stuffed.  Although I was not drinking morning, noon and night as in the years before 1990, I was increasingly turning to alcohol and emotional shut-down during tough times.

After 9/11 and Michael’s death, I did not drink.  After Heather’s pre-Christmas death, I did not drink.  Yet.  After New Year’s Eve, I started buying beer to drink at home.  When Barbara killed herself, I had some wine.  When my father became ill, I bought two bottles of wine to share with my sister and polished off most of it.  But when my mom died in April 2002, I did not drink.

My mom died of alcoholism.

Over that summer, I drank very infrequently.  On 9/11, 2002, I planned to go to a sports bar to watch the Yankees game and memorial ceremony.  I would just have dinner.  I would not drink.  I felt it would be dishonorable, given the occasion.  Watching the broadcast, I became emotional.

I ordered a beer and stopped crying.

The next day, I felt remorse – my truest intention was to stay sober.  And at that point, my body was sending me signals that alcohol had taken its toll in those previous years – even when I drank one beer, my pancreas screamed in pain.  I yearned to stop completely, but I could not.  Worst of all, I wanted to change my life.  I wanted to be honorable.  I wanted to be responsible.  I wanted to be stable.  Yet I kept falling into the same unhealthy physical, emotional and spiritual patterns.

*  *  *

On October 22nd, 2002, I had what I hope was my last drink.  I finally surrendered.  I accepted help, and with that help, I have stayed sober nearly 10 years.  With that change came the resolution to not drown or stuff or avoid emotions.

So on 9/11, 2003 – my 1st sober anniversary of the event – I cried.  And cried.  And cried.

I did not drink away the pain.  I did not stuff the feelings.  I began learning how to grieve healthily.  And I started to process that season of losses – from 9/11 and Michael, to my friends’ and mom’s deaths – with the honor and emotion they deserved.  With the humanness and acceptance that I deserved.

*  *  *

Today – 9/11, 2012 – I am weeping as if it were 2003.  I will allow the grief to surface, and soften, and surface, and soften.  I will pray, meditate, practice.  I will honor this process healthily.

And I will not drink.

I dedicate my day, my practice and my heart to the memory of Michael Rodriguez.  If I could have a fraction of the fire, passion, “joie de vivre” and outright silliness that Michael had in his life – and brought to mine – I would be a lucky gal.  I love you, Michael.

In addition, I dedicate my day, practice and heart to all of the loves and losses of my life.  After all –

What is life,
What is love,
What is loss?
One and the same.
Onward.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Final Word July 20, 2012

Ahimsa Now.  I just spent 100 days exploring violence, its patterns, its causes and the tools for avoiding it.  (For background, see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention’” at the bottom of this post.)

What rings true in all of my observations and experiences – when someone is in pain, that person is likely to inflict pain on others.  This is on my mind today, as I consider the news from Aurora, Colorado.  What pains a man so deeply that he must kill?  I am always saddened not only for the victims of violence, but also for those who commit such harm.

I grieve over the profound presence of pain and the cycle of hurting others in our world.

How can I – one breath, one thought, one action, one day at a time – observe, address, process and decrease my own pain in order to decrease the cycle of violence?  How can I modify my actions and interactions to aim high, and to cultivate kindness, acceptance, tolerance, understanding, compassion, love?  This is tough, deep and challenging work.  Ask any of my very kind, accepting, tolerant, understanding, compassionate, loving friends who have been the recipients of my overreactions when I am triggered into great fear or pain.

I am not trying to be “perfect,” but I do feel responsible for my behavior.  And although often weary from the work, I am committed to discovering and using the tools and practices to cultivate a less reactive, more peaceful Holly.

Once I have those tools and practices in place – and try to use them with the humanness of fallibility, honesty, humility and forgiveness – how can I help decrease, process and decrease the pain of those around me?  Can I influence family, friends, neighbors or strangers?

I can only start by using yoga and other tools that nourish my own inner peace.  By committing to these practices.  Never skipping them.  It’s just too essential.  When I feel peaceful, I share that peace with those around me.  As I maintain accountability for feeding a cycle of peace, that energy inevitably vibrates outward.

I believe that one breath, one thought, one action, one day and one person at a time, this violent world will be touched.  Pain will diminish.  And acts of violence will no longer occupy our hearts, minds, lives.

