The Urban Yoga Den

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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)

 

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.