(This post was spurred by an intelligent and thoughtful discussion with a fellow yogini and friend following the unbearable news about what happened in Charleston and why/how it’s important to talk about it. What follows has been modified from my response to her)
There is a lack of conversation in the yoga community (and elsewhere) about the racism and discrimination we are experiencing in North America. I believe is it linked to the distorted (and, if we are being transparent here, appropriated) culture of yoga, guided by the beautiful wishes to always be inclusive, to move toward oneness, to continue to walk in (seemingly) constant peace and love – or at the very least to project that image. It is misguided, unfortunately, and based in fear of being rejected or labeled as being too harsh, too abrasive or non-inclusive. It is a product of a culture that, at least in the parts of Canada and the United States I have witnessed, is dominated mostly by white people (and, lets be honest here: it is, in my experience, still dominated more accurately by white men – though I admit this is changing. Slowly).
In the last few years, I have been working with what it means to be authentic – truly authentic. The yoga world is a very easy place to hide behind one-love-paradigms, too-sweet-too-accepting facades that, as practitioners and warriors of love, we end up believing are true, even when they are not. I have seen myself convinced (truly believing – not in denial, but honestly convinced) that I wasn’t stress, wasn’t hurt, wasn’t frustrated/angry/lonely/insert-whatever-‘challenging’-emotion-here because I was (and still am, though working on it) so practiced in gracefully being yogic, knowing the “appropriate” way to act or to respond. Instead, after years of hiding behind the yoga mask, I am allowing myself to speak in honour of my true voice, my true feelings, my true thoughts. And I am also learning to speak in honour of the truth of the world as it is right now.
Everything is not light and love. Some of it is, yes. And if we want to walk truthfully and authentically into light and love, we have to openly, loudly, fearlessly denounce darkness and hatred.
AND we have to own our part of the responsibility.
I think that, right there, is the hardest (because it’s fucking hard) part…
I have no idea what it means to be African-American living in the States right now (or even to have black skin in most parts of the world for that matter), and I’m not going to pretend I ever could understand what that means. But I do know, from my own sheltered experience, that it is hard to have a ‘different’ last name and to be discriminated against because of it… I do know that it feels pretty shitty that 95% of the time i walk into a yoga class (as a teacher or as a student), I am the only non-white body in the room…. I do know how awful it is to feel restricted or judged or singled out or called a terrorist (!!) because of my appearance or because of the letters that form the words that were given to me, meant to define me as ‘who I am’… I do know what if feels like to be in a place where I feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin… (and i’m not even talking here about being in a homosexual relationship or simply about being a woman)
But here’s the thing. I have lived, for the most part, a privileged life in which I have been loved and cared for and provided for and accepted. So my experience cannot even begin to be compared to what millions of people are suffering now because of the colour of their skin or because of where they were born. And so it is not only my choice, but my obligation (and i believe it is also the obligations of all privileged people – especially yogis and even more so, white yogis) to acknowledge and speak out about what is going on in the world. It is our responsibility to ask for forgiveness for our mistakes, and with humility, to ask what, precisely, is needed to even begin to heal the deep wounds (and then to respect what is offered to us as guidance and answers, without trying to take the stage).
So. Thank you, each of you who have chosen to, or are choosing to step in. Thank you for the courage it takes to tell the truth of where you are at. Thank you for not shying away, for not hiding behind false pretences (like the hashtag ‘alllivesmatter’ – read more here), for acknowledging your capacity – whatever it currently is at this point, and for the strength it takes to show up and to learn and to move forward. #blacklivesmatter
(photo by Blair Ryan photography)