Ahimsa Now.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I committed to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  And after July 13th, I will continue to share my series of “Peace Tools” – practices for cultivating dependable inner peace and living with accountability.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Haiku for George Zimmerman April 12, 2012

HAIKU FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

And justice for all:

May peace – and not resentment –

Guide our hearts and minds.

*  *  *

In the very first pages of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – one of the ancient texts that guides yoga practice and teaching – we learn that yoga’s primary purpose is to cultivate a peaceful mind.

The text then offers us four books (or chapters) of recommended practices to attain and sustain this peace.  One practice is known as the Four Locks & Four Keys – described in Sutra 1.33 – which invites us to cultivate an attitude of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight toward the virtuous and disregard for the non-virtuous in order to retain our own calm.  In his commentary on this recommendation, Swami Satchidananda encouraged, “Whether you are interested in samadhi (loosely translated as “enlightenment”) or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra.  In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always.”

Mine, too.

And even more so after I studied an interpretation of Sutra 1.33 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D., of the Himalayan Institute.  About 10 years ago, I clipped his Yoga International Magazine article shedding an uplifting, shining light on the aphorism’s most difficult plea (for me, at least) to cultivate disregard for the non-virtuous.  Because I feel if I am disregarding someone, then I am committing harm; and therefore, I become non-virtuous and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

I was so deeply moved by Dr. Tigunait’s interpretation that I have kept the article and often refer to it when wrestling with the unfortunate reality of our violent world.  Here are some excerpts; I hope someone finds this useful if questioning any act of violence, harm or disregard.

*  *  *

None of us has the power to force others to rid themselves of darkness.  The only power we have is to demonstrate how delightful it is to live in the light.

According to yoga, one who cultivates transparency of mind, clarity of thought, and firmness of will becomes light and cheerful.

[Regarding] indifference toward the non-virtuous:

We each have our own definition of “virtue,” and if someone is “non-virtuous” according to our definition, the judgmental part of our personality immediately comes forward and we label those people “bad.”  This colors our thought, speech, and action toward them.  We try to maintain a distance, either by withdrawing ourselves or by pushing them away from us.  Or we try to force them to change.  Any of these actions sets the stage for violence.

Again, the only way to change this pattern is to change our own attitudes.  Those whom we consider reprehensible or wicked are living according to their own level of understanding, and trying to correct them by criticizing their way of life and values is counterproductive.  According to yoga, if it is possible to model the higher values of love, compassion, selflessness, and non-possessiveness for the “non-virtuous,” then that should be done.  Often a glimpse of the higher virtues is enough to cause someone to reevaluate his or her behavior and to find a way to begin the process of self-transformation.

If we have not acquired the skill of leading someone who we believe to be non-virtuous gently in the direction of self-transformation , the only other option is to cultivate an attitude of indifference – not for the doer but for the deed.  Cultivating indifference for people we believe to be non-virtuous damages our sensitivity to others and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness, and selfless love.  But by cultivating indifference toward the deeds themselves, we remain free of animosity for those whose action are non-virtuous.  We allow them their rightful place, and by refusing to associate the person with the deed, we avoid becoming smug and punitive.

Practicing these four principles will purify the mind and heart.  And once we have developed friendship for those who are happy, compassion for those who are unhappy, cheerfulness toward those who are virtuous, and indifference to the actions of those who are not, we will no longer pose a threat to others, and they will be neither defensive nor self-protective in our presence.  Pure love, compassion, selflessness, and self-acceptance radiate from us when we have purified our hearts.  …  Love, compassion, cheerfulness, selflessness, and self-acceptance will begin to radiate from the individual level and affect the community, the society, and finally the world.

…there will be nothing to fight about.

–  From Yoga International Magazine; adapted from “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D.

*  *  *

So how does Sutra 1.33 help me digest the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman?  First, it reminds me that in order to be of service in any way in this world – whether that’s sharing an opinion or joining a social justice action – I must maintain my own inner peace.  Second, if I think and act from a place of peace, then I do not judge, I do not attach personal resentments, I do not confuse unrelated history with this unique story – instead, I am able to be fair-minded.  When I am fair-minded, I can see the pain, misfortune and unhappiness of all involved.  I can have compassion.  I can keep my peace.  I can be of service.  I can be fair-minded.  I can have compassion.  I can keep my peace.  I can be of service.  I can…

And instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence, I am cultivating a cycle of peace.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace.  Please.

