The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

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 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.