 

Peaceful Warrior April 2, 2012

“Meditate.  Meditate that the truth will come out.  The whole truth.”  – Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory at a DC Rally for Trayvon Martin

*  *  *

At the end of my last blog, I promised to report back after the “Stand Up for Trayvon Martin Justice Rally” here in DC.

Leaders from the media, politics, churches, schools and civil rights groups spoke from the steps of a federal building.

Since last Saturday’s rally, I have been meditating on my truth about the situation.  I have started and stopped writing this blog a million times.  I have immersed myself in the news stories, social media, shouted opinions.  I have observed the range of emotion; I have considered many opinions.

I have pondered why this situation is so important to me.  I have come to peace with my own heart-felt perspective.

So what is my truth?

Any killing – of any person, by any person, by any means, in any environment, under any circumstances – saddens me beyond description.

I am not a behavioral scientist.  But I have some firm beliefs about human behavior based on my experience as a witness, victim and – yes – instigator of much too much violence spanning my 46 years on this planet.  So I know from experience: The impulse to commit harm comes from great pain, fear and/or hatred.  And it breaks my heart to know how much pain, fear and hatred there is in our world.

I have no way of categorizing Trayvon Martin’s killing.  I don’t know the details of what happened.  I don’t know what motivated George Zimmerman.  But I know this: Whether it’s street crime, police action, hate crime, death row execution, involuntary manslaughter, war…when killing happens, I grieve the death of two beings.  I grieve the loss of the dead; and equally, I grieve the deadening of the killer’s soul.

Nobody escapes violence unscarred.  Not the victim, not the observer, not the instigator.  Not the families, the cops, the rescue workers, the undertakers.  Everyone is traumatized.  It has taken deep, difficult and committed work to look squarely in the face of the history of violence in my life, to understand it, to grieve it and to heal from it.  I survived and I remain scarred.  So I have a choice: to

The crowd looked like a "big ol' bag of Skittles" to spirited rally MC Reverend Tony Lee.

dwell in the pain of past actions around me, against me and by me, and allow that pain to rule my behavior in community, toward others and toward myself…or…

…to cultivate an inner peace by moving forward with a new perspective, firm beliefs and deliberate actions against violence.

*  *  *

I feel that my primary purpose is to utilize practices and resources to sustain my own inner peace and outward peacefulness, and to share those practices and resources with others who have experienced the pain of violence.

In my adult life – particularly since examining my childhood, training to be a yoga teacher and discovering my purpose – I have felt drawn toward and concerned about the well-being of kids I teach, work with or live near.

In 2009, I grieved heavily over the deaths of two specific children: Eric Harper – an 11-year-old yoga student at the public school where I used to teach – who was killed by his mother’s boyfriend Joseph Randolph Mays (who is now serving 45 years for Eric’s, his brother’s and his mother’s murders); and Oscar Fuentes – a 9-year-old neighbor – who was killed by local gang member Josue Peña (who hung himself while in prison, shortly after Oscar’s death).

In addition, over the past few years, I have grieved the ceaseless gang hits, retribution killings and incarcerations of neighborhood youth.  I see these kids on the street one day; and the next day they are dead or in jail.

Again: I grieve the loss of the dead; and I grieve the deadening of the killers’ souls.

Each killing is motivated by pain, fear and/or hatred.  All of the killers – whether caught or not – will suffer/have suffered the tangible and emotional pains of consequence.  Plenty of people will harbor hatred and resentment toward the killers.  And the cycle of pain, hostility, violence and killing will continue.

Unless new perspectives are gained and peace becomes the priority.

*  *  *

Eric Harper’s death truly shook me.  I loved this little guy.  He was hyper-vigilant, fidgety and mischievous like I was at his age.  I could only imagine why.  When I was 11 (and there was no yoga in schools), I started using alcohol to dull the effects of living in violence.  The yoga seemed to help Eric a little bit.  The day before Spring Break – and the day before he was murdered – I asked Eric

There were hoodies of all sizes at the rally.

to “assistant teach” a yoga class when we got back to school.  During break, I went on a short tour with a band and received the bad news during the drive from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.  I can’t even remember who called me; clearly, someone from the school.  I got off the phone and said, “One of my students was murdered.”  The guys in the band responded with condolences.  They were not my close friends, so despite their kind attention, I felt alone in processing Eric’s death.

As soon as we got to Pittsburgh, I called a dear friend in DC and asked him to read me any media coverage he could find about the murders of Eric and his family.  My friend told me to sit down.  As I listened to the horrifying account of what happened, I sat on a curb and sobbed.  Eric’s defenselessness in the attacks killed me.  He did not have a chance.  It broke my heart to think of this poor child, trying to escape, trying to hide – but totally helpless.

When school re-opened after break, I spent the day roaming from classroom to classroom, offering grounding and breath-work lessons to accompany the crisis intervention professionals’ exercises.  Or I simply sat in the hallways consoling bunches of children crying into my lap.  That week we held a special yoga class for Eric.  The kids were wide-eyed as I cried.

How did I regain my peace?  How did I not harbor hatred and resentment?  How did I not feed the cycle of pain, hostility, violence and killing?

At the funeral service for Eric and his family, we heard some celebrations of the family’s lives…but mostly outbursts of anger, promises of retaliation, gut-wrenching guilt and more.  After the long line of emotionally charged testimonies, the pastor pacified us with the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  We repeated this over and over and over and over and over…

Try it.  See if it brings peace where there is unrest.  For me, it works every time.

Hands were joined and raised in prayer and solidarity.

In addition, I used yoga’s many tools for maintaining peace despite all kinds of challenges – which I will blog about throughout April, during our monthly focus of “Peace.”

*  *  *

I now understand exactly what triggered me to awaken to the Trayvon Martin case.  When I listened to the 911-calls during an NPR story, I heard the howls and screams of a helpless being.  And I was triggered to recall the helplessness of a little being I’d known and loved.  Whose screams for help I never heard.

As I wrote before the DC Rally last week, I was nervous about keeping my cool in the midst of a very heated environment.  Once at the rally, I confidently walked to the front of the crowd; I patiently and tolerantly listened to some opinions that I disagreed with; I lovingly took the hands of fellow activists to pray; and I intuitively sensed that deep down, we were all there to express, share and be supported through shades of sadness and grief.

Afterward, a friend who knew I’d been anxious, and who witnessed my participation in the rally, texted me: “You are a peaceful warrior.”

And so I have taken my head out of the sand to find that my instinct regarding my role in “activism” has shifted a bit.  I serve best when I take action to get informed, when I show up when/where it makes sense, when I do my job to stay peaceful and when I work to share that peace with others.  My inclination is to pray.  Pray real hard.  Pray for the well-being of all involved and affected.

As Dick Gregory implored, I continue to meditate that the truth will come out about Trayvon Martin’s killing.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Haiku for Trayvon Martin March 24, 2012

The story of an awakening activist.

*  *  *

On Monday morning, NPR aired the 911 calls from the Trayvon Martin story.  Some say that the shouts were from Trayvon’s killer.  But my ears heard the chilling howls of a terrified child, begging for help.

I spent most of the rest of the day crying.  And waking up.

I recalled my long-envisioned idea for a nonprofit called “Ahimsa Now,”* whose mission is to use yoga and related tools to address emotional pain, increase inner peace and decrease violence among youth and families.

By the end of the day, I was vibrating with a sense of purpose.  I felt as though electricity was flowing through my veins.

On Tuesday, I saw the change.org petition for Trayvon’s killer’s prosecution on Facebook.  I added my name and re-posted with this note:

I have never signed a petition.  I signed this one without hesitation.

I have never asked you to sign a petition.  I hope you will consider signing.

On Wednesday, I shared the petition again, followed by a string of related postings.  Songs came to mind – Odetta’s beautiful version of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (Strong statements from 1965 – the year I was born.  Gratefully, I was weened on songs like this.) and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” (When?  When will change come?).

Then the haiku emerged:

Eyes wide shut no more.

Head harshly yanked out of sand.

Chin rising.  Heart strong.

*  *  *

I am re-discovering that I am an activist at heart.  Yet I hesitate to speak out about my causes.

Some background:

When I was a little girl, I had an innate sense of justice – not as a cause or a fight, but as an organic belief that everyone was equal.  I also had strong beliefs in opportunity, conflict resolution and peace.  I’m not sure where this came from – perhaps simply the energy of being born in 1965; or, maybe from going to school and sharing life with a mix of housing project kids, diplomat’s families, global immigrants, foreign-exchange students and plain-old suburbanites; or, perhaps as a reaction to being raised in a hostile, chaotic and violent household; or, despite their struggles, my parents’ bohemian, open-minded and culturally curious influences.  Whatever the origins, these beliefs shaped my perception of the world and its beings.

I think I was about 5 or 6 years old when my grandfather referred to someone on the street as “colored.”  My sisters excitedly poked me, “Holly, Holly – tell pop what you say about skin color!”  So I said, “Pop, everyone is colored – that person is brownish-black, I am peachy-pink, you are creamy-white, Dad gets really brown in the summer…”  I was one of those kids that never “bought” the “Flesh”-colored crayon in the Crayola box.

Around the same time, during the Vietnam War, I firmly believed that war happens because presidents and kings failed to talk their way out of conflict.  Surely world leaders could discuss the important points and come to agreement!  Why did so many people have to die because leaders were bad at talking things out?   To me, war was unnecessary and all leaders were equally to blame.

When I was in grade school, I thought it would be sophisticated to set my clock radio to a news station and wake up to the morning reports.  I ended up very depressed, full of grief and feeling totally helpless.  So I switched back to Top 40 music.

In my college years, I went through a period of very vocal activism.  I started to read the paper daily, I joined alliances, I attended meetings – but I found blind hatred and deaf ears on both sides.  It seemed to me that everyone was so afraid of losing something that they ceaselessly fought.  Rallies, marches and protests were full of conflict and I’d had enough conflict growing up in my war-zone household.

As time passed, I moved away from all forms of outward activism.  These days, after nearly 2 decades of practicing yoga and aiming to live yoga in daily life, my priority is cultivating inner peace so I can be of service to others.

So for years, I have quietly prayed for the murdered and the murderers, for the beaten and the attackers, for the criminals and the cops, for the earthquake victims and the earth.  I have prayed, in earnest, for all who suffer and are in need of healing, change and a chance.  Because deep down, I still believe in equality, opportunity, conflict resolution and peace.

At times, however, I have felt that my head is in the sand.

*  *  *

As this week flowed along, so did my sensitivity to Trayvon’s story – and the numerous news stories about hate crimes around the world.  That old sense of grief and helplessness was intermingling with my electrified sense of purpose.  I wrote:

“Hate.”  The word feels foreign coming from my mind, mouth, fingertips.

“Fear.”  This is more familiar.

Still, I see the link.  I pray for all beings to be free of fear and hatred.

And after a friend shared 1950s band leader Oliver Nelson’s stunning song, “I Hope in Time a Change Will Come,” I posted:

It can be hard to stay hopeful.  This song is on ‘repeat’ today.

That same friend also unearthed Gil Scott-Heron’s “Save the Children,” whose chorus pleads, “We’ve got to do something to save the children; soon it will be their turns to try and save the world.”

I kept posting all of this stuff on Facebook, without hesitation, for the world to see.  So of course, people were sending positive comments and thumbs-ups and reinforcement.  And then it happened.  Someone invited me to the “Stand Up for Trayvon Justice Rally” this weekend.  And I took the plunge:

Whoa.  Did I just commit to attending my first social-action rally since college?

Yes, I did.

Join us.

It may seem that things

are not changing in society…

but they are certainly changing in me.

*  *  *

Saturday we will join the DC branch of the “Million Hoodie March.”

How will this justice-believing, peace-loving, conflict-fearing yogini prepare to keep her cool during an emotionally charged event, in a potentially (or perceived) hostile environment?  By using every tool and resource mentioned in my last blog, “Spring: Transition & Balance,” and engaging with presence and openness:

  1. A peace-building pre-dawn practice of prayer, pranayama, balancing poses and 108 chants of “Asato Ma.”**
  2. A nourishing meal with like-minded friends, followed by a crowded train ride to the rally.
  3. The simple practice of listening to and holding space for others.
  4. And LOTS of Sitali Pranayama*** throughout the day.

Let’s see how it goes.  I’ll report back!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

* Ahimsa – Non-Violence or Peace

** Asato ma, sat gamaya; tamaso ma, jyotir gamaya; mrityor ma, amritam gamaya.

Lead me from unreal to truth; from darkness to light; from things that die off, to that which is everlasting.

*** Sitali Pranayama is a breathing exercise that cools the body and the temperament.  Inhale through a curled tongue or over a relaxed tongue; exhale slowly through the nose.